Moral Matters - I
by Michael Brenner on 08 Mar 2022 0 Comment

War and conflict are the enemies of truth. Accurate perception, precise language and objectivity are its first victims. For good reason. Emotion eclipses reason. The ‘we/they’ prism refracts and distorts our thoughts. The individual is swept up into the mass mood. Frenzy roils just below the surface. 


Experiences of war and conflict, though, are not uniform.  They vary. Whose blood is being shed, in what quantities? Are we the direct protagonist or just the empathetic supporters of certain combatants? How closely and why do we identify with one side? How much do we hate the other side? Is our collective self-ginger and vulnerable or self-confident? What is the pre-existing anxiety level? Consequently, each situation is peculiar. A country’s subjective response and attendant behavior, therefore, can be highly revealing.


Unfortunately, observation is blurred and selective. We are poor witnesses to ourselves. Sometimes, we never do gain the perspective needed for a clear rendering of what happened, how we felt and what we did. Oddly, the more peculiar the experience, the less the inclination and ability to reflect on it. Such is the case in regard to the current Ukraine affair. That singular feature is itself noteworthy. For that is not due to indifference – quite the opposite.


Washington is the producer and would-be director of the drama as well as the co-star. The feature that cries out for our critical attention is the frenzy that the Ukraine conflict has engendered. This despite the absence of an American military presence, no obvious national interest of the first order at stake, and its erupting at a time when one would have thought the country’s appetite for this sort of thing satiated by two decades of endless, failed wars in nearly every part of the world.


My principal concern here is not to answer the question of ‘why?’ I have tried to address that in previous commentaries. Instead, the aim is to highlight those characteristics of our collective national persona brought into stark relief by our reaction to events.




The air is rank with it. The overwrought emotional response to events, concentrated in D.C., spreads across the land – from sea to shining sea. As per usual, it is the MSM and the politicos who take the lead and set the tone. Sympathy for human suffering is admirable when genuine and the expression of sensitive, empathetic concern for our fellows when we are moved by the occasion and not just the ritual. Honoring the victims of mass shootings, hate bombings, and natural disasters is moving and in a sense reassuring. 


Today, we are seeing an outpouring of sentiment over the plight of Ukrainians. Most striking is the upwelling of vigils, prayer sessions and protests at universities. Demonstrative displays of feelings that are of this scope should set us to reflect on their full meaning. Here are a few things to consider.


Civilian casualties in Ukraine are relatively few. Despite the strenuous efforts to find then, actual numbers appear to be in the order of 300-400. For good reasons, Russian forces are calculatingly avoiding attacks on urban centers; after all, 40 per cent of the population is Russian and concentrated in the regions where the fighting is taking place. Moreover, Moscow has no interest in subjugating the country to its rule.


In comparison, the Ukrainian army has been shelling the city centers of Lugansk and Donetsk, producing casualties estimated by a UN agency at more than 1,300 (3 or 4 times what objective observers estimate on the Ukrainian government’s side of the battle lines). Also, the water system has been destroyed. Yet, these facts are unreported and unnoticed in the total absence of media presence in an area they have erased from their reportorial map.


A broader perspective is instructive. During the week of combat in Ukraine, a larger number of innocent civilians in other places have died from American actions. In Yemen, the unrelenting Saudi bombing and strangulation of the Houthi regions continues to take a heavy toll: from weapons, from starvation, from disease. This carnage could not have occurred without direct involvement by the U.S. military.


Although the American contribution has diminished over the past year or so, we continue to play a considerable role in the Saudi onslaught. Our officers have sat in Air Force command posts in Saudi Arabia pinpointing targets, our planes have done the refueling of Saudi aircraft which, otherwise, could not have reached their targets, we have supplied the weapons and ammunition marked ‘Made In USA.’ And we have participated in the embargo that has prevented food and medicines from getting to the needy. Famine has added immeasurably to the casualties. Over the past 6 years, tens of thousands have been killed, maimed or invalided by illness. 


The carnage in Yemen to which we are accomplices is not collateral to the defense of any American national interest or suppression of any threat. Its only rationalization is a dubious calculation that putting our arms around the shoulders of the psychopathic butcher Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh is worth the massive suffering of Yemeni innocents. That decision was made by President Obama and his Vice-President Joe Biden, reaffirmed by Donald Trump and continues to this day by President Joe Biden – the great humanitarian who last night shed copious crocodile tears for Ukraine.


Yet, one can search high-and-low for a vigil, a wake, a memorial service to honor the victims of our own government’s callous disrespect for human life in Yemen. None at our institutions of higher learning, almost none in in our places of worship, just fleeting platitudes by a few folks on Capitol Hill. Certainly, no apologies to orphans, widows and invalids. The blood on our hands is invisible, the blood on Russian hands undergoes microscopic examination. Hypocrisy in caps.


Let us look at the wider record to see what it says about the American attitude toward law, a ‘rule-based international system,’ and criminal acts. The United States invaded and occupied the sovereign state of Iraq with no legal mandate whatsoever, no legitimate claim – however stretched – of self-defense, and with no expression of approval from the Iraq people. The results: tens of thousands killed directly by our military and their mercenaries, hundreds of thousands killed in the ensuing violence we provoked, untold wounded, and razing into moonscapes Falluja (twice), Mosul, Raqqa, sections of Baghdad and numerous smaller towns. The U.S. Marines alone fired 20,000+ artillery shells into densely populated Mosul – separate from weeks of aerial bombing.


Empathy? Our government waited three years before making the reluctant ‘admission’ of 483 civilians dying in Mosul. By the standards applied to Ukraine, as headlined in The New York Times, that last figure would be publicized as a million or so. In fact, the true figure has been estimated as well over 10,000.


Then, there is ISIS. We are responsible for its very existence and, therefore, its grisly deeds. It birthing was in the prison (Camp Bucca), set up by General Stanley McCrystal, where we cooped up many thousands swept up indiscriminately. The grim conditions were the breeding grounds for its leadership and their recruiting ground.


In Afghanistan, the thirst for revenge for 9/11 drove us to spend 20 years generating violent chaos – 19 of them directed at the Taliban, not al-Qaeda. To this day, the Taliban has not killed a single American outside of Afghanistan. We have killed tens of thousands and inflicted suffering on many more. Now, in the wake of our shameful flight, the country is starving. Desperate women are selling their kidneys to organ traffickers in order to feed their kids.


A decent society, with a person of integrity at its head, would invite one of those women to attend the President’s State of the Union Address as an honored guest – perhaps seated next to Jill Biden along with the Ukrainian Ambassador. Such a symbolic gesture would do more to advance America’s reputation and influence around the world than all the hollow posturing by Biden’s bunch of bumbling amateur foreign policy makers.  


We have responded to those dire conditions by imposing economic sanctions. In a move that should be inscribed in its own page of infamy, humanitarian Joe Biden literally stole $8 billion of Afghan money held in U.S. based banks and the Federal Reserve. That is not Taliban money, and it is not just the state’s money either. Most belongs to small merchants and individuals whose deposits were transferred to the Afghani central bank for safe-keeping. That is as close as you can get to actually taking bread out of a baby’s mouth. Willie Sutton never had it so good – nor was he so morally crass as to boast of his humanitarian instincts.


Finally, let us not forget America’s full, unwavering endorsement of Israel’s repeated bloody campaigns to ‘mow the lawn’ in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories. There, each ‘mowing’ causes thousands of casualties. There, schools, hospitals and the offices of disobedient journalists are indeed targeted.


The bill of indictment is a long one. We haven’t even touched on the torture regime that we organized on a global basis – in explicit violation of international law, treaties and American statutes, too. A ‘rule-based international system,’ indeed. All of the peoples victimized, neglected and forgotten who are noted above share one common trait. I’ll leave its identity to your imagination. A hint: throw into the mix the Bosniaks?


(To be concluded…) 

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