In January 2012, a video published on websites such as Youtube revealed four U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters. On February 20, U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan incinerated several Qur’ans, leading to weeks of protest that left six U.S. military personnel and 30 Afghans dead. Three weeks later, U.S. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales went on an unprovoked killing spree that left 17 Afghan civilians dead, mostly children. On April 18, the L.A. Times published photos of U.S. soldiers playing with Afghan corpses and laughing.
Ultimately, Obama, as the Commander in Chief, is responsible for these atrocities. Without the continued presence of the U.S. in Afghanistan, these incidents – just two among hundreds – would not have occurred. According to a March 12 study by The Guardian, Afghan civilian deaths rose from 2,038 in 2010 to 2,332 in 2011, a clear manifestation of Obama’s deadly policies.
Bales was on his fourth tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, he had possibly suffered a minor traumatic brain injury after a roadside bomb detonated. He also was suffering from possible PTSD symptoms.
This begs the question of why a possibly brain-damaged man with psychological issues was forced into a fourth tour of duty and given a gun. The military, however, has claimed it didn’t know about those issues. The question, then, is how did such symptoms go unnoticed?
Both incidents have heavily strained U.S. relations with Afghanistan, and calls for the U.S. to speed up its withdrawal have intensified. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for an accelerated U.S. withdrawal. A March 21-25 NY Times/CBS poll found that 69% of Americans think the U.S. should withdraw from Afghanistan, a sharp increase from the 53% who wanted to end the decade-old war four months ago. 1,974 American soldiers have been killed during operations, and over 13,000 Afghan civilians were killed between 2006 and 2011.
As long as the U.S. continues to occupy Afghanistan, atrocities will continue, and the death toll will continue to rise. Bales’ killing spree is the symptom of a larger problem – an overstrained, overstressed U.S. military. The horrors of war take an incredible toll on the mind, but with a shortage of soldiers and two wars spanning a decade, the military has sent and will continue to send soldiers unfit for duty back to the war zone.
Another underlying cause of the recent U.S. atrocities is the dehumanization of the Afghan people. Afghans are often referred to with racial slurs or sometimes ignored altogether. The idea that Muslims are not people, but “terrorists” or “towelheads,” has infiltrated not just U.S. society, but the military as well.
It is not an accident, either. Historically, “enemies” have always been dehumanized. In the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese were “Charlies” or “gooks.” In World War II, the Japanese were “Japs” and regarded as subhuman. This pattern of dehumanization is not limited to the United States, of course, nor to recent history. As long as there is systemic racism prevalent in our society and in the military, atrocities are not just likely, but inevitable. And as long as we live in a global capitalist system where governments have to compete to control resources and increase corporate profits, wars and the systemic racism that comes with them are also inevitable.
The war in Afghanistan was launched after 9/11 under the stated goal of ending Al Qaeda’s terrorism. Ten years later, it is clear that the real U.S. motive behind continuing the war is to expand U.S. imperialism into the energy- and resource-rich region. The U.S. government hopes not to leave until it constructs a reliable pro-U.S. government, police, and military in Afghanistan. It has, however, utterly failed to do so.
The U.S. puppet Hamid Karzai and his central government are intensely corrupt, supported by various brutal warlords and drug traffickers. The war-torn country is still mired in wretched poverty and crumbling infrastructure. Seventy-seven percent of the population has no access to safe drinking water, around 9 million Afghans are living in utter destitution (another 9 million live barely above poverty), and the literacy rate is around 24% (http://csis.org/publication/agriculture-food-and-poverty-afghanistan).
The war has been and will continue to be a catastrophic failure, not just for the Afghan people, but for the United States. Obama tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan, and despite the presence of about 90,000 U.S. soldiers, the mightiest military in the world, backed by the most advanced technology in the world, has failed to achieve any sort of concrete victory against the rag-tag insurgency.
President Obama has also dramatically increased the number of drone strikes into Pakistan, despite their repeated protests. These strikes have killed thousands, including civilians and children. President Bush may have begun the war in Afghanistan and the drone strikes, but Obama has continued them enthusiastically.
The war in Afghanistan alone has cost over $500 billion. Instead of using that money to continue an unpopular war that has killed tens of thousands and ravaged the country, we could be implementing universal health care for every American and rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, fighting poverty, or switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Instead of bombing Afghanistan, we could be rebuilding schools and hospitals in the war-ravaged country. All of those uses would be far more productive and humane than continuing to spend hundreds of billions on war and death.