Wednesday, January 21, 2015

'American Propagander'

Six ways Paul Reickhoff’s “American Sniper” column deeply bothers this American veteran

By Emily Yates

When I first laid eyes on the guest column Paul Rieckhoff wrote about “American Sniper,” I thought I’d read the byline wrong. This has to have been written by the Department of Defense, I thought, before scrolling back up. When I saw that the founder and chief executive officer of America’s largest corporately-sponsored veterans’ organization did indeed pen this post, it concerned me on a deep level. How could a veteran of his stature speak this favorably about a movie that many of my fellow veterans found completely disgusting, even propaganda-like in nature? The only unifying factor I found was that Rieckhoff and the DoD both seem to share a propensity for cleverly exploiting veterans. Here are six ways in which Rieckhoff, like the DoD, supports the oversimplification of the Iraq War and its effects on veterans and Iraqis.

1. He claims that when talking about the Iraq War, “simple is better”

“Simple is better when something is so overwhelming, so complicated, so distant,” Rieckhoff says of “American Sniper” blithely, with all the persuasive powers of the Ministry of Truth. In his opening paragraphs (if you can call them paragraphs), he announces that “the single best work of film about the Iraq War ever made” is “not a complex film.” He states unabashedly that, in his opinion, the Iraq War’s “best” cinematic telling thus far can be encapsulated for the American public through the “storytelling, action, emotion, production and performance, attention to detail and especially the frighteningly accurate soundscape” of a simple, “very black-and-white view” of the entire conflict. He goes on to say that this was not his view of the war, which apparently means that in his view, the “single best work of film about the Iraq War ever made” reflects essentially the same perspective that the government has been desperately pounding into American brains like so many weapons of mass destruction. Never mind the fact that Rieckhoff’s casually blowing off every single other work of film about the Iraq War – he’s actually calling for more of the black-and-white view that got the movie’s protagonist to buy into his mission in the first place. He names the “power” of the movie as its “focused simplicity.” He applauds director Clint Eastwood’s efforts to make his film just like one of the classic Hollywood Westerns – which is exactly nothing like the actual Iraq War.

      Every veteran knows that each of our war experiences are different. It’s vastly irresponsible for Rieckhoff, who makes a six-figure salary off the backs of the veterans in his organization, to fail to highlight the need for complexity and gray area when discussing a conflict that has been debated and protested by veterans and civilians alike for 13 years now. Now, more than ever, the complexity of the Iraq War and its context must be examined. Refusing to call for more context in a blockbuster film about an ongoing conflict only makes sense if Rieckhoff’s main interest is to keep recruiters’ hands full of young, prospective snipers, and keep his organization full of veterans whose needs were never intended to be met by the government that sent them off to war. Don’t think about the complexity of the war, he croons, just look at all the shiny pictures.

2. He wants Americans to be entertained by the Iraq War

“Most of America is tired of hearing about Iraq. But now, they’re at least open to being entertained by it.” The first sentence is an aggressively ignorant statement, considering that Rieckhoff can’t even claim to speak for “most” veterans, let alone “most” Americans. That’s bad enough for me to throw up in my mouth a little, but in the second sentence, when he implies that Americans ought to be “open to being entertained” by an ONGOING, U.S.-led conflict, he almost made me throw my computer at a wall. The exact opposite of what American veterans need is for our experience to be  entertainment fodder for a deliberately-misinformed public. Our war experiences need to be examined critically for their permanent effect on our individual and societal psyche – not gaped at on a big screen for the financial benefit of Hollywood big shots. Claiming that going to see a big-budget action movie is an acceptable alternative to “hearing about Iraq” from news outlets and from actually listening to veterans’ accounts of widely varying combat experience is misguided at best, and deceptive at worst. The best way to keep Americans from being interested in the actual Iraq War is to tell them that a hyperviolent, oversimplified action flick about a sociopathic killer is the one movie that “may bring civilians closer to [veterans] than anything else.” For Rieckhoff to claim such a thing is to do a great disservice to every veteran who’s ever had a differing experience of the war, and yet still must return home to a nation full of people who can’t wait to ask us that most-hated question, “So … did you kill anyone?”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

We Are a Chickenhawk Nation, Blindly Worshiping the Military; Wasting Enormous Amounts on Useless Military Hardware

By Allegra Kirkland
Beaver County Peace Links via AlterNet

Jan 9, 2015 - It’s common knowledge that the U.S. devotes more money [3] to our defense budget than any other industrialized nation. But just how much we spend is remarkable. This year, we're on track to spend over $1 trillion on national security, after factoring in nuclear weapons funding, military pensions and “overseas contingency funds,” in addition to the Pentagon’s $580 billion operating budget. In total, this figure accounts for about 4 percent of the United States’ income—double what most other countries spend. Yet all of this budgetary bloat has done nothing to advance our strategic interests in countries like Syria and Iraq. In an investigative piece [4] in the most recent Atlantic, James Fallows explains why.

“The Tragedy of the American Military” convincingly makes the case that the deepening divide between the military and the American public is the reason we spend such absurd sums on the tools and technology of war. We have, Fallows argues, become a “chickenhawk” nation: blindly supportive of our troops and perma-ready to deploy them, yet distantly removed from the consequences of these costly geopolitical games. The vast majority of Americans don’t have personal ties with any service members, and politicians are petrified of the political risks of seeming unsupportive of the military (the House Armed Services Committee passed [5] the most recent defense budget by a vote of 61-0). According to Fallows, this potent combination of emotional distance and hero worship means we avoid “the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money.”

The problem isn’t just how much money we spend on national security, but what we spend it on. In a tightly bound circle of favors, the military asks for a tremendous amount of funding, congressional leaders eager to gain new defense contracts in their districts grant it, and the contractors whose livelihoods depend on selling massive amounts of new weaponry rake in millions. This is why so much is allocated toward developing updated models of existing technologies, despite the Pentagon's lack of adequate funding for veterans’ care, training and pensions.

One such example is the F-35 fighter jet. The F-35 is intended to replace the A-10, a durable, inexpensive plane that has been used by the American military since the Vietnam War. There’s no urgent need to phase out the A-10. These planes have proven to require minimal upkeep, and we already have thousands stockpiled. So why are we on track to spend $1.5 trillion—the same estimated cost as the entire Iraq war—to replace them with the expensive and unreliable F-35? Because top military brass insists the A-10s are outdated. Because 1,200 defense contractors received commissions to develop this new technology. And because, as Fallows points out, “the general public doesn’t care.”

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The New Iraq War Is Doomed

Photo: Kurdish Militia Fighting ISIL

After years of lies and senseless military conflict, we must oppose US escalation in Iraq

By Reese Erlich

Beaver County Peace Links via al-Jazeera

Dec 30, 2014 - The latest iteration of the Iraq War is already starting to escalate. The day after Christmas, U.S. forces and its allies hit the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with 31 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Three thousand U.S. military advisers are now authorized to accompany Iraqi troops into combat, while American helicopter pilots fly combat missions over Iraq. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and Secretary of State John Kerry want to keep open the option of officially dispatching combat troops.

In northern Iraq, many Sunni and some Shia political leaders told me they remain suspicious about renewed American involvement. This came as no surprise. The United States, after all, invaded Iraq only a little more than a decade ago on the false pretense of eliminating weapons of mass destruction. Its new stated aims seem to many to be almost as implausible.

In August a U.S. diplomat rattled off to me the three original justifications for the new war: stopping the immediate slaughter of minorities fleeing attacks by ISIL, protecting American military personnel in the northern city of Erbil and keeping ISIL from overrunning the Kurdish region.

None of those rationales hold up under scrutiny.

Larger goals

First, despite alarmist claims, ISIL lacks the ability to overrun the Kurdish region. It could never occupy an area in which 8 million Kurds live and tens of thousands are organized into well-trained militias.