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October 08, 2009

New Tomdispatch


War of the Worlds
London, 1898; Kabul, 2009
By Tom Engelhardt

An unremarkable paragraph in a piece in my hometown paper recently caught my eye. It was headlined "White House Believes Karzai Will Be Re-elected," but in mid-report Helene Cooper and Mark Landler of the New York Times turned to Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal's "redeployment option." Here's the humdrum paragraph in question: "The redeployment option calls for moving troops from sparsely populated and lawless areas of the countryside to urban areas, including Kandahar and Kabul. Many rural areas 'would be better left to Predators,' said an administration official, referring to drone aircraft."

In other words, the United States may now be represented in the Afghan countryside, as it already is in the tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the border, mainly by Predators and their even more powerful cousins, Reapers, unmanned aerial vehicles with names straight out of a sci-fi film about implacable aliens. If you happen to be an Afghan villager in some underpopulated part of that country where the U.S. has set up small bases -- two of which were almost overrun recently -- they will be gone and "America" will instead be soaring overhead. We're talking about planes without human beings in them tirelessly scanning the ground with their cameras for up to 22 hours at a stretch. Launched from Afghanistan but flown by pilots thousands of miles away in the American West, they are armed with two to four Hellfire missiles or the equivalent in 500-pound bombs.

To see Earth from the heavens, that's the classic viewpoint of the superior being or god with the ultimate power of life and death. Zeus, that Greek god of gods, used lightning bolts to strike down humans who offended him. We use missiles and bombs. Zeus had the knowledge of a god. We have "intelligence," often fallible (or score-settling). His weapon of choice destroyed one individual. Ours take out anyone in the vicinity.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at October 8, 2009 11:41 AM

Another side of the equation:

Posted by: Coomaraswamy at October 8, 2009 01:45 PM

At least the Martians were looking for a place to live. We're just killing for oil pipelines and heroin.

Excellent analogy, thanks for linking.

Posted by: Oarwell at October 8, 2009 01:59 PM

I know he's simply running his metaphor to ground, but surprised to see this from 'ol Tom:

"What if -- and this is an un-American thought -- there is no American solution to Afghanistan? What if no alternative, or combination of alternatives, will work? What if the only thing Martians can effectively do is destroy -- or leave?"

Does he really think we're there to fix some "problem?" Some dilemma of democracy or civic relations? That's buying into the Imperial propaganda--we're not there to help the Afghanis, but to

A) drive a pipeline from Kazhakstan through Kandahar to Karachi,
B) to protect a stable opium supply.
C) develop a forward ops base against Iran.

The "cool intelligences" of US command will happily employ robot planes to accomplish this mission. Keeping US casualties as low as possible is not a moral imperative but merely a political concern, to keep the home front in the dark.

Posted by: Oarwell at October 8, 2009 02:21 PM

It wasn't just the Tasmanians who got the Martian treatment from the Brits. Chalmers Johnson noted in an article this summer that it was in our favorite current bombing spot, Waziristan, back in 1932 where Britain used poison gas on the inhabitants of the region, apparently prompting Lloyd George to defend the practice on the grounds that Britain had the right to 'bomb niggers.' It might have been Chomsky who brought that comment by Lloyd George notoriety. The more things change . . .

Following on the heels of the Brits, we've always loved bombing Asians. It seems like we just can't get enough of it. Now that we don't even have to use in-air pilots, I worry that we may never stop.

Tom Englehardt is really writing fine stuff lately. That's a great article.


Posted by: N E at October 8, 2009 02:48 PM

Great video, touches on similar themes:

Posted by: Oarwell at October 8, 2009 07:19 PM

We're just killing for oil pipelines and heroin.

I don't get the pipeline theory. If we wanted a pipeline, wouldn't the smart course of action be to make a deal with the Taliban, since they're the only people who have ever been able to gain sufficient control of the country to allow a pipeline to be constructed?

The heroin theory, on the other hand, makes perfect sense. I'd totally kill for that stuff.

Posted by: SteveB at October 8, 2009 09:44 PM

remember the sequel to The Terminater? Where the heroine is worried about the possibilitiy of all out Armageddon brought about by the nuclear war triggered by rebellious machines?
So today we let the Afghanis be the victims of the Machine Wars against Man? If it is profitable to do this to the foreigners today, what will stop it from happening to us Americans tomorrow? When the Repulicans decide that destroying the liberal areas of the country is better than constantly fixing the election count?

Posted by: Elise Mattu at October 8, 2009 10:23 PM


I think Tom Englehardt knows what the deal is and wasn't trying to suggest what you interpreted him as saying.

SteveB and Oarwell:

The actual reasons for our military involvement go beyond pipelines, though I suppose that's not a bad shorthand. What's surprising is that although those reasons are rarely discussed, they aren't exactly confidential. Here, in an extremely informative and I think revealing document, is the analysis of an official military analyst with regard to the situation in Transcaucasia and Central Asia in 2000, not long before 9/11 made us a more securely anchored player in the Great Game in the region.

Posted by: N E at October 8, 2009 10:33 PM

Elise Mattu:

Originally, in the 1930s, both the Americans and British objected to bombing civilians, at least if they were white. After the Blitz, Britain let Bomber Harris bomb German civilian populations in 1942, and the Americans soon joined in because precision bombing of military targets supposedly resulted in casualties among the fliers. FDR originally called bombinb civilians uncivilized, but we started doing it before his death, though he was dead by the time the worst bombing in Japan, the firebombing of Tokyo and the two atomic bombs.

I believe I once read that Bomber Harris once proposed bombing domestically in England in the event of civil unrest and someone told him to keep quiet, but maybe I'm wrong about that.

Anyway, there's nothing rotten truly new under the sun, so I'm sure somebody could rationalize using a Predator domestically and not just in Asia without losing any sleep.

Posted by: N E at October 8, 2009 10:48 PM

Steve B. Said pipeline was FIRST proposed in the 1890's by the British to compete with the Berlin-To-Baghdad Railroad. 110 years later, Kazari a "former BP executive" becomes Prez of Afghanistan. Perhaps the Taliban just wouldn't sign the BOTTOM LINE.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 8, 2009 10:56 PM

Yes, SteveB, my understanding too was that the Taliban were being recalcitrant in signing off on the Conoco pipeline, and to make matters worse were actively suppressing opium.

Who is more "heroische?" CIA-backed Mujahedeen, or CIA backed Karzai? Cause Mujahedeen = taliban.

NE, have you read 'Human Smoke?' I think you'd enjoy the way Nicholas Baker reconstructs the madness of Churchill, Harris, et al.

Posted by: Oarwell at October 9, 2009 01:24 PM

If it is profitable to do this to the foreigners today, what will stop it from happening to us Americans tomorrow?

I'd suggest it's already happening to us Americans now. I'd suggest the "bailouts" are evidence of this, the "rescue" of AIG and other companies are evidence of this. The police-becoming-militarized is another bit of evidence. Their behavior at the G20 --sonic cannons, paramilitary gear-- is more evidence.

We can choose to play along as if this isn't momentous shit. On the background of the destruction of habeas corpus, rendition reauthorizations, the changes to the FISA courts process, the warrantless eavesdropping (ATT v Klein), the Patriot Act, the John Warner Defense Budget Reauthorization Act, the Military Commissions Act, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay... the SERE program.... I shouldn't even have to list this stuff to any who consider themselves students of what's happening in America now, but I'm always surprised how many people aren't aware of the way these things indicate a clear pattern in America, one that's happened only in the past 10 years.

The practical fascism under "republican democracy" window dressing pretty much tells me that it's being used here in America just like it's used abroad. The bloodshed is not overt here. What scares me is the readiness they're showing, the eagerness in preparation, for such events to arise. The Halliburton-built "detention camps" around the country aren't exactly comforting in this context.

Posted by: The Anti-Federalist at October 10, 2009 07:10 PM