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March 20, 2012

America's 300 Year-Long Lucky Streak Continues

One of the great things about being American is we're just lucky. Lots of countries have killed millions of people, and it made their families really angry and sad. So the countries sometimes had to feel bad about it. But when WE'VE done it, we've always been lucky enough to do it to people who turned out not to mind being killed. So no harm done.

Most recently, Steve Inskeep of NPR pointed out that Afghans haven't gotten all bent out of shape about a U.S. soldier massacring sixteen of them, because "human life is already cheap" way over there.

That's great journalism. However, it would have been even better if Inskeep had found out whether life is not just cheap in Afghanistan, but also plentiful, like it was in Vietnam:

WILLIAM WESTMORELAND: The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.

And what about Iraqis? Were they whiny bitches when we killed them? No way:

FRED KAGAN, ARCHITECT OF IRAQ "SURGE": If anyone has seen pictures of Ramadi or Fallujah, they looked like Stalingrad. Cities absolutely crushed...

The interesting thing is that when we were fighting those battles and doing that damage, on the whole the Iraqis were not bitching about collateral damage...the Iraqis don’t on the whole say "darn it, you shouldn’t have blown up all of our houses." They sort of accept that.

We know this is correct because Iraqis felt the same way in the twenties when they were being slaughtered by the British:

"The natives of these tribes love fighting for fighting's sake," Chief of Air Staff Hugh Trenchard assured Parliament. "They have no objection to being killed." The military's argument was that, though the often indiscriminate air attacks might perturb some civilized folks back in London, such acts were viewed differently by the Arabs. As one British commander observed, "'[Shiekhs] not seem to resent...that women and children are accidentally killed by bombs."

Then we come to Koreans. Here's a review of Curtis LeMay's autobiography, in which LeMay explained why massive carpet bombing of North Korea during the Korean War didn't make them surrender:

LeMay [argues] that bombardment failed because of an "undying Oriental philosophy and fanaticism." He says, "Human attrition means nothing to such people," that their lives are so miserable on earth that they look forward with delight to a death which promises them "everything from tea parties with long dead grandfathers down to their pick of all the golden little dancing girls in Paradise."

Of course, all this might make it seem like it's an Eastern Hemisphere thing, which it's not. People in the Western Hemisphere have never minded being killed by America, as U.S. soldiers have observed:

Marine major Julian Smith testified that the "racial psychology" of the "poorer class of Nicaraguans" made them "densely ignorant...A state of war to them is a normal condition." Along the same lines, Colonel Robert Denig observed in his diary, "Life to them is cheap" ... When asked if he ever witnessed American brutality in Haiti, General Ivan Miller replied that "you have to remember that what we consider brutality among people in the United States is different from what they consider brutality."

Finally, in Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson investigated and found out that his African slaves didn't feel emotions like white people do:

Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.

Other scholars discovered that Africans were less physically sensitive too:

Negroes...are void of sensibility to a surprising degree...what would be the cause of insupportable pain to a white man, a Negro would almost disregard.

So there you have it: maybe we've done some things that would have been bad if they'd happened to sensitive people like us, but in each case we've lucked out. Right now I'm getting the feeling that very soon Iranians will turn out not to mind being killed.

HA HA BUT SERIOUSLY: I've sent email to Steve Inskeep with all of these quotes and asked for his reaction. I'm especially curious what he thinks about the fact that in 2012 a journalist (him) was expressing a sentiment that in every other case came from the people directly inflicting the suffering.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at March 20, 2012 06:17 PM


Posted by: Pepe at March 20, 2012 06:32 PM

Thanks -- I realized that I'd left out Koreans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians, so I added them. I'm sure there are examples for every U.S. war, I just haven't gone looking.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at March 20, 2012 06:52 PM

I think out of all the Imperial peoples that ever existed the US stands alone in the idea that others would ever want to be LIKE them therefore anyone that resists, or refuses to submit, must therefore NOT be like them. Or anyone that becomes collateral should understand that they're well on their way to becoming American.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at March 20, 2012 07:04 PM

The world is filled with people who don't value life. As luck would have it, they're always accidentally bumping into the US military who are more than happy to oblige them.

To be fair though, you might want to look back in history to see if reporters were generally on board with the sentiments that Inskeep is expressing.

Posted by: Happy Jack at March 20, 2012 07:55 PM

What a horrible, out-of-context 'quote'. The link shows he was paraphrasing the words of the person he was speaking with:

"INSKEEP: Human life is already cheap, is what you're saying and religion is something that's a little more intense. I think that the question has to be asked though. There have been a number of these incidents, politically damaging incidents in a row. Are people asking seriously if the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has begun to reach a point of diminishing returns?"

Posted by: please at March 20, 2012 07:57 PM

En Ming: I'm not so sure of that. The civilizing mission has been a part of almost every Imperialist campaign. Of course, they come to correct the barbarism of those savage societies, show them the error of their ways and build something better out of that savage wilderness. And, to be sure, many of their reforms would appeal to our liberal moral sensibilities - advancing the rights of women, protecting the rights of minorities, etc.

But, of course, the savages could NEVER have arrived at that situation on their own - savagery is their natural lot, and without the white man's aid and assistance, they would never be able to control their lustful, base instincts and produce a higher civilization.

That's why it is vital that we remain in these savage places as long as possible - because as long as the white man is there, his influence can dampen the natural tendency to savagery - once he's gone, it's an inevitable descent into madness. This is why any resistance to our presence has to be rooted out - indeed, resistance to our presence is identical to resistance to civilization and decency, because without us it wouldn't be possible.


This same refrain is the chorus of every Imperialist army, ever, as it marched into a new country with gun, bible and coin.

Posted by: saurabh at March 20, 2012 08:02 PM

Hypocrisy knows no boundaries when it comes to America's militant mission of "bringing democracy" to every nation on the planet.

Of course, we don't have a democracy here.

We have a plutocracy. And now that 49 cents of every dollar being made, being stolen, and being traded in this "recovering" economy is recovered by and for the Big Banks, Big Energy companies and the Big War people, it is becoming even less of a workable society.

But since those same large companies own the Congress people and the President things will continue. Until somebody pulls the plug. After all, it is not unthinkable that "Anonymous" might simply do a monetary transfer of monies out of the credit cards of the Bigger Executive rapists in this country and start returning that money to war victims, and those home owners who have been foreclosed upon.

Posted by: Elise Mattu at March 20, 2012 09:17 PM


You might want to think about this one some more and then try again.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at March 20, 2012 09:26 PM

@please None-the-less Inskeep didn't ask "Wait, so you are saying life is cheap to Afghans? He accepted the premise.

Posted by: Cay Borduin at March 20, 2012 09:41 PM

I ratted out Inskeep to the NPR ombudsman. No response, I guess.

Also, I told my local station I would not pay trubute to hear Tom Gjelton gleefully pronouncing the effectiveness of our strangling sanctions on the people of Iran.

Posted by: Linda J at March 20, 2012 09:50 PM

Inskeep is just following in the tradition of the revered Ernie Pyle.

Posted by: Happy Jack at March 20, 2012 10:06 PM

Steve Inskeep was clarifying what somebody else was telling him. You can claim he was accepting the premise as you put it, but that's not what you posted. You're distorting what he said.

Posted by: Dock at March 20, 2012 10:09 PM

How could you leave out the Native Americans? From the Disney movie "Pocahantas":

-Part 1- 
What can you expect 
From filthy little heathens? 
Their whole disgusting race is like a curse 
Their skin's a hellish red 
They're only good when dead 
They're vermin, as I said 
And worse 

[English Settlers] 
They're savages! Savages! 

Barely even human 

[English Settlers] 
Savages! Savages! 

Drive them from our shore! 
They're not like you and me 
Which means they must be evil 
We must sound the drums of war! 

Posted by: darrelplant at March 20, 2012 10:15 PM

Inskeep was summarizing the views of a Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran. But he seems to accept them and doesn't push back. Maybe he secretly thinks "what a crock", but he's adhering to the standard MSM convention on such issues, which is that the reporter accepts our governmental officials all have good intentions (except maybe once in a while) and we the people all agree with them and we're all in this together as we try to bring the benefits of civilization to the foreigners as we bomb them. But gosh, sometimes things happen and our noble intentions aren't enough. You don't often see stories like this where the reporter steps outside the box and interviews someone who starts talking about US arrogance and hypocrisy. It would be some strange totally out of character moment.

Chris Hayes had something like that going on a couple weeks ago when he had Jeremy Scahill on with Ann Marie Slaughter, who practically blew a gasket as she heard Scahill's leftist ravings, but the Hayes show isn't the usual MSM political chatfest-it's actually been worth watching when I've had it on.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at March 20, 2012 11:32 PM

Them Injuns don't mind gettin' killed neither. They weren't doing anything with this place anyway. Like darrelplant pointed out---savages.

I keep that NPR on 24/7, NEVER sent them a dime even though I do enjoy the classical music in the evenings. The rest seems the USUAl fluff and propaganda. BBC World News IS informative though.
Steve and his(I assume) Dad pander the same old rhetoric I've always heard all my life.
I applaud OUR HOST for saying SOMETHING to these people, they NEED to hear it from somewhere. I doubt Jon Schwarz will get a satisfactory response from him, though, bullshit, rhetoric, and propaganda being so hard to rationalize and all.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at March 21, 2012 01:13 AM

hmmm. We can extend this a bit. circumcision is ok because babies don't feel pain the way adults do.

Posted by: edwin at March 21, 2012 06:48 AM

Pure genius. Thank you so much. Someone has needed to write this piece for such a very long time.

Posted by: JonathanC at March 21, 2012 10:29 AM

Posts like these are why I still check this blurgh like twice a day even in these times of diminished posting frequency... Thanks, Jon!

Posted by: fluxisrad at March 21, 2012 11:46 AM

I can remember my mother mouthing those very word to me as a child. "Life is cheap there." I've said those words myself.

I'm ashamed now.

Posted by: Tehranchik at March 21, 2012 11:46 AM

The Curious Foreigner being ironic has become the media's standby but I wasn't aware of it preceding the Red Scare. It sure fits the pattern. Protest books, but not murder? It's like you're trying to look at the real world, but your stupidity prevents you. How ironic! How pleasing for our weary shaken spirits!

William Lawrence actually acknowledged this dangerous logic when he was coming to terms with our mind's "abode of destructiveness." He wrote that "In complementing the Quakers for not having followed the warlike and destructive example set before them by the rest of mankind [not to mention the "scorn and ridicule by their their more enlightened fellow Christians"], I ought not to have conveyed my praise in the ironical form of blame, because irony is often misunderstood." He illustrated this with the anecdote about the priest who praises Gulliver's Travels despite it not being very believable. Thomas Jefferson also had something maybe more helpful to add about irony: that a heartless man was very capable of using it.

But he also points out a danger in it. Jefferson realized a person writing in your style "must be fearfully embarrassing" to opposing scholars "because it is their own armor in which he clothes himself for the attack..." clarifying that "the name of one man is taken for another, one place for another..." all in the language of the religion itself.

These weirdos will never tempt us to value our lives less, for in the very act of sacrifice in the face of danger to our warships off their coast and around the world we all the more affirm our precious task in the world.

Posted by: LT at March 21, 2012 12:31 PM

Nice post, Jon. Have you thought of doing longer and more in-depth political writing, like Glenn Greenwald? Or maybe you do. But if you do, I don't know about it.

Posted by: Faheem at March 21, 2012 12:51 PM

And speaking on Glenn, here he is!

On exactly the same topic, as it happens...

Posted by: Faheem at March 21, 2012 12:55 PM

"their lives are so miserable on earth that they look forward with delight to a death which promises them... tea parties"
haha but seriously, if u replace "death" with "political party" that may be the best explanation for What's the Matter With Kansas?!
ok, if u smoke whatever lemay was, then it becomes clear...

Posted by: frankenduf at March 21, 2012 01:46 PM

A brilliant post, but I think unfair to Innskeep, who was paraphrasing the Post journalist, Chandrasekaran, who himself didn't say anything as offensive as Westmoreland, LeMay, Smith, et al. You could pick on NPR for much worse, though it wouldn't seque as nicely to that string of astonishing "they don't mind being killed" quotes.

Posted by: N E at March 22, 2012 07:38 AM

Not to let off Chandrasekaran, but let me give you an example from what's happening in my hometown.

Reporter: I think one of the interesting things is that people are getting more upset over this teacher that told the student to "talk blacker" than they are over the continuing crime and violence in the city. I think to a certain extent, they've gotten desensitized to the violence.

Interviewer: Life is already cheap in the DC area, is what you're saying, and racism is something that's a little more intense.

Fill in these points with whatever is the current media outrage vs. ongoing violence. There are many acts of violence we don't dwell on - various rapes or molestations done by those in power, acts of violence from domestic to shootings, widespread rape and violence in our prisons, etc., and that's not even touching what's happening internationally.

And what does our news focus on? Romney's silly gaffes or the war on contraception?

Most of us are desensitized to some forms of government, and focus instead on much smaller outrages. Chandrasekaran is also at fault, but Inskeep is the one that decided to make the leap from "they're desensitized to this" to "human life is cheap for them." This is something that would never be said about similar things in the US.

Posted by: Chatham at March 22, 2012 09:11 AM

Eh, Chandrasekaran is off his rocker. He says that outrage in the US is greater over this incident than outrage in Afghanistan.

Posted by: saurabh at March 22, 2012 11:17 AM

I read the transcript. "Life is cheap" is not a paraphrase for "they've become desensitized to 30 years of violence" in any sane world. Inskeep deserves the opprobrium.

Posted by: Erik at March 22, 2012 12:24 PM

Life is cheap in America if YOU're WHITE and "THEY'RE BLACK, RED, ARAB, LATINO, FEMALE(of ANY race or color, even blonds)
Article I sec.2 of the US Constitution sez so, 3/5 the value of a whiteMAN.
Change that any WE change it ALL. (saying this IS what got me banned from digby's but, none the less its STILL TRUE)
Ya can't change a person's heart, but ya can change how they will act toward YOU.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at March 22, 2012 12:46 PM

OT, sorta...

Discusses the logic of lesser evilism, and why it is always rational to vote for the Democrat. Mentions Tony Judt.

Alan Nasser is professor emeritus of Political Economy at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. This article is based on themes in his book in progress The “New Normal”: Persistent Austerity, Declining Democracy and the Globalization of Resistance.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at March 22, 2012 05:14 PM

This certainly makes a contrast with Americans, who are so sensitive as to be troubled by a harsh tone in the public discourse.

These examples of objectivity and neutrality make me feel better about the growing disregard for the law by the government; politicians can be trusted to be fair.

Posted by: Edward at March 23, 2012 12:41 AM

I seem to remember an article by a reporter, maybe James Fallows in the Atlantic in the 90s, who went to Vietnam and wrote that we should get over the Vietnam War because the Vietnamese had. So I guess even if they're a little perturbed at the time of the massive killing, eventually they'll get over it.

Posted by: Mike B. at March 23, 2012 02:26 PM

Americans are Gods chosen people and any attack on an American is an attack on history, destiny and God himself. (Him of course) Or so I would summarize the most basic conceptions which underlie American nationalism.

Of course in the end most individual American citizens life is cheap as well in most circumstances but if the life is somehow attached to The Nation itself then it becomes the most important thing there is, in a symbolic way.

Tens of thousands of American soldiers lives were lost in 20th and now 21st century wars because of monumental incompetence and official error, so it goes. A small price to pay for a great Nation.

This stuff never changes for any nation it is just sort of turbocharged for America. Lives are always cheap for any Nation and America is no different. Note we are on the cusp of denying hospital care to anyone who can't pay. (I give this 10 more years till it comes to pass)

Posted by: rapier at March 25, 2012 10:23 AM
... who went to Vietnam and wrote that we should get over the Vietnam War because the Vietnamese had.

I've seen interviews with Vietnamese who weren't over the war. While I'm sure people dealing with tourists and who want to impress the American public through journalists that Vietnam is a great place to visit and do business, if you look, you can probably find people there who are about as over it as some Southerners are over the American Civil War or Serbs on the Battle of Kosovo.

Posted by: darrelplant at March 25, 2012 12:08 PM


Indeed, trying to associate Innskeep with these comments is particularly silly given that plenty of "opinion leaders" working for major papers have expressed sentiments like these on television and in print.

It's certainly true that Innskeep and many other otherwise decent journalists give way too much credence and legitimacy to the official pronouncements of US power, but Innskeep didn't say what it's being implied that he said here.

Posted by: ApeMan1976 at March 25, 2012 12:08 PM

I saw this post via Atrios. Pushing the Steve "Life Is Cheap" Inskeep moniker seems like something Atrios could do effectively and really get it to stick.

Very nice collection of quotes. Thanks for putting in the effort to dig them all up.


Posted by: Eric at March 25, 2012 12:31 PM

I've heard that there is a study in the works that will show that Americans who get Social Security and Medicare don't value their lives, either. Seems they're happy with the years they've had, and living is a burden to them, plus they feel guilty about getting money to buy food with and having medical care for their painful health conditions because, you know, the deffishit, and think of the grandchildren! Why, it would be doing them a favour to let them die if they break a hip. At least that's what the study is going to say. So I've heard.

Dovetails nicely with another survey in the works about unemployed Americans. Seems they realize their economic value is nothing in comparison to the top 1%. They just don't value their lives if that's going to mean higher taxes on the job creators who have created all those jobs that the unemployed people don't have. An unusually high percentage of poor people don't have an opinion either way about having their unemployment cheques and food SNAP cards eliminated so that they starve to death. Who knew? Or so I've heard this survey is going to say.

America -- killing the people who really don't mind being killed! Even if they're other Americans. Wait for it! 5... 4... 3... 2...

Posted by: BukkoCanukko at March 25, 2012 12:34 PM

That was well done. Doesn't exactly make me happy to see it though...

Posted by: Substance McGravitas at March 25, 2012 01:57 PM

The godfather of all Imperialists, Churchill, covered all the bases in this quote, just substitute your country/race/creed of choice, paraphrase it, freely adapt it to your circumstances as needed:

"I do not admit... that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia... by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race... has come in and taken its place.

Churchill to Palestine Royal Commission, 1937

And of course, only the 'higher grade races' actually value the lives they are destroying in the process of taking their place.

Please carry on with the killing of the lives that are not valued by the dying even though it's revered by those who take the lives to further the higher values of the higher grade race forced to kill them for those higher values. It's all very clear.

Posted by: LosGatosCA at March 25, 2012 02:24 PM

Horrendo Revolver sez that wearing a "hoodie" makes one scary. Of course being Black has nothing to do with it as a hoodie places Latino kids in jeopardy also.(Scary=terrorist. No wonder therefore, no need for arrest or trial before execution.)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at March 25, 2012 08:42 PM

Better-late-than-never Brigade shows up late -- but:
Left out the Philippine freedom-fighters (sorry, "terrorists," of course).
They were an early instance -- but especially resonant lately, because we were waterboarding some of the rebels.
Sorta like baby's-first-imperialist-adventure.

Posted by: smartalek at March 26, 2012 01:58 AM

You're following in good footsteps:

"Washington, March 10. Wood, Manila:- I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag. (Signed) Theodore Roosevelt.

He knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms - and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule instead of bullets." --Mark Twain

Posted by: Felonious Monk at March 26, 2012 12:13 PM

Speaking of assclowns on NPR, I'll never, ever forget hearing that sanctimonious, self-aggrandizing twerp Scott Simon say - when the invasion of Afghanistan was in full tumescence - "There are some who oppose this, but none who matter."

Posted by: Gutboy Barrelhouse at March 26, 2012 02:53 PM

Gutboy Barrelhouse: I'm absolutely sure Scott Simon was speaking about the Afghanis, as ALL Americans count, were ALL for the invasion. Of course, there were always going to be a few Afghani rogue dissenters opposed to being killed and therefore become civilized.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at March 26, 2012 03:45 PM