In front of the White House last Thursday, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges and Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, were among the 131 people arrested while protesting America’s involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Hedges, a veteran war correspondent, recalls what he was thinking just moments before being arrested:
I was transported in that short walk to places I do not like to go. Strange and vivid flashes swept over me—the young soldier in El Salvador who had been shot through the back of the head and was, as I crouched next to him, slowly curling up in a fetal position to die; the mutilated corpses of Kosovar Albanians in the back of a flatbed truck; the screams of a woman, her entrails spilling out of her gaping wounds, on the cobblestones of a Sarajevo street.
Americans rarely see the horror and savagery of the wars being fought in their name. The public—right or wrong—could care less about war; and our military and political elites have incentives for withholding the realities of war from the public. I don’t like that symbiosis, but it makes sense.
What I find disturbing is the way in which the military’s values of small-unit cohesion—duty, honor, and camaraderie—have been adopted and are now being propagated by popular culture. In the 20th century, cultural narratives merely glorified war and combat. In the 21st century, cultural narratives are being driven by systems directed by war and combat. This “new isolationism” allows the public to hide from war, while enabling the government to devise new justifications for prolonging them.
In these heady days of the holiday season, while you’re buying your niece or nephew that last stocking stuffer or cavorting with co-workers at the annual Holiday party, keep this striking image in mind:
[W]e would drive into towns in Bosnia and find bodies crucified on the sides of barns or decapitated, burned and mutilated. That is why those slain in combat are treated as trophies by their killers, turned into grotesque pieces of performance art.