Deleted Scenes: War Comes Home

This past weekend, I watched as the last U.S. troops were reported to be leaving Iraq. They left under cover of night, in a convoy of military trucks headed across the border into Kuwait, and though going forward, the American embassy in Iraq will employ nearly 16,000 people according to the New York Times, less than 200 of them will be military. Still, twice as many as we sent to the Congo in October, but not bad, as far as colonial enforcement goes.

So the war’s over and that’s super duper. Last week, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2012, which just happened to include a provision allowing for the indefinite military detention of American citizens without trial. The language, appropriately murky for this kind of thing, says that if you’re suspected of having “substantially supported” terrorists in Al Qaeda or the Taliban, “including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces,” they can hold you, “without trial until the end of hostilities.” That’s on page 655 of the 1844-page act. Think anyone bothered to read that far?

Doesn’t mean anything if they did or didn’t, because they passed it. And President Obama—who already showed how on the side of “belligerent” American citizens he is when he killed Samir Khan at the end of September (it’s okay if you don’t remember; nobody does)—threatened to veto, but in the end caved on that. Man’s got to get elected, right? Can’t look like he’s soft on terror. But hey, a wink and a nod and his ideological base will know that it’s okay when he violates civil and human rights and signs flagrantly unconstitutional bills into law, because he doesn’t mean it the way George W. Bush did. Like that fucking matters.

Aside from being someone who—no matter how low my profile might be in so doing—regularly and vehemently criticizes the government in a print publication, I recognize that Section 1031 of the National Defense Authorization Act probably isn’t talking about me being hauled off in the night. Or you. Or your mom or dad. Or your girlfriend or boyfriend. Or whoever. What’s horrifying though is the thought that that’s supposed to make a difference. So what, indefinitely detaining American citizens without trial or shipping them away to some other country without due process is okay so long as it’s not my grandma? When is this shit not alright anymore? Where is that line?

It’s well documented that after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942, the U.S. detained over 100,000 Japanese people, mostly on the West Coast. I guess it’s been just long enough for that shame to have been forgotten and for a new generation to take the lead on completely undercutting the principles they’re claiming to protect. Huzzah.

I protested the Iraq War, and nine years later, I still think it was fucking stupid to go there in the first place. And you know what else? I’m not the kind of guy to thank the troops for their service either. Sorry, but when you work for an organization that systematically sanctions and performs murder, you don’t get the moral high ground in my book, even if you’re doing it to “protect my freedoms,” whatever the hell that means when a 26-year-old blogger can be hit with an airstrike and the accepted justification is that he told brown people how to make bombs. Dead people are dead people. In war or not, killing is killing.

But, what really gets me about this whole thing is the timing of it. I won’t claim to have ever been to war or to know anything about what’s it’s like to either be in combat or in a uniform. That’s just not my life experience. But imagine yourself in the position of being an American soldier. You’ve just spent a year or years of your life engaged in a fight supposedly to preserve and advance the cause of freedom in your homeland. The war is finally over, and you’re one of the last troops to leave Iraq, and the same week you do, your government comes that much closer to giving itself carte blanche to behave like a military dictatorship.

Wouldn’t you maybe wonder what the hell you just spent all that time away from your family for? What all that fighting was about? What the trillions of dollars that bankrupted the country were spent on? What “freedom” was actually supposed to be?

Like I said, I’ve never been a soldier, so I’ve no idea what they’re thinking as they come home. Maybe about the Xmas shopping they still have to do, or the pie they’re going to eat. Hell if I know.

Time, money, lives, effort, civil liberties: Wasted. I can’t believe what a stupid fucking decade it’s been.

JJ Koczan