Insanity Dawn

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

As the Tomahawk missiles, our million dollar babies, rained down on Gaddafi’s army and who knows what else these past couple weeks, I couldn’t help but feel the clenched American fist protruding over global events again.

Yeah, we’re back, world. How tragic that bellicose Republicans, in their indiscriminate hatred of Obama, have had to excuse themselves from the celebration, but still, Libya ain’t Egypt, and America is in its groove again, unwavering in its commitment to freedom. No hedged bets, no sir, not this time, not when freedom’s prelude is bombs, invasion and war.

A number of troubling questions cloud my personal enthusiasm for Operation Odyssey Dawn, however. Most have been amply articulated: Who exactly are the rebels we’re supporting? In a shattered economy, where is the sanity in spending more billions on a third war? Is it just coincidence that the dictator we decide to oppose militarily, out of such a global smorgasbord, is ensconced in an oil-rich nation? What gives President Obama, anymore than George Bush, the right to ignore Congress and wage war unilaterally and, it would seem, unconstitutionally? Why does the mainstream media once again feed us lies about precision bombing and limited duration?

“Now that conflict has come,” George Bush said eight years ago about Iraq, “the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force.”

Don’t we know yet that war is never what we think it is, and more often than not counterproductive even to its own stated aims? Thus, “the American military has been carrying out an expansive and increasingly potent air campaign to compel the Libyan Army to turn against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi,” the Washington Post reported a few days ago, credulously purveying the wishful thinking of Pentagon strategists as though intention equaled reality.

In the process, both the Defense Department and the newspaper manage to ignore the voluminously documented ineffectiveness of bombing campaigns to achieve their ends, usually unifying people around existing leadership against an outside threat rather than “breaking their will.”

Defining and bombing an enemy also dehumanizes a portion of humanity — turns people, indeed, into video-game abstractions — a process that never fails to dehumanize the aggressors as well, to terrible domestic consequences. This is a high price to pay for “peace” and “democracy” and the other gifts we purport to bring the nations we invade. The United States is already paying a huge price in backlash and PTSD for its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To my mind, the most serious crime implicit in the planning, waging and reporting of war — even or especially the good war, the “just war” — is the selective focus on consequences: We limit our curiosity to the success or failure of our strategic goals. And when the latter occurs, the usual solution is more of the same, in heavier doses.

But “war,” which is just a polite term for mass slaughter, is, I would estimate, 90 percent unintended consequences — mostly toxic. Some of these consequences are criminally ignored, hidden or denied. For instance, are we using depleted uranium explosives in our alleged humanitarian mission in Libya?

DU missiles and shells have incredible penetrating power and have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan. They cut through steel like butter, explode on impact, destroy tanks with ease. They’re also radioactive. They burst into a powder too fine to be filtered out by gas masks; this powder spreads over a large area, and people who breathe it suffer medical consequences that include cancer and neurological disorders. Their future children are far more likely to suffer birth defects. DU, of course, also combines with other toxins released and stirred up by modern warfare, contributing to the neurological and immunological hell suffered by our own troops, not to mention (and who cares about them?) the citizens of the countries we attack.

I asked Doug Rokke, a Gulf War I participant, sufferer of Gulf War Syndrome, and long one of the foremost experts on and critics of DU weaponry, whether he thought it was being used in Libya. While he lacked the means to confirm its use with absolute certainty, he thought the probability was high.

And, considering that uranium fragments keep burning after impact, the visual evidence confirms this. “I was watching ABC News last night,” he said, “and, lo and behold, there was a DU impact. It burned and burned and burned.”

Troubling, indeed, that the freedom we’re purporting to bring to Libya might be radioactive.

The “just war” theory is the shockingly effective con game of the military-industrial complex. Each new war we launch is just. Each new war is an exception to the history of barbarism and disaster that characterize all, or almost all (depending on how closely you decide to look), previous wars. This war is necessary and certain to be quick. “Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force.”

What nation will we attack next, Rokke wondered. Nigeria? Somalia? Worst of all, each new war feeds the next one.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, contributor to One World, Many Peaces and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at or visit his website at