Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Using Dead Heroes

In Donald Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress last night, the highlight was generally conceded to be the tribute to the widow of Chief Petty Officer William Ryan Owens, who was slain in the Trump administration’s first foray into actual battle. Faking great emotion (fakery being his strong suit), the president first mentioned Owens’ sacrifice, then pointed to his widow in the gallery who was obliged to rise while keeping back her tears, and then kept pointing and applauding for long minutes while the cameras stayed on the grieving widow openly weeping for her slain husband, while Congress members clapped and cheered boyishly, madly. The whole spectacle was mawkish hero-worshipping at best, and gruesome war-mongering at worst, making it seem as if Owens had died in a critical battle of a major war to “keep the country safe.” In fact, Owens died in a badly-botched commando raid on the village of Yakla in Yemen that took the petty officer’s life needlessly; but since it was Trump’s first taste of war (being a hapless Commander in Chief is the closest he’s come to combat, never having served in any capacity in the U.S. military—the now-Chief was deferred four times while in college from 1964 to 1968, and then in 1968 got a medical deferment—though he has claimed that the military school he attended in high school gave him more military experience than those who’ve actually served…like John McCain, we presume), he had to make it seem like the Alamo. With the hero allegedly (according to Trump) looking down from Heaven upon the gathering in Congress and exulting in this sacred hallowing of his memory.
            The problem is, a New York Times article on Feb. 1 (“Raid in Yemen: Risky from the Start and Costly in the End,” by Eric Schmitt and David Sanger), gave many details of the elite commando raid, and it was anything but heroic. First planned by President Obama, but deferred because a night without moonlight would not occur until after his presidency was done, the raid was approved hastily and with little debate by Trump’s new national security team looking for a decisive victory to highlight the decisiveness of the new regime. Unfortunately, the problems began at the outset when, possibly due to noise from drones scouting the invasion area, the target al-Quaeda stronghold learned of the attack. Thus, the critical element of surprise was gone and though the commandos knew it, they pressed on anyway. What resulted was a vicious firefight and attack on the whole village of Yakla in which the United States lost both Petty Officer Owens and an expensive Osprey aircraft worth millions, and the village lost numerous civilians including women and children:

“The death of Chief Petty Officer William Owens came after a chain of mishaps and misjudgments that plunged the elite commandos into a ferocious 50-minute firefight that also left three others wounded and a $75 million aircraft deliberately destroyed. There are allegations — which the Pentagon acknowledged on Wednesday night are most likely correct — that the mission also killed several civilians, including some children. The dead include, by the account of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Qaeda leader who was killed in a targeted drone strike in 2011.”

Of course, Pentagon officials at first denied that there were civilian casualties, but eventually had to admit to the ‘collateral damage’ when reports from Yemeni authorities and grisly photographs of the dead appeared on social media sites. Yemeni officials said that virtually the whole village of Yakla had been destroyed. Yemen’s foreign minister, Abdul Malik Al Mekhlafi, condemned the raid on Twitter as “extrajudicial killings.” The Pentagon and Trump tried to make it all seem worth it, because ‘real intelligence’ was gathered.
            So there you have it: this botched and ill-conceived and essentially useless raid is what Donald Trump in his speech to Congress and the nation tried to cast as a heroic battle against dastardly terrorists trying to invade and destroy us. He looked pained and compassionate as he clapped for the grieving widow, and waxed eloquent about her husband’s sacrifice, which he claimed God and the grateful nation would never forget.
            The Congress did its part, as noted above, by clapping and cheering madly for the heroic nation (with heroes like Owens fighting its battles, how could all Americans not feel heroic themselves?) that views itself as leading the fight for freedom around the world. And winning—for hasn’t Donald Trump said that the U.S.A. under his leadership is going to start winning again? And of course, it was clear that most of those who clapped—especially the fatly smiling President himself and his fatly smiling Repugnant colleagues—were cheering mainly for themselves. Donald Trump, though he had ducked out of the major war of his generation with deferments and medical excuses, had finally reached his apogee: the non-serving President had become a commander, a winner, a war hero by proxy. And all across the country, no doubt, his supporters, many of them having served and been maimed in the very war he ducked out of, bought the tale hook, line and sinker, and cheered and teared up along with him.
            War. It’s the old standby for all demagogues, able to bring the dumb masses to their feet in the fake emotion of flag-waving patriotism for fallen heroes. Works every time—at least for a little while.  

Lawrence DiStasi

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