On Saturday, October 3, the US military initiated an air strike in Kunduz, Afghanistan that, for more than 30 minutes, bombed a Doctors without Borders facility. As of today, the air strike resulted in the death of 22 people (12 staff and 10 civilians including three children) and has forced the Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian organization to vacate the city, leaving its more than 300,000 inhabitants to the mercy of the US and Taliban. And the US calls this “collateral damage.”
Collateral damage is basically the equivalent of shrugging and saying, “Shit happens.” Your eyes gloss right over the dead, mangled body of children and focus on the sound of gunfire in the hills, identifying what kind of weaponry it is and triangulating its location. You step over bleeding, pleading human beings to grab your radio, swearing at the inferior technology and the tangle of wires, and order a recalibration. You snap at your driver to pay attention, ignoring the high-pitching crying from the smoke and fires, and drive off without ever acknowledging what you did, who it effected, and how it was completely unnecessary. That’s the reality of “collateral damage.”
And, if you’re the most over-inflated military in the history of the world like the US is, you don’t have to worry about getting charged with war crimes. After all, despite the fact that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were convicted of war crimes in absentia for their knowledge of the CIA’s torture of prisoners, nothing happened to them and nothing is likely to happen to President Obama or any high-ranking military personnel either. Because we hold all the cards and the most and most powerful weapons we can pretty much just ignore anyone that tries to hold us accountable for our actions.
That is turning us into monsters. We are now a citizenry that, when we see our military has made either a grave miscalculation or a calculated horror, shrug and turn on SNL. We are full of righteous fury when someone dares attack us on our soil or kills a US citizen abroad, but we view the murder of foreign citizens and international aid workers as part and parcel of war – even when we’re doing the murdering.
We must be better than this, and we must hold our military accountable for their horrible actions. Yes, air strikes are more cost effective both in terms of money and US lives, but we cannot hold other countries accountable for our actions. If the US military believes that its actions are just (and the US citizenry supports those actions), we have to understand that it will cost US lives. It must. However, if the action is not worth US lives, then it cannot be just and cannot justifiably be defended. Yes, there will be dozens, hundreds, even thousands of devastated US citizens who will lose loved ones – but at least those loved ones had a choice about what they would do and where they would be. The citizens of Kunduz did not choose to live in a battleground and the staff of Doctors without Borders did not choose to be part of an air strike. Their only choice was to help those in need wherever they might be. That is not a radical act. It is not an aggressive act. It is not a political one. It is a humane one and as such, they deserved protection. All citizens deserve protection, not just US ones.