Three examples from October undermining the public good.
By Ian Murphy
Imagine, if you will, a technologically-superior alien force has killed thousands of Americans with flying robots. Peeved a bit? If Hollywood's horrible explosion movies have taught me anything, I bet Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith and the whole gritty-patriotic gang would be foaming mad and plotting some kind of contrived, computer-related revenge porn by now.
Is the "Independence Day" scenario too far fetched for you? Alright, but at least imagine you live in Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq or one of the other places the U.S. is engaged in its legally-dubious campaign of summary executions by robot. It's roughly the same situation as "Independence Day," but sadly without Goldblum, for obvious reasons.
Now imagine -- no, actually, just read this, which explains that Journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann have a new HBO film script (a.k.a. "a book") in which they quote President Obama boasting to aides that he's "really good at killing people" with drones.
It's true, not only according to Halperin and Heilemann, but all other available statistics on the matter. Obama is better at killing people than any commander-in-chief to date. Estimates vary, and honestly no one's bothering to keep track, but 5,000 dead bodies is a decent guess -- which is based largely on Sen. Lindsey Graham's tally of 4,700 from last February. It's likely higher by something between "a smidge" to "HolyJeebusGodinHeaven!"
So, woo-hoo, 5,000 terrorists dead, yeah? Would you take no instead?
The actual number of people these figures represent who were really considered a threat to the United States is closer to just 100.
A 2012 Stanford-NYU joint study determined that for every dead "terrorist" blown to bits by our wicked warbots, 49 innocent civilians get blown up along with them. We're talking grannies and kids here. No wonder retired General Stanley McChrystal warned that our drones are "hated on a visceral level."
Even if the general doesn't know much about diplomacy, he definitely knows a thing or two about hating stuff (namely people) on a visceral level.
Obama's admitted talent for killing is largely due to the rise of drone technology coinciding with his presidency, but bragging about it to his aides is simply untoward, just adding insult to injury.
Still, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president is being far too modest. He's not just "really good" at killing people. He's great (!) at it.
To give you some idea, check out the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which bills itself "a center of excellence of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security based at the University of Maryland." I've compiled the following graphs from their terrorism database:
Right. Whatever you want to call it, the so-called "war on terror" clearly has not resulted in less violence, and instead created exponentially more terrorist attacks. Though there's not enough data to extrapolate how much violence around the world is a direct result of our evil space robots and the Goldblum-esque retaliations they provoke, it's safe to say that blowback happens pretty regularly.
It is a very American error, possibly just a human error, to presume our efforts to diminish a thing do not actually accomplish our goals and may instead be exacerbating the thing. But that way of thinking is a counterintuitive trend we see run through many areas of public policy, both foreign and domestic.
Some presume that criminalizing abortion will reduce abortion rates. This is wrong. A thorough study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute showed that abortion's legal status has no bearing on a country's abortion rate -- meaning that criminalizing the procedure just kills women.
We think more guns will protect us from baddies with guns. Again, this is wrong. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, more guns equals more homicides -- regardless of the color of the owners' hats (or skin, if we're being honest here).
Through the magical combination of ignorance, handy-dandy propaganda and our emotion-driven faculty of reasoning, we usually don't smell the gas we're throwing at the fire. Is it American? Is it human? I dunno. I American human, me stupid.
It's no coincidence, however, that many of American society's ills -- from terrorism to gun homicide, unnecessary abortion, disease, rampant poverty, starvation, religion and even Will Smith, etc -- are best countered by raising all boats in the waters, by which I mean increasing the level of education and opportunity afforded to all. Sadly, we often treat the symptom instead of the disease, only to experience blowback all over the place.
It wasn't until very recently, for instance, that the United States began realizing that our health insurance system may be the most expensive in the industrialized world due in no small part to the abysmal dearth of preventative medicine.
Obama's bragging about drone strikes across the Islamic world is fundamentally different from, but logically consistent with, the Republican mantra of leaving the uninsured to rely purely on the emergency room for medical treatment. Neither are tenable -- financially, practically or morally. It's purely counterproductive public policy that makes no damn sense.
Obama's got a reputation for cool logic. He's widely considered a smart guy. And while there's a confluence of factors at play here, he has to know that drone strikes play a significant role in creating terrorists and terrorism. That Man's a Harvard Professor, you know.
Obama is not merely "really good" at killing people, as he reportedly said -- he's fucking amazing at killing people. As far as Nobel Peace Laureates go, we haven't seen the likes of him since Henry Kissinger. The man should really take a bow.
Photo: Flickr user Muhammad Ghafari, creative commons licensed.