Wednesday, April 28, 2010

If I Had ...

I should be writing about D&D, and participating in my online blog; but instead I feel a deep, unqualified fury. And I have to post about it.

I see something like this and I find myself remembering Bruce Cockburn:

"Here comes the helicopter - second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they’ve murdered, only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher...I’d make somebody pay.”
Wikileaks, who found, decoded and released the video, calls it ‘collateral murder.’ And they are dead right.

As it happens, this particular video identifies the quality of ‘heroes’ ... and the worshipful status of homeland soldiers ... from the United States. The origin of these soldiers is the least significant thing about the video - except that, to be these soldiers, they need to be from a qualitatively technological war state, one that can afford billion dollar helicopters capable of delivering instant death to anyone walking the streets with a shoulder strap. If you walk the streets in an occupied country (and what country isn't?), don’t carry anything - particularly anything that might have the shape of a tube or a black box. To do this is to award any soldier high in the air a warrant for justifiable homicide.

The youtube copy of this video (which may not be there tomorrow, because seriously, who expects youtube to keep it on their site?) includes a comment from just that sort of person who watches this and smugly confirms the justice in it:

"... As far as the crew was concerned they was (sic) part of an armed group that had a rocket launcher and Kalishnikovs and was shadowing a US unit in contact from the right flank. War is war ... I’m sure plenty would have done it better, in hind sight and not having to deal with the fog of war.” 
Yes, fog. Can anyone remember how it happens that sometimes a cop will kill a young child who is carrying around a toy pistol? I can’t recall any cop who afterwards will shrug, and mutter, “fog of street crime. What could I do?”

The video demonstrates that it took less than sixty seconds for these airmen to observe, interpret and ultimately confirm for themselves that what they had guessed at was precisely what they wanted to see. Men, in a street, who were easy targets. It is particularly telling that, when the men are concealed by the building early on - through no action of their own, but merely because the air vehicle was turning in a circle - the airmen grew furious and anxious, hating that they had to wait seconds for the targets to again come into view. It is evident when the targets do come into view again, that they are clearly paying no attention to this war machine making its rounds above them. Where then does this anxiousness come from? From itchy fingers and itchy souls, clearly.

Naturally, when they gain the confirmation they need to open fire - from commanders who see no more than the airmen can see - the butchery is accomplished in rather short order. It is nice to have the sort of tool that can lay down this level of groundfire, to do it from a comfortable place high above the screaming and the smoke, where the blood and the pain need not be quite so evident ... after all, backslapping is all the better accomplished without the distraction that would make someone question their motivations, or reconsider the higher value of what’s being done here.

Although, as it happens, someone has reconsidered those things.

Would that in creating the machine, we could create the responsibility necessary to use the machine ... something which in this case has been the product of typical military thinking: “this is my helicopter, this is my cock ... and I use them for the same fucking thing.”

If you are reading this, and you are or have been in the military, please do not write a comment to defend the position of war, or of the importance of killing the enemy before the enemy kills you. Watching this, I wanted the cool, comforting sight of a rocket trail to rise out of the clouds and blast these fucking airmen into another state of existence. If there had been an enemy, I wish sincerely that they had brought along a Strela 2, to aid them in carrying their wounded from the battlefield ... a long held consideration granted in war by civilized persons. For those people who would fight a total war, or for those people who would answer on this blog condoning a total war, I will hold tightly to my wishes for rocket launchers to be standard equipment for mastering you.

If, on the other hand, you are or have been in the military, and you have the heart of many of those I have met, you are hanging your head in abject and unmitigated shame, for what your profession has become, for what your service is now tainted by, and for what failures you and your fellow participants in previous wars have brought about in making this a military practice condoned by any trained officer anywhere in the world.

Do not promote to me the sacrifices soldiers make for my country.


abhorsen950 said...

Shows how pathetic, sick and bizzare people are.


Alexis said...

Let's not reduce the state of being merely pathetic, sick and bizarre by using such words to describe this sort of criminal behavior. Let's not apply light, friendly words to atrocity.

Roger the GS said...

Somehow, this post is not irrelevant ...

If only our games had the depth to confront the process of becoming the abyss by staring into it, without resorting to crude Twilight Zone "Gotcha!" gimmicks.

I could say much more. I am actually writing a scholarly article about the use of moralization to override the difficult questions of true morality that such incidents put to us. The moral sclerosis and self-absorption in the US since the fall of the USSR has been nothing short of amazing.

If you're interested, I'll make it a point to include you in the distribution...

Zak S said...

The people at --who are responsible for getting this video into the light of day--are doing good work.

They're one of the few rays of sunshine for the future of journalism.

Alexis said...

Please do, Roger.

Anonymous said...

"If, on the other hand, you are or have been in the military, and you have the heart of many of those I have met, you are hanging your head in abject and unmitigated shame, for what your profession has become, for what your service is not tainted by, and for what failures you and your fellow participants in previous wars have brought about in making this a military practice condoned by any trained officer anywhere in the world.

Do not promote to me the sacrifices soldiers make for my country."

Without defending or rationalizing anything in the vid, which I won't do, I will take you to task for this Alexis. This is akin to somebody asking you to feel some sense of responsibility for all D&D bloggers. I'm not going to argue against your sense of outrage, I'm just asking you to reconsider making such broad strokes.

Travis said...

Shame. There is something to be said for hand to hand combat.

Zak S said...

I mean "wikiLEAKS" not "links"

Alexis said...


In for a penny, in for a pound. If the military must consider the members of its own body the representatives of its own worth and value, than those members of the military over the past fifty years have, by decisions or through inaction, allowed this to become acceptable behavior within that military. How many times have I heard it? “Insult one of us, and you insult ALL of us.” Well, since that is the measure, then I claim, if one is guilty, ALL are guilty.

It’s very convenient to slip off that ‘brotherhood’ when it becomes convenient to do so.

Alexis said...

Easy. I meant easy to slip it off when convenient.

Anonymous said...

It stikes me as both a specious argument and one I would have previously considered beneath you, Alexis. I actually don't beleive you buy it yourself. But if you truly do, why stop at the military I wonder? Why not all Americans... or all Westerners... or all human beings? Fair enough. We're ALL guilty.

That particular atrocity is a natural result of this misguided war. Your outrage over it is spot on. I'm just saying call it what it is and don't lump an entire generation of unifromed people along with the guys in that cockpit.

Apollo said...

I was just going to ignore this, but, since you would like to paint me guilty...
You're wrong.
First, your source, WikiLeaks, is well-known for its anti-military stance, so it's not exactly going to present an even-handed depiction of events.
I would point you to some alternate views, and even evidence, but I've been through this before; I've tried having calm, rational discussions, and received nothing but insult and attack. I'm not saying you, or your other readers, would do that - but I'm going to paint you all with the same brush.
Mainly, I just want to say -
When my brethren commit actual atrocities, which is very very rare, I am one of the first to say not only punish them, but punish severely. I hold my brethren to a very high standard.
When my brethren make mistakes, which happens frequently in combat, well - it sucks. War is not a precise business. Still, we're far more careful than we used to be, or than any other military has ever been. It wasn't that long ago we'd firebomb an entire city.
Frankly, none of you have the first clue what you're talking about as far as combat goes.
And I doubt if we can ever make you understand.
Oh - one last thing - humor is one of the ways the human mind deals with horrific things that must be seen on a daily basis. Listen in to a conversation between cops, firemen, ER workers - when they think other people aren't listening - and you may find yourself shocked and even horrified.
Side note - no military guy (on our side, anyway) will shoot anyone wearing a red cross or red crescent - but if you're rushing into a firefight and not wearing that? We can't read your mind. We don't know what you're planning to do. And we're not going to wait for you to try to pick up the gun or rocket launcher.
Shrug. It doesn't matter. You've all made up your minds already. We're the bad guys - not the ones who decapitate people for publicity.

Anonymous said...

Even before watching the video, the whole thing made me distressed.
People defending and/or condoning this kind of behaviour make me genuinely angry, which is something very rare nowadays. The anger is obviously multiplied by the fact that they're usually very eager (at least over here) to be strong with the meek and meek with the strong. "Might makes right" is in fashion again, I suppose.

Said that, I don't know how I would have behaved in the same position. It looked, at a certain point, that they had an RPG and had someone looking down the road. I'd have probably done the same had i been on the helicopter.

The fact tho, is that I'm NOT there. I'd lead a very meager life flipping burgers rather that volunteering for the army. The "killing people" is not what I consider a respectable 9-5 job, even more so if said army has been routinely invading third world countries for the past 60 years.

I don't really want to start a class-war rant, but I wonder how many people are enrolling in the US due to the recession because both capitalism and the state, at the moment, don't have a use for them except as killers.

And Apollo, sorry, the IDF routinely shoots at medical rescue personnel and vehicles in the Gaza strip.
Sure, they're not American, so I guess feelings for their deaths are quite scarce.

Alexis said...


Beneath me? Not at all. I will agree with you. Yes, we are all guilty.


“… WikiLeaks is well known for their anti-military stance …”

Don’t give me this. I am a journalist. I’ve been accused also. If this was your only point, I would have deleted this comment. I understand the tendency to discard journalism when it consistently chooses to take a stand against your position, but since you would not be willing to take any other stand other than your own, do not ask WikiLeaks to have less integrity.

Both you and Andrej, to some degree, misunderstand me. The airmen here are acting with pleasure in the distruction of these persons - a pleasure that has been consistently overlooked or even encouraged by militaries the world over - Russian, Canadian, American, French, German … any military. It was believed that to discourage this behavior would reduce morale. When I speak of the change in the military being the fault of the whole military, not just a few, it is this general acceptance of offensive behavior - that is spoken of by thousands of ex-soldiers, whose opinion is often ignored.

I am not looking for the punishment of “a few bad apples.” I want the whole attitude of killing people casually and with pleasure stopped. And that starts when EVERYONE in the military stops shifting and shifting the blame. No. I am adamant. They’re all guilty.

No, war is not a precise business. It is also not a ‘business.’ It is not a joyride, it is not a lot of things. It is a very serious matter, and it needs to be undertaken by serious, thoughtful people. Not kill jockeys.

This line - that none of us have the first clue what we’re talking about where combat goes. I expected this argument. I presume that you making this argument is to suggest that somehow the horrors of war justify murderers taking tremendous glee in the massacre of any individual because they have been given the privilege of using a billion dollar equipment to do so. If this is your argument, Sir, you are in the wrong. Humor is an acceptable method that the mind does deal with horror. Backslapping glee is NOT.

I made reference in my post to a cop killing someone accidentally for appearing to carry a weapon. Following such an action, the police officer is given an evaluation to determine what that officer’s attitude was at the time of the killing. If it was discovered that the officer was enjoying himself this much during such a shooting, that officer would be in jail. For murder. We do this because we are not animals.

You must understand that a military must exist as an intelligent, rational force, that deals out death with hesitation and in a sober, reasonable manner. I believe in an operable military. Soldiers in it must have level heads and level minds.

You say the military does not decapitate. That is true. The military clearly has machines able to do that at hundreds of yards, and to more than one person at a time. All the more reason to place these machines in the hands of responsible, very CAREFUL people - who take the time to BE DAMN SURE they are shooting at an enemy, before they do.

I understand, Apollo, your reticence, and your feeling of persecution. But you are still in the wrong.

Anonymous said...

And please don't take any of that as me picking a fight with you Alexis. You know I'm a fan.

R said...

Besides the dying children, the part that disturbs me the most is at first, they can't kill the remaining wounded guy because he doesn't have a weapon (5:46 - "Come on buddy, all you got to do is pick up a weapon"). But then (at 7:19) they're allowed to kill the same guy simply because someone is coming to rescue him?

This whole situation is completely f'd up. In the extended video, an apartment building later is destroyed with a missile because one insurgent with a gun walked inside (a pedestrian walking by is also taken out).

Anonymous said...

Former military - officer. Never saw ground combat. Killed an unknown number of people and laid waste to some buildings from a _very_ safe distance. When we launched our first missile the entire boat shook - not from the missile, but from the visceral almost orgasmic noise unleashed by the entire crew. Including me.

I have never doubted that I could kill if it was necessary. I still believe that I could kill in true necessity with little remorse.

But I do seriously question the morality of killing under orders, without eyes on the target. Made me feel more like an evil wizard than like a bold warrior.

The Hex Master said...

There is a good interview with Ethan McCord, the guy in the video who got the kids out of the van and one of the authors of the “Letter of Reconciliation”, here:

Incidents like these are the very nature of war. To believe or expect otherwise, illustrates the influence of those whose interests warfare serves have on public opinion. Advocating for a more balanced fight, surface-to-air missiles to counter helicopter gunships, only serves to foster the illusion that there is such a thing as a "just" war. Civilians will get killed just the same. They are best avoided, always.

Alexis said...

This blog and this comment section is not a forum for those who have an axe to grind against Wikileaks or against the soft-hearted media in general. I have no wish to provide a place for people to argue that "this is war" or some other apologist bullshit.

This is not an argument, this is an excuse to go on committing murder, thinly veiled as smug realism. Yes, of course this is war. This is why we stop participating in it. Why hasn't this occurred to your 'realism' sensibilities?

The Hex Master said...

I would like to clarify:

My last sentence should read, "Wars are best avoided, always."

Also, the quotes around “Letter of Reconciliation” were article quotes, not "irony" quotes.

Wars are inherently unjust and brutal, even when waged by "civilized" forces. We should stop participating in them.

Zzarchov said...

I am biased, Im ex-infantry from Canuckistan and had the opportunity to talk to those who served in Rwanda, and they were broken. I had several cogent points but the gyst of it is that it takes two sides to fight a war but only one to slaughter the other, and while I have no doubt there is no danger of anyone over there REALLY hurting North America, I know he was broken not because he "feared for Canada" but because he did jack shit to keep people from killing each other over there.

There is no way not to participate in war. Its like saying you can not participate in a crime. Either you partake in it, stand in and oppose, it or condone it by turning away and doing nothing.

The Hex Master said...

@Zzarchov True, the Tuman family who were in the van shot up at the end of the airstrike, had limited options for choosing their level participation in the war. I would advocate opposing the use of warfare as instrument of foreign policy.

Ironically, it was my interest in wargaming that lead me to my anti-war stance. The was a particularly lopsided game of Panzer General when the in-game casualty rates and their connection to actual human lives clicked for me.

That said, I'm looking forward to Alexis' next post detailing his mass combat scenario:

The human spirit does seem to have an appreciation for violence. I'd rather see it channeled into more abstract forms like games.

Greg said...

I commented on this video a couple weeks, fyi.

May you find it interesting.

Zachary The First said...

You know, I spent more than a year overseas during the war, came home, my daughter didn’t recognize me, and I lost my house trying to adjust back to civilian life.

I don’t read gaming blogs to rehash that crap. I read them to help forget and do something else.

Keep it where it belongs, please.

Alexis said...


Are you sure that's all you want? Perhaps I could rename the blog for you, call it "Zachary's Personal Gaming Blog for Zachary's Personal Reading Pleasure." Perhaps I could be sure and address you, Zachary, every time I make a post, so that you, Zachary, don't feel unhappy when the subject matter doesn't achieve those high standards that you, Zachary, demand of your gaming blogs.

Fuck off, brother. I'll post whatever I fucking want.

Carl said...

Alexis, war is a business. It always has been. It will continue to be a business. War is big money, and it's used as a tool to make even bigger money.

Want to figure out why any war is fought? Follow the money.

The formation of the US Navy, the greatest navy made up of the best sailors the world has ever known, was accomplished to combat piracy, because piracy interferes with business. The capital must flow, and war is the tool used to unblock and quicken its flow.

Fascinating discussion here, by the way.

Want to understand why there's a war on right now in Iraq and Afghanistan? Read "The Peloponnesian War" by Donald Kagan.

Tom said...

First impression? I was surprised at you Alexis. Specifically I was surprised that you had a view of human nature that would in fact find this sort of activity as unusual. In the past I've misjudged your remarks as being made by someone with a far darker view of the Nature of the Human than you evidently have. You can cry out for us to do 'better', myself I think you'll have more luck crying out for us to grow wings and fly.

Alexis said...


Lord love you buddy. Let's leave aside that I have a degree in classical history, and would rather read Thucydides' Peloponnesian War and make up my own mind, you can read ME talking about war here, here, here and here.


I don't think you begin to understand; and the same goes for the others who are 'surprised' that I don't know this is business as usual.

Of course I goddamn know it. And I have been angry about it for three decades now, since 'knowing about it.' You see, I haven't yet been able to become nonchalant and indifferent, or so provincial,

"Look Margaret, they're butchering the brownies again - please pass me my crochet ball."

The affectation of jaded disresponsibility from those who are here exclaiming, "My, didn't you know?" just flat out infuriates me.

Let me ask. If you are so conscious of this brutality, where in hell is your indignation? Because you see, what you are taking for my ignorance IS my indignation. I don't find that I have to be previously unaware of something in order to be angry at it.

Anonymous said...

Coming from a wild eyed college kid, "if you aren't angry you aren't paying attention."

Carl said...

Kagan did a great job with the translation and interpretation, Alexis. You should read it.

Thanks for the article pointers.

Anonymous said...

For those of us who are cheap or have short attention spans, an excellent abridged translation is available at

Exploring the back links you also may find Prof. Johnston's own translation of the Iliad, which is well worth reading.

"satis: the feeling of a fingertip touching a grape." -

Alexis said...

Steve Lalanne has been trying to post here to no avail.

Steve, it is probably because your comment is too long. Try splitting it in two and posting.