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When did we stop caring about civilian deaths?

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    The mere monitoring of bloody conflict assumes precedence over human suffering When did we stop caring about civilian deaths during wartime? Robert Fisk
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2009
      The mere monitoring of bloody conflict assumes precedence over human

      When did we stop caring about civilian deaths during wartime?
      Robert Fisk
      Saturday, 31 January 2009

      I wonder if we are "normalising" war. It's not just that Israel has
      yet again got away with the killing of hundreds of children in Gaza.

      And after its own foreign minister said that Israel's army had been
      allowed to "go wild" there, it seems to bear out my own contention
      that the Israeli "Defence Force" is as much a rabble as all the other
      armies in the region. But we seem to have lost the sense of
      immorality that should accompany conflict and violence. The BBC's
      refusal to handle an advertisement for Palestinian aid was highly
      instructive. It was the BBC's "impartiality" that might be called
      into question. In other words, the protection of an institution was
      more important than the lives of children. War was a spectator sport
      whose careful monitoring – rather like a football match, even though
      the Middle East is a bloody tragedy – assumed precedence over human

      I'm not sure where all this started. No one doubts that the Second
      World War was a bloodbath of titanic proportions, but after that
      conflict we put in place all kinds of laws to protect human beings.
      The International Red Cross protocols, the United Nations – along
      with the all-powerful Security Council and the much ridiculed General
      Assembly – and the European Union were created to end large-scale
      conflict. And yes, I know there was Korea (under a UN flag!) and then
      there was Vietnam, but after the US withdrawal from Saigon, there was
      a sense that "we" didn't do wars any more. Foreigners could commit
      atrocities en masse – Cambodia comes to mind – but we superior
      Westerners were exempt. We didn't behave like that. Low-intensity
      warfare in Northern Ireland, perhaps. And the Israeli-Arab conflict
      would grind away. But there was a feeling that My Lai had been put
      behind us. Civilians were once again sacred in the West.

      I'm not sure when the change came. Was it Israel's disastrous
      invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the Sabra and Chatila massacre by
      Israel's allies of 1,700 Palestinian civilians? (Gaza just missed
      that record.) Israel claimed (as usual) to be fighting "our" "war
      against terror" but the Israeli army is not what it's cracked up to
      be and massacres (Qana comes to mind in 1996 and the children of
      Marwahine in 2006) seem to come attached to it. And of course,
      there's the little matter of the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988
      which we enthusiastically supported with weapons to both sides, and
      the Syrian slaughter of thousands of civilians at Hama and...

      No, I rather think it was the 1991 Gulf War. Our television lads and
      lasses played it for all it was worth – it was the first war that
      had "theme" music to go with the pictures – and when US troops simply
      smothered alive thousands of Iraqi troops in their trenches, we
      learned about it later and didn't care much, and even when the
      Americans ignored Red Cross rules to mark mass graves, they got away
      with it. There were women in some of these graves – I saw British
      soldiers burying them. And I remember driving up to Mutla ridge to
      show a Red Cross delegate where I had seen a mass grave dug by the
      Americans, and he looked at the plastic poppy an American had
      presumably left there and said: "Something has happened."

      He meant that something had happened to international law, to the
      rules of war. They had been flouted. Then came Kosovo – where our
      dear Lord Blair first exercised his talents for warmaking – and
      another ream of slaughter. Of course, Milosevic was the bad guy (even
      though most of the Kosovars were still in their homes when the war
      began – their return home after their brutal expulsion by the Serbs
      then became the war aim). But here again, we broke some extra rules
      and got away with it. Remember the passenger train we bombed on the
      Surdulica bridge – and the famous speeding up of the film by Jamie
      Shea to show that the bomber had no time to hold his fire? (Actually,
      the pilot came back for another bombing run on the train when it was
      already burning, but that was excluded from the film.) Then the
      attack on the Belgrade radio station. And the civilian roads. Then
      the attack on a large country hospital. "Military target," said
      Jamie. And he was right. There were soldiers hiding in the hospital
      along with the patients. The soldiers all survived. The patients all

      Then there was Afghanistan and all that "collateral damage" and whole
      villages wiped out and then there was Iraq in 2003 and the tens of
      thousands – or half a million or a million – Iraqi civilians killed.
      Once more, at the very start, we were back to our old tricks, bombing
      bridges and radio stations and at least one civilian estate in
      Baghdad where "we" believed Saddam was hiding. We knew it was packed
      with civilians (Christians, by chance) but the Americans called it
      a "high risk" operation – meaning that they risked not hitting
      Saddam – and 22 civilians were killed. I saw the last body, that of a
      baby, dug from the rubble.

      And we don't seem to care. We fight in Iraq and now we're going back
      to fight in Afghanistan again and all the human rights and
      protections appear to have vanished once more. We will destroy
      villages and we will find that the Afghans hate us and we will form
      more criminal militias – as we did in Iraq – to fight for us. The
      Israelis organised a similar militia in their occupation zone in
      southern Lebanon, run by a crackpot Lebanese army major. But now
      their own troops "go wild". And the BBC is worried about
      its "impartiality"?



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