"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Our Suicide Bombers

The moral highground is a self affirming place. It allows us to justify almost anything, in many cases, simply using our own prejudices to shape the truth into a useful lie.

Cases of people sacrificing their lives for the 'greater good' litter our history books, from Japanese kamikaze bombers "conducting a military technique", to the Vietcong supporters who blew themselves up in order to kill American soldiers, to suicide bombing as we refer to it today, exemplified in Lebanon in 1983 when truck bombings killed 241 US marines and 58 French paratroopers.

This term of warfare has become almost as common in the half hour of corporate propaganda we call news as the traditional method of dropping thousand pound bombs from planes half a mile above the ground. And every additional case lends a hand to reinforce our conscience belief that we are superior, we are the moral right, everything else is corrupt. One form of killing is generally accepted, the other is not. Unfortunately it leaves us with a moral dilemma, we oppose suicide bombing not because it is a gross act, but because it either directly or indirectly targets civilians, therefore how do we defend our own method of killing, which results directly or indirectly in the deaths of many civilians. We need a clinical term, something military sounding, something that implies accident, something that shirks all responsibility, 'collateral damage'. War is hell. Morally superior.

Suicide bombing is an intimate act of violence, the perpetrator attempts to get as close to his target as possible, a primitive form of killing where 'collateral damage' is personnel. The taking of life in this manner, whether it is for a 'cause' or not, forces us not to understand the depths people fall when options run out, but to reinforce our dehumanisation of them. It is simpler for us to brand them as pyschopaths than to envisage a reason for killing via suicide.

Research conducted by Paul Marsden and Sharon Attia in the March 2005 edition of the Psychologist shows that "most suicide bombers are psychologically normal and the phenomenon is most readily explained as a community response set in a background of violence, aggression and revenge."

The most shocking thing about suicide bombing is not the actual act, gruesome as it is, but the fact that those who commit these terrible acts are, as much as we don't care to admit, human.

The same research shows that "there is no evidence to suggest that suicide bombers suffer from personality disorders or psychiatric conditions. They point out that many groups employing the tactic of suicide bombing, including those in the Middle East, are secular. and that most of the suicide bombings since 1980 have been carried out by the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, from a predominantly Hindu culture, deflating the notion that Islamic belief is the root cause of suicide bombing."

Many argue that suicide bombing in it's present state, most notable due to its media profile, as we see it in the occupied territories and Iraq is simply due to the perpetrators depravity. However, experiments have demonstrated that violence breeds violence and some researchers say that the cause of suicide bombing lies largely in "the pathological contexts and groups within which it takes place." The culture of violence "may conceive of suicide bombings as a rational and appropriate response to perceived gross persecution at the hands of a hated enemy."

"Of course, understanding the reasons why terror groups employ suicide missions is not in any way to condone these actions, and in particular when civilians are the targets. Amnesty International examined Palestinian arguments for killing Israeli civilians in 2002 - basically that this is the only way to make an impression on a powerful enemy - and found them unacceptable. The report found that the deliberate killing of civilians was a crime against humanity. The report further declared that certain Israeli violations of human rights also met the definition of crimes against humanity."

The fact remains in a culture maintained with violence "suicide bombing is seen as a flexible, adaptable, low-cost strategy of warfare that is highly cost-effective and of proven value in furthering political aims." We can either atempt to understand and prevent them or we can choose to continue the same cycle of destroying people and then assuming horror when they return to us'inhuman'.

The memories of World War 2 we are reminded of by the dominant media allows few mentions of the willfull loss of ethics in the aftermath of the war, the millions of german women raped, the men murdered. We have come to accept this as an understandable reaction to Nazi aggression. We don't condone it, we just see it as human nature pushed to the brink, that is why it is not remembered in public. Our own humanity cannot be questioned.

The problem is not that we can't understand what pushes someone to become a suicide bomber, it is that we have not been in a situation that supplies the requisite helplessness, the sufficient knowledge that the rest of the world knows your struggle, but chooses to ignore it. We have never been put in a situation that we have no means to defend ourselves. We have never been out numbered, out funded and out gunned.

To make sure we never find ourselves in that situation, we have created the greatest military force in history, a weapon that can see all and then destroy it. However even within our advanced military organisations, with their astronomical level of funding and research, there exists a concerted effort by those in charge to kill their employees.

During the first gulf war up to 1 million americans took part in a conflict that provided a testing ground for weapons that made killing easier and according to military analysts and amazed journalists, more accurate. Therefore we could, in theory, reduce that friendly buzz word, 'collateral damage', our accepted form of killing.

Up to 45,000, about 6 percent of Gulf War veterans have reported an ailment they believe is linked to their service. The Pentagon, on the other hand, found that 85 percent had ailments or diseases with known causes they believed not to be linked to the Gulf War.

"Soldiers now fighting in Iraq are being exposed to battlefield hazards that have been associated with the Gulf War Syndrome that afflicts a quarter-million veterans of the 1991 war, said a former Central Command Army officer in Operation Desert Storm."

Gulf war syndrome is thought to be due to, among other things, "vaccines intended as protection against nerve and biological warfare agents" and "the use of Depleted Uranium weapons."

The use of Depleted Uranium weapons was first practiced in Bosnia, its armour piercing abilities made it an efficient weapon, the consequences of its use were presumably inconsequential.

A 1990 Army report noted that depleted uranium is "linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and] chemical toxicity causing kidney damage." However, Pentagon spokesman Michael Kilpatrick said "the overwhelming conclusion" from studies of those who work with uranium "show it has not produced any increase in cancers." Independent studies on the other hand provide sufficient reason to harbour doubts as to whether the official line coincides with the truth, "Damage of immune system in exposed population could be a major mortality factor in Afghanistan...reduced immunity would have greatly reduced chances of surviving common diseases. "The UMRC field team was shocked by the breadth of public health impacts coincident with the bombing. Without exception, at every bombsite investigated, people are ill. A significant portion of the civilian population presents symptoms consistent with internal contamination by Uranium."

The acute symptoms above have been reported by Gulf War veterans, including post-conflict military personnel exposed to targets contaminated by DU. The slower onset illness and disorders have been reported by Gulf veterans, and doctors and health researchers who have worked with civilians exposed to DU in Iraq. Leukemia, cancers and birth deformities are on an increase among international soldiers and policemen who served in Bosnia, and among local population exposed to DU ammunition. The rates of all cancers in Sarajevo between 1995 and 2000 increased from 46 to 264 per 100,000 according to a Sarajevo registry report of January

"The controversy over the reported dangers of depleted uranium (DU) has intensified, with a Canadian study said to show "unequivocal" evidence of damage to health. Research by Dr Hari Sharma, of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, appeared to show traces of DU in the urine of 14 out of 30 British veterans he tested."

Although disputed, his work appears to supported by research conducted at the Memorial University of Newfoundland by Dr Sharma. "The researcher, a geochemist, Patricia Horan, used a mass spectrometer to analyse the urine of veterans. This technique is said to achieve results between 50,000 and 500,000 times more accurate than Dr Sharma's."

When the army denies any ill health effects of a radioactive substance that their employees are forced to use, when the proper equipment for safe exposure is not provided. The employer is risking the employees life, or assiting his suicide.

As many of the scientific investigations into DU are just beginning, thousands of veterans are lying in hospital beds waiting to die, their bodies broken and their souls destroyed. As 'their' suicide bombers die in the immediate, our suicide bombers die slowly and away from public view, quietly losing their life and taking that of those that care for them.

While Churchhill's 'incalcitrant tribes' kill themselves in public, our suicide bombers have the decency to die quietly in the privacy of their own homes away from intruding cameras and 'the news'. Invisible to us, just the way we like them.

1. http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/
2. http://wgordon.web.wesleyan.edu/kamikaze/
3. http://www.biofact.com/gulf/
4. http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/7570
5. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs257/en/
6. Sunday, April 4, 2004 by the New York Daily News
7. Uranium Weapons Cover-ups - a Crime against Humankind
Paper prepared in January 2003, for a monograph Politics and Environmental Policy in the 21st Century, Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade
8. New Scientist 2003
9. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/431817.stm