So deeply mesmerized was I by Nicholas Schmidle's chillingly detailed, wildly intense New Yorker piece describing nearly every gut-wrenching decision, stratagem and gunshot during the Navy SEALs' momentous takedown of Osama bin Laden on that fateful night in Abbottabad back in May, that I almost missed it.
It was a thick and spectacularly complicated operation, as you might expect, packed with uncountable meetings, precarious intelligence gatherings, endless planning and huge sums of invisible money no one really knows how to measure.
Schmidle's piece is page after page of fascinating behind-the-scenes melodrama, from the construction of an exact replica of Osama's compound in the Nevada desert to rehearsing the mission dozens of times, from what kind of guys populate the world of the SEALs to what it means to crash a Black Hawk chopper in the middle of the night in a small, volatile Pakistani city due to unexpected heat backlash, and not wake the neighbors.
But amidst all the hardcore politics, grisly details and hugely cinematic spectacle, one vital detail swung by almost without notice like a thief in night-vision goggles; it was a potent flash of insight so devastating and telling I re-read the passage a few extra times to really let it soak in, to induce a deeply felt shudder and sigh.
It was this: We do this sort of thing all the time.
That is to say, the clandestine ops, the specially outfitted helicopters, the brutally efficient night raids, the elite teams of heavily armed military pros fast-roping into barbed-wire compounds and blasting open barricaded doors with C-4, the shooting of women and various suspects on the stairs as bearded Muslim men peek out from behind corners and then rush forth with AK-47s to shoot at soldiers before being gunned down in bloody heaps -- on and on it goes, year after year and age after age, an endless horror movie with no grand finale. Schmidle writes:
In the months after the raid, the media have frequently suggested that the Abbottabad operation was as challenging as Operation Eagle Claw and the "Black Hawk Down" incident, but the senior Defense Department official told me that "this was not one of three missions. This was one of almost two thousand missions that have been conducted over the last couple of years, night after night." He likened the routine of evening raids to "mowing the lawn."
We learn of a harsh and strained world full of precise, practiced brutality, huge numbers of unreported, sanctioned murders and merciless emotional coldness, the taking out of "targets" that seem to replicate and replace themselves like a demonic video game army. And it's happening all the time, right now, as you read this very sentence.
Of course, to anyone who pays any sort of attention, such activity is not even remotely unusual. Most of us have contemplated both extremes of America's military operations, from stunning Osama-like takedowns to horrendous torture practices in Iraq, from American soldiers given a hero's welcome in troubled lands to acts of ignoble savagery, pain and even rape (hi, Blackwater).
The information is certainly out there. Nasty blogs abound that attempt to get the word out that America is enacting this or that horror on this or that innocent civilian, prisoner, population. The Iraq operation alone killed untold thousands of innocent civilians, women and children. General outrage quotient of the majority of Americans? Zero.
The truth remains: To the mainstream, America is all flag-waving patriotism and God-sanctioned moral righteousness, and any blood or misery or harrowing Hurt Locker-like suffering is reserved for some faraway place most can't locate on a map. Americans remain, along with a few almost equally well-pampered allies, perhaps the most coddled, blindfolded, happily ignorant populace on earth.
And then comes the kicker: This is how we like it....
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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate. He recently requested that you get over here and touch me now, that you also please help protect the conjugal sex fruit, and that you seem to enjoy always walking in circles. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...
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