THE BLOG
04/20/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Personal Stake in Sanity

When we write about mass slaughter, even the good kind, which we call "war," the waging of it should be on trial in every sentence. Anything less than that is propaganda, the chief characteristic of which is moral opacity.

Sadly, this is how our news is delivered to us. Reading it makes me feel homeless.

Thus when civilians die by our hand -- such as the 12 people killed when an errant NATO missile took out a house last weekend (on Valentine's Day), as we launched our offensive on the Afghan city of Marjah -- the incident becomes "regrettable." That was Gen. Stanley McChrystal's word, as deep as a frowny face. Would our own loved ones' deaths by missile blunder be so easily dismissible? Afghan lives aren't quite so valuable. No wonder it's so easy to kill them.

"It's regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost. We extend our heartfelt sympathies and will ensure we do all we can to avoid future incidents."

Well, of course, what else is he supposed to say? But war commentary without empathy is just a battle tactic. My incredulity buildup factor -- that this war and the other one are still going on, after all the lies, all the horror, the trillions of dollars down the drain -- makes routine quotes like these spring on me like man traps. More than eight years into our invasion of Afghanistan, we're still killing civilians and shrugging and calling it regrettable. And our journos are still grinding out same old, same old prose: Hey, General, you got a quote for us?

The mainstream media remain numb to what they cover, but what they cover is geo-insanity. Consider the insanity of "training the Afghan army," getting them involved in what is allegedly their own fight. The big deal about the Marjah offensive is that about two-thirds of the troops attacking the city are Afghani, which, according to the Christian Science Monitor, "helps 'Afghanize' the face of such a large assault force in a part of the country where some residents view international troops as occupiers."

Even still, "there is only so much the Americans and their NATO partners can do," the New York Times informs us. "The rest is up to the Afghans themselves. Despite years of work, the Afghan army cannot sustain itself in the field, the police are loathed in nearly every place they work, and the government of Mr. Karzai has only a few serious worldwide rivals in corruption and graft."

The reporter, Dexter Filkins, then quoted a senior American official in Kabul, who said "his greatest worry was not the Taliban, or even that the Marjah operation would fail. 'What do I worry about?' he said, 'Dependency.' That is, the fear that Afghanistan's leaders and people will not, in the end, stand up for themselves."

This is a colonial-era discussion. These people are not ready for self-government yet. But consider this amazing piece of data, which never seems to reach the threshold of relevance to our view of sad, pathetic Afghanistan: The Marjah offensive involves some 10,000 NATO coalition and Afghan troops -- by some accounts, 15,000 -- who are taking on, according to the Monitor, 400 Taliban fighters. And the Taliban, outnumbered at least 25-to-1, are giving Team NATO hell.

Several days into the battle, "progress appeared to be slow," according to the Monitor, citing AP reports that "Taliban attacks have increased in intensity, with 'small, mobile teams' of fighters frustrating U.S. troops with repeated attacks."

And Filkins, before quoting the American official, reported: "Eight years after being expelled from Kabul, the Taliban are fighting more vigorously, and operating in more places, than at any point since the American-led war began here in 2001. The Taliban have 'shadow governors' in every province but Kabul itself. Twice the number of American soldiers were killed last year as the year before."

Anybody else see something wrong with this picture? Anybody else repulsed by the plantation paternalism of U.S.-NATO and their anonymous senior officials in Kabul, who discourse wearily about the Afghanis' incompetence at doing what we tell them to? Yet the bad Afghanis, outgunned and outnumbered, lacking the benefit of NATO training, are kicking our butts. How could this be?

To imply that there are fundamental flaws in our geopolitical thinking is to lose mainstream accreditation, apparently. Reporters can't draw common-sense conclusions, let alone challenge words like "regrettable" and allow a moral intelligence to shine through their prose. Propaganda holds the American center, while anti-war sentiment remains scattered and marginalized. What will it take to break the grip of militarism?

One surprise answer came the other day from my own unpredictable mayor, Chicago's Richard M. Daley, whose son Patrick is being redeployed to Afghanistan.

"Why can't we rebuild America?" he asked, more or less out of the blue, as he spoke at an awards banquet. "How did we start this century with 10 years of war? Where are the anti-war people? They disappeared. I thought war was evil."

Daley's police have been notoriously heavy-handed these last 10 years about arresting war protesters. Suddenly he's one of them? All it takes is a personal stake in sanity.

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Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.)

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