The Nasty Blowback from America’s Wars

Exclusive: There are historical warnings to countries that inflict violence abroad, that the imperial impulse will blow back on the domestic society with suppression of public debate and repression of common citizens, that the war will come home — as is happening in the United States, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Brutality thrives in American police treatment of common citizens reflecting an ethos of violence that has flourished over the past dozen years with almost no one in authority held accountable. Much of this behavior can be traced back to U.S. wars of choice and it is not as though we were not warned of the inevitable blowback.

On Feb. 26, 2003, three weeks before the U.S./UK attack on Iraq, Coleen Rowley, then division counsel and special agent at the FBI office in Minneapolis, had the prescience and the guts to send a letter to then FBI Director Robert Mueller.  The New York Times published it a week later.

A screen-shot from a video showing Walter Scott being shot in the back by a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager on April 4, 2015. (Video via the New York Times.)

A screen-shot from a video showing Walter Scott being shot in the back by a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager on April 4, 2015. (Video via the New York Times.)

Rowley warned Mueller that launching unjustified war would prove counterproductive in various ways. One blowback she highlighted was that the rationale being applied to allow preemptive strikes abroad could migrate back home, “fostering a more permissive attitude toward shootings by law enforcement officers in this country.” Tragically, the recent spate of murders by police has proved Rowley right.

And not only killing. Police brutality toward the citizenry, some of it by former soldiers who themselves were brutalized by war, has soared. Yet, the dark side of what was done by U.S. troops abroad as well as the damage that was done to their psyches and sense of morality is rarely shown in the U.S. mainstream media, which prefers to veer between romanticizing the adventure of war and lamenting the physical harm done to America’s maimed warriors.

One has to go to foreign media for real-life examples of the brutalization of, as well as by, the young soldiers we send off to battle. (See, for example, this segment from Germany’s “60 Minutes”-type TV program, Panorama.)

The glib, implicit approval of violence (embedded, for instance, in the customary “Thank you for your service”) simply adds to the widespread acceptance of brutality as somehow okay.

Gratuitous Beatings

Cases of police beating citizens who are detained or taken into custody have multiplied, with police offenders frequently held to the same unconscionable let’s-not-look-back “accountability” that has let George W. Bush and Dick Cheney walk free so far for launching the “war of aggression” on Iraq.

The post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal carefully defined such a war as “the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Accumulated evil? Having just emerged from the nightmare of world conflagration, the jurists on the Tribunal understood that it was the unleashing of the dogs of war launching an aggressive war that also loosed all the other atrocities and barbarities associated with warfare.

Looking back on the last decade, think of crimes like kidnapping, black prisons and torture as well as the slaughter of so many civilians as the Bush/Cheney war of choice has spread violence and death now in the form of the brutal Islamic State and America’s endless “drone wars” across almost the entire Middle East.

But part of that accumulated evil is also playing out at home on the streets of American cities and in even in our deserts. On April 9, San Bernardino’s “sheriff’s deputies” were caught on video viciously brutalizing a man who had already prostrated himself on the desert floor with his hands behind his back.

Warning: Watching this video may make you ill or cry. If so, take heart. For this would merely show that, because you still have a conscience, you are sickened by what you see, and that you can still “cry our beloved country.”

Conscience is a good thing, for it often brings the courage to speak out and confront the banality of evil that always flows and inevitably blows back from wars of aggression. Indifference to human suffering is another one of those accumulated evils of the whole.

We need to summon the kind of courage Coleen Rowley showed three weeks before the United States launched the “supreme international crime.” We need to monitor closely what happens after the unconscionable abuse by police of the helpless man in San Bernardino, after the recent police shootings of unarmed black men, and after the excessive brutality that America’s over-militarized police now regularly inflict on citizens during routine arrests.

“If you see something, say something” we are constantly told. If we see this video coverage, watch this sort of brutality, and do nothing, I fear for what will become of our country.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He served as an infantry/intelligence officer, and then as a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years.

image_pdfimage_print

21 comments for “The Nasty Blowback from America’s Wars

  1. jer
    April 12, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    The U.S., a/k/a/ the Great Babylon, has now been overcome by the fascist spirit or the spirit to conquer other lands and people using purely false narratives and false premises and really violent means. The unbridled letting of large amounts of innocent human blood. In this, the U.S. is so greatly aided by the ‘global’ media as well as by its many loyal minions or allies. Read http://www.scribd.com/doc/219359291 for a brief explanation.

  2. Robert
    April 12, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    Scott took Slagers taser. Used it on Slager. Then told Slager, ” I am going to keep it.”

    • GI
      April 13, 2015 at 6:10 pm

      This is a complete lie; Scott did not take Slager’s taser and the video proves it. The video also shows neither Slager nor other officers rendered any aid to wounded Scott. It also shows Slager planting evidence. Who is paying you to post lies like this?

    • Traveler
      April 25, 2015 at 8:41 am

      How about the thousand of others totally brutalized and abused by some of the worst police forces in the world. All US!
      What a place ,nowadays!!!!

  3. Joe Tedesky
    April 13, 2015 at 1:59 am

    America’s ever growing militaristic conversion of it’s at home police departments is a security blanket for the country’s decision makers comfort. They would be up all night if the American people were to ever get out of hand. I mean, if some of the truth were to ever be known, it could get ugly. Although, never fear. The corporate media does a good job of keeping the people in neutral. While most Americans stay in limbo, the police are apparently practicing their real life target shooting on minorities (mostly Black). What police abuse does sneak through will not usually even get a trail, but that’s Justice!

    Recently, my wife and I flipped a coin and went to the movies and saw ‘American Sniper’. We both came away thinking more anti-war than ever. Kyle had a very sad life, in our view. After so many tours of duty in Iraq, and hardly having any time for his family life, well let’s just say it was that sad. I served in the Navy, and from time to time I have ‘thanked’ a service person ‘for their service’. Although, I would really like to tell our veterans how I feel for them. I mean how many tours of duty should one serve in a combat area? These cowardly ‘Chicken Hawks’ are always so ready to throw our military into battle, but never there to support the veterans needs afterwards. This mean spirited madness needs to end.

  4. Finn Nielsen
    April 13, 2015 at 3:29 am

    “I fear for what will become of our country” ….

    I think we are long past having to entertain that fear. It already “became” many years ago, and the issue facing us now, is whether anything can be done to reverse those developments. The horse went out that barn door a hundred years ago. Some quotes from a couple of books:

    President William McKinley, 1899:
    “We come not to make war upon the Philippines, but to protect them in their homes,
    in their employment, and in their personal and religious rights.” (James Bradley,
    The Imperial Cruise)

    Robert Austill, a US Army soldier in the Philippines, described his mission in 1902:
    “The people of the United States want us to kill all the men, fuck all the women,
    and raise up a new race in these Islands.” (James Bradley, The Imperial Cruise)

    From “Honor Bound: Race and Shame in America” by David Leverenz:
    Like the neocon planners in Washington, the Abu Ghraib guards in Iraq had been
    prepped about the Arabs. Their instructors had reduced Raphael Patai’s homogenizing
    book ‘The Arab Mind’ to two even more homogenizing points. Patai declares that
    Arabs understand only force and that Arab men are obsessed with sexual shame and
    humiliation. To the credit of the Marine Corps, one of their pamphlets informed
    the troops, ‘Do not shame or humiliate a man in public.’ If they have to cause
    shame, do it privately, since ‘the most important qualifier for all shame is for
    a third party to witness the act.’

    Don’t shame detainees by placing hoods over their heads. ‘Placing a detainee on
    the ground or putting a foot on him implies you are God. This is one of the worst
    things we can do.’ Arabs consider feet or soles of feet unclean. Ditto bodily
    fluids or ‘using the bathroom around others.’ And so forth.

    Fine, the guards said to themselves. Let’s do the opposite. Unclothe prisoners
    in front of each other, sodomize them with batons, make them do oral sex, force
    them to masturbate, pile them in naked pyramids, photograph them covered with
    shit — whatever. They think dogs are ritually unclean, so we’ll put dog leashes
    on their naked bodies and have dogs bite them. We’ll strut our own sexual fluids.
    Their shame shows our mastery. As Charles Graner said to a fellow specialist,
    ‘The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says,
    ‘I love to make a grown man piss himself.’

    Over 100 years earlier, a US marching song in the Philippines had celebrated the
    frequent use of water torture with Filipino prisoners. The songs title is
    “Water Cure,” and the verses display the soldiers’ jaunty conviction that
    torture can cure the Filipinos’ slavery. The song begins, “Get the good old
    syringe boys and fill it to the brim. We’ve caught another nigger and we’ll
    operate on him” (Sung to the tune of Battle Cry of Freedom).

    Raphael Pai’s “The Arab Mind” seems to have received numerous favorable reviews
    by military and other US officials – check the reviews on amazon.com

  5. F. G. Sanford
    April 13, 2015 at 3:33 am

    “If we see this video coverage, watch this sort of brutality, and do nothing, I fear for what will become of our country.” Ray, I admire your faith, but I recall that Jim Garrison said something similar about the Zapruder film. America has had many opportunities since then to change course. A campaign ad features a solemn Jeb Bush admonishing viewers to join together to, “Stop Hillary”. Meanwhile, Hillary is beaming with smiles in the certainty that her destiny is a fait accompli. Pots, kettles, and all that aside, the time for tears is long past. As the plot unfolds, the final scenes of ‘American Grotesque’ would seem to offer no surprises. There is no Deus ex machina behind the scrim. The crowd cheers, “Give us Barrabus”, and the caravan moves on through the night.

  6. jer
    April 13, 2015 at 3:39 am

    America a/k/a/ ‘Babylon’ has been confirmed to be well and truly truly overcome by the fascist spirit; or the great spirit that yearns to conquer all other lands and other people using false premises while spilling lots and lots of human blood in the process using unbridled violence. To understand this great spirit gripping America nowadays, read http://www.scribd.com/doc/219359291 and not be surprised that America is only actually just gettin’ warming up !

  7. Peter Loeb
    April 13, 2015 at 5:48 am

    WE ARE TRAINED FOR VIOLENCE

    As a society we in the US are trained to idolize violence, to pay for the “thrill” of killing. It is
    insignificant that some candidates support this as the “American Way of Life”. Whether
    such a leader has male genitalia or not seems totally irrelevant.

    Violence is fatal not only to many thousands of human beings abroad but wrecks families
    and even while noting this t with some compassion is more concerned with the wealth of
    those who profit from violence.

    This has been the history of the US for hundreds of years. Early colonialists did not have
    “smart” bombs or high-tech missiles and drones but that didn’t keep them (us) from genocidal
    murder of Native Americans.

    Meanwhile suicides, marital breakups and the like continue for manyh decades. This
    is not new and no “news” to the armed services.

    —–Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  8. John
    April 13, 2015 at 7:19 am

    While the violence is not new, the celebration and licensing of violence against foreign and now domestic populations, in the mass media and right wing propaganda, does indicate a final phase of the disease of right wing tyranny over democracy as described by Aristotle. The right wing invents foreign monsters to rationalize its demand for domestic power.

    The cowardly or opportunistic acquiescence to right wing rationales based upon flimsy presumptions despite obviously stronger counterarguments, all suggest the triumph of coercion in right wing domestic politics.

    One of the strongest mechanisms for sanity in politics is sympathy with other humans, a prime target of the right wing, which trains others to laugh at suffering, blame the victims, and to believe ourselves vindicated as persons and as a nation by the abuse of power.

    Not many will shed a tear for the victims, but those with sympathy can be kept in the fold. Far more can be persuaded to switch to the humanitarian side when they see US force being defeated, as in Vietnam, and in the reaction to US race riots of the 1960s.

  9. John
    April 13, 2015 at 7:22 am

    While the violence is not new, the celebration and licensing of violence against foreign and now domestic populations, in the mass media and right wing propaganda, does indicate a final phase of the disease of right wing tyranny over democracy as described by Aristotle. The right wing invents foreign monsters to rationalize its demand for domestic power.

    The cowardly or opportunistic acquiescence to right wing rationales based upon flimsy presumptions, despite obviously stronger counterarguments, suggests the triumph of coercion in right wing domestic politics.

    One of the strongest mechanisms for sanity in politics is sympathy with other humans, a prime target of the right wing, which trains others to laugh at suffering, blame the victims, and to believe ourselves vindicated as persons and as a nation by the abuse of power.

    Not many will shed a tear for the victims, but those with sympathy can be kept in the fold. Far more can be persuaded to switch to the humanitarian side when they see US force being defeated, as in Vietnam, and in the reaction to US race riots of the 1960s.

  10. Geoffrey de Galles
    April 13, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    One might wish to be informed authoritatively on the basis of a survey (1) what proportion of US police, state by state, are military veterans (a) with battlefield experience, or (b) lacking any such; and (2) what proportion of those policemen (a) accused of, and (b) convicted of, violent offenses in the line of duty have (a) military backgrounds and (b) battlefield experience — and this, again, state by state.

    • Ray McGovern
      April 13, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks, Geoffrey. THIS IS A VERY USEFUL SUGGESTION.

      How would we go about having this done?

      ray mcgovern

      • Geoffrey de Galles
        April 14, 2015 at 2:02 am

        Thanks, Ray. Of course, in the interests of gaining a true perspective, one would also need to factor into things the proportion of cops (a) accused of, and (b) convicted of, violent offenses in the line of duty who (however) have NO military background. Also, maybe my state by state distinction is a false one, and any such survey, as projected, would properly have to consider matters county by county, city by city, and town by town et cetera (as in, e.g., the district of Ferguson) — I myself don’t know how the discrete police forces are divvied up @ USA. As for ideas on how to proceed, lemme think a bit about this and get back to you by email (I have your address and will not use my nom de plume when writing).

    • Rachel
      April 13, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      I agree with Geoffrey. I was wondering the same thing when I was reading about these WalMart shooting in Cottonwood, AZ. One of the shooters in the James Boyd murder by police was ex-military and had “Served” and had been awarded a medal, for what i don’t know. This “experience” and “training” did not help him in serving and protecting citizens. It did help him in serving self elected as judge, jury and executioner. Lucky for us, he is no longer a police officer. Unlucky for us, he is not in prison and has not been charged with any crime. So you, or I, might meet him someday, in some capacity.

    • Coleen Rowley
      April 14, 2015 at 12:06 pm

      This would be hard since police shooting stats and charges, when they occur, are not well kept. Almost no police officers are ever convicted of using excessive force or wrongful shooting although the prevalence of cameras may change that.

      It would be even better or in addition, to conduct research correlating the percentage of non-police (plain civilian) murders or murder-suicides perpetrated by veterans, to determine if there’s been an increase since the post 9-11 wars, possibly due to the prevalence of PTSD and other serious mental illness among veterans but also due to the cultural shift in the U.S. making heros of war snipers, etc. (Military veteran police shootings would reflect and merely be a subset of this larger phenomenon.) I believe the New York Times actually did publish a pretty comprehensive news report on this topic years ago but it was based on a study conducted in 2005 or 2006, only a few years after the wars started and I haven’t seen any follow-up since then. (Kind of like the State Department stopped in 2004 quantifying the international rise in terrorist incidents and casualties, after they got caught minimizing the numbers and it was discovered that terrorist incidents had greatly increased in the world after wars on Afghanistan and Iraq had been launched to “make us safe.”)

      This info can be obtained via news articles however one has to often read to the end to see a short mention that the killer previously served in the military. Many times also such killers commit suicide. Just a few months ago, such a sad incident occurred just 3 miles from my home wherein a war veteran killed his wife, 5 year old daughter and then himself. But the media almost never connects these dots as it’s not politically correct.

      The FBI HAS recently documented one category of what they call “active shooter incidents” which (rather unique) category has nearly tripled in the last couple years but to my knowledge, no one has checked to see how many are like the “Navy Yard” one wherein the shooter served in the military. And don’t forget that three of the most important “domestic terrorists” before or at the time of 9-11 were all products of Gulf War I: Timothy McVeigh, John Muhammad the “DC Sniper” and Robert Florez (who killed three nursing professors and then himself).

      I used to train FBI agents in the use of legitimate self defense “deadly force.” The training is not just through verbal reminders as to the legal standards relating to authorized use of deadly force when there is an imminent threat to the life of the officer or to an innocent person, but such training occurs via video simulation and in training drills. I personally think that the announcement itself legitimating the country’s use of “pre-emptive force” and the 12 years or so of putting that concept into practice, instead of following the domestic police standard and which has thoroughly desensitized people in the U.S., is a far bigger factor in the problem of police now beginning to follow the “law of war.”

      Ironically, in appointing itself “policeman of the world,” the US is not following the stricter “self defense only” standard for use of deadly force that domestic police are supposed to follow in exchange for being permitted by law to apply deadly force. The drone assassination policy, for example, presents a significant departure. How can anyone expect domestic police not to be affected by the example set by US leadership? As Cicero once noted, “The law falls silent during times of war.”

  11. Joseph Mitchell
    April 13, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    A couple of years ago I read Henry Kissinger’s book on Metternich and the Conservative Order that he credited with keeping the peace for 100 years in Europe.

    It was Kissinger’s doctrinal thesis turned into a book and gave the foundation of the thinking that endeared him with Presidential hopeful Nelson Rockefeller.

    What struck me was a line I had read many times in different contexts, that a society that is not bloodied by war becomes soft. I had read this as a rational as to why Rome fell and why Harold had lost at Hastings. They fell because they had become soft and lost their warrior edge.

    To read it from Kissinger in view of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and put it in a contemporary context made me think that it is the intention of the oligarchs who Kissinger speaks to, that we as a society must be kept in a state of perpetual post traumatic stress.

    We are an extremely violent society and we are being engineered to be that way.

  12. John Kirsch
    April 14, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    The situation described in this article reminds me of a line from a Creedence Clearwater Revival song: “Did you hear about the war? It comes back home.”

  13. John Kirsch
    April 14, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    One other comment: To me, the most horrifying part of the video is the casual way the officer shoots Scott. There’s a world of white privilege and entitlement in that casualness, a knowledge on the officer’s part that he can commit this hideous act — and be assured of getting away with it.

  14. AnthraxSleuth
    April 14, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    While you are spot on I must add that decades of releasing violent criminals from prison to make room for non violent “drug offenders” has rendered violence vogue in America.
    I do wonder why there was no mention of our “police” chiefs being sent to Israel to be trained that American citizens are the popo’s number one enemy.

  15. Coleen Rowley
    April 15, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    Notice how in this recent case of use of deadly force by police, (http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/14/us/arizona-police-run-over-suspect/ a more pre-emptive standard is articulated to justify the police action than would be justified by self-defense normally. This particular case seems to have ended well but allowing deadly force to be used pre-emptively will lead more times than not to worse consequences than sticking to the old self-defense standard which required an “imminent threat” of death or serious injury to the officer or to an innocent person.

Comments are closed.