United States

Step Two: Lift Up

Getting right into it.

America spends proportionally more on healthcare than any other developed country. Bizarrely, the quality of care is also much lower than it is in countries that spend less than we do.

This discrepancy is reportedly a result of “higher health-sector prices.” This shouldn’t be a surprise, since the multifarious insurance companies dominating the US medical market are specifically designed to maximize profit from peoples’ poor/health.

That such a malicious, misanthropic practice is permitted at all is appalling, to me. What happened to the life in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”

On top of this are malpractice and tort reform. Tort reform has reform in big quotes because it is a widely used name which has nothing at all to do with reform, and in fact is pretty thoroughly corrupt. The argument behind tort “reform” comes from the medical establishment, and boils down to this:

So like, you know how sometimes our doctors and surgeons inadvertently cause irreparable damage or death to their patients? And the patients or their families like… wanna sue? Well, if they do sue, and they win… we don’t wanna pay that much. Like one, two hundred thou, tops. Anything more would be, um, like, a total burden or whatever. KTHXBYE

Let’s look at a fairly common case of medical malpractice. Erb’s Palsy. Erb’s Palsy is often a result of nerve damage caused to an infant while they are being delivered. It can result in permanent loss of muscle and motor function in one arm for the rest of that person’s life.

Erb’s Palsy is completely preventable. It is only likely to happen when good medical care is not being provided. In other words, it happens if a doctor fucks up.

How much money is required to treat such an injury with surgeries (sometimes multiple attempts at surgical repair still fail) and rehabilitation? Considering it can cost tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars through any given year, multiplied by the rest of the person’s life, we’re looking at potentially millions of dollars spent on medical costs to repair completely avoidable damage.

In one case, a woman was awarded almost thirteen million dollars by a jury when her baby was incompetently delivered, resulting in Erb’s Palsy. However, thanks to local tort “reform” laws, her payout was capped to four million. From that four million comes the lawyer fees (usually a flat one third of the settlement payed out), so we’re probably looking at closer to three million.

Keep in mind that a few days in the ICU can cost almost five hundred thousand dollars.

If doctors maintain attitudes like this to people in need of medical care, imagine insurance companies, third party middle-men who monetize peoples’ suffering. These practices are practically dystopian.

Instead of looking at Switzerland, let’s look at the UK, now. Specifically, let’s look at the UK’s NHS (National Health Service, not the National Honor Society [which I happened to be a member of back in the day]). Again, according to the data, the UK spends roughly 5% less of its GPD on healthcare, yet in terms of performance, it is on top of the list.

The NHS is essentially a tax-funded, government-run healthcare system provided to everyone in the UK. There are still private practices and small clinics, often also subsidized by the NHS, but predominantly NHS halthcare workers and hospitals work directly for the government.


There is absolutely an opportunity for the government to engage in invasive practices and abuse wherever it exists as a literal bureaucracy, managing peoples’ lives, especially their health. Our government engages in these practices. A lot. However, I would contend that as bad as the government is, it at least ostensibly works for the common good, even if politicians are willing to play broadly with the definition of that term.

Corporations, on the other hand, exist for one thing: profit.

We have no problem with government-run firehouses or government-run police. Why is there so much mistrust for government-run healthcare? Imagine if, instead of the percentage of a dollar you pay in taxes to the local firehouse, you paid rates comparable to medical insurance for the right to have immediate fire response teams. Considering how much a fucking ambulance costs, you’re looking at much more than you pay in taxes. Additionally, if you don’t experience a fire, your money went straight into someone’s pocket.

However, when necessary fire response is pulled from a limited pool of tax revenue, it’s much more frugal. The system is clearly more ideal.

Why on earth do we tolerate a system like this for fire response, but not for medical care? Why is it an unnecessary tax burden to pay a small amount towards care that someone, somewhere needs, and that you might one day need, but very few people complain about paying the salaries of local cops?

Granted, those cops might be murdering people in the streets, but while that’s certainly an issue, not many people go so far as to say, “You know what? It’s better to not have any local or federal cops at all.”

(Incidentally, societies where cops have been privatized are prominent in dystopian fiction or satire, like the Shadowrun universe or this sketch from Fry and Laurie.)

Ultimately it comes down to, what is the job of government? Why does government exist, and who for?

I would argue that the government exists to ensure the greatest possible measure of safety and quality of life for the maximum number of citizens who honor its laws. This definition is commensurate with the enlightenment philosophy that spawned the American independence movement and informed its constitution and Bill of Rights. It is a definition that has since been validated by other developed countries with high standards of living, and international organizations like the UN.

In opposition to this, companies exist… to make money. They can absolutely scam the hell out of people in order to do this, and if you think they should, I’m not really sure what to say. Rather than any public good, they idealize profit.

Between these two alternatives, which is best suited to ensuring public safety and health? We give the government the power to run police. We give the government the responsibility of ensuring fire safety. We give the government the responsibility of protecting our borders and our skies, of building our roads and bridges, of maintaining courts of law…

So let’s get back to the practical issue, here. The UK has proved that a government-run healthcare system can cost less while performing better. As for tort reform?

In a government-run system, the government is responsible for malpractice. This completely liberates doctors from their own need for insurance (malpractice insurance). The health system is beholden to taxpayers and legislators who like getting elected, rather than insurance companies or private hospitals who might seek to gouge prices for themselves. And because all healthcare is free, if someone does become a victim of malpractice, they aren’t charged for the consequences, and neither are the doctors responsible.

“But wait,” you might say. “What about Obamacare?”

Obamacare is just as inefficient as the preceding system; it just spreads the inefficiency around more. Let’s say someone qualifies for a government subsidy to pay the rates offered by a health insurance company. What funds the government subsidy? Tax revenue. Who pays for tax revenue? We do.

With every subsidized health plan, we all help pay the insurance rate of a company that is probably offering the lowest possible benefits to qualify, and is not legally obligated to use that subsidy for actual implementation of health services. Now, insurance companies are paid not only by people who could ordinarily afford it, but by the taxes subsidizing people who previously couldn’t.

Guess who helped write Obamacare?

Insurance companies.

For a moment, stop imaging things as they are, with widespread poverty, people fully employed at half of a living wage, and expensive, poor-quality healthcare.

Imagine a United States where everyone has the means with which to properly live, and where their right to a healthy life is secured, no matter their financial ability.

If that doesn’t do it for you, try thinking about an America, where a demobilized military and de-privatized health service (oh, and an abolished death penalty while we’re at it) happens to have saved the country something in the ballpark of trillions of dollars annually.

What would we do with all that money? I have some ideas.

Step One: Draw Down (Pt 1)

Putting it simply, we need to reduce the size and cost of the military. However, the mere suggestion of a draw-down is almost guaranteed to be balked at in this country. If you remember early last year when SecDef Hagel announced personnel cuts for the Army (keeping in mind that we also have a Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and Air Force), you may also remember the ensuing outcry. The Army is an interesting target for historical comparisons, because unlike personnel in the Navy and Air Force, the infantryman’s role has remained largely unchanged since WWII. But there’s a quote about the matter that always bothered me. There are a number of reasons why, but the primary one is that it misrepresents, and deliberately, a number of things.

That would make [the Army] the smallest since just before the U.S. entered World War II.

Ok, first of all: before it entered World War II, America had a draft. It was the first and last peacetime draft in American history, and authorized the conscription of any males between 21 and 35, up to just under a million troops. In the preceding decade, the United States was not ignorant to the threat of war rising both from Europe and Japan, and the 400,000 Army personnel authorized between 1939 and 1940 before that draft were a direct response to that threat. Even in the midst of rising conflict until that point, however, the regular Army capped out at around 280,000 troops.

The quote is deceptive for an additional reason. Up to and during WWII, the US Army did not use military contractors.

Contractors generally serve in logistical and auxiliary roles for the military. They do laundry, food production, construction, security, intelligence, and even foreign training. The estimated ratio of deployed personnel to contractors ranges from 10 to 1 to 2 to 1, but the thing to remember is that everything contractors do now was once done by regular military forces.

Those 280,000 Army troops authorized before WWII included not just the roles soldiers perform today, but every element of the logistical chain of the military, including everything that the billion-dollar industry of defense contracting does now. What is characterized as essential forces, in numbers, of the US Army does not include the thousands of contractors in use. Yet, a few hundred thousand soldiers prior to WWII was deemed enough, even including the requirement for such auxiliary services among the standing military.

What this means is that, while Spain was being bombed by the Luftwaffe and Japan was invading Manchuria, and even while Germany was invading and annexing its neighbors, the US Army and its entire chain of logistical and other support networks (which included the Army Air force, as there was no Air Force beforehand) stood at 280,000.

There are a number of factors that mitigate this number. The population of the United States during that period was less than half of what it is now. Technology at the time did not permit for, let alone require, investment in weapons and vehicles that became essential later in the war, nor those that have been developed since (like helicopters). However, technology has allowed for cheaper or even automated solutions to old problems, and the geographic borders of the United States have remained largely the same. 280,000 soldiers, called to action in an emergency, would still have to defend the same surface area today as they would have then.

One of the keys to the viability of that is the proportionality of warfare, specifically in the engagement of defense. In tactical terms, and especially in the matter of intercontinental warfare, it is generally accepted that an attacker must have numerical superiority over defenders of a holding or defensive position, presuming the defenders use the geography or other infrastructure to their advantage. The ideal, however, is 5 attackers to every defender. This means that even with only 280,000 troops, the US Army could have viably opposed an invading force of 1.5 million and had a reasonable chance of holding them off. Even then, the standing army of 280,000 was never intended to be the sole armed force in the event of war, and the Protective Mobilization Plan in effect during that time accounted for the rapid organization of a 2,000,000-man Army if it were necessary. The 10-million-strong army ideal for taking and holding the United States in the event of the Plan being acted upon simply wasn’t available.

It’s ironic that we call our defense budget a “defense” budget when it predominantly employs, trains, and equips soldiers, sailors, and airmen in numbers far above what is actually necessary for a peacetime standing army dedicated to domestic defense. Including the hundreds of thousands of defense contractors that our defense budget employs, total ground forces alone total closer to around 900,000 personnel, or early WWII draft levels.

But let’s examine the 440,000 number from Hagel again. It does not include the over 500,000 members of the reserves and National Guard. However, included in that number is over 60,000 Army personnel stationed abroad, not including those in Afghanistan or Iraq. Even including the personnel still engaged in Desert Storm II, we’re looking at an effective domestic defense force of 380,000. That’s still 100,000 more than what was deemed necessary in the late 30’s during an approaching world war.

Yet, there is no sign of the immediate threat of WWIII breaking out. It is not just out of military dominance that the threat of invasion is tiny, but because our primary military rivals are also simultaneously our close economic allies. It would require a tremendous global political upheaval before Russia or China even contemplated attacking the United states. 280,000, let alone 380,000, is a wartime footing approaching a stance towards national defense in the event of an immediate war, but there is absolutely no serious threat of invasion. If a force this size, plus our thousands of contractors, is not necessary for defense, then what sort of force do we have? Well, obviously it’s an attack force, an imperial force. The United States military resembles an imperial military.

This arrangement is necessary to maintain the US’s global position as top-dog: politically, economically, and of course militarily. Foreign bases operated by volunteer, career military men and women, in addition to prolific use of contractors, or mercenaries, is the bread and butter of an empire. But what has being an empire gained us?

We have cheap access to resources and goods. While these things may seem nice, they are in fact a symptom of the US’s dependence on a consumer economy. A consumer economy is not sustainable over a long-term period, and it’s a primary factor in our present economic situation, but we’ll get to that later.

The bottom line is that what we love about our huge military is also what’s likely to lead to our country’s downfall. Factoring into that the tremendous amount of waste in the defense budget burdened upon our national debt and our still struggling economic climate, we simply can’t afford to maintain the military we have. Given the domestic situation in regards to dwindling rights to privacy and protections from law enforcement, let alone unjust law, and rampant political and economic dysfunction, we have no business spending so much money and manpower on a force that exists largely to project our waning power onto the rest of the world. We need to tighten the belt and get back to basics.

During the 30’s, one of the core concerns of the government was maintaining at least 100,000 Army officers for the purpose of training a raised army in the event of war. 100,000 is two-thirds of the entire invasion force of the Normandy landings on D-Day, and seems more than adequate as an emergency reaction force, but accounting for population growth it would be wiser to double it to 200,000. What I propose is maintaining 200,000 trained personnel for the Army, 200,000 for the Navy and Marines, and 50,000 for the Air Force while leaving the Coast Guard untouched. That would put the entire armed forces under the umbrella of a number currently proposed for the Army alone, and would cut budget costs on personnel by three quarters. Eliminating contractors from the equation and proportionally decreasing spending on component materials and technologies.

And in the event of a war or impending invasion, where immediate national defense is urgent, who would make up the rest of the armed forces? It might be argued that less than half a million troops might be a tempting target to, say, China, with over 2.2 million active duty personnel. The answer, I think, is compulsory military service. With 120,000 million men and women fit for military service, the United States is uniquely poised to defend itself if the citizenry should ever need to take up arms.

But more on that next update.

How the Terrorists Won

And Other Uplifting Stories from the 21st Century

Hello, Internet. It’s been a while.

Well, let’s get to it.

So, let’s indulge certain world leaders and acknowledge at face value that there is a literal “war” on “terror.” Terror, of course, being a poetic substitution for “terrorism.”

In 2003 the US government released its “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism.” In it is outlined the national strategy for “victory” against terrorism. The primary goal is stated as this:

“to stop terrorist attacks against the United States, its citizens, its interests, and our friends and allies around the world and ultimately, to create an international environment inhospitable to terrorists and all those who support them”

According to the report, there are four intermediate objectives required in order to accomplish this.
1. Defeat terrorists
2. Deny them sponsorship and support
3. Diminish the conditions which engender terrorism
4. Defend the security of our interests at home and abroad

Now aside from the clear hard-on for ‘D’s here alliterated, what do you notice 12 years later?
1. Terrorists are more proliferated now than when we invaded Iraq in 2003.
2. Terrorists enjoy increased support from around the world, including from our own alleged allies like Kuwait, as well as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China.
3. The Middle east has become exponentially more unstable, with civil conflict among many states creating prime conditions for breeding more extremism.
4. We have suffered through the Boston Bombing, the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, and numerous terrorist attacks upon our allies in the Middle East and the European Union.

In other words, every single objective of this strategy has failed. I’ve talked previously about how the attack on Iraq itself counter-intuitively encouraged this failure. But Al Queda, too, had a strategy, although of course it was for the advancement of terrorism.

In 2005, Saif al-Adel, al Qaeda’s military commander at the time, revealed Al Queda’s 7-point strategy for the 21st century.
1. “The awakening,” 2000-2003, in which the 9/11 attacks were the first wave. The purpose of this phase was to provoke the US into declaring war on the Muslim world.
2. “Opening Eyes,” 2004-2006, in which Iraq is converted into a hotbed for terrorist activity and an active way-station and base for recruits.
3. “Arising and Standing Up,” 2007-2010, plans for an increase in terrorist activities, especially attacks against more stable Middle eastern nations like Israel and Jordan, with a particular emphasis on Syria.
4. For the years of 2010-2013, Al Queda planned to bring about the end of dictatorial governments in the Middle East, like those of Syria and Egypt, as well as undermining the US economy using cyber-terrorism.
5. Between 2013-2016, Al Queda hopes for a literal establishment of the “Islamic State,” or caliphate, wherein the Western image will be weakened so much that support for Islamic fundamentalism will rise exponentially.
6. From 2016 onwards, the new “Islamic State” will provoke or inflict national violence against “non-believers” in the pursuit of enforcing Muslim beliefs on the entire region.
7. Al Queda foresees victory in 2020, after a two-year war in which the Western world finally admits defeat by the Muslims of the Middle East and, presumably, withdraws totally from both overt and covert capacities.

It’s sobering to remember that this was released in 2005, and had probably been in the works for at least half a decade. While some objectives are, generously, a pipe dream by terrorism defined as Al Queda alone, expanding the objectives to encompass all terrorist activity shows where the organization possessed startling prescience.
1. It goes without saying that the 9/11 attacks worked. The US invaded Afghanistan, and then Iraq, with the predictable result of getting stuck there for more than ten years.
2. Iraq has been completely destabilized, and Al Queda in Iraq, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations which were nonexistent under Saddam’s regime now flourish.
3.-4. Al Queda’s third and fourth phases eerily predict the Arab Spring and ensuing end to, or challenge of, dictatorial regimes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen, as well as their emphasized focus on Syria, where Al Nusra Front and ISIS (both local outgrowths of Al Queda)¬† have made significant, well-publicized gains since 2010. The economic defeat of the United States precluded any need for cyber-terrorism, as its own military adventure served the same objective, and with little need for effort on the part of Al Queda.
5. The name of “ISIS”, or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is predicted. While the group exists more as a guerrilla force than a government entity, it’s startling to realize that its existence is owed in no small part to the plans and predictions of Al Queda ten years prior. The US’s predictions for Iraq and Afghanistan ten years ago were significantly less astute.
6. Although this phase is planned for the future, there’s already evidence that ISIS’s designs include such activities, and has begun to encourage them.
7. It’s hard to say what exactly will be the case in 2020, but the future isn’t looking particularly bright.

Strategy, independent of tactics, determines the victor in war. Strategy is more than a simple prediction of victory, but a description of the means to achieve victory in terms which can be interpreted broadly, but implemented specifically. As such, there is some leeway in judging the success or failure of each strategy in the Middle East, and around the world.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to say that the strategy of defeating terrorism has had any success. If anything, the US’s means of achieving that goal has actually contributed to its own defeat. Invasions and military actions in the Middle East have inflamed an already unstable region, united opinion against us, and crippled our own economy, which has resulted in an unprecedented rise in terrorism around the world.

For terrorism, US activity has been a boon, as has been the growing animosity to Muslims around the world. Western reactions and backlashes to these activities, exhibited in the rise of right-wing ideology engendered by terrorist activities, increasingly isolates and radicalizes Muslims domestically and abroad. This leads to greater recruitment of terrorists, as more Muslims see solidarity in joining with those who oppose increasingly reactionary Western governments and populations.

This, like the US and the Middle East, like Israel and Palestine, is yet another recursive loop of foreign policy, where so-called enlightened powers play into the most bold-faced and basic guerrilla strategies of extremists without recourse to real international political or economic pressure. Throughout the course of the war on terror, we have framed victory as a mere matter of search-and-destroy, and of exporting our ideas to other countries in an attempt to stabilize in one lifetime what centuries have wrought, as though those countries could not survive without our wisdom or guidance.

The truth that has emerged is that these very strategies bring about more terrorism. And if our war on terror has simply sewn more terror, what can be done? Clearly we need a new strategy. I am sick and tired of seeing these same strategies, the same tactics, used again and again by the United States, in the name of high-minded ideals like freedom and democracy, when in actuality our actions serve only to engender further animosity abroad by representing us in the most myopic and unenlightened possible light.

I have an alternative strategy to propose. It’s not a simple fix, and it is unlikely ever to be implemented, but I believe if we do not significantly change the course of this country, it will be a footnote before long, a tragic tale of the rise and fall of the first, and last, global democracy.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Today, I’d like to weigh in on a matter that isn’t much discussed lately: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

(“Oh, really? How original!” All three of you might be saying.)

It took me an entire month to figure out how to approach this subject. It would be utterly redundant to belabor the complexity of the issues involved, especially when the emotions invested in this particular conflict are so intense. I acknowledge these feelings, and the degree to which they are often felt ensures that I’m unlikely to change anyone’s mind on this issue.

So, then, Hamas vs. the IDF. Who is in the right, and who is in the wrong? I see this most frequently posed question as fundamentally flawed.

I look at Hamas and I see a terrorist organization that literally wants to wipe out the Jews. I look at the IDF and I see one of (if not the most) advanced militaries in the world which relentlessly pounds a tiny speck of land full of civilians, willing to justify the killing of hundreds of children in one month over strategic goals that are themselves self-defeating.

The analogy of David and Goliath invoked not infrequently (with the central irony of a Palestinian David and Israeli Goliath) has some basis in reality. However, it would be much more accurate to have Li’l Hitler playing the part of David, hopping from beside one Palestinian bassinet to another throwing rocks at an Israeli Jaeger which then tries to smack Li’l Hitler with its fist, as if playing a perverse game of whack-a-mole. The more innocents get smacked, the more willing grieving Palestinian parents are to provide Li’l hitler with rocks, even if they don’t particularly like him.

It is said that in war no one wins, and everyone loses. Often that’s true; at the very least, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not an exception. One can argue that the IDF can win militarily by destroying secret tunnels or killing what they deem to be a “sufficient” number of rocket launch sites. However, the conduct of their operations in Gaza are inseparable from the killing of innocent civilians. One can then argue Hamas needs only to survive in order to win, for Israeli operations, while destructive, only increase support for Hamas and other militant groups. This is, most likely, one of the major reasons Hamas has for firing rockets from civilian centers, drawing fire from the IDF to rally more anti-Israeli sentiment. Ultimately Israel will declare an end to the conflict on some sort of arbitrary basis, as they always do, and withdraw. Yet, the rockets will keep coming, if not now, then later; Hamas will certainly fight on.

However, every rocket fired into Israel risks prompting a response from the IDF. This leads to blockades and sanctions (necessitating secret tunnels in order to sustain survivability for those in the affected area), and what seems to be an almost seasonal offensive from Israel. Hamas’s stated intent to, among other things, gain Palestinian independence is seriously undermined by the measures taken by its far more powerful neighbors. A successful fighting force needs a powerful logistical supply chain and an infrastructure effective enough to supply healthy recruits and auxiliary aid. With each war in the Gaza strip, provoked or not, Gaza’s capability to provide for those basic necessities collapses even further.

So, to recap: provoked by rocket fire against Israel, the IDF attacks Palestine, causing civilian casualties that incite more people to join militant groups, which fire rockets at Israel.


There’s something missing from this recursive loop of an equation, however, and it is the side I ultimately choose to sympathize with. The Palestinian civilians in Gaza suffer disproportionately by a far more powerful aggressor for the actions of a few, with whom they have little to no affiliation or allegiance. I think it’s entirely fair to call the Palestinians victims in all of this.

But that’s only half of the remainder. The IDF, drawn from citizen soldiers, requires public support in order to commit to risky campaigns. Somehow, a war which has killed hundreds of civilians, including many children, and for the mere sake of vague objectives, has a 95% approval rating among Israeli Jews. To put that in perspective, American support for the Iraq war, a similarly muddy Faustian bargain, peaked at 72% in its first months and soon dropped very sharply. Polls show that a significant percentage of Israeli non-Arabs hold racial contempt against Arabs, even those who are citizens of Israel. Although government and media propaganda play a heavy hand in this, the daily threat of Palestinian rockets hitting Israelis, though substantially mitigated by Iron Dome, is very real. There’s also the matter of antisemitism, which is on the rise.

Modern Israel’s history is deeply rooted in the Holocaust. It is a fact that there was a point in history where one zealous group of people with national power determined unilaterally that Jews should all be destroyed. Modern Israel was founded by many survivors of that genocide. It is understandable that, in the interest of preventing another Holocaust, Jews in Israel would react quickly, and violently, to any antisemitism from its neighbors. By all means, a second Holocaust should be averted, if it is a threat.

However, if it is a threat today, it is remote. As stated earlier, Israel, though tiny, is an incredibly powerful country. It also continues to enjoy what has amounted to billions of dollars in aid from its allies. Sorry, ally. Israel is not a Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, it is a modern democracy, and very much representative of the Western world’s monopoly on what is currently defined as “first world” civilization. This forms a significant portion of Israel’s self-identified moral superiority over its neighbors. Most Israelis have access to books, to libraries, to the internet. They are every bit as capable of assimilating the concepts of basic human rights and opposing government policy as any other citizen of the West, and many do.

The fact that Israel, a country that drinks so liberally from the cup of Western ideals, clings to such an archaic form of militant nationalism, speaks to a deeper problem. Hamas commits Palestinians to a war with Israel without their consent; it victimizes its own people. So too does Israel’s government turn its own citizens into pawns, provoking attacks by Hamas to fuel anti-Palestinian sentiment that then charges national politics and ensures continued military aid. I would not go so far as to invoke the idea of a devious, long-term conspiracy on the part of Israeli politicians, but they certainly seem to know how to push the right buttons.

And so, finally, my conclusion: the populations of both Israel and Palestine are being held hostage by their own governments. One is subject to military reprisals due to provocations made by its own leaders precisely to cause civilian casualties, while the other is subject to radicalizing nationalistic pressure from a government that refuses to deviate from policies that provoke threatening attacks and prolong political and military tensions.

What can be done?

I don’t know. Smarter and more talented people than myself have tried and failed to come up with a solution to this tragic and constant problem.

However, the US sends aid to both sides of this conflict. We cannot justifiably tell other nations how to conduct their affairs, especially as a nation with such a dirty track record of its own. The provision of foreign aid, especially military aid, is undeniably a tacit attempt to influence, if not destabilize, another nation’s political climate with volatile capital.

Is it really the place of the United states to decide that either government in this case, when both are ultimately responsible for human rights abuses, deserve approval in the form of our money?

Two Days Ago, a Murderer Died in Georgia

It should be clarified, first, that I am not literally calling Theodore Van Kirk a murderer in the sense that he alone was responsible for the deaths of 140,000 people, most of them civilians. He was merely one in a crew of people, acting under the orders of a commander commissioned by the United States.

I also do not wish to imply that Theodore Van Kirk’s moral character is comparable to that of Joseph Wood.

Nonetheless, had Theodore Van Kirk decided, at the last minute, to disobey the orders given to him, the lives of 140,000 people would have been spared, if only temporarily.

My accusation does not lay at the feet of a dead veteran. It lays at the steps of the country which created him.

Why is killing two people in cold blood a capital crime, and killing thousands heroism?

Who is anyone to decide when one killing is justified and another is not?

Why is James Wood “bad” enough that we can judge him as so evil he must be destroyed, but the United States is “good” enough that it can murder civilians in the hundreds of thousands with impunity?

Individuals can be held accountable. Even some countries can be held accountable; at least, attempts are made to hold them accountable.

Yet, it is undeniable that some countries are more accountable than others. If you are large enough, prosperous enough, powerful enough, you are immune. Even if other countries, “enemy” and “ally” alike, publicly condemn such a country, they do nothing. There is no accountability; there is only tacit acceptance.

Why is that?

Murder is the ultimate affront to freedom. A blind, deaf, and mute paraplegic still has a chance at pursuing a full life. Victims of torture, false imprisonment, slavery, and abuse have turned their struggles into triumphs. Although inspiring success stories in that vein are hardly the norm, the fact remains they are a possibility at all because the people affected are still alive. A person who is dead has lost their freedom. They cannot think, they cannot hope, they cannot strive to accomplish anything. They existed once, they exhibited their potential, and until the moment of their death that potential remained theirs to seize.

Once dead, that possibility no longer exists. That is why murder is so horrifying.

Americans obsess over freedom. Anymore, it’s a sound-byte, a mere keyword, trite and cliche, something so pervasive in the language and culture of everything from political rhetoric to entertainment that the word itself is now taken for granted. And yet while we cherish freedom at home, where one death is worth an article in the local paper, how have we come to a point where a hundred people in another country can die and Americans can frown for a moment, then go back to their daily lives, feeling nothing?

I believe it’s the same reason we enshrine and immortalize war heroes, fetishize violence, and crank out video games every year where the primary objective is to kill.

Despite the conscious insistence on equality, before the law, before humanity, before any god, human beings do not fundamentally believe in equality. There is one axis along which all are judged: sympathetic, and “other.”

The English are “sympathetic” to us. When an English soldier dies in our war on Afghanistan we may see it on the news, we may stir and groan in sympathy and commend them for their sacrifice. The compassion is felt on a deep, primal level, even if it is fleeting.

Yet when a Syrian rebel dies it’s a non-event. In many ways a Syrian rebel (presuming they are not affiliated with an Islamist extremist group and indeed combat Bashar Al-Assad’s abusive regime) has more in common with an American than any native British soldier, who still to some extent serves a monarch. America’s existence and identity is founded on its resistance to oppression by a despot; a Syrian rebel fights for similar reasons. And yet, they are cast as an “other.” They can die in droves, and if the news week is slow they might get a segment on CNN, but it would be unusual if any individual is eulogized.

The easy answer is that Syrians aren’t “white,” and “we” are, but that’s not strictly true. “Otherness” is cast along far more obscure lines. It’s why perfectly blonde-haired, blue-eyed specimens of the “Aryan Race” can be mowed down in the thousands in the latest WWII first-person shooter, simply because they happen to have a Swastika on their arm.

Someone cast as an “other” is not merely someone who looks different. An “other” is someone we choose not to understand.

This choice is not strictly personal. It’s a calculated result, produced by a political mechanism that tells us who is sympathetic and who is not. The “Yella Colored Fellas marched our Marines to death at Bataan and attacked our boys Pearl Harbor,” they’re “monsters,” they’re “evil.” “Japs,” they were also called, “Nips,” “Nippers.”

To call them Japanese would be to acknowledge the sovereignty of their government and regard them, at least in part, as a parallel nation of people. And “people,” “human beings:” calling them those, that’s out of the question.

You do not rally a country to war by reassuring them they will be killing the elderly, or mothers and children. You rally a country to war by defining a group as “other.”

“Others” are not perceived as human. They often take on nicknames, like “Gook,” or “Hadji,” to reduce them to being less-than-human. If they happen to look different all the better, but they could just as well be a “Commie,” or a “Red.”

Or a “Jew.”

You will find monuments to the way that America has chosen to define otherness all over the world. They are in the death tolls in Japan, in Korea, in Vietnam. There are “others” from Europe to Africa to South America. They are even found at home.

Even the same group of people can go from being “sympathetic” to “others” within a matter of years. The definition is arbitrary.

These “others” have nothing in common, except that a nation has defined them as killable, as people against whom violence is justified and even encouraged. This is not new. It’s been part of every government’s political arsenal since the beginning of civilization.

What’s new is that we believe ourselves to be immune from it. We predicate our choices and our actions, justify our killings, on the idea that our morality is superior; we acknowledge equality, freedom, and democracy, and that is precisely what gives us the authority to say who deserves to be spared, and who is an acceptable loss.

Again, I have to ask, from where does that authority derive? Should any individual, or group of individuals, or government, have that power?

I say no. To murder 140,000 people for any reason is wrong, just as wrong as it is to murder 2 unsuspecting people. If you compromise on that point, if you accept any justification for such deaths, you are committing your allegiance to an authority completely distinct from the value of human life.

If your values do not include human life, it seriously begs the question of what your values are, and who determines them.