Sunday, June 19, 2005

We Practice Denial So You Won't Have To

Phan Thi Kim PhucTo the right is the modern-day picture of one of the survivors of a napalm attack in Viet Nam.  Her injuries were unintentional; they resulted from an accidental release of the incendiary chemical en route to an attack on a military target.  The incident occurred on June 8, 1972.  Kim, then 9 years old, was hiding in a Buddhist pagoda when the collateral damage was inflicted.

Ms. Kim Phuc Phan Thi (1 2) now resides in Canada, having settled there with the help of a group of Quakers; she works for the United Nations.  It is remarkable that she is still alive.  She spent 14 months in a hospital in Saigon, recovering from third-degree burn injuries covering half her body.

More recently, she has participated in numerous anti-war activities.  These are detailed on the UNESCO website, which is the destination of the second link in the paragraph above.  The site for her Foundation is here.  Admirably, she has expressed a charitable attitude over the whole thing:

She has forgiven, but has not forgotten, and in a commemorative ceremony to the Vietnam war she publicly pardoned the person who had launched the napalm bombing in her village in Vietman. Ever since, she has dedicated her life to promoting peace, and to this end she founded the Kim Foundation International. This foundation helps children who are victims of war everywhere by providing medical and psychological help to surmount their traumatic experiences.
Probably everyone reading this who was born before, say, 1965, remembers when they first saw a picture of Kim:

I was 13 years old when this picture appeared on the front page of just about every newspaper in the USA.  At the time, I still wanted to believe that my country always used its power for morally justified purposes.  Shows like Dragnet, Combat, and Twelve O'Clock High invariably presented our government's use of force as being beyond reproach.  

In spite of the media influences, I was aware of the antiwar movement, and had begun to question the notion of US beneficence.  No doubt, Kim had some questions of her own at the same time, lying in that Saigon hospital bed.

Kim reported in interviews that she remembers very little about her wartime injuries and subsequent medical treatment.   The human mind has an astonishing capacity to ignore uncomfortable facts that are plainly true.  This psychological defense mechanism is known as denial.  Prior to seeing the photograph of Kim in 1972, I was in denial about the true horrors of war.  I thank her for helping to bring me to awareness.  In fact, I'm going to send some money to her foundation when I'm done writing this.

Incidentally, 1972 is the year that I read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.  That book has been listed as one of the most dangerous books.  I am wondering why we have a list of dangerous books, but no comparable list of dangerous bombs.

In case such a list is ever compiled, in honor of Kim Phuc Phan Thi, I nominate the MK77.  The MK77 is a 750 pound napalm bomb.  It is brought to us by the US petrochemical industry, the same folks who make DDT, the same industry whose profits were damaged by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.  (You go girl!)  I guess books can be dangerous.

Back to the point: denial is a universal process.  Everyone does it.  But it takes work, so it is handy if you can get someone else to do the work for you.  

The US government is always hard at work.  In fact, as Mr. Adams at Dispassionate Liberalism points out, Mr. Bush has stated that
"Our troops are fighting these terrorists in Iraq so you will not have to face them here at home."
--George W. Bush
Not only that, but the US government is helping us with the hard work of denial.  They have been using MK77s in Iraq, then lying to the British government about it.  (Link pointed out, via email, by Shakespeare's Sister.)
But Mr Ingram admitted to the Labour MP Harry Cohen in a private letter obtained by The Independent that he had inadvertently misled Parliament because he had been misinformed by the US. "The US confirmed to my officials that they had not used MK77s in Iraq at any time and this was the basis of my response to you," he told Mr Cohen. "I regret to say that I have since discovered that this is not the case and must now correct the position."
Melanie, writing on Just a Bump in the Beltway, comments that US media are not reporting this.  A quick Google search shows news articles from the UK, Italy, Africa, and Iran; none from the USA, at least by 5PM EDT.

This leads me to a quote of my own:
"Our government practices denial in Iraq, so you will not have to face unpleasant facts at home."
--The Corpus Callosum
Thank you so much, Mr. Bush!  I just have one question for you: what does napalm do to a snowflake?

Categories: politics, pacifism
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(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
E-mail a link that points to this post:

"Shows like Dragnet, Combat, Twelve O'Clock High invariably presented our government's use of force as being beyond reproach."

Wow, interesting take on those shows, actually. Dragnet is surely not in the same category as the other two, in particular when you consider that the LAPD had a very poor reputation as an "upstanding" police force. This program was intended as a form of make up, to present the LAPD as "good guys", less as a program to justify our use of force in exercises of governmental power.

Combat and Twelve O'Clock High were part of the glamour of the "good war". I don't recall much about either, though I avidly watched them as a boy. I, on the other hand, do very vividly recall the movie "Twelve O'Clock High" with Gregory Peck which was far more complicated and ambivalent about war in general and what it does to people.

While I wouldn't myself use the TV analogies I would support the belief that we're inclined to think that the use of force is for the good. It's taken these past 60 years before we seriously started to look at things done during WW II by the U.S. and Britain in Europe and by us in Japan. The Smithsonian learned the hard way how we're tied to our myths of always doing what's right. Some 5 or so years ago it had a display of the Enola Gay which raised the question over whether using the bomb was the right thing to do, and was then castigated by the American Legion and the VFW (two organizations I'm entitled to membership in and for which I'll have nothing to do with very much because of this very issue) over how it could possibly dare to question that what our boys did was right or not. Oh yeah ... Jonathan Glover's Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century addresses this subject quite well.

Anyway, I'd be interested if in fact there's evidence to support the use of napalm against non-military targets or used against military targets too close to nonmilitary areas. Our restriction on the use of napalm has been against using it with a high potential to harm non-combatants. That said, there's no reason for our lying about it, none anyway that I can justify. I'm not surprised by the lack of traction for this issue here in the U.S., it seems in fact to be par for the course with this war. I suppose we'll see.
First of all, thanks for the thoughtful comment.

Usually, if I find myself writing a comment that is more than a paragraph, I can it and use the material for a post on my own blog, then track back to the post that inspired it. I do that because comments don't seem to get much attention, and if I am writing that much, I at least want someone to see it...

I remember the Enola Gay issue. I recall talking to my father about it. He actually participated in the occupation of Japan, and saw a lot of the devestation first hand. He thinks there is no question about it, that we were justified in using nuclear weapons. Of course, if we had not ended the war that way, his brother probably would have been in the force that invaded the mainland. (My father had learned Japanese, so he was too valuable to get put in the line of fire.) It would be hard for me to disagree with him, but I think it is important that we all feel able to ask the difficult questions.

In fact, I think it is essential that we be able to ask the difficult questions.

As for the recent allegations of napalm use, of course I have no way of knowing what actually happened over there. I haven't heard anyone from our government deny it, but then, why would they air a denial, when the American MSM haven't yet imported the issue?

The reason I mention the napalm, is that it is another dot in the connect-the-dot exercise of tying to prove that the Administration lied about the war. If they lied to our allies, does that imply that they may have lied to us, too? It is highly circumstantial evidence, but that is how cases get built.

The question of exactly how the napalm was used is important, as far as I am concerned, because it highlights the fact that we did not sign on to the part of the Geneva Conventions that ban it entirely. Even so, we do have our own restrictions on its use, and if we violated our own standards, that would be a really big deal. I have not heard anyone allege that, though.

Your blogging skills far exceed mine. I'm still trying to figure a lot of this out, especially while I'm trying to figure out how to put together a chemistry web page for my future students.

Unfortunately most of my books are in storage so I can't readily put my hands on some of the references I have with regard to WW II and the issues surrounding our actions in the war. The Smithsonian mess was telling, though, inasmuch as the institute was merely raising the issue, inviting people to discuss it and not ascribing a definitive position to the questions raised. That the reaction to the idea of discussion regarding these issues was so vehement and negative took me by surprise, though given the nature of the organizations in question, who were both spearheading this effort, I suppose there was reason to expect what occurred. Their position was that there was no room for any debate, there was nothing to be learned, we were the good guys, the things we did were for the good, and there was no second guessing about any of it. Of course second guessing wasn't the point, they were the ones having to win a terrible war and they were to be respected for that, but the notion that maybe in hindsight we'd see things differently in such a way as to learn something from it, that was not to be considered.

Men like Bomber Harris and Curtis LeMay were on the right hand side of God as far as they and their supporters were concerned. There's been little questioning about whether what they did and to the extent they did it was necessary, and indeed should have been allowed. We've not taken the lessons out of that war that we should have, we have not examined our souls and our consciences and asked if we're as clean as we like to think we are --- no, that's all part of the Greatest Generation, something to venerate and to hold up as an example, but we don't ask ourselves nearly as much as we should if what was appropriate then is appropriate now or later, and all because having a discussion about these things is somehow considered disrespectful of those who had to do the fighting way back when.

I myself believe the bomb had to be used, but I also believe that using it as we did wasn't required and that could have been avoided. This clearly invites far more discussion, and as you said it seems to be somewhat wasteful to indulge that sort of discussion in the comments section --- well, anyway, thank you for the brain stimulus.
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