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(DV) Street: Pentagon Puppets and Other Orwellian Horrors at USA Today







“Nothing to Worry About”
Pentagon Puppets and Other Orwellian Horrors at USA Today 
by Paul Street
December 16, 2005

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“Do you understand, gentlemen, that the horror is just this -- that there is no horror?”

-- Alexandre Kuprin 

A New “First” For Bush

Sometimes you've got to wonder if newspaper managers are deliberately trying to numb readers with Orwellian madness. 

Look, for example, at the top page of last Tuesday's USA Today, the "national newspaper" that has done so much to blur the line between print journalism and bad television. On the rightmost column of that page you can read about "a first" for the Bush administration. During a recent speech in Philadelphia, the paper reports, Bush acknowledged that a specific and specific number -- "about 30,000" in the president's words -- of Iraqi deaths have resulted from his imperial invasion and occupation (Coren Dorell, "Bush Puts Deaths of Iraqis at 30,000," USA Today, 13 December, 2005). 

The White House "offered no details," USA Today observed, "about how the 30,000 died, or who killed them." 

"Bush's number," USA Today reporter Coren Dorell notes, "roughly matches an estimate by Iraq Body Count, a research group that uses media accounts to measure civilian deaths. On Monday, that count numbered between 27,383 and 30,892. That is far lower," Dorell acknowledged, "than the count in a 2004 study published in the medical journal The Lancet, which used a survey of Iraqi households to estimate that about 100,000 Iraqis had died." 

On "How The 30,000 Died and Who Killed Them" 

USA Today neglected to mention it, but Bush and the rest of us can easily learn a great deal about "how the 30,000 died and who killed them." Iraq Body Count (IBC)'s recently published "
Dossier of Civilian Casualties in Iraq, 2003-2005" reports that 1 in every 1,000 Iraqis was violently killed between March 20, 2003 (the day after the beginning of the U.S. invasion) and March 19, 2005. 

Of the 13,181 victims of violent death for which IBC has age and gender data, 10 percent were infants or children, 9 percent were adult females, and 82 percent were adult males. 

By projecting from readily available data on Iraqi marriage and childbirth rates, IBC infers that "tens of thousands of Iraqi women and children have lost a husband or father to violence since March 2003, a loss which will have long lasting psychological and economic consequences for the bereaved families." 

Iraqi families are also dealing with crippling injuries resulting from wartime violence.  By IBC's careful tabulation, 42,500 Iraqis have been wounded during the occupation. 

Who has done the killing and wounding? By IBC's meticulous account, based on multiple verifiable media reports, anti-occupation forces have killed less than 10 percent of the total number of the nearly 25,000 dead for whom the killers can be identified. "Criminal elements," who have thrived in the lawless environment created by the destruction of Iraqi civil authority, killed 8,935 or 36 percent. 

The biggest killers have been the U.S.-led armed forces, which violently ended the lives of 9,270 Iraqis or 37.3 percent. 

"Under Fire by U.S. Snipers" 

In separate databases that include real-time accounts from reporters in Iraq, IBC presents a number of accounts of Iraqis killed by American "liberators." IBC's "Falluja Archive" contains (to give one among many examples) an April 2004 Associated Press (AP) story relating how more than 600 Iraqis, "mostly women, children, and the elderly," were butchered during Uncle Sam's massive "retaliatory" (after the resistance killed U.S.-funded Blackwell Security mercenaries) campaign in Falluja. "Iraqis in Falluja," the AP noted, "complained that civilians were coming under fire by U.S. snipers." 

One such civilian was mentioned in an especially chilling account quoted in the Falluja Archive.  "One of the bodies brought to the clinic," wrote Nation correspondent Dahr Jamail in The Nation, "was that of a 55-year old man shot in the back by a [U.S.] sniper outside his home, while his wife and children huddled wailing inside. The family could not retrieve his body for fear of being shot themselves. His stiff corpse was carried into the clinic, flies swarming above it. One of his arms was half raised by rigor mortis." 

"If We Don't Care For Our Families, Soldiers are Not Going to Stay" 

Yet even with USA Today's repetition of Bush's refusal to comment on "how the 30,000 died and who killed them," I still found it jarring to move from the story on Bush's acknowledgement of mass Iraqi death to the other main item on page one of the paper's Tuesday edition. 

This second story is titled "War's Trauma Wears on the Children Left Behind." It highlights a major Pentagon program to soothe the anxieties of the children of the people sent to "liberate" "about 30,000" Iraqis from the burden of living. 

Young schoolchildren on and around major U.S. military bases, USA Today reports, are being treated to a Pentagon-sponsored puppet show called "Nothing to Worry About." In one "Nothing to Worry About" show, "Mr. Grumpy" tells assembled young children: "Maybe this will get you worried! Maybe your dad's [military] company will get attacked like we see on the news." 

At this point, a soothing maternal figure steps in to say, "OK, Mr. Grumpy, you know what? If that happens they have big airplanes and big helicopters and a lot of soldiers who are extremely well trained. They know exactly what to do." 

"Nothing to Worry About" is just one part of what USA Today reporter Gregg Zorroya calls "a sweeping Pentagon effort to emotionally safeguard children when parents are at war." 

According to Zorroya, "an estimated 1.9 million kids have a mom or dad in uniform, and since 2001, a third of all U.S. forces have served or are serving in [the official ‘war zones’ of] Iraq or Afghanistan." 

So far, Zorroya reports, one thousand and thirty six (1,036) American children have lost parent-soldiers to the "war in Iraq." 

Due to real and feared parent death and maiming in George "Bring 'em On" Bush's illegal occupation of Iraq, military children across the imperial "homeland" are experiencing chronic anxiety, loneliness, fear, and depression. 

In one elementary school adjacent to North Carolina's Fort Bragg, Zorroya reports, "kindergarteners barely able to write their names have lined up to fill out slips for counseling. As they did last year, guidance counselors will soon form group sessions with children around a small table; on the walls, the counselors will hang a National Geographic map with construction-paper hearts framing two countries: Iraq and Afghanistan."

The survivors of Iraq's "about 30,000" war dead would be touched, doubt, to learn that counselors of the children of some of their loved one's immediate executioners have lovingly circled occupied Iraq in a paper heart. 

According to USA Today, these and other such military child-"safeguarding" efforts are "unprecedented" in "number and scope," revealing "a new willingness of the military to promote counseling and family assistance, especially as the war in Iraq approaches its fourth year." By helping out families on the emotional "home front," the Pentagon hopes "to encourage soldiers to re-enlist." 

Here Zorroya gives an especially touching quote from Lt. Col. Mary Dooley-Bernhard, who manages the U.S. Army's Family Advocacy Program. "We realize that if we don't care for our families," Dooley-Bernhard told USA Today, "soldiers are not going to stay." 

Yes, it's getting harder and harder to send America's beleaguered working-class troops back for third and fourth tours in the vicious, deadly, and brazenly imperialist war of occupation that has been ordered by George W. Bush. 

In a particularly moving expression of its deep commitment to families and children, the U.S. military will soon release an activity book giving "tips to [military] children living with a parent who's an amputee." 

Normalizing Evil 

There are a few things missing from USA Today's second article. The most relevant deletions include any sense of the spectacularly immoral, illegal, and unnecessary nature of the war that is causing so much pain for American military children and families. 

Another thing missing is any sense of concern for Iraqi children, who are being victimized by this imperialist war in larger numbers and to a greater degree. Iraqi children need even more emotional safeguarding, living as they do in a nation with so little basic protection from massive imperial assault. 

Equally absent is any sense of connection between children's pain at home and abroad -- this even as a directly adjacent story tells us that even the president has been compelled to acknowledge higher Iraqi casualties. 

How are the children of U.S.-butchered Iraqis supposed to feel about the Pentagon's effort to sustain the American imperial-familial "home front's" ability to support Bush's murderous assault on Mesopotamia? Will military child counselors keep putting paper hearts around Iraq as U.S troops are increasingly replaced by deadly and indiscriminate bombs as the primary enforcers of imperial rule? 

Another thing missing is any sense of a key issue that many U.S. military children are already dealing with: the deep emotional scars carried by fathers and mothers who have acted on orders to murder, maim, and torture Iraqi civilians. Is the military working up an activity book to give children tips on how to live with a parent who has been emotionally shattered by his or her role in the killing of innocent Iraqis? 

The main thing missing, it seems to me, is any appropriate sense of horror at the viciously circular militarist madness of Bush's miserable, messianic war of aggression. 

But then, last Tuesday's USA Today is just another example of dominant ("mainstream") media's mandatory inability to acknowledge the awful criminality of U.S. foreign policy. Dedicated at heart to making authoritarian evil seem normal and even banal, that corporate war media perfectly expresses the timeless moral idiocy that led Alexandre Kuprin to write his famous line.

Paul Street is a Visiting Professor of American History at Northern Illinois University. His latest book is Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, October 2004). He can be reached at:

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