Nelofar, a 12-year-old girl, went outside her home in the courtyard to sleep, because summer has arrived in eastern Afghanistan and the heat was unbearable inside the house.
But a Nato jet fighter dropped a bomb on the house that night. Her uncle was killed and so was Nelofar. The target was her uncle, who had been incorrectly identified as a local Taliban leader. Of course, this slight administrative error was acknowledged after they were killed. Nato has apologized for the mistake.
The most shocking aspect of war is the unmitigated stupidity and brutality suffered by civilians caught in the middle of a guerilla war. I witnessed it as a medical corpsman in Vietnam.
We were supposedly trying to win their hearts and minds, become their protectors, convince them that their big American brothers only wanted to give them the precious gift of our Western democracy. But then we would commit the same kind of atrocities that Nelofar and her uncle suffered while quietly sleeping.
But Nato apologized. In Vietnam the grunts had a more cynical phrase that captured their black humor for civilian deaths: "Sorry 'bout that."
That's essentially what the Nato officials said in their polite, bureaucratic apology for their mistake. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
But that incident of friendly fire is a great recruiting tool for the Talibans as similiar incidents in Vietnam were for the VC guerillas.
Osama bin Laden is dead, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Mission accomplished. It's time to leave. So more innocent Afghani civilians don't have to suffer the fate of Nelofar and her uncle.
Update: Are we slouching toward Bethelem?
Glenn Greenwald in his column for Salon today, "They hate us for our freedoms," gives a detailed explanation about how friendly fire committed against innocent Afgahni civilian undermines our so-called official goals there. And of course the Afghanis do not hate us for our freedoms. They just hate us because we like to kill their innocent civilians. Sorry 'bout that.
George Orwell observed in one of his essays, "Inside The Whale" (ostensibly a review of Henry Miller's The Tropic of Cancer), modern, Western nations have engaged in endless and self-defeating cycles of perpetual wars as a means of finally achieving perpetual peace since the end of World War I.
In his novel, 1984, Orwell would make this observation one of Big Brother's favorite Big Lies: War is Peace.
In fact in his essay, Orwell told about meeting Miller in Paris. Orwell was on his way to fight against the fascist in the Spanish Civil War. He asked Miller at a bistro how could he remain in Paris while there was an important struggle for freedom going on in Spain.
Miller nonchantly replied he wouldn't mind going there after the war for a vacation. But he felt it was useless to fight for either side. Basically he said that the big fish eat the little fish. Miller thought the Spanish Civil War was just another symptom of the continuing decadence of modern life.
Well that's just the way Miller was. He was a writer. But if you asked him to burn down a library, he would have probably replied that he would bring the matches if you would bring the kerosene. Then we all can lock hands in a daisy chain and dance around the burning library.
And that's why Orwell entitled his essay about Miller "Inside The Whale." He defined Miller's political and personal passivity in modern life much like Jonah being swallowed by the Whale in the Bible. Regression back to the fetal position was what Orwell saw in Miller as a writer and a person. Just hibernate for nothing really makes sense. When the smoke clears have the whale throw up on the nearest beach.
The Vietnam War was for me reminiscient of that watershed war between the First and Second World Wars: the Spanish Civil War. Only in my war all the members of the Lincoln Brigade were on the other side.
I remember talking with an injured jet jockey one time on the hospital ward. His F-4 Phantom jet had been shot down while he was providing "air support" for the grunts in a firefight near a village. I think one of the reasons I remember this converation so distinctly is because the fighter pilot was African American. It was so rare, at least for me in those days, to see a jet jockey, the cream of the crop in the U.S. Air Force, who was African American.
During a pass toward the village, he steered his jet low over a rice paddy. Mind you he was firing his cannons at VC guerillas during the firefight on the ground. Then he saw an old papasan standing on a dyke. Papasan threw rocks at the jet as it raced by him. The pilot didn't believe he actually saw what he saw. So he made another pass over the rice paddy. And there was papasan. And guess what? He threw rocks again at the jet.
"There aren't enough bombs in the world to change that kind of attitude," the officer said to me. Amen, Brother, I thought. He was one of the few wounded career officers who spoke frankly about what he really thought about the Vietnam War. That was probably another reason why I remember him.
Back to our current war in Afghanistan, another perpetual war for perpetual peace. I think atrocities against innocent civilian there are merely fostering the kind of attitude that papasan displayed on top of that dyke.
You cannot kill an idea, an attitude, and certainly an emotional reaction to an atrocity. And it is irrelative whether this happened over four decades ago, as I witnessed in my war, or the war in the Afghanistan when I read the headlines. Perpetual war for perpetual peace remains the important concept and my guiding principle in interpreting the world around me.
And much like that salient moment during the Spanish Civil War, it seems at this point in the so-called war on terror, our troubled and confused nation is heading toward a much larger conflagration.
The Middle East is in flames right now since the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. Political chaos ignores national boundaries. Isreali soldiers have killed Palestinians in the Golan Heights for trying to tear the wire fence that separates Israel from Syria. Pakistan has been shown since the killing of Osama bin Laden to be in bed with the terrorists we have vowed to wipe from the face of the earth. Imagine that? But the Pakistanis have nukes. So we tread lightly. That's the real prize in the war on terror for our avowed enemies. Syrian government soldiers continue their brutal repression against protesters with guns and tanks. Coptic Christians and Muslims are killing each other in Egypt. Average citizens just going about the business of their lives think Egyptian police are useless in maintainng a semblance of law and order.
Does anyone recall how we were told the Jasmine Revolution would bring democracy to the region in a non-violent way? Does anyone recall how President Bush stated we have the Taliban on the run after their regime collapsed quickly when we invaded Afghanistan? Does anyone remember how the neo-con pundits stated that the invasion of Iraq would be a cakewalk?
Are we all slouching toward Bethlehem?, as W.B. Yeats asked in his poem, The Second Coming. And I would rule out being swallowed by a whale as a viable option.