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Tom Engelhardt – Epitaph from the Imperial Graveyard

From TomDispatch:

Tomgram: Engelhardt, Epitaph from the Imperial Graveyard

Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 10:21am, December 7, 2010.

One November’s Dead
The American War Dead Disappear into the Darkness

By Tom Engelhardt

America’s heroes?  Not so much.  Not anymore.  Not when they’re dead, anyway.

Remember as the invasion of Iraq was about to begin, when the Bush administration decided to seriously enforce a Pentagon ban, in existence since the first Gulf War, on media coverage and images of the American dead arriving home at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware?  In fact, the Bush-era ban did more than that.  As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote then, it “ended the public dissemination of such images by banning news coverage and photography of dead soldiers’ homecomings on all military bases.”

For those whose lives were formed in the crucible of the Vietnam years, including the civilian and military leadership of the Bush era, the dead, whether ours or the enemy’s, were seen as a potential minefield when it came to antiwar opposition or simply the loss of public support in the opinion polls.  Admittedly, many of the so-called lessons of the Vietnam War were often based on half-truths or pure mythology, but they were no less powerful or influential for that.

In the Vietnam years, the Pentagon had, for instance, been stung by the thought that images of the American dead coming home in body bags had spurred on that era’s huge antiwar movement (though, in reality, those images were rare).  Nor were they likely to forget the effect of the “body count,” offered by U.S. military spokesmen in late afternoon press briefings in Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital.  Among disillusioned reporters, these became known as “the Five O’clock Follies.”  They were supposedly accurate counts of enemy dead, but everyone knew otherwise.

In a guerrilla war in which the taking of territory made next to no difference, the body count was meant as a promissory note against future success.  As it became apparent that there would be no light at the end of the tunnel, however, that count began to look ever more barbaric to growing numbers of Americans.

Body Bags and Body Counts

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