The Value of Life in the American Empire

US soldier in AfghanistanThe American press coverage of the killing of  Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene in Afghanistan yesterday is telling, not in what it says but what it leaves out.  Greene was a military man who in 30 years in the army never saw real combat until he was assigned to Afghanistan this year.  His death is a consequence of America’s imperialistic wars; but the fact that he was not in one of those wars until this year speaks volumes about the very nature of the military and the measure of worth given to human beings.

Governments are great at giving out medals to soldiers who kill on their behalf.  Even though they may indeed be brave, the soldier is necessary to carry out the nefarious and coldblooded schemes of the wealthy and the powerful.  The old term “cannon fodder” was coined to describe foot soldiers who were sent off to certain death by elitist military generals and monarchs on fields throughout Europe.  Facing the cannons with little to no shielding, these soldiers were used up in droves like tissue paper in order to advance the dominance of one aristocrat over another or to exploit the coveted resources of another people’s land.  The setting and weaponry may have changed, but the context is exactly the same.

In every military exploit ever taken there is invariably a set of powerful players who stand to profit greatly from the death and destruction.  They have never seen a battlefield outside of charts and figures, and their children are carefully spirited away to exclusive schools that shield them from the indignity of getting common blood on their couture clothes.  They are masters at sending poor and working class people to war, after all there is a lot of money to be made by arms manufacturers and contractors. But when it comes to dealing with the inevitable results, PTSD, death, dismemberment, disability, disfigurement and economic inequality, they treat veterans as all bloated empires do; expendable, to be used and forgotten.

There is a reason that the pawn in the militaristic game of chess is the most disposable piece.  There is a reason they are generally featureless and devoid of any differentiating characteristics.  And there is a reason they are called pawns: “a chess piece of the smallest size and value” or “a person used by others for their own purposes.”  It is therefore useful to remember that wars are never started by ordinary people, but it is always ordinary people who fight, suffer and die in them.  And with every new war there will always be a handful of death merchants and profiteers awaiting their share at the end.

No one but the callous would demean the death of Harold J. Greene.  To be sure our humanity demands we respect all human beings and their inherent worth.  And it would be unfair to paint him as one of the profiteers of this war.  But the coverage of his life and death should cause us to question and reject the reprehensible manner in which life is assigned greater or lesser value by the American empire.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(photo: American soldiers carry the body of one of their fallen, Afghanistan/AP)


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