"Let Us Shoot"

Chatter about a murder video bubbled up this afternoon. I finally clicked the link:

5th April 2010 — WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff.

Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded . . . the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own “Rules of Engagement”.

And it’s horrifying. I can’t process these seventeen minutes. Who can? Hopefully this video gets the attention it demands. Hopefully it goes viral. Hopefully it hits the nightly news in a big way.

But this isn’t news. We know it happens. Collateral damage. We’re familiar with the concept. We make award-winning movies and popular TV dramas about the casualties of war. We fictionalize and analyze. We pepper our screenplays with cartoon villains and recognizable heroes: the callous colonel with no regard for the villagers, the idealistic recruit who refuses to follow orders.

Now here’s the real thing on our computer screens. And you can’t get that cliché about the ‘banality of evil’ out of your head. Hopefully we’ll be hearing this phrase a lot. Because this is evil. This is something else.

Maybe this is the 2010 version of the photographs from the Mai Lai massacre. Or the girl covered in napalm. Except now it’s interactive with a timeline that we can scrub. We have the audio. We can hear the impatience. “Come on, let us shoot!” These guys can’t wait to kill somebody. And now it can be maximized, minimized, linked and bookmarked —

“Look at those dead bastards.”

I want to explain this, I want to contextualize it. But no amount of tech chatter or academic media jargon or cultural studies handwringing will help me accept this hard fact: this is a video of a slaughter by the American military — and today I am mortified to be an American.

How do we get mad? How do we make it stop?