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Torturers, rapists, murderers: for more than a decade as I researched my history of the Vietnam War, Kill Anything That Moves, I spent a good deal of time talking to them, thinking about them, reading about them, writing about them. They all had much in common. At a relatively young age, these men had traveled thousands of miles to kill people they didn't know on the say-so of men they didn't know, and for a mere pittance -- all of it done in the name of America.
Fear? Tell me about it. Unfortunately, I’m so old that I’m not sure I really remember what I felt when, along with millions of other schoolchildren of the 1950s, I ducked and covered like Bert the Turtle, huddling under my desk while sirens howled outside the classroom window. We were, of course, being prepared to protect ourselves from the nuclear obliteration of New York City. But let me tell you, I do remember those desks and they did not exactly instill a sense of confidence in a child.
In the muddled midst of last week's mass killing in San Bernardino, California, a few words skittering across my Twitter feed gave me pause. "On this awful shooting: Is U.S. culture evil? Enemy of our civilization? Must all Americans apologize? Should we bar U.S. tourists as dangerous?" asked Simon Kuper, a columnist with the Financial Times.
In Washington, voices are rising fast and furiously. “Freedom fries” are a thing of the past and everyone agrees on the need to support France (and on more or less nothing else). Now, disagreements are sharpening over whether to only incrementally “intensify” the use of U.S. military power in Syria and Iraq or go to “war” big time and send in the troops.
Here’s a little thought experiment: imagine that we’re in Kansas (without Toto) and a bridal party in three rented limos is heading down a highway toward a church where a wedding is about to take place. Suddenly, a small out-of-control plane plummets into those limos killing the bride, the mother of the bride, and five of the seven bridesmaids; 15 others are wounded. Bear with me here, if this particular method of wedding slaughter seems a little farfetched. After all, we don’t (yet) have drones armed with Hellfire missiles patrolling American skies that could take out such a caravan.
Let’s begin with the $12 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills, Iraqi oil money held in the U.S. The Bush administration began flying it into Baghdad on C-130s soon after U.S. troops entered that city in April 2003. Essentially dumped into the void that had once been the Iraqi state, at least $1.2 to $1.6 billion of it was stolen and ended up years later in a mysterious bunker in Lebanon. And that’s just what happened as the starting gun went off.