Barbarism, Inc: A Bad Day That Never Changes

By Robert C. Koehler

I get so soul-sick of the war news because it’s a bad day that never changes. Over the weekend, NATO kills 14 people in an airstrike in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Ten of them are children. President Karzai cries, “No more!” A NATO spokesperson pats him on the head, regretfully shrugging that the alliance works hard to “limit” civilian casualties.

Oh sacred Earth . . .

I have a theory that it’s all related, and all speeding up at once: global climate change, endless war. We are reaping the seeds we began planting 10,000 years ago, when we left the Garden of Eden and set out to achieve dominion over Planet Earth.

Bill McKibben, writing with eco-irony, warns us to draw no link between the killer tornadoes that hit Tuscaloosa and Joplin; the fires that have scorched a million acres in Texas this spring; the drought in the Southwest; the record snow and rain in the Midwest; mega-flooding in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan; drought in the Amazon. If we do draw a link, our ground of being gets spongy.

“And then,” McKibben writes, “you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming, and to the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.”

The practice of drawing no links has always been de rigueur in war reporting, which hews to an unquestioned belief in the righteousness of the cause. That belief, generally unstated, is at the center of every routine, throwaway story about the latest calamity. Without it, the story unravels into cruel irrationality — sort of the way the losing side’s story always looks when its defeat is secure and history is written.

Thus, in Afghanistan, at least as it comes to us filtered through the obedient lens of the Associated Press and other mainstream sources, dead children have no voices. Only NATO has a voice:

“A NATO spokesperson says attacks on houses in Afghanistan are necessary and will continue, despite Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s assertion that he will no longer permit them to take place,” begins a dispatch on Canada’s CTV News.

This is only the umpteenth time Karzai has “complained” about a NATO or American bombing raid that left Afghan innocents lying bleeding and dead, dating back a horrific decade of liberation and democracy. Countering the president of a sovereign country were the words of a NATO spokesperson, who stated flatly that “NATO will continue to use air strikes against its enemies when that is the only option available.”

So that’s that. But at least there’s some good news in all this: “NATO has apologized for the deadly attack on Saturday, saying troops believed the compound they were firing on housed only insurgents.”

For anyone not centered in American righteousness and exceptionalism, this is Barbarism, Inc. It simply appears that the American economy runs on war and one of the products this economy produces is dead insurgents. We cheer about dead insurgents (think Osama) because, you know, it makes us safer. But the unwanted byproduct — the CO2 emissions, if you will — of killing these nameless, bearded enemies is dead civilians, a.k.a., collateral damage.

And that’s too bad. But apologies are cheap — far cheaper than dismantling the military industrial complex.

Yet just as we participate in the creation of climate change, or “global weirding,” with our voracious consumption of coal, oil and natural gas, we also participate in the creation of our own insecurity by spawning, bomb after bomb, endless reasons for people to hate us. Terrorists wind up being no more than people with grievances — very often, legitimate ones.

We are not pursuing peace. We are not pursuing security. We’re just producing dead insurgents, combined with collateral damage. And we can’t stop.

As Anthony Gregory of The Independent Institute recently pointed out, Barack Obama, despite riding into office on a huge “end the war” vote, has not only embraced but expanded the Bush policy of preemptive war — revving up our presence in Afghanistan, widening the war into Pakistan, dramatically increasing our drone attacks and, most recently, launching an undeclared war in Libya.

I think this means not that the tens of millions of voters who put him in office were deluded so much as that things are out of control at the political heart of America — kind of the way climate change, and our contribution to it, may be out of control. The systems that are supposed to save us are far too compromised and complicit in the problem.

As the planet’s tectonic plates shift, as the ices melts and the atmosphere spawns ever more unpredictable weather, perhaps human consciousness will also shift — not toward desperation and an increased flailing of more of the same. This is what the present moment looks like. It will shift in the only way it can: toward reverence, born of understanding, for the context in which we live, for the planet and one another. And then a new day will dawn.


Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, contributor to One World, Many Peaces and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at or visit his website at


Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now out.

The book is a collection of my essays fused into several narratives. They run the gamut from the highly personal (dealing with grief, the death of my wife, single parenting) to the acutely political. The book is about the quest for both inner and outer peace, the urgency of both, and the fragile future we are giving birth to.

“Koehler’s points are made with a combination of journalistic acumen and spiritual precision. He takes you by the brain and will not let you go to sleep, will not let you shut down, will not let you look away – and yet, in the same essay – will not let you lose hope, and will not let you stop believing in the spirit of goodness that lies within us.” – from the foreword, by Marianne Williamson

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2 responses to “Barbarism, Inc: A Bad Day That Never Changes

  1. The voters were deluded, are deluded and shall remain deluded. Masses are masses for precisely this reason. Wilhelm Reich coined the idea of “LIttle Man” in his famous political/psychological book during -Listen Little Man. The litttle man has abdicated or never developed the ability to think for themself and instead is moved by propaganda and fear.

    NATO violence reflects the priority of psychopathic ruling elites and business as usual. The public at large is also mentally ill. The illness is so deep they alternate every four years the hand that whips their backs always staring in the mirror seeing the reflection beaming approval.

  2. Yeah everyone has it who is in politics. Even the Chinese Communists under Mao had remorse but couldn’t do much about it.

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