Sunday, January 11, 2009

Shell Shocked

I remember it well; the days following the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 by the New York Times and the hubbub that followed. To put it mildly, all hell broke out as these papers described with particularity the waste, incompetence, fixated ideology and corruption that cost American taxpayers billions upon billions of dollars because of the Vietnam war. In large part, the response that followed the release of these papers led to the resignation, albeit indirectly, of Nixon. One of the many tragedies of that war turned out to be the significant number of vital young men who returned home with a glazed look on their face that belied the horrors they had seen and experienced. A fanciful name has been given to this altogether too-frequent reaction; post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was formerly known as "shell shock" and carried with it a bias that suggested somehow that the sufferer had a predisposed weakness for this condition when placed under the stress of battle. As an aside, this condition made the papers this past week as the concept that warriors who suffered this real and crippling disorder would not be considered as candidates for Purple Heart awards, presumably because someone in the Bush administration bought this "weakness" bias.

However, I digress. I would submit that the American public is at this very moment in history exhibiting a mass form of PTSD in its lack of response to the Iraq version of the Pentagon Papers which makes the Vietnam version appear like child's play. A near-final draft of an as-yet-unpublished 513-page federal history of the Iraq nation-building fiasco assembled by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction was reported in this past week's New York Times. This report describes the loss of 50 billions of taxpayer dollars of the 117 billion dollars spent on Iraq reconstruction. The loss, described with particularity, occurred because of incompetence, cronyism, lying and fraud and was spearheaded by those same people who brought us the Katrina response and the current financial crisis. The report was prepared by a Bush appointee and pinpoints, among other transgressions, "a governmental Ponzi scheme concocted to bamboozle Americans into believing they were accruing steady dividends on their investment in a 'new' Iraq." The report quotes Colin Powell on how the scam worked. Back in 2003, Powell said, the Defense Department just “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces — the number would jump 20,000 a week! ‘We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000,’” all manufactured into duping the American public into thinking they were getting something for their investment of young American lives and money.

Our collective lack of response to this information illustrates just how deeply we have all been wounded by the last eight years. We have become so accustomed to incompetence and fraud that we just sit and look off into the distance with a glaze in our collective eyes. No protest, however feeble, is heard.

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