Posted March 18, 2008
Heavy storms and tornadoes ripped through downtown Atlanta and surrounding neighborhoods of Cabbagetown, East Atlanta, and Vine City last weekend. Media coverage following the storm conformed to the usual clichés: the twisters “sounded like freight trains” and their aftermath resembled a “war zone.” I can’t totally discredit either of these. I do live across the street from a freight line, wasn’t right across the street from the tornados, but I’m not too concerned with what they sounded like anyway. I did check out the damage afterwards and I am concerned with war zones. Like most USonians, have never experienced a war zone, but I’m not sure if the two realities match up exactly…
Tornado damage in Atlanta
This week has been an opportune time to think about what a war zone actually looks like. Since attending a planning meeting of Rutgers Against the Warlast month I’ve been brought back to my own experience five years ago. A group of 18 and 19-year old antiwar activists, in desperation, made contingency plans for a walkout at our college as we awaited the “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad. We didn’t know what to expect beyond the words of the tactic’s architects: “[Shock and Awe is] threat and fear of action that may shut down all or part of the adversary’s society or render his ability to fight useless short of complete physical destruction.” Half a decade later, Iraq’s physical infrastructure and civil society is still at “prewar” levels – but of course Iraqis my age have never truly lived in a “prewar” society. This is what a war zone is like:
A woman was walking by, and she was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading towards us. We lit her up with the Mark 19, an automatic grenade launcher. And when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was only full of groceries… she had been trying to bring us food, and we blew her to pieces for it… [from Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan]
War in Iraq
What does a war zone look like for the troops? Physical threat of injury and death, pervasive hyper-oppression of women, gays, and people of color in the military, dehumanization that tries to turn people into killers. The Winter Soldier sessions on racism and sexism in the military give a good picture of that reality. A cousin of mine, the son of a fireman who was promised firefighter training by the marines, will be deployed to Iraq next week. My family is buying him helmet liners from Operation Helmet… because apparently $500 billion can’t buy decent padding… that’s what a war zone looks like.
Forty years before this past Sunday, American soldiers massacred hundreds of civilians in the Vietnamese village of My Lai – in order to save them. BBC News reported: “Soldiers went berserk, gunning down unarmed men, women, children and babies. Families which huddled together for safety in huts or bunkers were shown no mercy. Those who emerged with hands held high were murdered. … Elsewhere in the village, other atrocities were in progress. Women were gang raped; Vietnamese who had bowed to greet the Americans were beaten with fists and tortured, clubbed with rifle butts and stabbed with bayonets. Some victims were mutilated with the signature “C Company” carved into the chest. By late morning word had got back to higher authorities and a cease-fire was ordered. My Lai was in a state of carnage. Bodies were strewn through the village.” That’s what a war zone looks like.
One final, coincidental thought: what does a class war zone look like? Several public housing complexes, until a few years ago, were scattered throughout the area affected by the tornado. The Atlanta Housing Authority has announced plans to accelerate the privatization of housing in the city and completely destroy all remaining public housing by 2010. Earlier in the week I’d taken some photographs of a still-standing but condemned buildings:
Class war in Atlanta