By Peter Maass. The Intercept
Wartime savagery requires that its perpetrators are told that their actions are acceptable — maybe heroic — and must not cease.
My education in wartime savagery started in Bosnia in the 1990s. Reporting on the war, I visited death camps, saw civilians get shot and beaten, interviewed torturers, and was arrested multiple times for being in the wrong place and asking too many questions. Despite all of that, I sensed at the time that my Balkan lessons were incomplete — and those instincts have been confirmed by the past 20 years of U.S. warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
We tend to associate barbarism with the kind of things I saw in Bosnia: close-quarters violence in which the perpetrators look into the eyes of their victims and leave the fatal encounter with drops of blood on their boots. That’s an inadequate understanding because it excludes the killing-from-a-distance that is now central to America’s forever wars, which have increasingly moved away from ground combat. According to the nonprofit organization Airwars, the U.S. has conducted more than 91,000 airstrikes in seven major conflict zones since 2001, with at least 22,000 civilians killed and potentially as many as 48,000.