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Collateral Damage and Collateral Reparations

By Ben Tanosborn

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, February 4, 2013


Two events and a book in the past two weeks have brought me a deeper understanding on the subject of collateral damage, and the unmentioned reverse of the coin: collateral reparations.  The events: the Presidential Inauguration in the US, and the Confession-sans-Contrition of cyclist-no-longer-hero, Lance Armstrong.  The book, just published: Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett.  

Although the term “collateral damage” has really come to life in the last quarter of a century thanks to the American military and its engagements in the Middle East and Afghanistan, it goes far beyond missed/mismanaged targets or the use of drones.  It brings to light the cruelty, whether on purpose or unintended, of sanctions/embargoes directed against weaker nations that fail to observe the straight line they must walk  drawn for them by governments of other nations… with the US in the sanctions’ leadership role during the past two generations.

Some nations have been castigated for opposing the economic or political interests of the US, none more fiercely than Cuba, Iraq and Iran.  If US intent in these cases was to cause a change in government for those countries, US-directed sanctions could be summed up as a total failure.  However, the collateral damage caused to the people in those countries was substantial, at times criminal in nature, if measured against a common moral standard. Cuba, a small nation with very limited natural resources, has been kept impoverished for decades; Iraq tallied a million dead, half of them children, during the period 1990-2003 attributed to the sanctions intended to depose Saddam Hussein; and US revenge against the ayatollahs in Iran, for daring dethrone America’s choice to govern the Iranian people, has held steady for over three decades.

The book by the Leveretts brings a touch of a believable reality they have found in Iran which is much in contrast, if not outright contradiction, with that filtered to American mainstream media by the US State Department and the White House.  Unfortunately for this author-couple, their findings (and book) will not find much favor, or sales, in a population forced to wear Israel-colored glasses – only glasses available to Americans.

Some of us may question whether some of the so-called collateral damage, particularly concerning sanctions, was intentional which would negate the collateral adjective.  That, however, is an entirely different issue not in the scope of this limited commentary. 

What does come as a question is the reverse side of the collateral coin; if we have damage as the effigy on one side, shouldn’t reparations grace the other side?  We do find the answer in the topical event brought about by a disgraced Lance Armstrong.        

As one enters the website of the LiveStrong Foundation, there is a “warning and disclaimer” sign colored in cycling yellow, one of a forced-upon sad disassociation between the organization and its founder – and, until recently, chairperson: Lance Armstrong.  The text in the sign reads: “LiveStrong isn’t about one person.  It’s about the millions of people facing cancer who need support as they fight the toughest battle of their lives.”  Yet, whether we try to accept it or deny it, it is about that “one person” who pedaled the foundation to the top of that charitable mountain, the person it’s yoked to by fate and design.  

Lance Armstrong’s confession, as revealing as it might have been to some people on his character or even the nature of professional sports, will likely begin and end as a peculiarity to cycling and one of its most celebrated figures… Big Tex, the Boss. There’s no doubt it will touch on some other “more American” sports, but at the end of the day the marriage of predatory business and predatory professional sports will remain solidly strong.  And sports’ celebrities will continue to command hero-stature to a worshiping population that might be characterized as envious, ignorant or simply lacking in moral values.

As long as power is unevenly present in the world, the inevitability of collateral damage will be part of our lives.  Fortunately, there will be collateral reparations which at least will counter part of that damage, if not to the injured, at least to the greater society.  One needs but to look at myriad great institutions in America built on the philanthropy of thieves, cheats, bullies and abusers of their fellow man.  Good deeds cemented by time can whitewash the names of even the vilest amongst us.  Why would Armstrong’s case be any different?

And as the inaugural of President Barack Hussein Obama’s second term in office took place, one had to ponder on the old French proverb of “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  As more Americans will be joining the ranks of the world’s poor during the next four years, they will be kept pacified with that time-honored religious myth that “the meek will inherit the earth.”

Ben Tanosborn




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