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The Byrne Report

Believe It Not


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IN EARLY OCTOBER, residents of Sonoma County mourned the death of Joshua Kynoch, a 23-year-old Santa Rosa soldier blown up by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Speaking to the daily paper on Oct. 6, father Paul Kynoch said that his son "was fighting for that belief--the American way--for us to be free."

A friend added, "He believed in our president." So much so that he signed up for a second tour of duty.

What is the human price of this sort of belief? To start, Kynoch now numbers among nearly 2,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. The website IraqBodyCount.org conservatively calculates the number of murdered Iraqi civilians at 30,000. More than half of the civilian deaths involved explosive devices, and two-thirds of those deaths were caused by U.S. air strikes. In fact, less than 10 percent of dead civilians were killed by car and truck bombs. The U.S. military has killed 37 percent of all Iraqi civilians, including infants; criminals have killed 36 percent; anti-occupation forces have killed 9 percent.

Do average Iraqis believe that Americans are trying to free them? After all, the United States cuddled up with the bloodthirsty Saddam Hussein until he threatened our petrodollars. After incinerating his surrendering army in 1991, we slaughtered a half million Iraqi children via economic blockade. After 9-11, many Americans chose to believe that although Saddam may not have personally attacked the World Trade Center, he is evil because Bush says so, and worth spending a few hundred billion dollars to discipline (it would "only" cost $10 billion to eradicate AIDS from Africa)--not to mention using our Medicare money to build permanent military bases to control the flow of Iraqi oil. But don't get me wrong. Destroying Iraq is not a partisan ploy; most "liberal" Democratic Party officials are war-happy hacks on the payroll of the same corporations that own Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld.

During the week that Kynoch was plucked from life, Bush broadcast an evangelical appeal to pump up his warfare state. Despite everything, he hasn't learned a thing; or rather, we, as a species, have failed to learn the most basic lesson of being a responsible life form: do not eat your babies. Bush uttered, "Freedom is once again under assault. We are improving the lives of Iraqi citizens by conducting offensives. Islamic radical leaders have endless ambitions of imperial domination. There is no peace without victory." Blah, blah, blah. Who is the imperialist dominator, you psychopath? And what happened to "reconstruction"? Nothing, that's what.

And why did you pull the Pentagon auditors out of Iraq after billions of dollars in hard cash vanished?

Man, this works me up. During times of stress and anger at my personal powerlessness to stop America's festival of murder and theft, I retreat to the study of evolutionary psychology. There, in E. O. Wilson's classic text Sociobiology, I find cold comfort. "The enduring paradox of religion is that so much of its substance is demonstrably false, yet it remains a driving force in all societies. Men would rather believe than know, have the void as purpose, as Nietzsche said, then be void of purpose." Jesus, this must be the psychological truism guiding Bush's speech writers.

"To the extent that the rules have been sanctified and mythologized, the majority of the people regard them as beyond question, and disagreement is defined as blasphemy." That is why you are not reading this column in the New York Times.

"Human beings are absurdly easy to indoctrinate--they seek it." It is so much easier to curl up with Fox News and a Bud than to read IraqBodyCount.com's report of an "[Iraqi] mother trying to push her three-year-old daughter's liver back into the child's ripped abdomen." Or to ask why America runs the global franchise on McKilling fields.

Wilson, who studies insect societies, came under attack by some of his liberal colleagues when Sociobiology was published in 1975. Ethics are not in our genes! they exclaimed. Well, sure they are, as are the ancient drives for satiating hunger, copulation and information gathering. Our hunter-gatherer-type genes are still evolving--madly trying to catch up with a few centuries of technology. We have stone-age mentalities locked inside a modern skull, say the sociobiologists.

Wilson notes: "If war requires Spartan virtues and eliminates some of the warriors, victory can more than adequately compensate the survivors in land, power and the opportunity to reproduce." But the propensity toward social altruism that Wilson divines in the warrior castes of human and insect societies can also compel the warriors to eat the head grubs when necessary to improve evolutionary odds for the group. In other words, if the military rank and file ever wakes up, Bush is dead meat. That will be too late for Army Spc. Joshua J. Kynoch and untold thousands of Iraqis. But salutary, nonetheless.

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From the October 26-November 1, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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