The Obama Government’s First Massacre

One may have more or less sympathy for the new US president, more or less believe in his words, more or less value the change in the US government’s tone when handling its differences with other governments.  But there is a limit when it comes to judging the character of a president and a government.  That limit has now been reached, with the massacre of at least 150 civilians in Afghanistan. 

There had already been deaths, in the previous week, of some hundreds of alleged militants at the hands of the Pakistani Army, whose credibility is nil and makes one suspect that the dead were largely civilians exhibited as Taliban, in an attempt to minimally restore the army’s image.  The US government can pretend to believe in that version. 

But now the stories of the Afghan massacre are coming from the very authorities of Afghanistan, a country occupied by Western troops, commanded by the US.  At least 150 people — the vast majority of them women and children, a clear indication that they were civilians – became victims of bombings by Western troops.  Nothing can hide it, nor is there any room for doubt. 

What stance will the new US president take?  Consider these deaths as “unwanted collateral damage”?  Or as “risks that come with all military conflicts”?  Or as “civilians who were human shields for terrorists”?  Or “open a rigorous investigation to establish responsibilies”?  Or “offer apology to the Afghan people for this unforgivable mistake”?  Or “order relief efforts for involuntary victims of war”?

Nothing will serve as excuse for Obama.  Massacres are and will be inevitable as long as the war of occupation continues in Afghanistan.  Having won the Democratic Party primaries with a generally progressive platform, Obama went on to face his Republican opponent, who accused him of being “soft” and unprepared to accept what he considered to be US interests in the world — a synonym for “endless wars” unleashed by the Bush government against all international law.  In order to extricate himself from that accusation, while keeping his promise to withdraw the troops from Iraq, Obama set up an equation according to which the US shall withdraw its troops from Iraq and transfer them to Afghanistan. 

Strange reasoning.  What difference is there between the two epicenters of “endless wars,” except that in the Afghan case, still under the impact of the attacks that it had suffered, the US obtained the UN Security Council’s endorsement for the invasion?  Is there any other difference between the two cases of invasion and subjection of the two peoples to foreign troops?  Are the governments of these two countries freely chosen by their peoples or are they the occupying authorities imposed, in both cases, by force of arms? If some element of similarity had been missing, the Obama government’s first massacre came to confirm the absolute similarity of the two cases. 

The character of a person is made clear primarily by his actions, and so is that of a government.  We know so many cases of people personally involved in torture who continued to be good family men.  Is it possible to regard them as persons of good character?  Can contingent private virtues absolve public vices?

For those who are carried away by the captivating smile of Obama and the elegance of Michelle, this first massacre should serve as the test of his character, private and public.  The Obama government will not be the same once it becomes impossible not to see the brutality of what the troops of his country, under his command, are doing in Afghanistan and in Iraq.  No government can remain the same once it begins to live with such massacres as this, for which it is directly responsible.  The relatives of the Afghan dead — women, children, old people, their families, and the Afghan people — expect and deserve a word from Obama; their deaths didn’t happen because of what was done when Obama was just a kid, but because of his government and his decision to intensify, rather than end, the brutal occupation of Afghanistan. 

The original article “O primeiro massacre do governo Obama” was published in the Blog do Emir section of the Agência Carta Maior on 6 May 2009. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at]