I went to El Salvador in 1989. They were at war. Also, they were having a presidential election, which was to be won by the extreme-Right-wing party, ARENA, whose founder, Roberto D’Aubuisson, also created the murderous death squads. ARENA was also the party of the local upper-class, their ranks filled with white-skinned people in contrast with the bronzed population.
They were the pilots too: on the ground, the common, simpler Salvadorean in the army fought in the jungles and in the alleys with the common, simpler Salvadoreans in the guerrilla. But the sky belonged in exclusive to the rich boys from the 14 families who today still hold the economic power. You didn’t need to be the best-skilled to become a pilot, that was no passport to the clouds: being rich it was. And the pilots were the most arrogant members of the Armed Forces, attending fantastic balls where the teenaged, fair daughters of the elite would compete to catch the heroes’ attention. Everybody wanted to hear their brave deeds, like bombing villages and shooting anonymous peasants.
The Air Force lure and prestige seems to reach the whole planet. Here, in Israel, I hear that many recruits in the three-year-long military service would love to become pilots. And here, too, it is a matter of elitism, for best places in the Israeli Defense Force are traditionally assigned to Ashkenazi Jews.
What’s so good in shooting from the air? Nowadays, from the air and confronting a low-tech enemy, it seems that war resembles a videogame, it’s fun and nearly safe. Today, April 5th, wikileaks.org published a 2007 video taken from a US Army’s Apache helicopter in Baghdad. The images are shocking: they show eight men, two of them Reuters’ journalists with cameras, being shot at and killed from the helicopter. The Apache’s crew members are always eager to shoot, regardless that the men on the ground didn’t seem worried by the presence of the chopper and showed a completely peaceful attitude, minding their business. It is appalling to see how easily eight lives are wiped out from this world. “Nice, nice!”, repeat the helicopter guys.
One of them survives, though. A Reuters’ journalist. Painfully, we see him trying to crawl out of the place. The shooter asks permission to shoot him, but there is no weapon in sight so he doesn´t get it. He begs for the wounded man to find a weapon so he can shoot him. It doesn´t happen. Instead, a civilian Van arrives and the occupants get off to help the wounded. The shooter warns they are picking up the bodies. No weapons can be seen. He demands to receive permission. The journalist is being carried to the Van. And the soldier gets approval. He shoots and keeps shooping, the Van jumps in the air. Later on, he calculates that he must have killed between 12 or 15 people of whom he didn’t know anything at all, not even one little thing.
Who were they? What did they do when alive? Were they good people? Did they have children, parents, a sweet lover? What was interrumpted when he got permission and shot?
He didn’t care not knowing. From the sky, those things don’t seem to matter. You are so close to god and his angels.
The crew members laugh. And they laugh again when some US Army’s armoured vehicles come and run over a dead body. “Really?”, we hear a very amused comrade asking. The soldiers who just arrived discover that, inside the van, there were two children, who are now wounded. The army first claimed the helicopter engaged in full-combat, then they got lost in justifications, and said they didn’t know how the children were wounded. But we see that they were not hidden somewhere in the back of the Van, but clearly sitting next to the driver and looking out the window, as the Apache’s videocamera registered. One of the US medics wants to send them to a clinic in a US base, but he gest orders to hand them over to the Iraqi police, which would put them in a local medical facility. Probably not the best service. In the helicopter, the brave soldiers blame the Van driver for “taking the kids to battle”. What battle? They were trying to help wounded people.
Reuters based on the Freedom of Information Act a petition to have access to the video. This act works so well in Free America that three years passed and nothing came in. Wikileaks.org, run by people who know how things work in reality, finally got it from a source whose identity it won’t disclose. Watch it. It’s not nice:
What can be admired in a military pilot? What is wonderful in shooting unknown people from the safety of the sky? We’ve seen that, from those jets that attacked Iraq, the shooters couldn’t even directly see the ground, they just had electronic images showing them their targets. The unmanned drones are directed from somwehere in Texas (or so) to kill people in Pakistan. Where is the bravery?
A few years after that visit to El Salvador, news came that the fancy balls and the joyous flirting had been interrumpted. The arrogant pilots were very unhappy. The Leftist guerrilla had received basic ground-to-air missiles from their comrades in Nicaragua. It wasn’t a very succesful weapon, but they managed to shoot down a few planes. Killing peasants was not safe any longer and the rich sons of the oligarchy lost their taste to fly. They didn’t feel it was fair.
Greetings from Tel Aviv.