For the casual audience tuning into Showtime on Sunday evenings, it’s not likely they’re searching for artful deconstructions of a nation in the midst of clandestine war, illegal surveillance, and retaliatory attacks on civilian populations.
But for the award-winning Homeland, still laced with plenty of suspense, sex, and smut, this is precisely what is offered.
Using character studies, thematic elements, and historically significant intrigue, the show manages to put forward questions of patriotism and allegiance in a new age of warfare, concocted by design through the bureaucratic chambers of one of the United States‘ most secretive agencies.
Most importantly, however, Homeland provides lessons of the negative effects of American empire, otherwise known as “blowback,” defined as the “unintended consequences of covert operations deliberately kept secret from the American public.”
By examining the casualties of all sides in the War on Terror, Homeland uses the power of the small screen to present this complicated but essential moral issue and invite critical discussions on American foreign policy going forward.
LAUNCHING PAD OF THE EMPIRE
The series focuses on Carrie Matheson, played by Claire Danes, an unbalanced yet inexplicably talented case officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va.
The first season details her mounting suspicions of prisoner-of-war-turned war hero Nicholas Brody, who spent 8 years in the custody of so-called Al Qaeda terrorists and, as viewers later discover, became sympathetic to their cause after Aisa, the eight-year-old son of his captor, Abu Nazir, was killed by an American predator drone strike.
The audience plays witness to Brody’s transition as he watches his own government, specifically Vice President William Walden, broadcast to the world that “suspected militants” were necessarily wiped out in the bombing, despite the hundreds of children and women also killed but not mentioned in any official report.
David Estes, director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and Carrie Matheson‘s boss, once headed up the agency’s predator drone program when Vice President William Walden launched the strike and plays a pivotal role in green-lighting various covert and espionage missions throughout the run of the program.
For the purpose of this analysis, however, the most essential element of the show is Brody’s reaction to the drone strike which kills the innocent women and children.
It is this singular event which precipitates Brody’s resentment of the clandestine and murderous actions of American foreign policy and justifies his collaboration with his former captor, the “terrorist mastermind” the CIA is dead-set on reigning in.
The driving need for Brody to resort to a suicide attack to avenge the death Aisa represents the very idea of “blowback,” as he begins to plan an attack on the U.S. as a reaction to the covert attack initiated by Walden and Estes.
This is the very real struggle currently facing the American Empire, which has spanned an entire decade of wars and occupation in search of an enemy it cannot seem to eliminate.
Many have termed this an ultimate ”clash of civilizations,” brought about by religious and cultural differences reiterated by those who decide to attack the United States.
The government’s official response to attacks against Americans is simply that these are actions of Islamic fundamentalists who are hell-bent on destroying the United States because of some cultural or religious animosity.
“They hate our freedoms,” President George W. Bush explained to the nation just 9 nine days after the attacks on 9/11, justifying the invasions of Afghanistan and later Iraq.
This claim, however, is beginning to fall apart.
“There is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world’s religions,” writes Robert Pape of the University of Chicago, the foremost expert on suicidal terrorism.
The central thesis of his book, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, relies on compiled data from every case of suicide terrorism in the last 30 years, casting major doubt on the usually assigned culprit of religious fanaticism by Middle Eastern Arabs.
Pape easily discounts Bush’s claim and all other claims by defenders of the continued War on Terror by examining the damaging effect of American troop presence and civilian attacks in foreign nations.
“What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland,” writes Pape.
Even though Brody is a patriotic American solider, he witnesses the devastating power of the American government’s predator drones and decides to retaliate for what he considers an immoral, unjustified act on innocent civilians.
With over 900 military bases in over 130 countries, it is inevitable that domestic populations would grow to resist the presence of American military personnel, especially if bombs and predator drones are routinely seen dropping from the sky.
It has nothing to do with hating freedom or democracy, as Bush suggested.
This what many contemporary neoconservatives, who control the foreign policy of both major political parties, fail to understand about the effect of a burgeoning American Empire.
Countries want to be left alone to govern themselves. And they certainly don’t want foreign aircraft hovering above them and dropping bombs on certain “strategic targets” because they apparently pose a threat to the “national interest,” as is often invoked in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, where drones have unleashed firepower.
It is not the hate of the American ‘way’ but rather the American ‘might’ which enrages those who decide to take arms against the U.S., something Homeland demonstrates quite clearly for the Showtime‘s casual audience.
THE REAL LESSONS LEARNED
Most analysis on Homeland has so far centered on questioning whether the show’s portrayal of Muslims plays to offensive stereotypes, rather than questions about ‘blowback’ or flawed foreign policy.
In the eyes of some critics, Homeland is just as guilty as governments or mainstream media in painting a broad brush of Muslims and labeling them him “suspected jihadists.”
The London Guardian‘s Peter Beaumont sums up this argument in stating that, “What I do know is how both Arabs and Islamists have been portrayed thus far as violent fanatics, some of whom are powerful and influential infiltrators.”
Columbia University professor Joseph Massad , writing for Al-Jazeera, goes so far as to charge the show of racism, sexism, and every other “ism” imaginable, declaring the “racialist structure of the show is reflective of American and Israeli fantasies of anti-Muslim American multiculturalism.”
What Beaumont and Massad fail to consider is that the show is inherently focused on suspected terror plots, espionage, and reactions to American foreign policy by Middle Eastern characters— not the life and times of Muslim shopkeepers in Minnesota. The idea of all Muslims being profiled and suspected of terrorism is addressed outright in the show multiple times, underscoring the very frustration these authors voice in their criticisms.
This is easily admitted in “New Car Smell,” the 4th episode of the second season, when the foreign taxi driver scoffs Brody‘s attempted use of the credit card when he’s dropped off at CIA headquarters in Langley.
“Oh come on man, no cash? These spook types follow me around for days after they see me handing papers to customers,” said the taxi driver, revealing the common frustration Arabs must confront everyday.
This was a smart point inserted by Homeland‘s writers, but it was apparently lost on show critics.
The A.V. Club‘s Todd VanDerWerff, however, rightly recognizes the central theme of the show by revisiting the question of what motivates attacks against the U.S.
“After all, Brody’s reasons for turning against the United States might have been foolhardy, but at least they were reasons,” writes VanDerWerff. “Being angry at the government’s drone program and believing it abandons what makes this nation great is a completely justifiable position.”
Massad does redeem himself, however, when he voices poignant criticisms for President Barack Obama, who is apparently a fan of the show, which remains ironic considering he is the very man responsible for the biggest drone strike campaign in the history of American foreign policy.
His drone strikes have so far killed 3 American citizens without trial or charge, not to mention foreign nationals, and he maintains a “Kill List” of individuals who are susceptible to assassination at the push of a button.
These are the types of attacks which inspire more terrorism against the United States, which Homeland goes to great length to show.
Convicted Times Square bomber Faisal Shazad admitted in open court he was driven to attack the United States after members of his own family were killed in drone campaigns in Pakistan. The same has been cited in numerous cases as the drone campaigns across the Middle East become more numerous and deadly and serve as a back drop in the story line of Homeland.
This show allows the human elements of the War on Terror to be put on trial, including the very brutal foreign occupations which continue to incite hatred toward America.
What makes Homeland so important therefore, is that it contains real life lessons about ‘blowback’ and the unintended consequences of American Empire, leaving every viewer ever more skeptical about the true aims of the United States’ foreign policy.
On April 22,1971, a young Lieutenant named John Kerry came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, being the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress on the subject of ending the war in which he served.
He appeared on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), a group of over 20,000 former military servicemen who collectively called for an end to the military operations and atrocities in Vietnam.
Lt. Kerry gave a prepared speech, eloquent and precise, poignant and riveting. He spoke of the crimes of the American soldiers committed in Vietnam, the mystic veil of communism which had justified such killing and destruction, the lies of the American executive which directed these immoral actions, and the convergence of all said injustice to yield the most grave mistake which had just then become realized to the majority of the American public.
That was another war and another era.
However, the hubris of the present cannot overcome the lessons of history, especially as they repeat so easily within one generation. The false events which led to the Vietnam War, beginning in the Tonkin Gulf in 1964, have now become openly accepted as acknowledged government lies in order to fuel war. Upwards of up to 58,000 American servicemen and almost 4,000,000 Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians lost their lives over the span of a few years, caused by deliberate manipulations and deceptions committed by those holding the reigns of American foreign policy at the time.
And now, close to forty years later, where does the policy of the United States of America stand? The answer is quite brazen and beyond belief. Instead of the words Vietnam, jungles, and communists, it has become Afghanistan, deserts, and terrorists. The ever-malicious monolithic force still “threatens” the very core tenants of American freedom and democracy, even as those very ideals are skewed and curtailed in order to combat that same evil.
In the words of the young, sage Lt. John Kerry, who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, we find an eerie parallel to the grievances and realities of today. Wars continue to rage in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Small bands of mercenary contractors, intelligence operatives, and predator drones carry out attacks and drop bombs in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. Close to 2,500,000 civilians, 6,000 American soldiers, and 1,000 coalition troops have lost their lives in total since the United States began its vast re-colonization of the Middle East less than ten years ago. American soldiers are left to continue tour after tour of active combat duty, leading to a permanent army of psychologically-damaged young men and women who wear the stars and stripes upon their back, and the memories of death and suffering upon their conscience. All undertaken in order to combat yet another mystical enemy; that of terrorism.
The testimony given by Lt. Kerry not only flawlessly described the atmosphere and circumstances of the 1970s Vietnam struggle, but it so lucidly and perfectly embodies the global imperial struggle which defines the United States of America in the current year 2011.
Listen to the words of future Democratic Senator John Kerry, paying special heed to the mentions of Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos. Replace these states (italicized) which experienced past American intervention and conflict with the plethora available in present times.
Such will illuminate the current struggle which is the Mystical War Against Terrorism.
Mr. Kerry: I would like to talk to you a little bit about what the result is of the feelings these men carry with them after coming back from Vietnam. The country doesn’t know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.
As a veteran and one who feels this anger, I would like to talk about it. We are angry because we feel we have been used in the worst fashion by the administration of this country.
In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to use the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.
We are probably much more angry than that and I don’t want to go into the foreign policy aspects because I am outclassed here. I know that all of you talk about every possible alternative of getting out of Vietnam. We understand that. We know you have considered the seriousness of the aspects to the utmost level and I am not going to try to deal on that, but I want to relate to you the feeling that many of the men who have returned to this country express because we are probably angriest about all that we were told about Vietnam and about the mystical war against communism.
We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.
We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with which ever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.
We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how money from American taxes was used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, as blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Vietcong.
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.
We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals.
We watched the U.S. falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification of body counts. We listened while month after month we were told the back of the enemy was about to break. We fought using weapons against “oriental human beings,” with quotation marks around that. We fought using weapons against those people which I do not believe this country would dream of using were we fighting in the European theater or let us say a non-third-world people theater, and so we watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill has to be taken, and after losing one platoon or two platoons they marched away to leave the high for the reoccupation by the North Vietnamese because we watched pride allow the most unimportant of battles to be blown into extravaganzas, because we couldn’t lose, and we couldn’t retreat, and because it didn’t matter how many American bodies were lost to prove that point. And so there were Hamburger Hills and Khe Sanhs and Hill 881′s and Fire Base 6′s and so many others.
Now we are told that the men who fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost so that we can exercise the incredible arrogance of Vietnamizing the Vietnamese. Each day…(Applause)
Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, “the first President to lose a war.”
We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to dies in Vietnam? How do ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? But we are trying to do that, and we are doing it with thousands of rationalizations, and if you read carefully the President’s last speech to the people of this country, you can see that he says, and says clearly: But the issue, gentlemen, the issue is communism, and the question is whether or not we will leave that country to the communists or whether or not we will try to give it hope to be a free people. But the point is they are not a free people now under us. They are not a free people, and we cannot fight communism all over the world, and I think we should have learned that lesson by now.
But we are here as veterans to say we think we are in the midst of the greatest disaster of all times now because they are still dying over there, and not just Americans, Vietnamese, and we are rationalizing leaving that country so that those people can go on killing each other for years to come.
Americans seems to have accepted the idea that the war is winding down, at least for Americans, and they have also allowed the bodies which were once used by a President for statistics to prove that we were winning that war, to be used as evidence against a man who followed orders and who interpreted those orders no differently than hundreds of other men in Vietnam.
We veterans can only look with amazement on the fact that this country has been unable to see there is absolutely no difference between ground troops and a helicopter crew, and yet people have accepted a differentiation fed them by the administration.
No ground troops are in Laos, so it is all right to kill Laotians by remote control. But believe me the helicopter crews fill the same body bags and they wreak the same kind of damage on the Vietnamese and Laotian countryside as anybody else, and the President is talking about allowing that to go on for many years to come. One can only ask if we will really be satisfied only when the troops march into Hanoi.
We are asking here in Washington for some action, action from the Congress of the United States of America which has the power to raise and maintain armies, and which by the Constitution also has the power to declare war.
We have come here, not to the President, because we believe that this body can be responsive to the will of the people, and we believe that the will of the people says that we should be out of Vietnam now.
We are here in Washington also to say that the problem of this war is not just a question of war and diplomacy. It is part and parcel of everything that we are trying as human beings to communicate to people in this country, the question of racism, which is rampant in the military, and so many other questions also, the use of weapons, the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage in the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war, when we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions, in the use of free fire zones, harassment interdiction fire, search and destroy missions, the bombings, the torture of prisoners, the killing of prisoners, accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam. That is what we are trying to say. It is party and parcel of everything.
Finally, this administration has done us the ultimate dishonor. They have attempted to disown us and the sacrifice we made for this country. In their blindness and fear they have tried to deny that we are veterans or that we served in Nam. We do not need their testimony. Our own scars and stumps of limbs are witnesses enough for others and for ourselves.
We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped their memories of us. But all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbarous war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more and so when, in 30 years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say “Vietnam” and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning. Thank you.
In one of the most public CIA murder cases in the last twenty years, the media has honed in on Raymond Davis, a CIA
agent contractor, charged with murder in Lahore, Pakistan.
As reported by Reuters:
Raymond Davis, 36, shot dead two Pakistanis in the eastern Punjab city of Lahore on January 27 after what he described as an attempted armed robbery. He said he acted in self-defense and the United States says he had diplomatic immunity and should have been immediately repatriated.
The case became a major test of ties between the United States and Pakistan, a vital ally in the U.S.-led campaign against Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
What makes the case all the more interesting is the turn-around exhibited by the families of the victims, who had formally pressed for indictment of the American espionage agent. Just hours before the writing of this article, the latest Reuters and AP headlines exclaimed:
Pakistan court indicts CIA contractor for double murder
Merely minutes later, however, the headline changed:
Pakistan court acquits CIA contractor after “blood money” deal
Though the original article has been changed on all news websites, I was able to procure a copy here.
Originally, Davis was formally indicted by the Pakistani court and was ready to stand trial. Soon thereafter, it was reported that ‘blood money’ was paid to the victims’ families, a huge payoff obviously fronted by American taxpayers.
The reason given for the quick and speedy settlement of this murder trial is the growing anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, which has suffered endless drone attacks and interventions from American special forces for nearly ten years.
Shall this payment of ‘blood money’ shift more legitimacy to the Pakistani Taliban, who have been gaining immense popularity after American presence in the region? Shall it once again prove that state meddling in foreign countries only breeds resentment and hatred?
Let these events serve as another example of how the American government is further harming its people and reputation by the wars in the Middle East.
When shall the madness end?