Somewhere near the end of ‘Apocalypse Now’ Colonel Kurtz, sitting in the almost impenetrable darkness, utters the memorable line: “They teach young men to drop fire on people, but won’t allow them to write ‘Fuck’ on their aeroplanes because they consider it obscene”.
We are (possibly) all quite familiar with this film and the scene I mention – Kurtz, in his final rambling monologue, is trying to articulate his vision of the inexpressible, terrifying reality of human savagery that he has witnessed and participated in, before himself being ‘terminated’.
What most of us will have missed I’m sure is a foot-note story in some of the broadsheets that came just before Christmas on the 23rd December. ‘US apologises for Ramadan bomb graffiti’ ran the story.
It detailed how the Pentagon had just condemned “thoughtless graffiti” about Ramadan that was scrawled on the side of a US bomb to be dropped on Iraq, shortly before Christmas. The inscription said: “Here’s a Ramadan present from Chad Rickenberg”.
The graffiti was seen in a photograph transmitted the weekend before by the American Associated Press from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in the Gulf. The message was on a 2,000lb laser-guided bomb that was to be loaded.
The story continued to develop as if scripted as a black farce along the lines of ‘Dr. Strangelove’. Kenneth Bacon(!), chief Pentagon spokesman, issued a statement of regret designed to convey how sensitive American officials were about Ramadan, which had begun the weekend before. He said the officials were distressed to learn of the graffiti, but he did not speak of any investigation or disciplinary action against Seaman Rickenberg.
Mr Bacon continued: “Religious intolerance is anathema to Secretary of Defence William Cohen and to all Americans who cherish the right to worship freely. The United States deeply respects Islam”. (So much so in fact that they despatch(ed) tons of wire-guided firepower at Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq on highly dubious pretexts, all the while allowing a Muslim population in Europe – the people of Kosovo – to be slaughtered at will by the Serbian maniac Milosevic). “We are grateful for our good relations with Arab and Islamic peoples, and we appreciate the important contributions of Muslim-Americans to the US military.
“I know our people in uniform respect and appreciate religious practices different from their own. This incident is a rare exception that does not reflect American policy or values.”
On this note it was surprising he did not wish the Iraqis a ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’.
Contrary to Bacon’s statement (and true to Kurtz’s observation), putting graffiti on US weapons is something of a tradition among GIs dating right back to the Second World War. Indeed, the Ramadan comment was just one of many messages inscribed on weapons in the “bomb farm” below the flight deck of the Enterprise. Among the others, (with original spellings) were “Hold onto Yer Butt”, “Die, You Magets”, “This is Gunna Hurt” and “To Saddam, Mery X-Mas”.
Final thought: Each of the 325 cruise missiles fired at Iraq during the Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign cost $1.2m. “They won’t allow them to write ‘FUCK’…..”
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