From Newtown to Kabul, the sounds of freedom

Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr. doesn’t say what sounds “close-air support overhead” resembles, probably on the assumption that his audience, readers of the American Forces Press Service, do not need a description. He does say that the sounds “are often referred to as “the sounds of freedom,”” although he doesn’t say by whom.

A number of the accounts of the mass murder in Newtown featured descriptions of the sounds of the attacks. One parent said his son told him the shots sounded like “cans falling.” The office intercom was on, so teachers and children heard the murder of the school principal — screams and such. Children hidden in one classroom reportedly heard their teacher tell the killer that all her students were in the gym, and then they heard him shoot her and leave the room. Children heard doors slamming, locks sliding home, the janitor running through the halls warning of the killer.

“Cans falling;” “pop-pop-pop;” “big bangs;” “really loud pots were banging.” The New York Post is featuring a “compilation of sounds from the scene at the Newtown school shooting” derived from television news reports and raw footage in the immediate aftermath.

Probably people being bombed or strafed or missiled have their own language for what close air support sounds like, what the attacks from any source sound like, but afterward we know they will have sounded like death and doom. So Death and Doom sound like cans falling or pots banging, or thunder, or doors slamming, or some noise so loud you can only feel it.

The sounds of freedom.

Along with whatever we spent on whatever tonnage of bullets and bombs and missiles we shot at or dropped on people, the US last year sold $63 billion worth of weapons to variously questionable actors in the world to use in variously questionable activities. Second-place Russia only managed $5 billion. Americans spent more on weapons, ammunition and accessories for personal use than did Russia’s international clientele. Russia has some work to do; perhaps they should market more to Americans.

Americans — normal, generally well-regarded ones, careerists — routinely blow up children, and sometimes their schools. This is at the behest of the President — acting on behalf of the people — who said in response to the murders in Newtown that “each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would — as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”

Although there have been a number of US drone strikes and manned air strikes in which mostly women and children were killed, the President has never said about them that “[t]he majority of those who died today were children — beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”

Typically the administration denies that what happened, happened; sometimes they’ll allow as how it did but was an accident. We regret the accident. The administration now says anyone old enough to hold a gun and young enough to walk with it is a valid target unless proved otherwise after we’ve killed them. More recently, more specifically, a US Army colonel in Afghanistan said that “[i]n addition to looking for military-age males, [we’re] looking for children with potential hostile intent.” He described this as an opening of the aperture. Possibly this isn’t all that different from the thought process that went into Friday’s killings; an aperture was clearly opened.

The story from Sgt. Marshall ends with a comment from the commander of the Kyrgyzstan base (which is not a base but a “transit center,” with not a commander but a “director”) that is his subject. Of the US personnel there, the commander says “They are very impressive,” he said. “Our airmen, every day, are interacting with Kyrgyz nationals … they are great ambassadors for the U.S. and help the Kyrgyz people see what democracy means.”

Yes, very likely. Very likely we’re teaching them both the sights and the sounds of freedom.

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