the dollar vigilante blog

40 Years Later: Nothing Has Changed Except The Images


[Editor's note: the following post is by Jim Karger, TDV Legal Correspondent]

The photo above was taken in Vietnam 40 years ago this month.

I remember it as if it was yesterday.

I was 20 years old, had just graduated from college, and was waiting to be reclassified "1A" by the U.S. Selective Service, at which time I would be drafted and sent to Vietnam to witness, and be expected to participate in, the murder and mayhem that was and remains the foundation of American foreign policy.

It was Vietnam and it's images that dispelled me of the notion of American exceptionalism.  It was the first time I wanted to escape America, but not the last.

Fast forward to today.

The murder, the mayhem, continues unabated.

Now, instead of napalm, there are drones that silently and anonymously maim and kill the innocent and the guilty without differentiation, without declared war, without due process or trial.

The difference between then and now?   Today, there are no pictures, no images, no guilt associated with supporting a corrupt government and military-industrial complex and mainstream press that have become one.

Without photos, we are expected to believe that only "militants" are killed in drone strikes, as we were expected then to believe that napalm only burned, scarred, disfigured and killed the Vietcong in Vietnam.  And many, perhaps most, Americans believed it until inconvenient photos like this showed up in newspapers all over the country and turned the nation against that war.

Today, no photos are permitted, at least not that we are permitted to see.  Unless photos of the mangled dead are spirited out by the likes of Bradley Manning, we are never exposed to the lives and the families that we destroy with impunity.

And, it is not only photos we are prohibited from seeing.  We are not even privy to the raw numbers. Rather than reporting the carnage accurately, the government has chosen to define the problem of civilian casualties out of existence.

Indeed, in order to report fewer "civilian" deaths, the government has unilaterally expanded the definition of a “militant” to ensure that it includes virtually everyone killed by drone strikes.  Specifically, for purposes of the body count, we are to assume that all military age males in the kill zone are "militants" unless and until there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Under this definition, the United States could target and kill every young Muslim male in the world and they could all conveniently be classified "militants," and rather than being called genocide, which it would be, the government would simply write them off as casualties of war.

As for the rest of us, since the U.S has defined battlefield as every square inch of the earth, we are all one redefinition away from being "militants" ourselves.

Jim Karger is a lawyer who has represented American businesses against incursions by government and labor unions for 30 years. He has been the subject of many feature articles, including, "Outlandish Labor Lawyer Gets No Objections From Staid Clients," published in the Wall Street Journal, and most recently was featured in an article entitled, "You Can Get There From Here," published by the American Bar Association. In 2001, he left Dallas, and moved to San Miguel de Allende in the high desert of central Mexico where he sought and found a freer and simpler life for he and his wife, Kelly, and their 10 dogs.

Today, Jim takes a handful of assignments each year, and speaks regularly to industry associations and employers on issues involving government regulation, overcriminalization, and privacy. His website is

Nothing herein should be taken as legal advice, but is offered for educational purposes only.


back to top