“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905
“é[S]ocieties that do not confront the past remain trapped éin a world whose most important truths are felt é then repressed é every day, a world where official lies are perpetuated by a vast bureaucracy…“
Chris Hedges, War is a Force that gives us Meaning, 2002
It has been said that wars are America’s way of learning about the geography (and history) of other parts of the world.
The U.S -led “coalition of the willing” (i.e. George Bush and his British butler) has been at “war” with Iraq since March 20. The very Iraqi resistance has all but ceased. More correctly, the U.S bombing of Iraq never ceased since the end of Gulf War I. The present invasion had no international sanction other than the usual self-proclaimed ones. It was illegitimate and immoral. Like Vietnam 35 years ago, the United States of America has once again, in the time-honored American tradition, destroyed a country to “save” it. The smug and triumphant Bush administration (with a chortling Defense Secretary who is a scary mix of Jack Ripper and Buck Turgidson from Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” é the latest “joke” from “Rummy” after the large-scale looting and destruction at the historic Iraqi National Museum, ” why all this fuss about a few vases!”) is already setting its sights on Syria and Iran. To conduct the next phase of World War IV – as the present invasion has been characterized by several neo-conservative advisers and ideologues – the Bush administration has the exuberant support of the Sharon government in Israel. It is encouraged no doubt, by the complicity, or deafening silence, at its occupation of Iraq from the utterly bankrupt Arab leadership. Other countries and world leaders have been stunned into inaction as well. As long as the world’s leaders are divided on confronting the U.S., or whether to confront it at all, there is little that can be done to stop the brutish behavior of this behemoth.
A country of 270 million people with a per capita GDP of $ 36,000 pummeled into submission a nation of 24 million with a GDP estimated at $2,500 per person. The most powerful and fearsome weapons that 300 billion dollars could buy were targeted relentlessly on a shattered nation, decimated through the severest economic sanctions ever imposed on a country. The U.S.A., the world’s richest country, attacked with utmost ferocity an already devastated country that, only two decades ago, could justifiably claim to be the most advanced in the Arab world. A nation armed with a limitless supply of million $ cruise missiles, GPS guided cluster bombs and DU weapons, hurled the from the safety of the open skies or the depths of the oceans, at a country unable to defend itself with a totally outmatched, ill-equipped army. Even as the “war” is over, Iraqi children are being killed or critically maimed by unexploded bomb–lets dropped from U.S warplanes. The cradle of civilization has been reduced to rubble, its ancient, priceless artifacts and antiquities looted and destroyed. No doubt the ones that can be salvaged will find their way into American museums and collectors homes. A proud people have been reduced to utter penury. Their humiliation, by the “liberators” from the new world, is complete. Iraqis must feel privileged that they were given a choice of how they wanted to be “liberated” by Bush – either instantly through one of the several weapons of death in his arsenal or by the slightly slower, more agonizing way from injury, starvation, disease. And the Iraqi deaths number in the thousands. But unlike American casualties, which are significantly fewer, limited to the military and have faces and names associated with them, and buried with full military honors in the midst of family and friends, with full publicity, the Iraqi dead, dying, mutilated and devastated people, civilian and military, are without identity. The American soldiers injured are evacuated quickly to be treated at ultra-modern hospitals at home or on military bases. Iraqi dead are fortunate to be buried in marked graves before their fly-infested corpses rot in the heat of the desert sun. Their grieving survivors will take no consolation in the fact that husbands, wives, sons and daughters were liberated by “freedom-loving, god-fearing” American troops. This sanitized war has been presented, perversely, as a sporting event. Americans (not all by any means) are seen as indifferent to the indescribable suffering of the Iraqi people- just as they have been to the Palestinians under Israeli occupation and following the Israeli example. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Powell cabal has demonized, and dehumanized, an entire people to make their death and suffering inconsequential, incidental, accidental or justifiable. Their inherent racism devalues Iraqi lives. The deaths of Iraqis from U.S bombs and bullets can be presented matter-of-factly, with no remorse. The crimes of war are once again denied.
Not since the war on Vietnam and Cambodia (there being absolutely no defense in the various other American invasions since then, such as in Grenada, Panama, Kosovo or Afghanistan) has a “war” been more asymmetric for the sheer scale of its disparity. Israel’s devastating assault on the Palestinian people in the occupied territories is reported to have served as a model for the Pentagon planners of the Iraq invasion. In both cases, the underlying premise is that American and Israeli lives (other than those who oppose their respective government’s policies) are more precious and more important than the lives of anyone else on planet Earth. A country twice the size of the state of Idaho with a population half of whom are under the age of fifteen was unable to fend off the American juggernaut. A $ 30-billion economy (all based on oil) has not a fighting chance against an aggressor whose high-tech defense budget itself is ten times larger. The fight was as unjust as it was unfair.
Mesopotamia (meaning, “between the rivers”) is the ancient region of Asia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Its history essentially chronicles the origins of human civilization on earth. People known to us as the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Chaldeans settled it, from about 6000 BCE. The code of Hammurabi was the first recorded compilation of rules to govern civilized society, named for the Babylonian ruler who united Mesopotamia around 1790 BCE. One of the famous seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, were built by Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century BCE. In 539 BCE the region became part of the Persian Empire until Alexander the Great conquered it on behalf of Greece in 331 BCE. The Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and finally the Arab Abbasid caliphs who made Baghdad their capital in year 762 soon followed him. The Abbasid dynasty descended from an uncle of the Prophet Mohammed and marked a flourishing of arts and sciences, reaching its peak under the reign of Haroun al-Rashid and his son (786 – 833) whose rule extended from North Africa to the Indian subcontinent. In the legendary Arabian Nights, this period is remembered as the golden age. Fast forward to Hulagu Khan (1215-1265), a grandson of the notorious Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire on the north central and eastern part of the Asian land mass. Genghis Khan united the tribes of Central and North Asia into a huge, well-disciplined, well-armed, swift (horseback) and powerful army. By 1215, his control extended from Persia to China. His son Ogotai Khan continued the wave of terror, destruction and bloody invasions across Russia. In 1257, Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulagu Khan routed the Abbasid caliphate that controlled Mesopotamia (Iraq) and proceeded to capture and sack Baghdad in an act comparable to the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt by Caesar’s forces that besieging the city. Hulagu Khan proceeded to invade Syria until driven back as far as Persia (Iran) by the Egyptian army. Even as the legendary Kublai Khan (1260-94) organized the empire into four regions (khan-ates), the strains began showing and his death marked the disintegration of the Mongol Empire, marked by utter deprivation and disrepair. But the tradition of conquest and pillage was revived by Tamerlane in the 1300’s and Babur (founder of the Mughal dynasty in India) in the 1500’s.
Until last week, the National Museum of Iraq was the repository of the most important collection of Iraqi antiquities. When the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed the towering carvings of the Buddha in Bamiyan some years ago, the U.S joined the rest of the world in condemning this act of vandalism. An historic cultural heritage had been lost forever. But the looting that followed the U.S invasion of Baghdad shows the utter U.S. disdain for international rules and civilized conduct (the Hague Conventions) that require an occupying power to protect the culture and heritage of the occupied country. American antiquities scholars and experts had warned of just such a possibility long before the U.S invasion. The most striking aspect of the outbreak of looting was the nonchalant attitude of US government officials in Washington. At a Pentagon press conference, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denounced the media for exaggerating the extent of chaos, and argued that the looting was a natural and perhaps even healthy expression of pent-up hostility to the old regime. “It’s untidy,” Rumsfeld said. “And freedom’s untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes.” He even derided all the hullabaloo over a “few broken vases”. The Pentagon provided U.S marines to guard the Iraqi Oil Ministry offices but couldn’t spare soldiers to prevent the pillage of the priceless relics at the museum or even the critical, hospital equipment and supplies desperately needed to save the lives of maimed and suffering Iraqi people. Is the Bush administration priority securing Iraq’s oil or the lives (without which there can be no democracy, surely) of Iraqi people?
How did it feel to be at war? For the Iraqis, and the Americans?
For an Iraqi, there is still the constant threat of death and destruction from a variety of sources é immediately from American gunfire; more slowly from inoperable wounds lying in a devastated hospital without electricity or medicines; somewhat delayed, if more painfully, from infections acquired from depleted uranium dust, polluted water, untreated sewage or a compromised immune system. If you are an Iraqi adult, there is no factory work or office job to go to; if you are an Iraqi child or teenager, there is no school or college to attend. Wherever you are, there is the constant threat of being killed by unexploded ordnance. There is no “entertainment” other than the ineluctable, real violence and constant fear of just how to survive. There is the real “thrill” of trying to escape the devastation with one’s children, trying to drive past American blockades without getting shot-up to bloody pieces. The meager rations doled out by their government before the U.S invasion will not last long. And yet the humanitarian relief effort from the Bush administration to the beleaguered, battered Iraqi people has proceeded at snail’s pace. Just the psychological trauma of not knowing what is to come is a crime against a people who have done nothing to deserve this racist “war” and all its awful consequences.
If you are an American (other than the 30 million living in poverty and the millions campaigning for peace and against the endless Bush war), you could have chosen to turn off the “war” entirely. The 24-hour reality TV show starring Pentagon-embedded journalists brought the “heroism” of our troops live from the battlefield into American homes. It showed none of the atrocities committed that claimed the lives of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children. Whenever one had one’s fill of the “pristine and immaculate” American military, there were the non-stop sit-coms and dramas, violence and sex programming, sports and cooking lessons, religion and shopping on 100 other channels to surf. Or one could jump in the car and go to the strip mall or the supermarket, to buy yet another thing one does not need and the food/beverage one is recommended to avoid consuming, or that one indulged in excess, choosing from the ever more staggering choice.
American culture means being able to opt out of reality and the outside world, to wrap oneself up in flags in the belief that it will ward off “evil”, to experience vicariously the thrill of futuristic violence at movie multiplexes, to go to restaurants and bars and consume food and drink in amounts undreamed of in most of the world and Iraq. A new season of baseball and golf has resumed to supplement the daily dose of basketball and ice hockey. Children ride to school plugged into their Discmans or Nintendos. College students rove across wide-open campuses engrossed in cell-phone conversations with family and friends when they cannot communicate meaningfully person-to-person, in the classroom or social gatherings (other than on some trivial aspect of sport, personalities or entertainment). Office employees and workers rarely discuss in public, or disagree, with the Bush administration’s “war” for fear of being accused of being “unpatriotic”. Retributions might follow in this “greatest democracy on earth”. They might even lose their jobs. U.S. companies adopt policies that are convergent with U.S policies. People drive miles to work, burning limitless amounts of gasoline (probably from Iraq) with some proclaiming their “patriotism” by barreling down highways in the civilian equivalent of the Army’s gas guzzling Humvee (giving new meaning to the phrase, “bringing the war home”). But Americans are yet warned, under Code Yellow (just downgraded from Code Orange), to be fearful of the “hate-filled” world outside that is “envious” of their “living standards” and “freedoms”, to watch out for people who look “suspiciously Middle-Eastern” and live amongst them. Unabashed jingoism pervades the airwaves and the print media with endless stories of “our brave troops” who are only fighting for the “liberation” of Iraq (not its oil), to free its people from the evil clutches of a tyrant (don’t ask who installed him). After all, do not Americans have the god-given exclusive right to “security” from “terrorists” lurking all over the world, especially in the “axis of evil”? The shills in the media unabashedly proclaim the Pentagon/White House braggadocio as truth. They have printed photographs of 55 former Iraqi leaders (the collectors item deck-of-cards) on America’s most wanted list. Enterprising activists might consider manufacturing a similar deck of cards of America’s “most wanted” leaders, though one deck will hardly be enough. It would be nice to think of playing liars poker with these two sets!
Bandicoots in action
A brainwashed American public was blinded by the “shock and awe” of the Pentagon. Yet many people fail to see that the bandicoots running U.S. corporations are merrily engaged in looting their companies, pauperizing their employees and passing on the clean-up costs to the tax-payers with the full assistance of a collaborative White House and a pliant Congress. Every day’s business section in the newspapers chronicles the insatiable greed, corruption and arrogance that pervade the corridors of business and power in George Bush’s America. The wretched, the poor, the working class are enticed into doing their “dirty” work across the globe and at home, and yet made to feel that such is their proud, bounden and pleasurable duty on behalf of the “greatest” country (and its plutocracy). The deliberate intent with which the discriminatory and inhumane Bush policies are being implemented will surely widen, even more, the chasm between the rich and the poor. His proposals are dazzling for their sheer audacity. Just one example will suffice. Bush has proposed massive tax cuts for the rich. At the same time, he has demanded $ 80 billion in emergency funding for the $ 47 million an hour war on Iraq even as he reduced services and subsidies for the poor and the unemployed, including nutrition, medical care for children and child care assistance and cut veterans benefits. We have, in short, a Bush budget that is Robin Hood in reverse, taking money from the poor and brazenly funneling it to the rich. It even penalizes the very people (veterans) who have defended his ilk. Consider this, the 400 billion dollar U.S “Defense” (truth in advertisement should require this to be labeled Offense) Department could feed, clothe, shelter and educate every individual on planet Earth for nine years. And $ 2,500 of every taxpayer remittance (assuming one pays at least that much) goes to the U.S war machine. Already the Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin factories are gearing-up to replenish the armaments expended in Iraq to get the high-tech U.S military ready for the coming “wars” on Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and North Korea. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (April 15) noted, “I’ve always assumed that at some point the American people would realize what was happening and demand an end to the process. Now, though, I’m not so sure.”
The United States of America, claimed by its leaders to be the very epitome of human freedom, has a record two million people incarcerated and 30 million people living in poverty (disproportionately African-Americans and Latinos). A country that has 5% of the world’s population, uses 25% of the its energy and produces 20% of global pollution, has invaded and occupied an emasculated people who just happened to possess the second largest repository of the world’s most coveted energy resource. Without Iraq’s oil, there is not one who can argue that the Bush administration would be engaged in “regime change”. In fact, it has always suited the U.S. leadership’s interests to have manageable dictators control such precious commodities. The sole exception to this category in the region, Iran, is another bete noire of the Bush administration and next in the gun sights of the Pentagon.
Only a deluded person can believe President Bush when he proclaims that Iraq’s oil will be entirely at the disposal of the Iraqi people. Already, Vice-President Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton, has obtained no bid contracts worth $ 7 billion, for repair to the destroyed Iraqi facilities and services to occupying troops. Others licking their chops in the gravy train include the rent-a-cop DynCorp’s company, Father Bush’s Carlyle Group (which until two years ago had a certain bin Laden as an investor), the secretive and private Bechtel Corporation (with the Reagan Secretary George Schulz as director). Retired U.S. Lt.Gen. Jay Garner, a self-proclaimed admirer and unabashed supporter of Israel, has been appointed satrap of Iraq to manage the Bush-Cheney portfolio. The tragedy is compounded when one considers the fact that the foot soldiers defending “American interests” (the insatiable greed and life-styles of the rich and powerful) come largely from the ranks of the lower classes including non-citizens. Amongst the first U.S soldiers killed in Iraq were Mexican-American immigrants who were given citizenship posthumously. There are about 30,000 enlisted troops in the U.S military who are non-citizens. For the inner-city poor, the military is a job that offers them a living when the situation is desperate otherwise. In the case of non-immigrants, it also gives them an opportunity to legalize their status. Despite this, persecution of people who look “Middle Eastern” continues unabated.
Hulagu or Pharaoh
So is Bush the re-incarnated Hulagu Khan? He surely is not a Pharaoh because pharaohs are at least credited with getting the Great Pyramids built (by slave labor of course).
There is little doubt that the endless “wars” Bush-Cheney want to wage are not only to secure the interests of their corporate benefactors but also to ensure that they can continue to use their weapons of mass deception to deflect public attention from a bad economy and just in time for the next elections. The periodic “terrorist” warnings are also used to scare people, keep them on edge and support the powers that be. Besides the continual erosion of civil liberties (“to protect the people”), the public is castigated by both the government and the fawning corporate media if it voices any criticism or opposition to the Bush agenda. Watching and reading the U.S mainstream corporate media on the Iraq invasion and comparing its reporting to that in the foreign media and press was like seeing two different “realities” of the “war” and its devastating consequences to the people of Iraq.
The U.S Congress is largely “missing in action” and the third pillar of government in America, the Court, is increasingly under the Bush administration’s control. Right-wing Christian zealots and Zionists, who forcefully articulate the Israeli position for re-ordering the Middle East (mirror images of Osama bin Laden), are in firm control of the reins of power in Washington. There is not a single official in the Bush administration with the guts to criticize any of the murderous activities of the Sharon administration, even if it affects the life and limb of an American citizen (as evidenced recently by the killing of Rachel Corrie, an International Solidarity Movement monitor, who was trying to prevent the destruction of yet another Palestinian home by a U.S-supplied Israeli military bulldozer). Israel’s manufacture, possession and deployment of weapons of mass destruction are well known. But U.S Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to include, even name, Israel in his answer to a question that asked about U.S sincerity in making the entire region free of WMD (at a Washington news conference with foreign journalists on April 15).
While many of the rich are raised in wealth, one in five American children is raised in poverty. Eighty percent of America’s wealth belongs to only one-fifth of its people (within whose ranks there are very few people of color). The message drummed into people’s heads is that this gross disparity is the immutable, natural order Income disparities at the beginning of the 21st century are greater than ever before. But public awareness of poverty and malnutrition in this land specially “blessed” by the gods is almost non-existent. The United States is number one in wealth and power but number twenty-six in childhood mortality for children under the age of twelve. Nearly one-third of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted. One hundred billion pounds of safe, usable food is thrown away by farmers, restaurants, food stores, school and college dining halls as one in ten Americans go to bed hungry (13 million of them under age twelve). But despite such distress amidst plenty, its oligarchy proclaims to the world the “lofty” principles that under gird American society é “gender and race equality, class mobility, human rights, democracy”. The corporations and the wealthy have as a firm a hold of power in this society as ever. Their genius, so far, has been to make the vast majority believe that endless war, persecution of people who look “suspicious” and restrictions on everyone’s civil liberties are in the people’s own interest. In his powerful and moving memoir as a war correspondent covering various conflicts over the last decade, Chris Hedges (“War is a force that gives us meaning”, 2002) writes, “Historical memory is hijacked by those who carry out war. They seek, when memory challenges the myth, to obliterate or hide the evidence that exposes the myth as lie. The destruction is pervasive, aided by an establishment including the media, which apes the slogans and euphemisms parroted by the powerful. Because nearly everyone in wartime is complicit, it is difficult for societies to confront their own culpability and the hate that led to it.” Surely this applies as much to Iraq under Saddam Hussein as to the U.S.A under George Bush. How different are al-Sahaf (the Iraqi Information Minister until a week ago who spoke of the “valiant fight” being waged in Baghdad by Iraqi Republican Guards against the invading U.S troops) and Fleischer (the White House mouthpiece who cannot accept the “window of opportunity” bombing of the Presidential palace in Baghdad that claimed the lives of untold civilians as a war crime)? Critics of any and every Bush policy, be it on the endless “wars against terrorism” or on his economic policies favoring the super-rich, are reviled and called unpatriotic and anti-American. The shrill Ashcroft is revived from his slumber, in the interregnum between “wars” abroad, to revise the homeland security “threats” and with it, people’s anxieties. At a time of “war”, the puerile argument goes, people must rally around the President (however violent, idiotic and self-serving he be). This is a recipe for disaster in the U.S and worldwide that will affect millions of people, given the power and stranglehold exerted by this country around the globe.
“No More Iraq”
What of the future?
The Bush administration contemptuously ignored the huge, unprecedented demonstrations against its “war” across the globe. It exploited and then sidelined the United Nations. Even the venerable Chief Weapons Inspector, Dr. Hans Blix, openly stated that the U.S agenda, all along, was to invade Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq yet. United Nations inspectors will not be allowed to come in the way of U.S plans this time, because weapons will be “planted”, if necessary, to implicate the Hussein regime by the Pentagon inspectors already in Iraq. Already, stories have been peddled to a compliant U.S media speculating at the discovery of a cache of “chemicals”. Of course, even more handily, they might have been carted away to Syria even though Syria is not prohibited from having such weapons because it is not a signatory to the relevant international treaties proscribing their manufacture or possession.
But as U.S Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams reminded her audience at a talk in Farmington (April 11), “Emotion without action is irrelevant”. The most hopeful and momentous thing to come out of this tragic and dangerous beginning to the 21st century is the galvanizing movement of young and old across the world, and here in the belly of the beast, coming together in opposition to the merciless greed of global corporations and their representatives in power, principally in the U.S. There has never been such coordinated mass opposition to the plans of the most dangerous rogue government Planet Earth has been afflicted with. This effort must not flag for the sake of the people of Syria, Lebanon, Iran, North Korea, and the whole world even. And the people of Iraq are speaking out daily. They openly proclaim NO to the Bush occupation and installation of the U.S puppet Chalabi. They want to rule themselves and thwart the Bush administration’s plans to exploit Iraq’s oil. In not a totally unexpected eventuality, the invasion might yet realize the worst nightmares of the Bush government. Americans are increasingly realizing that imperial wars are not only immoral and a thing of the past but they have devastating consequences for people everywhere, including those living in the rogue nation. The cost to the poor, the defenseless, the jobless, the people of color in the U.S. are staggering. Students and workers, young and old, who desire peace with justice and fairness for all the world’s people have nothing in common with the Bush agenda. They may not have been able to stop the U.S. devastation in Iraq but they must continue to disseminate the revolting truth. They must continue to organize against it and argue against it with renewed vigor. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed in 1967, in opposing the barbaric U.S war against the Vietnamese people, that the United States of America was the major purveyor of violence in the world. It still is and by all counts, it has become even worse with the pre-emptive/preventive Bush doctrine on war. The message to warmongers in Washington from the broadest possible coalition of workers, scholars, peace-activists, artistes and students must be clear and unflinching: “There will be no more business as usual”.
Dr. Sadanand Nanjundiah is a Physics Professor at Central Connecticut State University. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Connecticut, USA.