Isn’t this a good war, Brad Friedman asks David Swanson.
Listen to this clip:
Starts around 7:30
Isn’t this a good war, Brad Friedman asks David Swanson.
Listen to this clip:
Starts around 7:30
1. It’s not a rescue mission. The U.S. personnel could be evacuated without the 500-pound bombs. The persecuted minorities could be supplied, moved, or their enemy dissuaded, or all three, without the 500-pound bombs or the hundreds of “advisors” (trained and armed to kill, and never instructed in how to give advice — Have you ever tried taking urgent advice from 430 people?). The boy who cried rescue mission should not be allowed to get away with it after the documented deception in Libya where a fictional threat to civilians was used to launch an all-out aggressive attack that has left that nation in ruins. Not to mention the false claims about Syrian chemical weapons and the false claim that missiles were the only option left for Syria — the latter claims being exposed when the former weren’t believed, the missiles didn’t launch, and less violent but perfectly obvious alternative courses of action were recognized. If the U.S. government were driven by a desire to rescue the innocent, why would it be arming Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain? The U.S. government destroyed the nation of Iraq between 2003 and 2011, with results including the near elimination of various minority groups. If preventing genocide were a dominant U.S. interest, it could have halted its participation in and aggravation of that war at any time, a war in which 97% of the dead were on one side, just as in Gaza this month — the distinction between war and genocide being one of perspective, not proportions. Or, of course, the U.S. could have left well alone. Ever since President Carter declared that the U.S. would kill for Iraqi oil, each of his successors has believed that course of action justified, and each has made matters significantly worse.
2. It’s going to make things worse, again. This bombing will aggravate the Sunni-Shia divide, increase support for ISIS, and create a lasting legacy of hostility and violence. President Obama says there is no military solution, only reconciliation. But bombs don’t reconcile. They harden hearts and breed murderers. Numerous top U.S. officials admit that much of what the U.S. military does generates more enemies than it kills. When you continue down a path that is counterproductive on its own terms, the honesty of those terms has to be doubted. If this war is not for peace, is it perhaps — like every other war we’ve seen the U.S. wage in the area — for resources, profits, domination, and sadism? The leader of ISIS learned his hatred in a U.S. prison in Iraq. U.S. media report that fact as if it is just part of the standard portrait of a new Enemy #1, but the irony is not mere coincidence. Violence is created. It doesn’t arise out of irrational and inscrutable foreignness. It is planted by those great gardeners in the sky: planes, drones, and helicopters. A bombing campaign justified as protecting people actually endangers them, and those around them, and many others, including those of us living in the imperial Homeland.
3. Bombs kill. Big bombs kill a lot of people. Massive bombing campaigns slaughter huge numbers of people, including those fighting in the hell the U.S. helped to create, and including those not fighting — men, women, children, grandparents, infants. Defenders of the bombing know this, but ignore it, and make no effort to calculate whether more people are supposedly being saved than are being killed. This indifference exposes the humanitarian pretensions of the operation. If some humans are of no value to you, humanitarianism is not what’s driving your decisions. The U.S. war on Iraq ’03-’11 killed a half million to a million-and-a-half Iraqis and 4,000 Americans. A war that puts fewer Americans on the ground and uses more planes and drones is thought of as involving less death only if our concern is narrowly limited to U.S. deaths. From the vantage point of the ground, an air war is the deadliest form of war there is.
4. There are other options. The choice between bombing and doing nothing is as false now as it was in September. If you can drop food on some people, why can’t you drop food on everyone? It would cost a tiny fraction of dropping bombs on them. It would confuse the hell out of them, too — like Robin Williams’ version of God high on pot and inventing the platypus. Of course, I now sound crazy because I’m talking about people who’ve been demonized (and personified in a killer straight out of a U.S. prison). It’s not as if these are human beings with whom you can lament the death of Robin Williams. They’re not like you and me. Etc. Yadda. Yadda. But in fact ISIS fighters were sharing their appreciation of Williams on Twitter on Tuesday. The United States could talk about other matters with ISIS as well, including a ceasefire, including a unilateral commitment to cease arming the Iraqi government even while trying to organize its ouster, including an offer to provide real humanitarian aid with no nasty strings attached, but with encouragement of civil liberties and democratic decision making. It’s amazing how long minority ethnic groups in Iraq survived and thrived prior to the U.S. bringing democracy, and prior to the U.S. existing. The U.S. could do some good but must first do no harm.
5. There are now enough weapons already there to practically justify one of Colin Powell’s slides retroactively. The U.S. accounts for 79% of foreign weapons transfers to Western Asia (the Middle East). The war on Libya had identical U.S. weapons on both sides. ISIS almost certainly has weapons supplied by the U.S. in Syria, and certainly has weapons taken from Iraq. So, what is the U.S. doing? It’s rushing more weapons to Iraq as fast as possible. Americans like to think of the Middle East as backward and violent, but the tools of the violence trade are manufactured in the United States. Yes, the United States does still manufacture something, it’s just not something that serves any useful purpose or about which most of us can manage to feel very proud. Weapons making also wastes money rather than creating it, because unaccountable profits are the single biggest product manufactured.
6. This is going to cost a fortune. Bombing Iraq is depicted as a measure of great restraint and forbearance. Meanwhile building schools and hospitals and green energy infrastructure in Iraq would be viewed as madness if anyone dared propose it. But the latter would cost a lot less money — a consideration that is usually a top priority in U.S. politics whenever killing large numbers of people is not involved. The world spend $2 trillion and the U.S. $1 trillion (half the total) on war and war preparations every year. Three percent of U.S. military spending could end starvation on earth. The wonders that could be done with a fraction of military money are almost unimaginable and include actual defense against the actual danger of climate change.
7. Bombs are environmental disasters. If someone photographs a big oil fire, some will give a thought to the environmental damage. But a bombing campaign is, rather than an environmental accident, an intentional environmental catastrophe. The poisoned ground and water, and the disease epidemics, will reach the United States primarily through moral regret, depression, and suicide.
8. There go our civil liberties. Discussions of torture, imprisonment, assassination, surveillance, and denial of fair trials are severely damaged by wartime postures. After all, war is for “freedom,” and who wouldn’t be willing to surrender all of their freedoms for that?
9. War is illegal. It doesn’t matter if the illegitimate government that you’re trying to dump invited you to bomb its country. How can anyone take that seriously, while the U.S. installed that government and has armed it for years, as it has attacked its people? War is illegal under the Kellogg Briand Pact and the United Nations Charter, and pretending otherwise endangers the world. Domestically, under U.S. law, the president cannot launch a war. While the Senate has been silent, the U.S. House voted two weeks ago to ban any new presidential war on Iraq. Offering Congress a slap in the face, Obama waited for it to go on break, and then attacked Iraq.
President Obama may want us to sympathize with patriotic torturers, he may turn on whistleblowers like a flesh-eating zombie, he may have lost all ability to think an authentic thought, but I will say this for him: He knows how to mark the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin fraud like a champion.
It’s back in Iraq, Jack! Yackety yack! Obama says the United States has fired missiles and dropped food in Iraq — enough food to feed 8,000, enough missiles to kill an unknown number (presumably 7,500 or fewer keeps this a “humanitarian” effort). The White House told reporters on a phone call following the President’s Thursday night speech that it is expediting weapons to Iraq, producing Hellfire missiles and ammunition around the clock, and shipping those off to a nation where Obama swears there is no military solution and only reconciliation can help. Hellfire missiles are famous for helping people reconcile.
Obama went straight into laying out his excuses for this latest war, before speaking against war and in favor of everything he invests no energy in. First, the illegitimate government of Iraq asked him to do it. Second, ISIS is to blame for the hell that the United States created in Iraq. Third, there are still lots of places in the world that Obama has not yet bombed. Oh, and this is not really a war but just protection of U.S. personnel, combined with a rescue mission for victims of a possible massacre on a scale we all need to try to understand.
Wow! We need to understand the scale of killing in Iraq? This is the United States you’re talking to, the people who paid for the slaughter of 0.5 to 1.5 million Iraqis this decade. Either we’re experts on the scale of mass killings or we’re hopelessly incapable of understanding such matters.
Completing the deja vu all over again Thursday evening, the substitute host of the Rachel Maddow Show seemed eager for a new war on Iraq, all of his colleagues approved of anything Obama said, and I heard “Will troops be sent?” asked by several “journalists,” but never heard a single one ask “Will families be killed?”
Pro-war veteran Democratic congressman elected by war opponents Patrick Murphy cheered for Obama supposedly drawing a red line for war. Murphy spoke of Congress without seeming aware that less than two weeks ago the House voted to deny the President any new war on Iraq. There are some 199 members of the House who may be having a hard time remembering that right now.
Pro-war veteran Paul Rieckhoff added that any new veterans created would be heroes, and — given what a “mess” Iraq is now — Rieckhoff advocated “looking forward.” The past has such an extreme antiwar bias.
Rounding out the reunion of predictable pro-war platitudes and prevarications, Nancy Pelosi immediately quoted the bits of Obama’s speech that suggested he was against the war he was starting. Can Friedman Units and benchmarks be far behind?
Obama promises no combat troops will be sent back to Iraq. No doubt. Instead it’ll be planes, drones, helicopters, and “non-combat” troops. “America is coming to help” finally just sounded as evil as Reagan meant it to, but it was in Obama’s voice. The ironies exploded like Iraqi houses on Thursday. While the United States locks Honduran refugee children in cages, it proposes to bomb Iraq for refugees. While Gaza starves and Detroit lacks water, Obama bombs Iraq to stop people from starving. While the U.S. ships weapons to Israel to commit genocide, and to Syria for allies of ISIS, it is rushing more weapons into Iraq to supposedly prevent genocide on a mountaintop — also to add to the weapons supplies already looted by ISIS.
Of course, it’s also for “U.S. interests,” but if that means U.S. people, why not pull them out? If it means something else, why not admit as much in the light of day and let the argument die of shame?
Let me add a word to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesman David Swanson, who is not me and whom I do not know: Please do keep pushing for actual humanitarian aid. But if you spoke against the missiles that are coming with the food, the reporters left that bit out. You have to fit it into the same sentence with the food and water if you want it quoted. I hope there is an internal U.N. lobby for adoption by the U.N. of the U.N. Charter, and if there is I wish it all the luck in the world.
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People forget the extent to which Democrats, who controlled the U.S. Senate at the time, pushed for and supported the 2003 attack on Iraq. Remember them or not, theeeeeeeeeey’re back!
The Center for American Progress, the head of whose “action fund,” former Democratic Congressman from Virginia’s Fifth District Tom Perriello, slipped through the revolving door into a State Department job in February, is now pushing for “principled” bombings of Iraq.
For that to happen, many other things need to not be considered:
1. The views of the U.S. public, which opposes more wars and some of whom here in the fifth district of Virginia fantasized they’d elected an antiwar candidate in Periello several years back.
2. The views of the Iraqi public, who have been nonviolently and violently protesting an illegitimate government installed by the U.S.-led occupation.
3. The rule of law, which bans wars (under both the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact) even in places where the U.S. has recently fought wars in blatant violation of the law without any legal consequences.
4. The U.S. Constitution, which required that wars be authorized by Congress even before Article VI came to encompass the aforementioned treaties.
5. The 100-year history of foreign military interference consistently making things worse in Iraq.
6. The 11-year history of foreign military interference making things dramatically worse in Iraq to the point where it is no exaggeration to say that the nation has been destroyed.
7. The record suicide rate among U.S. war veterans, many of whom are realizing the role they played in destroying Iraq.
9. The liberties we keep losing as long as the wars for “freedom” role on.
10. The environmental destruction of our largest consumer of petroleum and greatest poisoner of land masses, the U.S. military.
11. The financial cost of trillion-dollar wars when tens of billions in reparations and actual aid could make a world of difference.
12. The history of small numbers of “advisors” in Vietnam and many other wars mushrooming into devastating occupations and millions of murders.
13. The need people have to imagine that Democrats are fundamentally different from Republicans. Think of the damage being done to that already tenuous pretense. Spare those tender souls any troubled thoughts if you can’t spare the lives of Iraqis for their own sake. Read the rest of this entry →
Iraq was saved from ignorant subhuman barbarism by a gentlewoman named Gertrude at the time that the civilized nations of the world were, in a quite advanced and sophisticated manner, slaughtering their young men in a project now called the First World War.
Because the Arabs were too backward to be allowed to govern themselves, or even to contemplate creating a world war, and because tribes and ethnicities and religions never really garner much loyalty or support that can’t be wiped away with a good cup of tea or a few clouds of poison gas, and because the French were too dumb to know where the oil was, it became necessary for the British to install an Iraqi leader who wasn’t Iraqi, through a democratic election with one candidate running.
The great Winston Churchill explained the governance of Iraq and the new civilizing technique of bombing civilians thusly: “I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes.” Others failed to see the wisdom, and the Royal Air Force used non-chemical “terror bombing, night bombing, heavy bombers, [and] delayed action bombs (particularly lethal against children)” to police disobedient Iraqis. Only by developing these techniques on Iraqis were the world’s civilizers prepared to use them on Nazis when the time came to level German cities in the name of defeating Nazis, which of course also places the rest of this paper beyond the reach of moral criticism.
Iraqis, from the formation of Iraq by Gertrude to this day, were never quite able to create a democracy for the CIA to overthrow as in neighboring Iran. But the idea that Iraqis have been violent or resistant to control because of lack of representation misses the central fact that people in the Middle East enjoy killing each other over sectarian differences. Of course it’s hard to find evidence of significant sectarian fighting in Iraq prior to 2003 and some say there wasn’t any. There was violent looting of Jewish neighborhoods in 1941, but the British government keeps all information on that event secret. There was bombing of synagogues in Baghdad in 1950-51 but that turned out to have been done by Zionists trying to convince Jews to come to Israel. And “until the 1970s nearly all Iraq’s political organisations were secular, attracting people from all religions and none.” But what was simmering just below the surface waiting to burst out at the slightest scratching?
Think how little it took. Supporting and arming a brutal dictator in Saddam Hussein and his catastrophic war against Iran, then bombing Iraq and imposing the most murderous sanctions in history, and then newly bombing Iraq and occupying it for 8 years while arming and training death squads and torturers and imposing sectarian segregation, creating 5 million refugees, and killing a half-million to a million-and-a-half people, while devastating the nation’s infrastructure, and then imposing a puppet government loyal to one sect and one neighboring nation. That, plus arming the new government for vicious attacks on its own people, while arming mad killers in neighboring Syria, some of whom want to combine parts of Syria and Iraq: that was all it took, and suddenly, out of nowhere, ignorant Arabs are killing each other, just out of pure irrationality, just like in Palestine.
During the 8 years of U.S.-led occupation people mistook purely irrational violence that had been bubbling under the surface for centuries for resistance to the occupiers, and now some imagine that part of the violence against the puppet government is motivated by grievances against that government. But this misses the fundamental truths here, which are:
Evidence of “weapons of mass destruction” is “no slam dunk,” U.S. officials are saying this time around, reversing the claim made about Iraq by then-CIA director George Tenet.
Opposition to a U.S.-led attack on Syria is growing rapidly in Europe and the United States, drawing its strength from public awareness that the case made for attacking Iraq had holes in it.
A majority in the United States, still very much aware of Iraq war deceptions, opposes arming the “rebel” force in Syria, so heavily dominated by foreign fighters and al Qaeda. And a majority opposes U.S. military action in Syria.
But that public opinion is only just beginning to get expressed as activism. With Republicans more willing to actively oppose a war this time, and some section of Democrats still opposed, there’s actually potential to build a larger antiwar movement than that of 2003-2006.
Thus far, however, what’s discouraging an attack on Syria is the public uproar that was created back then over the disastrous attack on Iraq.
The nation of Iraq was destroyed. Millions of refugees still can’t safely return. As with every other humanitarian war thus far, humanity suffered, and the suffering will last for ages. While the damage done to the United States itself doesn’t compare with the damage done to Iraq, it has been severe enough to make many a near-sighted potential war supporter cautious.
The problem with attacking Iraq was not that the vast stockpiles of weapons were fictional. Had every claim been true, the war would have remained illegal, immoral, and catastrophic.
Were it true that the Syrian government really chose the moment of the U.N. inspectors’ arrival to use chemical weapons, launching a U.S. war on Syria would still hurt the people of Syria — who are overwhelmingly opposed to it, regardless of their level of support for their government.
A regional or even global war could result. The U.S. military is planning for such scenarios, as if preparing for the apocalypse while igniting it makes the action less insane.
A war of supposed humanitarian philanthropy should consider the value to humanity of the rule of law. Launching a war in violation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the United Nations Charter, and the U.S. Constitution hurts the rule of law.
A war of beneficial generosity should consider other possible medicines that lack the deadly side-effects of war. For example, the United States could easily stop supporting and arming abusive dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, and Egypt, not to mention the horrors inflicted on Palestine by Israel.
A so-called good and noble war against the evil of chemical weapons should probably be launched by a nation that doesn’t itself use chemical weapons. Yet, the United States used white phosphorous and napalm as weapons in Iraq, not to mention such internationally sanctioned weapons as depleted uranium and cluster bombs — weapons the United States also sells to other governments regardless of their human rights records (including a big shipment of cluster bombs now headed to Saudi Arabia).
A humanitarian and just war should perhaps show equal concern for those humans killed with any kind of weapon. Bombing Syria would inevitably kill significant numbers of people. Isn’t that a problem even if they’re killed with the “right” kind of weapons?
Swanson will be speaking on this topic in Washington, D.C., on Monday, March 18th.
The following is a brief summary of a much longer, and fully documented, report available at http://warisacrime.org/iraq and being made available in an attractive 88-page PDF at http://www.coldtype.net
At 10 years since the launch of Operation Iraqi Liberation (to use the original name with the appropriate acronym, OIL) and over 22 years since Operation Desert Storm, there is little evidence that any significant number of people in the United States have a realistic idea of what our government has done to the people of Iraq, or of how these actions compare to other horrors of world history. A majority of Americans believe the war since 2003 has hurt the United States but benefitted Iraq. A plurality of Americans believe, not only that Iraqis should be grateful, but that Iraqis are in fact grateful.
A number of U.S. academics have advanced the dubious claim that war making is declining around the world. Misinterpreting what has happened in Iraq is central to their argument. As documented in the full report, by the most scientifically respected measures available, Iraq lost 1.4 million lives as a result of OIL, saw 4.2 million additional people injured, and 4.5 million people become refugees. The 1.4 million dead was 5% of the population. That compares to 2.5% lost in the U.S. Civil War, or 3 to 4% in Japan in World War II, 1% in France and Italy in World War II, less than 1% in the U.K. and 0.3% in the United States in World War II. The 1.4 million dead is higher as an absolute number as well as a percentage of population than these other horrific losses. U.S. deaths in Iraq since 2003 have been 0.3% of the dead, even if they’ve taken up the vast majority of the news coverage, preventing U.S. news consumers from understanding the extent of Iraqi suffering.
In a very American parallel, the U.S. government has only been willing to value the life of an Iraqi at that same 0.3% of the financial value it assigns to the life of a U.S. citizen.
The 2003 invasion included 29,200 air strikes, followed by another 3,900 over the next eight years. The U.S. military targeted civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances It also made use of what some might call “weapons of mass destruction,” using cluster bombs, white phosphorous, depleted uranium, and a new kind of napalm in densely settled urban areas.
Birth defects, cancer rates, and infant mortality are through the roof. Water supplies, sewage treatment plants, hospitals, bridges, and electricity supplies have been devastated, and not repaired. Healthcare and nutrition and education are nothing like they were before the war. And we should remember that healthcare and nutrition had already deteriorated during years of economic warfare waged through the most comprehensive economic sanctions ever imposed in modern history.
Money spent by the United States to “reconstruct” Iraq was always less than 10% of what was being spent adding to the damage, and most of it was never actually put to any useful purpose. At least a third was spent on “security,” while much of the rest was spent on corruption in the U.S. military and its contractors.
The educated who might have best helped rebuild Iraq fled the country. Iraq had the best universities in Western Asia in the early 1990s, and now leads in illiteracy, with the population of teachers in Baghdad reduced by 80%.
For years, the occupying forces broke the society of Iraq down, encouraging ethnic and sectarian division and violence, resulting in a segregated country and the repression of rights that Iraqis used to enjoy even under Saddam Hussein’s brutal police state.
While the dramatic escalation of violence that for several years was predicted would accompany any U.S. withdrawal did not materialize, Iraq is not at peace. The war destabilized Iraq internally, created regional tensions, and — of course — generated widespread resentment for the United States. That was the opposite result of the stated one of making the United States safer.
If the United States had taken five trillion dollars, and — instead of spending it destroying Iraq — had chosen to do good with it, at home or abroad, just imagine the possibilities. The United Nations thinks $30 billion a year would end world hunger. For $5 trillion, why not end world hunger for 167 years? The lives not saved are even more than the lives taken away by war spending.
A sanitized version of the war and how it started is now in many of our school text books. It is not too late for us to correct the record, or to make reparations. We can better work for an actual reduction in war making and the prevention of new wars, if we accurately understand what past wars have involved.
As our government was making a fraudulent case to attack Iraq in 2002-2003, the MSNBC television network was doing everything it could to help, including booting Phil Donahue and Jeff Cohen off the air. The Donahue Show was deemed likely to be insufficiently war-boosting and was thus removed 10 years ago next week, and 10 days after the largest antiwar (or anything else) demonstrations in the history of the world, as a preemptive strike against the voices of honest peaceful people.
From there, MSNBC proceeded to support the war with mild critiques around the edges, and to white-out the idea of impeachment or accountability.
But now MSNBC has seen its way clear to airing a documentary about the fraudulent case it assisted in, a documentary titled Hubris. This short film (which aired between 9 and 10 p.m. ET Monday night, but with roughly half of those minutes occupied by commercials) pointed out the role of the New York Times in defrauding the public, but not MSNBC’s role.
Yet, my primary response to that is joy rather than disgust. It is now cool to acknowledge war lies. Truth-tellers, including truth-tellers rarely presented with a corporate microphone, made that happen.
MSNBC host and Obama promoter Rachel Maddow even introduced Hubris by pointing to another war lie — the Gulf of Tonkin incident that wasn’t — and a war lie started by a Democrat in that case. Similar lies can be found surrounding every war that has ever been, which is why I wrote War Is A Lie. We have to stop imagining that “bad wars” are a subset of wars.
But, of course, using Maddow as the presenter and narrator of a film about Republican war lies during a period of unacknowledged Democratic war lies unavoidably gives the thing a partisan slant. Watching Hubris, I was reminded of something that Michael Moore tweeted last Friday: “Senate Repubs: U started 2 illegal wars that broke the treasury & sacrificed the lives of thousands of our troops & countless civilians.”
Of course, the Senate that gave us the two wars in question was in reality controlled by Democrats, and the war lies were pushed hard by Senators Kerry, Clinton, and their comrades. Hubris touches on this reality but not with sufficient clarity for most viewers — I suspect — to pick up on it.
The film presents a great deal of good evidence that the war on Iraq was based on lies. Unavoidably, endless terrific bits of such evidence were not included. Less excusably, also left out was an analysis of the evidence that only dishonesty — not incompetence — explains the propaganda that was produced.
Hubris is the wrong word for what took the United States into war with Iraq. The forces at work were greed, lust for power, and sadistic vengeance. The word “hubris” suggests the tragic downfall of the guilty party. But the war on Iraq did not destroy the United States; it destroyed Iraq. It damaged the United States, to be sure, but in a manner hardly worthy of mention in comparison to the sociocide committed against Iraq.
Hubris, the film, provides a reprehensibly ludicrous underestimation of Iraqi deaths, and only after listing U.S. casualties.
It was not pride but a disregard for human life that generated mass murder. Congressman Walter Jones, who voted for the war, is shown in Hubris saying that he would have voted No if he had bothered to read the National Intelligence Estimate that very few of his colleagues bothered to read.
Another talking head in the film is Lawrence Wilkerson. He is, of course, the former chief of staff of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is shown explaining that the reason not to attack Iraq was that doing so would take a focus away from attacking Afghanistan. Clearly this was not a reason that led to Wilkerson or Powell taking any kind of stand.
Wilkerson says in this film that he and Powell knew the war was based on lies, that the claims were junk, that no WMDs were likely to be found, etc. Yet, when confronted last week by Norman Solomon on Democracy Now! with the question of why he hadn’t resigned in protest, Wilkerson claimed that at the time he’d had no idea whatsoever that there were good arguments against the war. In fact, he blamed opponents of the war for not having contacted him to educate him on the matter.
The Hubris version of Colin Powell’s lies at the United Nations is misleadingly undertold. Powell was not a victim. He “knowingly lied.”
The same goes for Bush, Cheney, and gang. According to Hubris it may have just been incompetence or hubris. It wasn’t. Not only does overwhelming evidence show us that Bush knew his claims about WMDs to be false, but the former president has shown us that he considers the question of truth or falsehood to be laughably irrelevant. When Diane Sawyer asked Bush why he had claimed with such certainty that there were so many weapons in Iraq, he replied: “What’s the difference? The possibility that [Saddam] could acquire weapons, If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger.”
What’s the difference? In a society based on the rule of law, the difference would be a criminal prosecution. MSNBC and Hubris steer us away from any ideas of accountability. And no connection is drawn to current war lies about Iran or other nations.
But the production of programs like this one that prolong Americans’ awareness of the lies that destroyed Iraq are the best hope Iran has right now. MSNBC should be contacted and applauded for airing this and urged to follow up on it.
Photo Courtesy of Charles Haynes released under Creative Commons License
Madeleine Albright questioned by David Swanson on October 31, 2012, in Charlottesville, Va., Obama campaign office. Albright says she is sorry for having said that killing a half million Iraqi children was worth it (whatever ‘it’ was) — not for her participation in their deaths, but only for having answered the sort of question conveniently almost never asked anymore. Asked about the current sanctions on Iran, she said that was not the same at all.
Russell Snyder’s new book is called “Hearts and Mines: With the Marines in Al-Anbar: A Story of Psychological Warfare in Iraq.” It’s a beautiful book and one that may move you to outraged action, but not in the way you might expect.
I got the book from its author at a Veterans For Peace convention. I assumed it was an anti-war book. I was startled first by the literary skill of the author, who paints a powerful picture of his time in Iraq. I was startled second, slowly, gradually, as I waited for the author to turn against the war. I’ve read many other accounts by soldiers who came to regret their actions. They suffer from the actions they have taken. They deeply regret having killed innocent people. They find it almost too much to bear. They lay down their guns. They resist. They go AWOL. They file for conscientious objector status. Or they receive their discharge and then denounce the institution of war, committing never to be a part of it again.
That never quite happens with Snyder.
Here’s an intelligent, sensitive young man capable of describing a wide array of conflicting emotions that soldiers experience in wartime. He enjoys the camaraderie of the military. He respects the professionalism. He honors the self-sacrifice. And he resents the stupidity, fears for his life, and questions the wisdom of the entire enterprise. Just questions. He doesn’t reject. This is not a book aimed at moving you to demand an end to military spending. This is a book aimed — intentionally or not — at moving you to seek out and struggle against the cultural habits that allow people to accept war so completely that they can recognize it as an unnecessary piece of barbarism and nonetheless take part in it with pride.
“It’s a worrisome flaw humanity has yet to overcome that in our modern age we still accept the butchery of our human brothers and sisters as a means of settling our politicians’ and religious leaders’ disagreements,” writes Snyder in the introduction. He writes that his viewpoint evolved there. But the narrative of the book doesn’t display evolution so much as complexity and contradiction.
Snyder’s job was to blast loud messages in Arabic at Iraqi villages, in order to win their hearts and minds. He notes that in shooting practice “two in the heart, one in the mind” meant two bullets to the chest and one to the head — mocking the futility of “psy-ops.” When, in Chapter 2, Snyder puts bullets into live humans, he describes the success of the conditioning that allowed him to do so without thought. That thoughtlessness largely remains, at least on the surface, for the rest of the book.
Snyder describes the difficulties of “winning” an occupation of a country, the inability to trust anyone, the cycles of revenge, the brutality, the lack of understanding, the torture, the sadism, and the tricking of Iraqi children into cursing their country in English or drinking urine. Snyder describes a remarkable number of incidents in which he could easily have died, as well as learning that someone was offering $5,000 to whoever destroyed his loudspeaker truck or killed his Iraqi translator. This is a book with more “action” in it than most such accounts I’ve read — even as it still manages to convey the deadly boredom these incidents interspersed, and the adrenaline high that drove soldiers and Marines to seek out more activity, even at the risk of death. Snyder describes the fear of death, the resort to religion, and ultimately his attempt to believe that God saved him (while, of course, not saving thousands of others).
Snyder disapproves of the worst attitudes and actions he recounts. “It felt hypocritical,” he writes, “that we should attempt to convince [Iraqis] security was improving and they shouldn’t be worried while we Americans swaddled ourselves head to toe in armor and protective gear. Our hosts must have sometimes regarded our argument as condescending. Since we didn’t allow them to have armor or weapons, it seemed to imply their lives were not deserving of the same level of protection as our own.” At various other times, Snyder writes that his actions had the merit of possibly saving Marines’ lives. Not lives, Marines’ lives.
Snyder describes himself as torn. “My soul ached, torn between feeling a sense of contractual obligation, a desire to fulfill my duties as a soldier and to commiserate with my brothers in uniform while mourning the seemingly pointless extinction of so much innocent life. Not only the little girls whose stiffening corpses were now rotting like refuse in the backyard, or the baby chicks that had survived two tank rounds only to succumb to the sadistic whims of bored Marines, but the countless thousands of other human lives destroyed by war and remembered only as collateral damage. . . . Prolonging the war seemed akin to setting fire to a neighbor’s house and then attempting to extinguish the flames with more fire. I felt at once very weary, exhausted by the heavy knowledge of so much violence and needless death. But I remained quiet as I crawled into the turret, resigned to accept my own sinful role.” In fact, the possibility of acting otherwise is never mentioned in the book — except for others. Snyder writes that he “lamented the state of what I imagined to be my countrymen’s lack of awareness that permitted their collective conscience to embrace a war . . . .” In reality, there is no collective in such matters. We each have to act alone. We each bear a different share of guilt. But most of us at least were not taking part in what we were lamenting. Snyder ends the book feeling more guilt over his decision not to reenlist than anything else.
It’s possible that some of what Snyder has experienced and taken part in lies buried within him, threatening to erupt years or decades from now. “I might never live,” he writes, “long enough to atone for everything that troubled me, but maybe I didn’t have to if I made a sincere effort to live a life that benefitted others.” In my view, what’s needed is not further suffering by Russell Snyder. More suffering benefits no one. If he is able to move on to a productive nonviolent life, I only hope that it includes more writing. What’s needed, I think, is for the rest of us to appreciate how a book like this one already benefits others.
Start with Snyder’s condemnation of the effort underway during his time in Iraq to recruit Iraqis to take over the killing of Iraqis. A similar effort is failing miserably in Afghanistan right now, without any alternative entering the minds of our public policy decision makers.
Look at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s bewilderment at the Libyans’ lack of appreciation for all that our bombs have done to their country. Here’s a book that could ease our national case of bewilderment as to why the recipients of our “aid” tend to show so little gratitude.
The importance of this book is that it takes someone who largely believes (or used to believe) in U.S. propaganda and puts him into face-to-face exchanges with its victims. These exchanges are riveting:
After Snyder’s team blasts an area with an instruction to leave, they find an old man in a house with two young boys. The old man asks where in the world he was supposed to go, the desert?
“A tear formed in a wrinkled corner of the man’s eye and sparkled down his cheek.
“‘I have my son’s family here too. You shot him driving his tractor home. He was a good man, an innocent man.’
“He pointed up the street to the burnt-out remnant of a vehicle. The Marines had destroyed several vehicles with tank rounds during the push into the city, which they identified as potential suicide car bombs. It was pointless to wonder whose version of events was true. The son was dead, or at the very least his father was a good actor.
“‘I’m sorry to hear of your loss, but sometimes there are accidents in war. You fought against Iran, did you not? You know things like this happen. There are bad people here, people who want to kill us. We have to protect ourselves. It is our job to make Iraq safer, and sometimes that means making hard decisions. Maybe sometimes the wrong people do get caught in the middle. We try to be careful, believe me. The terrorists will stop at nothing, even killing children, but we Americans do our best to avoid unnecessary violence. We follow the Geneva Conventions. We want to help you. That doesn’t bring your son back, I know, but we are only trying to do our job.’
“The man rebutted my statement, morosely shaking his head in disbelief that I could be so wrong.
“‘Iraq was safe before you came. My town was quiet before you bombed it. Now I cannot even go outside. We don’t have water.’ He sighed. ‘If you can just let me go to the water valve down the street, I can maybe turn the water back on.’
“‘I can’t make that decision. Our commander wants everyone to stay home. It’s better if you stay inside, safer. We can bring you water later.’
“I turned to Sonny. ‘Ask him if he has ever seen strangers here.’
“I looked back in the old man’s eyes. ‘Has he seen foreign fighters here.’
“Sonny paused. ‘He says, “Just you.”‘
“I squeezed my eyes shut at the old man’s audacity and pinched the bridge of my nose. It was a true statement, from his perspective, that I was a foreign fighter, but not the answer I looked for.
“‘There are dead Africans in the street up there. He never saw anyone like that?’
“The man shook his head.
“‘He didn’t know there was a torture dungeon just down the road, where they kept captured border guards? He never heard a scream? They didn’t think it was safe here.’
“I carefully watched the man’s reaction to the news there had been such crimes committed so close to his home. He showed no surprise.
“‘If you say so,’ the old man replied. ‘I don’t know anything.’”