National Guard disintegrating in Iraq

As Atrios would say, “oy.”

The head of the Army Reserve has sent a sharply worded memo to other military leaders expressing “deepening concern” about the continued readiness of his troops, who have been used heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan, and warning that his branch of 200,000 soldiers “is rapidly degenerating into a ‘broken’ force.”

In the memo, dated Dec. 20, Lt. Gen. James R. “Ron” Helmly lashed out at what he said were outdated and “dysfunctional” policies on mobilizing and managing the force. He complained that his repeated requests to adjust the policies to current realities have been rebuffed by Pentagon authorities.

The three-star general, who has a reputation for speaking bluntly, said the situation has reached a point at which the Army Reserve is “in grave danger of being unable to meet” its operational requirements if other national emergencies arise. Insistence on restrictive policies, he continued, “threatens to unhinge an already precariously balanced situation in which we are losing as many soldiers through no use as we are through the fear of overuse.”

His pointed remarks represent the latest in a chorus of warnings from military officers and civilian defense specialists that the strains of overseas missions are badly fraying the U.S. Army.

We’re totally fucked. For the most stinging post of the week on Iraq, you simply have to read this. Just a small taste of a great post:

Reality is that the situation in Iraq is horrible, the outlook for any lasting peace is grim, and that this has nothing to do with a nebulous, malignant, all-powerful “Left”, and everything to do with the people in power who make bad and stupid policies. You can pull your head out of your ass, stop dreaming up stupid conspiracy theories about how everyone around the world you don’t like is working together to destroy Freedom, and tell them that they need to do a better job. And if they won’t do a better job, the solution is not to get upset at people who aren’t waving their pom-poms or denouncing Saddam single-mindedly enough for you, it is to fire the fuck-ups so we can maybe have some chance at salvaging something from this fiasco.

And, before you ask: no, I have no clue about how we can improve things in Iraq. I don’t have a single idea for how we can un-shit the bed, and I don’t hold out much hope that this whole bed-shitting episode is ever going to be brought to a lemony-fresh conclusion. I do, however, know who shit the bed, and have some sense of how frequently he shits there. Let’s stop shitting for a start.

Pretty evocative metaphor.

The Discussion: 8 Comments


The writer above says that s/he has “no clue about how we [read: the US] can improve things in Iraq.”

“I don’t have a single idea for how we can un-shit the bed,” s/he says, “and I don’t hold out much hope that this whole bed-shitting episode is ever going to be brought to a lemony-fresh conclusion.”

I can answer this question quite simply: END THE OCCUPATION! Because the writer above right, the resistance fighters are never going to end their struggle either, and so, as the writer above says, the occupation is never “going to be brought to a lemony-fresh conclusion.”

Now that the die has been cast, Saddam’s regime deposed and the coalition forces are occupying the country of Iraq, how should we regard those who are still attacking the occupiers who are targeting anyone they consider to be assisting the United States?

What I am about to argue I suspect will upset and anger many people, but it is a view which many people who regard themselves as humanitarians currently hold, particularly outside of the United States. What I am about to argue is the position held not only by the Noam Chomskys and John Pilgers of this world, but also of so many other observers – ordinary people who come from a wide diversity of professions and backgrounds, and whose views can be found printed in large numbers in the letters to the editor section of many of the world’s mainstream newspapers, like The Guardian of London, or The Sydney Morning Herald, and so on. It is the view of Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) just as it is the view of the majority of people who reside in the Middle East.

What all of these people just mentioned above maintain, and it is what I also maintain, is that the present Iraqi “resistance” is incredibly important and that the world now depends on it to win. If the US military machine and the Bush administration can suffer something like a defeat in Iraq, then they can be stopped – they can be stopped from invading other countries, other possible targets, like Iran or Syria for example.

What we have in Iraq right now is, I suppose, the equivalent of a kind of Vichy Government being set up. And historically, resistance to this type of situation has always been atrocious, has always been bloody. It has always involved terrorism.

You can imagine if Australia or American had been occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, the kind of resistance there would have been, the kind of terror tactics that would have been employed. We’ve seen that all over the world. Now, I think the situation in Iraq is so dire that unless the United States is defeated there that we’re likely to see an attack on Iran, and possibly even on North Korea, and so I think what happens in Iraq now is incredibly important. It is important for the United States to be defeated in Iraq militarily – and this, I know, is the outcome that most of the world is hoping for.

Let us consider who these “insurgents” really are. Are we talking about the remnants of the Baathist regime, or are we talking about foreign mujahadeen? Are we talking about anyone that’s prepared to pick up a gun or to set off a bomb?

We should not, if we wish to remain logical and fair, employ a different standard of looking at what a resistance is in Iraq to anywhere else. The resistance to the US occupation, which is an illegal occupation, comprises of at least twelve groups. The US corporate media originally tried to tell the world that these “insurgents” were all Saddam remnants for a long time, and yet now that Saddam has been captured, the resistance has actually become intensified.

The truth is this: there are twelve groups, they are all very different, there are groups within the Shia, but what they’re all united about, quite clearly, is getting rid of a foreign invader and occupier from their country.

And as I say, historically, be it in Algeria or in Vietnam, or France during the Second World War, it is going to be atrocious and bloody.

Now, are these resistance fighters all Baathists? The answer is NO! The Baathists make up only a small percentage of the insurgents. But for obvious reasons, the US and British governments like to present the insurgents as either “Saddam loyalists” or “foreign fighters”. However, since their assault on the vehemently anti-Saddam Sadrist movement last April, they’ve been forced to admit a third category: Sadrist “militiamen.” In fact, only about 2 percent of the total insurgency is made up of ex-Saddam loyalist. Only about 2 percent. That’s because most Baathist loyalists either have been, or are being, recruited by the current puppet with the help of CIA funding, to be the new Iraqi army/special forces.

The number of foreign fighters is also very small. In a September 26th TV interview, the head of US Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, “estimated that the number of foreign fighters in Iraq was below 1000,” but of course the former deputy commander of coalition forces, for political reasons, put the number of insurgents at around 50,000 (Independent on Sunday, 3 Oct). Furthermore, much of the resistance appears to be actively hostile to Zarqawi and his followers – which also contradicts what the US press has been trying to claim.

This goes without saying really: for starters, the (Shi’ite) Sadrist movement regards Zarqawi’s Shi’ism as an “infidel ideology” and it is he who is suspected of being behind an August 2003 attack on a Shi’a mosque in Najaf (Guardian, 23 Sept). The Kuwaiti daily al-Rai al-Aam last October reported that several of the Sunni resistance groups, commanding a total of 7,000 fighters across Iraq, “plan to unite under one umbrella and rein in sectarian attacks by Zarqawi’s followers.” (AFP, 4 Oct) “If Zarqawi does not abandon his plans to instigate a sectarian rift, the groups will force him to do so even if that requires taking up arms against him,” the paper quoted one of its sources as saying.

What the United States is doing right now, as I mentioned earlier, is retraining, or rather rehiring, 10,000 of Saddam Hussein’s most vicious security people. The CIA are training these people to actually put the finger on who the resistance are, so what you have going on in Iraq now is a kind of re-Nazification, the same sort of thing that went on in Germany after the Second World War. Noam Chomsky for one, has commented quite of a lot on this of late, and many others too, all of whom support this assertion with the weight of strong empirical evidence.

Many people might question the legitimacy of these resistance fighters to target young Iraqi men queuing up to join the Iraqi police. But once again, historically, all resistance movements have said if you’re going to collaborate, then you are a target.

Now of course, the killing of innocent people can’t be condoned under any circumstances, but in all resistances, it happens. And these young Iraqi men, who are out to join this Gestapo-like police force, are not really all that innocent are they? In fact, they are among some of the most vicious people one could hope never to encounter.

The United States has singled out all of Saddam Hussein’s top security and intelligence people. He ran one of the most effective security, yes, Gestapo, in the Middle East. They’ve taken them and these people are now training 10,000, paid for by the CIA, to effectively do for the Americans what they did for Saddam Hussein.

Now, am I saying that those Iraqi men, who line up outside of police stations looking to be recruited to get a job in what is clearly a dire economic climate, are legitimate targets? The answer is no, I’m not saying they are legitimate targets. But, to a resistance, they are legitimate targets, yes.

But the resistance is nevertheless a resistance which I think we all depend upon. If the rest of us watching this war, those of us who worry about what a rampant United States is going to do next – and we should all be worried about that (Americans especially) – then we need to ask ourselves, and millions of people all over the world have asked themselves – how can that be stopped?

Well, one place where it is going to be stopped, or at least entrapped, is, unfortunately, and I repeat unfortunately, in Iraq, because although Americans will be killed, most of the people killed are going to be Iraqis, and that is also what happened in Algeria and in Vietnam – especially in Vietnam.

O.K. I can already hear the protests of many! How can I possibly say, effectively, that the rest of the world now must depend upon a resistance which is prepared to send a truck bomb into the United Nations, which is prepared to bomb civilians who are celebrating on their holiest day in holy cities like Karbala, who is prepared to send suicide bombers to kill US soldiers while they’re sitting in a tent eating their lunch? How can I possibly take this line?

Well, look, let make one thing very clear here. I most certainly do not want to see American or British solders killed in Iraq. What happened to those soldiers in Mosul for example, while they were sitting in their tent eating their lunch, represents not only a terrible tragedy for those individuals, in that their lives have been sadly cut short, but of course it is also a terrible tragedy for their families and friends, and it is a terrible loss and tragedy for America; for the world even. But it is equally tragic when Iraqi civilians are blown to pieces by falling bombs while they are sitting in their homes, eating their meals. A few months ago, researchers writing for The Lancet (the world’s most prestigious medical journal) estimated that at around “100,000 Iraqi civilians” have died as a result of either US bombing or of having been caught up in the crossfire.

The litany above is truly awful and horrifying, yes. But you cannot fail to miss the source of all this violence. And the source of all this is the invasion and occupation itself, an unprovoked and illegal invasion and occupation, and a bloody one, by the US and Britain which has caused the deaths of, in the latest conservative estimate, of 100,000 Iraqi civilians – which is right now causing the deaths every month of an estimated 1,000 children from cluster bombs, which is causing the most pervasive contamination from a variety of toxic weapons such as depleted uranium – which will go on destroying people’s lives for generations to come.

This is the source – this is the main violence in Iraq. Surely nobody can seriously try to argue against that.

I mean, sure, there is all of this horrific violence that is occurring against anyone who is perceived to be in any way supporting the US occupation, but all of this violence is a reaction to the occupation. We need to look more at the source of all of this violence, and that, quite clearly, as I just said above, is the US invasion and occupation itself.

I’m not saying that two wrongs make a right. I’m not suggesting that anybody ought to rise to the call of a revengeful God. And I know what you might be thinking ?that there are other forms of resistance. There is peaceful resistance, to start with. Mahatma Ghandi did not resort to bombing, right?

But tell me – how do you mount a peaceful resistance to an invading force, which Human Rights Watch a few months ago described as out of control, as rapacious, which has bought a kind of murderous street fighting, which killed, in their “Shock and Awe” up to 55,000 people? – and that occurred before the real occupation even began!

Robert Fisk, The Independent correspondent, claims that something like between 500 to 1,000 Iraqis are killed indirectly as a result of the American presence every week in that country.

Now, how can anybody say that they should all just sit down in the middle of the street and say to the Americans: “Sorry! But you must go. We don’t want you here anymore.”

At any rate, there are also a lot of people actually opposing the US occupation peacefully, but this is never reported. It is deliberately censored. If you follow the reports of many of the human rights observers in Baghdad, you will read that there is an enormous amount of peaceful resistance going on, but on the other side of the resistance – and it’s one resistance – there is also fire being fought with fire.

I’m not saying that I approve of this method of fighting fire with fire. In fact, I can’t approve of, under any circumstances, the killing of innocent people.

But you have to understand why it happens.

American and British troops who are in the occupying forces, are for the resistance, legitimate targets (regardless of whether they are eating their lunch or not) because the American and British troops are illegally occupying their country. Any foreign occupier of a country, military occupier, be they Germans in France, Americans in Vietnam, the French in Algeria, wherever, the Americans in Latin America, I would have thought, from the point of view of the local people – be they Americans in America – if America had been invaded and occupied by the Japanese, then the occupying forces, from the point of view of the people of that country, are legitimate targets.

I just cannot accept this view that the United States has invaded and is occupying Iraq for “noble” purposes. Very few Iraqis will see it this way, and I can assure you, that most people throughout the rest of the world do not see it this way either. The attack on Iraq had been long planned. There just isn’t an excuse for it. Since George H.W. Bush failed to unseat Saddam in 1991, there’s been a longing among the extreme right in the United States to finish the job. The war on terrorism (fuelled by September 11) gave them that opportunity. The logic provided by Bush and Blair for this war of course, is convoluted and fraudulent.

The United States (with help from Britain and Australia) invaded Iraq so that it could further secure for the developed world the flow of oil from that country, and they wish to occupy it for quite some time so they can establish a system of government that they can be confident will protect their corporate interests. They are most definitely not out to introduce any real democracy to the people of Iraq. If they were, then they wouldn’t be trying to replace Saddam Hussein with somebody similar. The current regime in Washington also wants to make certain that all of the lucrative reconstruction deals that they have awarded mostly to US companies, are actually going to be able to reach fruition. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is all about plunder. Nothing else. I see nothing “noble” in this.

Even if the United States really did invade Iraq with such ‘noble” intentions as to introduce to them glorious “democracy” then so what? They nevertheless have no right to do so -legally, or morally. This idea that you can justify an invasion of another country as part of a civilizing mission to introduce to them “democracy” is an outrageous one, and one which most of the world is quite rightly horrified by and concerned about. I have already mentioned elsewhere on this website just how stupid and unrealistic is the idea of being able to implant a Western-style parliamentary democracy by force into a developing country which has no history of such democratic traditions, and which for centuries, has been governed by a series of tribal clans based around religious and ethnic identities. The sheer arrogance of the Bush administration is both frightening and dangerous, as is their level of stupidity and ignorance.

This claim that the “noble” intention of the US is to set up free and democratic elections – well, that’s just a cruel farce. It was never an intention. Never. The pre-war memorandum to Tony Blair from senior UK government advisers, pointing out there was no certainty that any “replacement regime” in Iraq “will be any better” [than Saddam’s] (Observer, 19 Sept), provides in itself some empirical evidence that “democracy” was never an intention. Of course, Blair, like Bush, always publicly claimed otherwise. Blair, for example, claimed that the US-appointed Iraqi Government is “trying to create … [a] democratic [Iraq] … [that] respects human rights.” The reality couldn’t be more different. As the journalist Jason Burke notes, “the lineaments of a new nation are emerging. Ironically, much of it looks like Saddam’s Iraq, though without the systematic repression … The new police see their job as maintaining order – in a brutal, often lethal fashion – not protecting citizens against crime. The government has responded harshly to media criticism … [and] Allawi has even created a secret intelligence service and talked of ‘emergency powers’ to counter violence.” As many have already noted, and as I mentioned in my response on your blog site, a process of re-Nazification is now taking place, and with the help of the US – all largely funded in fact, by the CIA.

According to Newsweek (7 June), “No one is better equipped [to use official powers to influence the planned elections] than [Iraq’s US-appointed Prime Minister Ayad] Allawi.” On 27 September, Time magazine reported the existence of “a secret ‘finding’ … proposing a covert CIA operation to aid candidates favoured by Washington.” Meanwhile the Economist (18 Sept) reports that the opposition groups that sided with the US before the war are discussing a so-called “monster consensus list” of candidates – an idea which “could create essentially a one-party election … look[ing] uncomfortably like the plebiscites choreographed to produce 98 percent majorities under Saddam Hussein.”

All of this, incidentally, mirrors very closely the type of interference and support that the US gave to the Diem and Ky regimes in South Vietnam – and they failed miserably because neither enjoyed a popular base of support!

The simple truth is this: that US and British troops are currently fighting a war against Iraqis resisting the military occupation of their country by forces that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians and have no right to be there. Even many US soldiers serving in Iraq understand this. “I don’t begrudge them,” one Marine officer told the New York Times, about a mortar attack on a US base. “We’d do the same thing if some foreign dudes rolled into San Diego and set up shop” (2 May). As another Marine infantryman explained to AP: “We shouldn’t be here. There was no reason for invading this country in the first place. We just came here and (angered people) and killed a lot of innocent people. I don’t enjoy killing women and children, it’s not my thing.” (AP, 22 Sept).

We all know that corporate journalism in the United States preaches “objectivity” and scorns those who take the side of the dispossessed and disenfranchised. But the mainstream media in Britain, which is noticeably less censored than in the United States, at least makes for a few allowances. As I said early on in this piece, the argument that I have expressed here is common to the pages of The Guardian and The Independent in Britain, and to the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald, and in the mainstream newspapers of Canada and New Zealand and no doubt many other countries too. But I doubt whether any of America’s mainstream newspapers would print, on their front pages, articles that would dare to suggest that the Iraqi “insurgents” ought to be viewed instead as “freedom fighters”?

Like something out of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, journalistic “adjudicators” working for such organizations as the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the US tend to censor such viewpoints. No wonder then, that so many Americans have had their emotions and viewpoints so heavily manipulated on such issues as the Iraqi War and occupation. No wonder then, that so many Americans are duped into believing that they are in Iraq with “noble” intentions. The images that America’s corporate media displayed to the world of smiling Iraqis cheering them on with flowers throughout the early days of the occupation was a totally unconvincing piece of propaganda – a small minority only, who turned out to welcome on the arrival of US tanks, blown up and sensationalised to help legitimise the illegitimate.

In fact, few Iraqis welcomed the US military as “liberators” – most of those who did, were Kurds. The unprovoked and illegal invasion, and especially the ongoing occupation has, quite understandably, wounded the pride of most Iraqis. As one Iraqi woman recently said in an interview published in The Times of London: “We are under occupation. They bomb the mosques, they kill a huge number of people. There is no greater shame than to see your country being occupied.”

When US soldiers are killed by suicide bombers, the good folks back home are encouraged to empathise and to sympathise, but when Iraqi civilians are killed in their homes while eating their dinners by falling US bombs, well, such tragedies and atrocities are barely even mentioned. People certainly are not encouraged to empathise with such victims. In fact, when Iraqi civilians die at the hands of the US military, they are often dismissed as “collateral damage”. The pilots who drop these weapons that kill and maim innocent civilians while they’re sitting in their homes are never labelled as “terrorists”. Nor are the politicians in Washington who are responsible for orchestrating such war crimes.

Enough of the dangerous ignorance. Enough of the inexcusable evangelical arrogance. And enough of the double standards.

I have a number of good American friends, and I am very pleased to be able to say that not all of them are duped into thinking that their government has sent them into a war and foreign occupation with “noble” intentions. Not all Americans want to see their country “win” this war. And that’s what it presently is. A war between the occupation forces, and the resistance.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 6, 2005 @ 9:30 pm | Comment

Perfect piece. Only one flaw: the silent majority of Iraqi people would see things differently.

January 7, 2005 @ 2:44 am | Comment

Clever reponse Bellevue!

But I think you will find that the “silent majority” of Iraqis do not want to live under a US occupation either.

“You could see this from the very beginning — from the summer of 2003,” notes Patrick Cockburn, a journalist in Iraq who writes for The Independent. “Whenever I went to a place where there had been an attack on a US patrol, and US soldiers had been killed, always, the local kids were jumping up and down for joy. This was always an unpopular occupation with MOST OF THE POPULATION, and that majority has gone up.” (emphasis mine)

Having said that, the resistance has always been fragmented, true. It’s different in different areas. In places like Fallujah, there is a very strong tribal element. In fact, in a place as tribal as that, it would be very difficult to have any movement, military or political, that wasn’t tribal.

The problem for the US army in Iraq is that they are trying to use local forces, and as I said earlier, they have been busy trying to re-hire mostly former Saddam loyalists, but the only ones that they can really rely on are Kurdish forces — commonly called peshmerga. Elsewhere, they clearly don’t really trust the Iraqi National Guard forces that have been raising..This is evident from the fact that the National Guard have no weapons outside their camps. Everybody in Iraq carries a gun, but not these guys. And the reason appears to be that the US Army is nervous about giving them weapons when they go home — in case they don’t come back.

I rest my case.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 7, 2005 @ 2:58 am | Comment

Bellevue – one last thing. The US occupation of Iraq is every bit as unpopular as the US occupation of South Vietnam was! And the interim government set up by the US doesn’t fool anyone either. It is every bit as unpopular as the Diem regime was that the US set up in South Vietnam. As one journalist for the Financial Times reports, “US commanders may soon have to face the fact that they are facing a revolt by an entire region of Iraq, the Sunni Heartland”. He goes on to quote an Iraqi member of the US-backed militia (Falluja Protection Force or FPF) – “The whole city rejects the American occupation…The Mujahideen are inhabitants of the city…”

A few co-opted mullahs, a couple of hundred imported colonised exiles and a few thousand police do not stand a chance against the rising seething mass of Iraqis who see every violent act directly related to the presence of the US military command. All the US media propaganda directed at Iraqis does not change the absolute misery of their everyday lives, the humiliation of constant insults and threats pointed at them in the streets, in the markets and the arrogant forced submission of captured suspects hooded and shoved to the ground, a boot on their necks, a gun to their head, under the search lights of armoured vehicles and helicopters. These “visual aids”, routines of colonial rule, have unleashed even greater depths of hatred.

Deals will still be made but they will benefit only a few – there is no longer a central command to execute orders or execute disobedient subjects. There are traitors and informers, but they are known by their neighbours and colleagues and are dealt with in the context of the anti-colonial resistance.

There are no battlefronts either – it is everywhere! On highways the mines are there because they were put there and detonated by local commandos; there is no ‘Battle for Baghdad’ – there will be a thousand and one battles in Baghdad – in every road, alleyway, apartment block and market place. There is no elite family to target, no leader to kill to end the war; there are millions of families and thousands of leaders. This is another Vietnam.

Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had best be ready for a prolonged unwinnable war with daily casualties that over time will lead to their retirement from politics. Remember LBJ, remember Vietnam.

Regards (again),
Mark Anthony Jones

January 7, 2005 @ 3:49 am | Comment

Mark: You just won’t rest your case, even after Rummy is gone 🙂

I think most of the facts you presented are, sadly, journalistically accurate, though I have a very different view on why this war was a mistake and is disasterous: it has ady trapped the US force and greatly dimished Washington’s ability to handle other crisis or crisis in the making. This, eventually, is not a great news for Noam Chomskys and Mark Anthony Jones, though you will maintain the other way.

LBJ was way before my time, but the ‘Hey hey LBJ, how many … killed today’ chanting would sound irritatingly relevant. I’m surprised it’s not actually there today. Can you tell me who not, pundit?

January 7, 2005 @ 6:29 am | Comment

Maintain thats its not a quagmire, I dare you

Washington Post: General Says Army Reserve Is Becoming a ‘Broken’ Force The head of the Army Reserve has sent a sharply worded memo to other military leaders expressing “deepening concern” about the continued readiness of his troops, who have been use…

January 7, 2005 @ 1:01 pm | Comment

Dear Bellevue,

I respect your right to hold opinions that are different from mine, naturally, and I take your point that a military and political defeat in Iraq would perhaps diminish Washington’s ability to handle furture crises – but Iraq, as far as I am concerned, is a crisis of Washington’s making!

I doubt whether the current regime in Washington is capable of handling crises of any sort, for that matter.

The fact that they invaded Iraq in the first place is indicative of their stupidity. Trying to occupy it – well, many people predicted the current situation before the invasion even took place! The fact that they seriously thought the people of Iraq would turn out on mass an welcome US soldiers as “liberators” just goes to show how ignorant they are about the world, and about human nature. If mainstream America was also able to easily swallow this idea prior to the invasion, then that says something quite profound about mainstream America – that they are insular and inward-looking, that they do not understand the nature of their own imperialism, or of their place in the world as an imperial power.

It tells me that they have learnt nothing for previous adventures – like Vietnam.

If Washington’s credibility is diminished greatly as a consequence of their stupidity, then good! It will make it more difficult for them to cause more damage in the future. This is why, as I argued earlier, I think it is important for Washington to be defeated militarily and politically by the Iraqi resistance.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 9, 2005 @ 7:40 pm | Comment

Dear Bellevue,

In your last response to my commentaries above, you wrote:

“LBJ was way before my time, but the ‘Hey hey LBJ, how many … killed today’ chanting would sound irritatingly relevant. I’m surprised it’s not actually there today. Can you tell me why not, pundit?”

I shall now address your question, which I think is a very important one – one that is definitely very worthy of my attention.

You ask why people in the US (and the West in general I guess) are not jumping up and down in protest over what is happening in Iraq, like they did during the Vietnam conflict.

But if you think back to all the demonstrations that took place against the invasion before it even began, where crowd sizes were as large as half a million people in cities like London, then you will need to acknowledge just how remarkable they really were. There was, at that time, both around the world and in the United States, an opposition to the invasion that was at a level completely unprecedented in US or European history – both in scope and in the parts of the population it drew on.

“If you compare it with the Vietnam war,” as Chomsky has noted, that initial stage of the war with Iraq was “approximately like that of 1961 – that is, before the war actually was launched – as it was in 1962 when the US bombing of South Vietnam began, and the US began driving millions of people into concentration camps and using chemical warfare and so on – but there was no protest back then. In fact, so little protest that few people even remember.”

The protests didn’t begin to develop until several years later when large parts of South Vietnam were being subjected to saturation bombing by B-52s, hundreds of thousands of troops where there, hundreds of thousands had been killed, and then even after that, when the protests finally did develop in the US and Europe, it was mostly focused on a side-issue – the bombing of North Vietnam which was undoubtedly a crime, but it was far more intense in the South, which was always the US target anyway.

The Bush regime knows that the US is capable of launching military confrontations with much weaker enemies only (like Iraq), and it must surely also recognise that they are probably the only kind of wars that they are ever going to be faced with. They also know that in such confrontations (with much weaker enemies), the United States must win “decisively and rapidly” because otherwise popular support will be eroded, and that’s because they know and understood that such support will always be very thin. Not like the 1960s, when the government could fight a long, brutal war for years and years, practically destroying a country without any protest. “Not now,” notes Chomsky. “Now they have to win. They have to terrify the population to feel there’s some enormous threat to their existence and carry out a miraculous, decisive and rapid victory over this enormous foe and march onto the next one.”

Indeed, the post-1960s era has been marked by the substantial growth of popular movements dedicated to greater justice and freedom, and an unwillingness to tolerate the brutal aggression and violence that had previously been granted a free rein. The Vietnam War is a dramatic illustration, naturally suppressed because of the lessons it teaches about the civilising impact of popular mobilisation.

Domestic resistance in the US and Britain to the invasion and occupation has dropped off since those early days leading up to the invasion, granted. But how much longer will the Bush regime be able to maintain its occupation before popular resistance grows and mushrooms again? Some of the statements from US soldiers and their families have been very moving, as Tariq Ali has recently observed. “These US soldiers are learning fast,” he writes, and are “realising that what they were told was a bunch of lies.”

Bellevue, I guess the corporate media, which is more bipartisan now than it was back in the 1960s, and which is certainly now far more censored, has also succeeded in sanitising the invasion and occupation of Iraq, to the point where many people in the US are able to remain blissfully ignorant. Even the number of US casualties is being carefully reported, and in some cases censored – most notably in the case of Fallujah, where the continuing number of US casualties is no longer being revealed to the media at all.

The state of ignorance within the US population is, I guess, a tribute to the three information monkeys – the networks and Fox TV – whose motto appears to be: see no truth, hear no truth, speak no truth. How can there be a vigilant and alert citizenry (surely a key prerequisite even for capitalist democracies) in these conditions of officially inspired ignorance?

The role of the media is an important factor I think, in understanding why huge numbers of Americans are not right now taking of the streets of Washington, chanting angry voices of protest. One of the effects of high-tech warfare, as well as the exclusive focus on “our” casualties, plus censorship (official and self), is that the public is spared the sight of burning flesh. That enemy casualties were given great prominence during the Vietnam War is one of the great, and now institutionalised, myths of that era. Morley Safer’s showing of a GI applying a cigarette lighter to a Vietnamese thatched hut is used and referred to repeatedly as illustrating media boldness at that time only because other cases are hard to find. It caused CBS and Safer a lot of trouble (and he has been trying to make up for this sin ever since).

Enormous government pressure and flak from other sources today cause the media to provide grisly photos of enemy victims only with the greatest of caution, and very infrequently at that. Capital intensive warfare in itself makes for distancing the public from the slaughter of the “other”. This is helpful in “normalising” the unspeakable and unthinkable.

Bellevue, there is also a special vocabulary used by the politicians in Washington, their military and the media, developed to help render the unthinkable palatable: “incidents,” “vulnerability indexes,” “weapons impacts,” and “resource availability”, and of course, our old friend from the 1991 Persian Gulf War, “collateral damage”. In George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language,” he describes the centrality of language in framing and informing debate. He was particularly critical of the use of euphemisms and the passive voice, so today we have, as I just said, “collateral damage,” “free trade,” and “level playing fields,” and such constructions as “towns were bombed,” “economically viable strike packages” and then of course we also have the personification of America’s weapons, as if they had minds all of their own, like these so-called “smart bombs.” You can compare the rhetoric surrounding the war on terrorism with the kind of language Orwell criticised.

Using the passive voice is always very helpful for people like Bush, Rumsfeld, Mind you, a lot of that propaganda English emanates from Imperial Britain. The British establishment has always used the passive voice. It’s been a weapon of discourse since the 19th century, so that those who committed terrible acts in the old empire could not be identified. Today the British establishment uses “the royal we,” as in, “We think this.” You still hear a lot of that, even these days. It erroneously suggests that those who are making the decisions to bomb countries, to devastate economies, to take part in acts of international piracy involve all of us. And most journalists now working for the corporate media are no more than channelers and echoers of what Orwell called the official truth. They simply cipher and transmit lies. They allow themselves to be so manipulated that they become really what the French describe as “functionaries” – they are functionaries, not journalists.

Doing terrible things in an organised and systematic way rests on “normalisation.” This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as “the way things are done.” There is usually a division of labor in doing and rationalising the unthinkable, with the direct brutalising and killing done by one set of individuals; others keeping the machinery of death (sanitation, food supply) in order; still others producing the implements of killing, or working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns, shells that use depleted uranium). It is the function of defense intellectuals and other “experts”, and the mainstream corporate media, to normalise the unthinkable for the general public. They banalise death, they work to make death and suffering a banality. And they even turn the act of killing itself into banality. In her well-known work on the Eichmann trial, Hannah Arendt spoke of the “banality of death”. Well, I’m now speaking of the “banality of murder”!

Bellevue, such collective malice may very well exist among the affluent of the West. We’re all victims of alienation, and we all suffer from commodity fetishes of varying sorts. It seems as though we only open our eyes and dig into our trouser pockets for a little loose change when suffering is marketed to us in the “right” way – as the recent response to the devastating tsunamis in South East Asia has shown – the “banality of goodness”, perhaps? But when the state murders, when “our” state murders, well… it’s normalized.

Fortunately though Bellevue, as I implied earlier, many of us in this world are still capable of being able to feel and to recognise the horrors of what the US is doing right now in Iraq, and many of us in this world, despite the sanitisation, are capable enough – are still human enough – to be able to exercise our imaginations sufficiently well enough to be able to empathise with the “other” – with the victims of this invasion and occupation, be they Iraqi civilians, “insurgents” or American and British soldiers. What makes a human being a human being, as Sartre argued, is the capacity to make choices, and specifically, thanks to our ability to empathise, to make moral ones. Humans are also inherently social creatures, and therefore we are also inherently political creatures, inherently moral creatures.

Human nature is, of course, historical, as is our morality – but as I pointed out earlier, when I quoted Chomsky, we are also, as a collective, historically progressive. There are many decent people in this world – those who have not lost their ability to imagine, to be able to empathise with others – people who do not rely entirely on the consumption of cheap commodities for satisfaction, who do not have to wait to be “sold” the idea of goodness. In America, and in Britain and Australia, these voices may have indeed been softened somewhat over recent months, but they will rise up again Bellevue. Their voices, collectively, will challenge those who seek to banalise death, and will demand justice to those responsible for the banality of murder. America’s military involvement in Iraq, if it is allowed to continue for too much longer, will ensure that. Remember, even Rumsfeld recently warned that the occupation is likely to continue until 2010, and maybe even beyond. The parallels with Vietnam cannot be ignored, cannot be denied.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 10, 2005 @ 12:43 am | Comment

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