Saturday, March 19, 2011

Eighth anniversary: Fragments of writing from March 2003 (with commentary)

Image caption: Falluja/Guernica, 2004 by Rob Landeros (found at Gernika)

As we observe the eighth anniversary of the start of the current phase of the Iraq War - largely an escalation of what had already begun under George Bush I and Bill Clinton - we are now witness to the start of yet another war in the name of "regime change" and "humanitarian intervention". Although I might have more to say about that later, for I'm taking a trip down memory lane. In March 2003 I did not as of yet have a blog, but did post to message boards and usenet groups of one sort or another. I didn't really go out of my way to archive much of what I might have written at the time, as it was largely in the form of off-the-cuff remarks. That said, here are a few fragments that capture where I was at in late March of that year. I'll try to provide some context for these fragmentary comments wherever possible.

March 18, 2003

Note - In response to a conversation regarding the alleged accuracy of the so-called smart bombs to be used in the opening bombing raids:
Well, one way to interpret the "shock and awe" strategy is that the massive bombings will end up creating massive collateral damage. The "smart bombs" aren't that smart.
Note - I expected that the Iraq War would escalate conflict, especially in the Middle East and Central Asia:
If I were the leader of one of the so-called "axis of evil" nations, I'd be pushing to get armed to the teeth with whatever weaponry possible, including biological, chemical, and even nuclear weapons, if for no other reason than because of the realization that the U.S. won't stop with Iraq & that if one's country is on the list of nations to be invaded, at least those invasions would be more costly to the U.S.
March 20, 2003

Note - Regarding a conversation on the continuing world-wide protests as the war started:
Many of us did not ask for this waste of a war. We have a voice too. Bring on the noise. Word.
March 21, 2003

Note - The last part of the following sentence captures my thoughts about the actual motivation for the US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq:
Makes me wonder if Bush et al ever bothered to listen to Iraqi citizens, or if (as I suspect is way more likely) they simply made the decision to impose their vision of manifest destiny in which Iraqis are viewed strictly as sharecroppers on those Oil plantations.
Note - A bit of sarcasm aimed at some of the happy talk that permeated the opening days of the war:
The U$ has made the world safe for SUV owners everywhere. The companies will be pleased.
March 23, 2003

Note - In response to the well-worn canard that the US was "fighting terrorists in Iraq to make Americans safer at home" I wanted to point out our own home-grown right-wing Christian fundamentalist terrorists:
I'd be willing to wager all 5 cents of my life savings that the vast majority of the people being "shocked and awed" are underpaid working stiffs like me, who simply could not afford to leave.

Sometimes I find it a good idea to look close to home. How many terrorists are our major cities harboring? (i.e., people who bomb family planning clinics & target staff of these clinics for assassination; people who burn crosses in front of the homes of African-Americans, who set fire to mosques & churches, and so forth).
March 26, 2003

Note - Another response illustrating my skepticism about the US government's motives for embarking on the war:
I suppose the best way to put this is that I don't buy the premise that the war has anything to do with the human rights situation in Iraq. The Reagan/Bush crowd in the 1980s didn't give a damn back then, and the current Bush crowd doesn't give a damn now. If it suited the purposes of our government, they'd gladly place another brutal dictator in power there and politely ignore the plight of Iraqi civilians (provided of course that the dictator in question cooperates with our government).
I thought that the war was an awful idea from the get-go, having at various points prior expressed skepticism about the initial rationale for the war (i.e., the alleged WMDs that turned out to be non-existent) as well as all the b.s. about democratizing Iraq, ad nauseum. I was convinced that the people who would be hurt the most were going to be low-income Iraqi civilian families, and that 21st century equivalents of Guernica and Dresden were likely to transpire before all was said and done. Indeed, if anything, the events that have transpired in the six years since the war started have been in a number of respects worse than I could have imagined. An Iraqi death toll estimated at around one million only captures part of the story. There's also the distress caused to the friends and relatives of those murdered by the "Coalition" (don't forget the mercenaries) the massive number of injured, human displacement, disease, torture, and social death experienced by those who had the misfortune of merely being in the way of the US war machine to be considered. We'll still need to come to terms with the likelihood that Iraq was yet another "laboratory" for predatory capitalist ventures, and that the chaos caused by the war is even desirable in the eyes of our ruling class.

There is no comfort to be found in being correct; only a really bad feeling at the pit of one's stomach that the various efforts to raise awareness of the lies leading up to the war as well as the likely consequences of going to war simply failed to prevent the massive loss of lives since it all began on March 19, 2003. That day will indeed live in infamy.

It's also clear in this dark year 2010 that the US is not even remotely facing up to what's going on. The "great" experts whose opinions were gathered by New Pravda in 2008 to wax philosophically about the war didn't even begin to touch on the purely criminal nature of the Iraq War. Our elections are so effectively gamed so that the only "choices" left to voters are warmongers: in 2008 it was John "One Hundred Years War" McCain; and Barack "the kinda-sorta-but-not-really war opponent" Obama. For war opponents, like myself, neither of these candidates was particularly inspiring, and perhaps to refer to both as quite loathsome would be apt. Let's just say that I have had no reason to be optimistic about any "change" from the White House despite Obama's happy talk. Don't expect any "change" from Congress either. And of course there's always the growing quagmire in Afghanistan to consider, if one wants to truly gauge our prospects for anything even remotely looking like "peace".

Unless or until a critical mass of folks get it through their skulls that the mentality that the US owns the planet is not only incorrect but dangerous, the blood of innocents will continue to be spilled. As one might gather from the fragments, I might have been somewhat more optimistic back then. I certainly would have given the ruling class too much credit in even suggesting that any of them would bother to listen to Iraqis and their concerns - inside The Beltway (along with usual cronies on Wall Street), the Iraqis were never more than fauna. Turning to members of the ruling class to get it together and stop the warmongering is not where it's at - almost without exception, they've been drinking that fire water for far too long. The summary of the last eight years can be boiled down to a title to an essay by fellow blogger Arthur Silber: over one million murdered, and nothing has been learned. As far as the US elites are concerned, there is nothing to learn - other than how to commit genocide more efficiently. No, the critical mass I'm thinking about is to come from us - just ordinary folks. We're the ones who will have to say "enough is enough" in words and deeds.

Note: This is my traditional anniversary post. I've slightly updated it from previous years.

Friday, March 18, 2011

More "isolated incidents"

Sure. That's what our pathetic excuse for a news media will say. Truth is there's nothing isolated about any of these incidents. We ignore that at our peril.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rachel Corrie: Eight Years Later

She would have turned 32 this April. Some passages from Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie:
Summer 1998

Came back from the cays today and wound up in a hotel room in Dangriga watching cable television and waiting for my stomachache to go away. Happened to flip on C-SPAN.

I gather the U.S. has dropped cruise missiles on Afghanistan and Sudan. I gather Clinton has admitted to having sex with "that intern." People are calling in from all over the U.S. to comment. And half of the people don't even seem to know that missiles were dropped - they're fixated on Clinton's tawdry sex life. One man actually quotes Wag the Dog to explain what's going on - like that's where we're gonna get the real information. A young boy voice calls up and is obviously reading a little prepared speech about Kenneth Starr being evil for embarrassing the president and keeping him from protecting the U.S. from the fascists. Everybody is conjecturing about the timing of the attack and calling for the president to resign.

And nobody says a word about how sad it is that people in this world have missiles dropped on them.

(p. 85)
November 6, 2001

Tools for Reading the News

Themes noticed in media coverage of the war:

* Focus on "Beards and Burkas" - emblematic, stereotypical, and "Western" concepts of increased freedom with the fall of Kandahar, etc.

* Polarizationn around dissent and obfuscation:
dissenters presented as "do nothing"
only alternatives are "do nothing" or the current situation

* Concern about duration of war/ground war portrayed as "hand-wringing" (Thomas Friedman, NYT "Give War a Chance" Op-Ed), neurotic, soft. Ex-military dudes as "Experts." NYT article picturing Phil Donahue states TV features no anti-war people, because they can't find anyone "credible" who opposes the war.

* Academia portrayed as oppressive place where normal folks who are pro-war can't voice opinions. Academia as weak link (The Olympian cartoons). Academics as so lost in theory that they espouse totalitarianism (Wall Street Journal - also equation of Marxism with totalitarianism).

*Free trade as solution to terrorism

*Donald Rumsfeld as charming, rugged Roosevelt character

*Human interest stories on immigrants who love the U.S.

*NYT - continuing stories on Islam in the U.S., Ramadan (what is the intent?)

*Bounds of acceptable debate: Military Tribunals or No Military Tribunals? Invade Iraq now or later? Who should we prop up as leader of Afghanistan? Torture or no torture?

(pp. 170-171)
November 20, 2001

Approaching the aftermath of September 11th from a civil liberties and ethnic equality perspective might ease some of the polarizing issues around the war - the narrow "attack Afghanistan and Iraq" vs. "do nothing" dialogue. Our local media really promote a pretty narrow view of what war is.

I think historical background also gives a lot of perspective. The similarity of rhetoric between 1798 and now is striking - as is the rhetoric used against the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). Drawing attention to the fact that "you're either for us or against us" and the suggestion that deserters should be deported were used to undercut Jeffersonian democracy. This might make it necessary, at least for people writing to The Olympian, to be a little more creative about the structure of their debate.

I don't think it's the greatest thing to rely on rich-white-male history as your source of historical argument. It just promotes the idea that it's the real history. But looking at this in conjunction with Japanese internment and what happened in Centralia and Everett might make it more clear why we should know by now that anytime your executive engages in a "cold war" or a "half war" or a war on anybody that is kind of hazy and not based on a preponderance of publicized evidence - and then simultaneously starts rounding up immigrants and passing legislation which makes peaceful membership in a group illegal - particularly in times when a ruling elite is showing signs of being threatened by broad-based grassroots organization - anytime all these things happen at once, we should all be very fucking suspicious.

Another thing about the civil liberties and ethnic/racial profiling thing - as far as local organizing goes, this has the potential for a lot more coalition-building and could make criticism of the war seem less radical and add more detail than just "peace."

Going to the City Council might not work - but it is a chance to get your cause seen on TV without going through the filters of The Olympian editing staff. I'm kind of interested in the response that might happen if people were shown on public television saying "Fuck John Ashcroft, Fuck the Patriot Act, Fuck Military Tribunals, and here is the historical evidence of why ... here's how it's affected us in teh past, here - locally.

(pp. 172-173)
January 19, 2003

...The scariest thing for non-Jewish Americans in talking about Palestinian self-determination is the fear of being or sounding anti-Semitic. Reading Chomsky's book and talking to my non-Zionist Jewish friends has helped me think about this. Mostly, I just think we all have the right to be critical of government policies ... any government policies ... particularly government policies which we are funding. It is important to recognize that the people of Israel are suffering and that Jewish people have a long history of oppression, which I think we, as U.S. citicens and non-Jews, still have some responsibility for - at least for undestanding the role fo anti-Semitism, U.S. foreign policy, and the slaughter of Jewish people in Europe (which the U.S. did not intervene to stop immediately and some of which we might have prevented had we allowed Jewish refugees to come here in greater numbers).

I think white people sometimes suffer in the United States from a system that still privileges us over people of color; men suffer from the system that privileges them over women; and Jewish Israelis suffer (much more than white people and men in the U.S.) from a system in Israel that privileges them over Palestinian-Israelis and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Nevertheless, the system remains a racist one...

(p. 226)
Learn more at Rachel's Words and The anniversary of her death is a stark reminder of just how dark the days were just as the war on the Iraqis was about to begin, and how dark they've been since. While right-wingers in the US and Israel would no doubt find her death to be a source for endless amusement (and for "respectable" liberals and moderates something not even worthy of so much as a shrug), for those of us who still give a damn about human rights there was (and still is) a sense of mourning and anger.

For a better understanding of the context in which Rachel was murdered, see Sonja Karkar's article from four years ago in CounterPunch, What Rachel Saw: Rachel Corrie and Palestine, as well as a slightly more recent article by Tom Wright and Therese Saliba, Five Years Later: Rachel Corrie's Case for Justice.

See also, my post from 2009. Never forget.