Point Austin: Endless War
Against the long war, long opposing
-- Chris Hedges, "War: Realities and Myths," June 2005
Down the street from my house, a neighbor has let his original "Americans for Peace" anti-war sign, circa 2003, moulder into a secondary political statement. Now down to a few shredded pieces of cardboard -- "Peace" still wanly and visibly defiant -- it can't last much longer in the muggy heat following weeks of rain. I recently replaced my own with a newer, more durable and updated version -- "For Peace/Bring the Troops Home Now." I can't help but wonder if in another four years, it too will have to be replaced by an even grimmer incarnation, maybe something along the lines of, "End the War on the Middle East Now!"
I write in the wake of another congressional failure last week to take effective action to end the war and President Bush's defiant executive order reauthorizing torture of "terrorism" suspects. (It wasn't called that, of course. Because the order prohibits sexual or religious abuse even while it explicitly excludes the protections of the Geneva Conventions, mainstream news outlets called it a "ban" on torture. More accurately, it's a defense brief for torturers.) Meanwhile, Bush's designated generals were already asking for "more time" to demonstrate that the "surge" (i.e., more of the same, yet again) is working. (The dutiful behavior of the generals should remind Texans of how well the appointed state Board of Pardons and Paroles defies the governor on clemency recommendations. Short answer: Never.)
There are small signs of progress. Should a handful of Republican senators feel the public heat, it's possible a veto-proof majority can be gathered by the fall; and at the other end of the spectrum, 70 House Democrats wrote to Bush last week, "We will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office."
Such excruciatingly slow movement is especially frustrating when one recalls that the U.S. has actually been at war against Iraq for more than 15 years. The first Gulf War was followed by a decade of brutal embargo and a joint U.S./British bombing campaign with direct and indirect civilian casualties estimated in excess of 500,000; since the Bush administration declared total war, the civilian casualties alone have more than doubled -- a reality we need to recall each time a U.S. casualty is memorialized. And beyond this, there is the grim possibility that the administration will decide to expand its current covert and propaganda war against Iran. That such a step would dwarf in stupidity and arrogance even the current conflict seems no guarantee against its happening.
Reporter Dahr Jamail has posted on his blog an eloquent essay -- "Iraq on My Mind" -- on the double consciousness of knowing the sheer hell for Iraqis amid the illusory comfort of many American lives (www.dahrjamailiraq.com/weblog). It's a useful antidote to the droning credulity of that Pravda-like phrase, "The Bush administration said today ..." If the desperate messages of besieged Iraqis to friends abroad seem too anecdotal to be persuasive, perhaps the accumulating statistics of devastation might give you pause. "Iraq by the Numbers: Surging Past the Gates of Hell," by Tom Engelhardt (www.tomdispatch.com/post/174815/the_numbers_surge_in_iraq), posted a month ago, provides a helpful index.
When the 2003 invasion began -- with "Shock and Awe," remember? -- war supporters liked to announce proudly the end of "Vietnam Syndrome," with the U.S. no longer "afraid" to engage in expansive military adventures abroad. In fact, there's barely been a year when we haven't been brutally "policing" one unruly foreign population or another. But if you need any additional convincing that the real Vietnam Syndrome has returned in force, I highly recommend "The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness," by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, in the current issue of The Nation (posted at www.thenation.com/doc/20070730/hedges). Based on extended interviews with 50 U.S. Iraq combat veterans, it records with stunning conviction that the supposed main front in the "War on Terrorism" has devolved inevitably and brutally into a daily war on Iraqi civilians.
Focusing largely on the thousands of house raids and road checkpoints that are the standard methods of this urban warfare, soldier after soldier recounts personally witnessed incidents of casual negligence, incidental killing, and offhand brutality that have resulted in the accumulated deaths of thousands of ordinary Iraqis. Amid all the recent attention to U.S. polls over the war, is it any wonder that those whose voices should really matter -- the Iraqis who have been overwhelmingly the victims of this war -- when asked, persistently respond that the U.S. military should withdraw as soon as possible?
Disheartening and enraging as it is, "The Other War" is not primarily an indictment of U.S. soldiers but of the government that imposed the doctrine of "preventive war" and then sent them to fight it, with inevitable results. "It's just the nature of the situation you're in," concludes one soldier. "That's what's wrong. It's not individual atrocity. It's the fact that the entire war is an atrocity."
Do what you can.