It was just a brief item published in the New York Times, reporting yet another attack on our soldiers in Iraq: one American paratrooper killed, six wounded. At first glance, “One G.I. Killed in New Attack in Falluja” gave no hint of the horror behind the headline, but in the second of four paragraphs we read this:
“Two civilians were killed in the clash, including one whose family said he was shot by the Americans after they detained him. In the hospital where the bodies were taken, the man, Nazem Baji, had a gunshot wound in the back of his head and his hands were tied in front of him with plastic bands similar to those used by the United States military when they arrest suspects.”
All hail the American “liberators” of Iraq the bearers of “democracy” and “modernity“! We’re shooting handcuffed prisoners in the back of the head, execution-style, instantly “liberating” their souls from their bodies. Coming on the heels of a similar incident, this one involving the suffocation death of an Iraqi prisoner held in a U.S. detention camp, the Iraqis (and others) may be forgiven for wondering: Are the Americans monsters?
No. They’re just plain, ordinary people, neither demons nor saints, plopped down in the middle of an impossible conundrum, ordered to win a war that is essentially unwinnable using methods acceptable to the American public and international law. Many are reservists who never imagined they’d wind up policing a conquered province, weekend warriors who have neither the skills nor the desire to fight on the farthest frontiers of the Empire. And they’re deserting, not yet in droves, but in significant numbers given how early it is in what promises to be a protracted conflict.
As the Washington Post so delicately puts it, “Soldiers Miss Flights Back to Iraq.” Reading further, however, it is clear these furloughed GIs didn’t just oversleep, or get stalled in traffic: they are gone. And those are just the ones we know about.
As part of the “good news” offensive recently launched by the administration, we are treated to the news of the latest Gallup door-to-door poll of Baghdad residents, where a resounding 71 percent supposedly want the U.S. to stay. Which means there’s a lot more enthusiasm for the occupation among the occupied than there is among the occupiers.
A recent survey taken by Stars & Stripes, the quasi-official newspaper of the American military, shows that US troops are only slightly less disgusted by this rotten war than the civilian population. While the latter are just about evenly split on the war question, 31 percent of U.S. soldiers surveyed said the war wasn’t worthwhile. (Interestingly, while 28 percent say it was “very worthwhile,” only 8 percent report their own personal morale as being “very high,” while a mere 3 percent rate their unit’s morale as “very high.”) What portends imminent disaster, however, is the startling statistic that 18 percent say their mission is “mostly not clear,” while 17 percent say it is “not clear at all.”
American soldiers in the front lines are not moral monsters, but the chickenhawks who put them there sure as hell are. They were given ample warning by military professionals, who saw this disaster before it ever unfolded. They are putting youngsters in the field, and implicitly asking them to commit war crimes -and many are deserting rather than be forced to choose between conscience and country. It’s an outrage, and one can only wonder how long this can be permitted to go on.
U.S. reservists are in open revolt against the new imperial style of the American military, being imposed from on high by Rumsfeld and his neocon crew: endless deployments, open-ended commitments, “peacekeeping” duty in wartime circumstances all these have taken their toll on the U.S. military. From the answers to the question about reenlistment in the Stars & Stripes poll, it looks like half won’t reenlist. An empire must be policed but where will we get the troops? Rumsfeld isn’t saying he’s opposed to sending more troops to Iraq because he’s suddenly become a peacenik. There aren’t any more troops to send.
Sure, we could “win” this war by engaging in tactics similar to those employed by our Israeli allies, who have been urging us to adopt their methods. I doubt we’d get too far with the idea of implanting American settlements in Iraq, but perhaps the Israeli model of repression might be utilized in other ways. We’re already imitating it, at least symbolically, in Dhuluaya, a small town 50 miles north of Baghdad , where thousand-year-old fruit trees were bulldozed in retaliation for local farmers refusing to inform on guerrilla fighters just as the Israelis routinely obliterate similarly ancient olive trees in their occupied territories. How long before we must turn Iraqis into prisoners in their own country, or else concede defeat?
Americans have no taste for empire-building, complains Niall Ferguson, author of Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. He doesn’t mean it as a compliment, but it is. Unlike the British at the height of their power, Americans want to be liked, rather than feared. They also, perhaps naively, believe themselves incapable of the atrocities we’re beginning to hear reports of in Iraq: if they occurred, then it was an aberration. Yet that doesn’t get the Americans off the hook.
Anti-anti-Americans are right to point out that, in our system, war crimes are prosecuted. Yes, but that’s a problem when the policy makes such crimes inevitable. By asking our military to perform an impossible task pacifying a country that refuses to submit our leaders are setting up the men and women of the U.S. military for vilification and possible prosecution. In that sense, this war is just like Vietnam: another conflict on the Asian landmass that cannot be sustained.
If the antiwar movement wants to do something useful, then perhaps they’ll take action on the slogan “Support Our Troops Bring them home now!” by organizing resistance to U.S. policy where it counts in the American military.
Our message to the soldiers must be simple and direct: this is a set-up.
Listen up, soldier: the War Party is using you, as war supporter Andrew Sullivan admitted, to lure every terrorist group in the Middle East into the Iraqi “fly trap.” That’s how the War Party thinks of American soldiers: as human bait. No wonder General Zinni and a host of other top military figures spoke out against this war before it began. Now is the time for them to raise their voices once again.
Opposition to this war among the American military stationed in Iraq, and elsewhere, would send a powerful message to our rulers. That’s why we need to support the families of reservists yanked out of their jobs, support those who may have “missed” their plane back, demand to know why our soldiers aren’t getting the best possible medical care and keep campaigning to get us out.