Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Saddam's Horror, America's Horror, and World War II

The death toll from the stampede that started when Shiite pilgrims crossing the Tigris River panicked at rumors that a suicide bomber was in the crowd (untrue, as it turned out) has been going steadily up. Tonight's online edition of the New York Times, in an article with a September 1 print publication date, reports that 950 people were killed. An Iraqi Health Ministry official quoted by Reuters said that the number of dead is expected to reach 1,000.

One conservative blogger, after asserting that "the headlines" are saying this was the "biggest loss of life in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003," objects:

...the reality is that it is the largest loss of life since Saddam gassed the Kurds (5,000) in 1988. Or since Saddam slaughtered the Shiites in 1991. Why are we not hearing the truth?...

Which headlines these are is not stated, but the New York Times, in the staff-written article mentioned above, included the following sentence:

The disaster was by far the greatest one-day loss of life since the American-led invasion in March 2003.

The emphasis is mine, and the omission of that phrase, if it was the Times article being quoted, obviously changes the meaning. Today's horror on the Tigris Bridge was the biggest loss of life on a single day since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March, 2003

The same blogger continues, "Why are we never reminded of the horror of Saddam?"

Well, maybe because the horror of Saddam is in the past; and the horror of the Shock and Awe U.S. invasion, followed by two and a half years of a brutal occupation by U.S. military forces, and topped off by a virulent insurgency caused and exacerbated by that occupation, have eclipsed the horror of Saddam. The Bush administration has actually succeeded in making many Iraqis forget about Saddam, and even think their lives were better under Saddam, in comparison to the indescribable suffering, hardship, grief, loss, terror, and daily violence they have been experiencing since the Americans came. At the very least, the Bush administration has not made Iraqis' lives better; and it's widely acknowledged by most serious and thoughtful observers at this point that Iraqis are far worse off now than they were before.

But the current condition that Iraq is in, and the probable future Iraq faces, suit U.S. strategic interests far better than was the case when Saddam was in power. And that is really all that truly matters.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush, in a speech marking the 60th anniversary of V-J Day, compared his invasion and occupation of Iraq to the American role in World War II; and he implied that his war against Iraq is the moral equivalent of World War II:

Sixty years ago this Friday, General Douglas MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. With Japan's surrender, the last of our enemies in World War II was defeated, and a World War that began for America in the Pacific came to an end in the Pacific. As we mark this anniversary, we are again a nation at war. Once again, war came to our shores with a surprise attack that killed thousands in cold blood. Once again, we face determined enemies who follow a ruthless ideology that despises everything America stands for. Once again, America and our allies are waging a global campaign with forces deployed on virtually every continent. And once again, we will not rest until victory is America's and our freedom is secure. ...

In the midst of this struggle, we have confidence in our cause because we know that America has faced down brutal enemies before. We have confidence in our cause because we've seen the power of freedom to overcome the darkness of tyranny and terror. And we have confidence in our cause because we know the character and courage of those who wear the uniform of the United States military. (Applause.)

Fifty years ago we saw that character and that courage in men such as Leon Stone, who was a young Navy sailor aboard the battleship West Virginia, supporting the Marines at Iwo Jima. We saw that courage in men such as Jim Simpson, who was one of those Marines. They didn't know each other, but they came together to fight for America's security. They came together to join a mighty force that defeated the Japanese empire. Jim Simpson and Leon Stone did finally meet one day when Leon's son and Jim's daughter got married.

And today, their grandson, Captain Randy Stone, carries on a proud family tradition. Captain Stone is a Marine officer now serving in Iraq. He knows that he and his generation are doing the same vital work in this war on terror that his grandparents did in World War II. He also knows how this struggle will end. Randy says, "I know we will win because I see it in the eyes of the Marines every morning. In their eyes is the sparkle of victory."

First, let me get my nausea under control.

Never let it be said that Pres. Bush ever let facts or truth or historical realities get in the way of his cynical efforts to continue his policy of human sacrifice in the "first war of the 21st century" and probably the most unnecessary war there has ever been. But since he will not do so, I will.

World War II has absolutely nothing in common with Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, or with the war on terror in general, except for the unimaginable suffering, trauma, and loss of life that are part of every war -- unimaginable, that is, to anyone who has not experienced it first-hand. Which, of course, George W. Bush has not.

World War II was a war fought by one set of countries -- most notably England, the United States, and the Soviet Union -- against another set of countries -- most notably Germany, Japan, and Italy (for most of the war). The enemies faced by the United States in World War II were discrete and definable nations, with borders, governments, and militaries. Soldiers in these militaries wore uniforms, were identifiable as soldiers, and were treated in accordance with recognized international protocols for the treatment of prisoners of war. The lack of uniforms and absence of an official military is a major reason given by the Bush administration for its claim that detainees in the "war on terror" are not prisoners of war, are not protected under the Geneva Conventions, and in fact do not merit or qualify for any legal protections or rights at all.

The entire way in which the United States conceives of "the enemy" in the "war on terror" is fundamentally different from the way in which the United States and the world viewed "the enemy" in World War II.

Bush has told us any number of times that "this is a different kind of enemy and a different kind of war." He can't have it both ways. If terrorism is different in nature and kind from any enemy we have faced in the past; and if the way the world thought of war and conducted war in the past is completely outdated now, then Bush cannot go around comparing his invasion of Iraq to World War II. And in truth, there are no legitimate comparisons between the threat posed by the Nazis and the threat posed by terrorism. Terrorism is a strategy employed by individuals not connected to any particular country that uses random violence against civilian and military targets combined with a flexible, fluid, and decentralized infrastructure and internal organization to fight much more traditionally powerful enemies. Nazism was a political philosophy attached to a specific government within a specific nation. Terrorism is not. There is no way you can successfully fight terrorism by invading particular countries, as Nazism was successfully fought by attacking Germany and the countries that supported Germany.

People can argue over whether World War II, and the carnage it caused, could have been avoided by peaceful means; but there is no legitimate comparison between the moral imperatives of World War II and the morality of invading Iraq. Iraq invaded Kuwait 12 years before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and was forced out by the Persian Gulf War. Since then, Iraq has not invaded anyone, nor has it tried to, nor did it have the capacity to do so. Germany, Italy, and Japan were more or less a match for U.S. and British military power; they ultimately lost, but there was not a huge imbalance of power. Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, France, Belgium, Holland; and exterminated six million Jews and at least two million others. He would have exterminated the entire Jewish people if he had won the war.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein had nothing even remotely comparable to the military power that Germany had before and during World War II. Even more to the point, the relative power of the U.S. and Germany during World War II, and of the U.S. and Iraq before the U.S. invaded -- or at any time in the past decade and more -- are not even approximately analogous. Compared to the United States, Iraq was and is like an ant compared to an elephant.

Saddam Hussein headed a savage, oppressive, brutal regime -- but no more so than a dozen different governments whose brutality the U.S. has either aided or ignored: Indonesia, the Philippines, El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Cambodia, China, Rwanda, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and South Africa are just some that come to mind immediately. Hussein's Iraq was certainly no worse than any of these other countries; and didn't even begin to approach the level of evil or danger that Hitler's Germany did.

The United States and our allies were defending our national existences and our freedom in World War II, and trying to prevent an entire people from being wiped off the face of the earth. There is no similar threat to our national existence or freedom from Iraq. And though terrorism in general does pose such a threat, terrorism will never be successfully fought by invading nation after nation. In fact, that's a recipe for strengthening terrorism, as we are seeing in Iraq.

The truth is that, in Iraq, we are the aggressors. We are playing the role Germany played in World War II, aggressively and preemptively invading a country that was no threat to us and did absolutely nothing to harm us.

World War II was a war that was widely supported at the time; and that in the ensuing decades has taken on a mythic status that no other war in modern history, or arguably all of human history, can claim. That is why Pres. Bush has chosen to justify his unjustifiable war policy and defend his indefensible war of aggression against Iraq by linking it to World War II. It's a venal public relations ploy by a desperate president whose public support is sinking like a stone; and nothing else.

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