Revolution #52, June 25, 2006
A July 4 Challenge
“The American soldiers came into our house at 7 o’clock in the morning. We were awake but still wearing our nightclothes… I heard explosions by the door. The Americans came into the room where my father was praying and shot him. They went to my grandmother and killed her too. I heard an explosion. They threw a grenade under my grandfather’s bed.”
Eman Walid Abdul-Hameed is nine years old. She lives in the village of Haditha, in Iraq, and gave the above testimony to the BBC about the November 2005 massacre by U.S. soldiers who killed 24 in her village.
But Eman is only part of the story. Her murdered father and her murdered grandparents too—only part of the story. Only part of a war that’s been all about massive artillery and air strikes to “soften up” villages; kicking down the doors of houses and murdering the people who lived inside them; leveling a whole city—Falluja—in revenge; and torturing people, even to death, in prisons. Only part of, in other words, America’s current “war on terror.”
Only part, even, of America’s history with Iraq itself.
There was America’s policy of supporting and then prolonging the war launched by Saddam Hussein against Iran in 1980, at a time when the U.S. wanted to see Iran’s new rulers punished and contained for its conflict with the U.S., but when America did not have the flexibility to do so itself (in large part because it was preparing for a possible world war showdown with its imperialist rival, the Soviet Union). Larry Everest’s Oil, Power & Empire documents U.S. covert support for Iraq’s invasion, followed by nearly a decade of supporting each side in different ways. The support for Hussein included the shipping of seven strains of the deadly anthrax virus by U.S. firms to Iraq for use in warfare, it included millions of dollars in aid, and it was nailed down in two visits from the infamous Donald Rumsfeld—then a “special envoy” and now Secretary of Defense—to Hussein himself. (The fact that the U.S. is now behind the trial of Hussein for war crimes is beyond hypocritical.) U.S. intelligence was provided to Iraq when Iran seemed to be getting the upper hand—and then U.S. arms were shipped to Iran, usually through Israel, when Iraq got too far in front.
Henry Kissinger, then out of office, explained U.S. policy this way: “We hope they kill one another.”
He got his wish.
The toll of the war in soldiers alone was 367,000 dead from both sides, and another one million wounded. The toll in civilians is uncounted—though estimates of those who were murdered in Iraqi army rampages through Kurdish villages as the war wound down range around 60,000 people.
In 1990, Hussein again invaded another country—Kuwait. But things had changed: the U.S. no longer needed to worry about a Soviet Union that was heading into collapse, nor did it regard the thoroughly subservient Kuwait in the same way as it had Iran. Most of all, the U.S. could not be challenged by one former client invading another “without permission.” Iraq would now serve as an example of what happens when you defy the Godfather.
Once again, the toll was horrendous. U.S. troops killed at least 100,000 Iraqi soldiers—most of them while in retreat and disarray, and some of them killed in cold blood after they had disarmed and even after the ceasefire (this was exposed by the journalist Seymour Hersh, who had broken the original story of the My Lai massacre). Neither the U.S. nor the Iraq governments estimated civilian deaths, but Greenpeace put the figure at between 5,000 and 15,000—including 408 in the Amiriya air-raid shelter in Baghdad.
And that’s not the worst of it. During the war, in a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. bombed Iraq’s electrical grid, power stations and dams, virtually destroying its water and sewage treatment systems. After the war, the U.S., acting through the UN, imposed economic sanctions on Iraq that made it impossible to replace or repair those systems. The death rate for children under five years old skyrocketed. By 1996, estimates were that at least 5,000 more Iraqi children a month were dying than in 1989, the year before the war.
In 1996, after five years of these sanctions, when people—especially those in power—knew what was going on, Madeleine Albright, the U.S. Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, went on 60 Minutes for an interview. Madeleine Albright is the kind of “realistic liberal Democrat” so many people who aspire to something better all too often put their hopes in, and Lesley Stahl put the question to her:
“We have heard that a half million children have died [from the sanctions on Iraq]. I mean, that’s more than died in Hiroshima. And, and you know, is the price worth it?”
And Albright replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.”
Think about who paid that price, at the half million funerals, and during the excruciating weeks and months preceding the funerals. Think about who set the price, and by what cruel calculus they decided it was worth it. And if the sheer numbers make you numb, then look again at the picture on this page of Eman Walid Abdul-Hameed, and try to multiply her by half a million.
Think of the carnage, think of the social destruction for which the U.S. is responsible in just this one country, over the brief span of a few decades. Think of the way in which the U.S. will demand that other regimes—when it suits America’s highly selective purposes—be brought to trial for genocide, while the U.S. in Iraq has easily equaled and in most cases surpassed these regimes for murder and destruction.
This issue of Revolution will be out around the Fourth of July, a time when a lot of people—including a lot of progressive people—will get sentimental about the “promise of America.” Many of them will admit—they will even target and expose—some of the crimes and the horrors that have been carried out by this government. They may criticize the daily ongoing repression and suppression in American society, and point to the hypocrisy of politicians of all stripes. But all too many will still return to, even cling to, a sort of bedrock belief that these horrors are somehow anomalies—departures from the real essence of America, departures from its “democratic ideals.”
So let us pose a challenge. Spin a globe. Take almost any area in Latin America, Africa or Asia and try to find a place where you could not find a similar—and in many cases an even worse—record of American brutality, murder and horror. From Central Asia to southern Africa; from Central America and the Caribbean to Indonesia; from the Congo to Southeast Asia to the Philippines…and beyond.
Or take any decade in U.S. history over the past 100 or so years, and show us a time—just a ten-year stretch even—when the U.S. has NOT been murdering people wholesale, or financially and politically sponsoring such murder (either through puppets or proxies), or carrying out military aggression or occupation in one or another oppressed nation. We don’t think you can.
If we are right, then can you really tell yourself (or others) that this repeated and pervasive behavior is NOT systemic? Can you tell yourself that each of these mountain of outrages is an exception, a case of a “fundamentally good society” gone astray from its promise and ideals? When atrocities are that repeated and that widespread and, frankly, that unmatched on a world scale—can you tell yourself that there is NOT something at the root of it, at the foundation, that drives the madness forward?
Or must you not instead confront the reality, fully, and set about analyzing the problem…and finding the solution?
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