Toward the End of War
On February 15-16, 2003, an almost miraculous event took place. Millions of people in over 60 cities across the globe took to the streets and, in a unified voice, protested a war that had not yet begun. While the Bush administration was beating the drums of pre-emptive war, as many as ten million people worked toward pre-emptive peace. Nothing like this had ever happened before, a global protest to keep an unjust war from happening. It is my belief that, at that moment, we saw the beginning of a paradigm shift that may, albeit in the distant future, create an environment in which politicians and power brokers dare not even consider justifying war to secure their ends. In that distant future, a future where parents never have to suffer the pain of sacrificing their children to bombs and bullets and poison, I believe that historians will locate the realistic conceptualization of a world without war on February 15, 2003.
I was proud to be a small part of that giant movement. Like many others, I did not just take to the streets and wave signs. We networked, sharing information and intelligence with each other. Then we endeavored to share this information with others. The goal was to educate as many people as we could to the lies being spread and the fear perpetuated as a justification of the war. Of course, the mainstream press was no help in this endeavor. News sources from the New York Times to the big four networks were marching to the steady beat of official propaganda. Dan Rather, one of the biggest names in news at that time affirmed just after 9/11 that “George Bush is the President, he makes the decisions and you know, as just one American wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where,” forever tarnishing his reputation as a journalist.¹ After all, wars sell advertising space.
Before the lead up to war I wrote numerous letters and guest editorials to the local paper. Usually I wrote on environmental issues, but also addressed politics and human rights. I was even receiving letters from local people appreciating my liberal perspectivea rarity in South Floridaas if I had a nascent fan base growing. My essays were never rejected from the local paper and rarely ever edited for anything more than a misplaced comma or my penchant for passive voice. I was even asked to sit on a community panel to help plan the future of the paper.
When President Bush started beating the war drum, and I submitted essays contradicting the administration’s claims, however, a strange thing happened. Most of what I wrote appeared in the paper heavily redacted and cut (presumably to make it fit into the editorial scheme). Eventually, the paper stopped printing my essays altogether. The last piece I wrote was based on interviews I saw with weapons inspectors and experts who were familiar with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capacityor rather incapacity. These inspectors destroyed the Bush case for war, a case built upon the claim of WMD’s in the hands of a madman intent on America’s destruction. What these experts had to say, however, appeared nowhere in the mainstream media, including our local paper. My essay was never published.
Of course, that’s one of the ultimate lessons of war. War thrives on lies and ignorance and smothers any truth that might deny the creature its devious nourishment. The Iraq War is the ultimate example of such monstrous policy devouring a nation’s prosperity, posterity and reputation among nations. The entire war was built on lies from the start, and these lies weren’t well hidden as is the case with most other wars. No, the Bush lies were right out in the open for anyone who had a heart and a mind to see.
It should have come as no surprise that the United States would end up in another war with Iraq². One of President Bush’s first official acts as Commander in Chief was bombing Iraq, two years to the day before the afore mentioned global protest. After 9/11, Bush wanted nothing more than to pin the terrorist attacks on Saddam Hussein. He instructed Richard Clarke, Chairman of the Counter Terrorism Security Group and National Security Council Advisor, to find evidence linking the 9/11 attacks to Saddam Hussein. When Clarke wrote up his investigations, he concluded that there was no such link. The memo was returned with a note stating “Please update and resubmit.” When Clarke went public with Bush’s obsession with Suddam Hussein he was denounced as a liar
until it was clear that Bush was, in fact, the liar in this case.
The Bush Administration mantra on pre-emptive war was best summarized by Donald Rumsfeld’s brilliant observation that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Of course, he was right; but absence of evidence was still
absent evidence. Despite lacking evidence, the Bush Administration marched in lock step to the drums of war. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice joined the mushroom cloud chorus of fear-mongers. She reminded us repeatedly that we don’t want the “evidence” to be presented as a mushroom cloud over a major American city.
Everywhere the Bush cabal went, and in every speech given, the phantom specter of the mushroom cloud was invoked. After 9/11 this was the best kind of psychological warfare to aim at citizens already shaken by the sudden realization of their vulnerability. Bush Co. played it perfectly. They played up the Axis of Evil card and invoked imagery from The Day After. Fear is the most fertile field in which to sow your lies. People reacting to fear are not thinking, they are searching for safety, searching for protection, running like children into the waiting arms of tyrants. There was Bush and Cheney, daddy and grand-pa, waiting with open arms.
Bush claimed that Hussein was reinvesting in a nuclear weapons program. He offered aluminum tubing as evidence. The aluminum tubing turned out to be, well, just aluminum tubing not suited for nuclear technology. The administration claimed that Iraq had attempted to purchase “yellow cake” uranium to be used in his mythical nuclear weapons program. When US Ambassador Joseph Wilson blew the whistle on the false allegation the Bush Administration responded by denouncing Wilson and exposing his wife, a CIA Operations Officer named Valery Plame, perhaps endangering the lives of countless other agents working with her. But since her husband tried to shed light on the shadow loving lies of the Bush Administration, she was “fair game.”
Lies stain everything, and everyone they touch. When President Bush announced that Colin Powell would be his Secretary of State, even stalwart liberals like me hoped that the general, famous for his character and clear mindedness,³ might provide a moderating voice of reason in what was otherwise a right wing cult. The unimpeachable character of Secretary Powell was irreparably impeached after his presentation of lies delivered to the entire world via a UN council. When UN Chief Inspector Has Blix annihilated Powell’s credibility about a week later the Bush Administration and the media dismissed his assertions. Just because Blix had actually visited the places in Powell’s satellite photos, finding nothing, could not, as far as the media was concerned, take away from Powell’s “slam dunk” case against Iraq.
The lies continued with assertions that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden. Like the mushroom cloud mantra, no speech that included the name Saddam Hussein and Iraq excluded bin Laden and al Qaeda. The American public was told that Saddam had provided protection and training to al Qaeda. That he and Saddam were secret buddies making backroom deals to get the great Satan America. Of course, we can’t leave out the ultimate psychotic rhetorical mash-up. Once Saddam Hussein got his hands on nuclear weapons, he wouldn’t hesitate to hand them over to his BFF bin Laden. More lies. Bin Laden hated Hussein’s secularism, calling him an infidel. All claims linking bin Laden to Hussein, to secret meetings between Iraqi ministers and al Qaeda operatives were all lies.
When Bush finally ordered the invasion of Iraq he announced that the United States had done everything we could to avoid war. He claimed that Saddam had refused to give up his weapons of mass destruction. Of course, this could be explained by the fact that Hussein did not, in fact, have weapons of mass destruction to give up. It’s like expecting someone to prove he did not steal your wallet. He claimed that Hussein refused to cooperation with weapons inspectors. This was also a lie according to the actual inspectors. Donald Rumsfeld stated with stumbling boldness that the administration knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. They were around Tikrit, “east, west, south and north somewhat.” You don’t get any clearer than that
at least not from Rumsfeld. Fortunately, there was nothing to worry about anyway because the Iraqi people would welcome us with open arms. They would throw rose petals at the feet of our soldiers. They’d forget about the fact that we’d been bombing and starving them for twelve years before we even bothered to invade them. (Okay, I threw that last sentence in there, but the rest comes from the Bush Administration).
Finally, we’ve learned that lies don’t die easily, especially when they clearly demonstrate our own stupidity. Today the paradigms explaining the invasion of Iraq conspicuously avoid mention of weapons of mass destruction and dissembling about al Qaeda. Instead, the politicians and the media lap-dogs (or the other way around, it’s getting hard to tell anymore) reminisce about how the United States selflessly entered Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people from their bloody tyrant. We muse about how US soldiers hung around for over eight years to make sure that the Iraqi people were all snug and toasty in their fresh democratic sheets before we finally turned out the lights this month. We bemoan how unfortunate it was that our best intelligence at the time showed that Iraq had WMD. Had we only known that this evidence was spurious we would never have undertaken such a costly mission. These claims are lies. And these lies are working. Essays from my high school students demonstrate that they accept these fables without criticism.
The litany of lies that we can attribute to the Iraq war are just too many to mention in a simple blog post such as this. Today we all applaud the end of this miserable war and the removal of US troops from Iraq. Absent from our discussion is the continued presence of thousands of mercenaries paid by the State Department who will now pick up where American soldiers left off. Who are these people, and to whom do they answer? They will represent the United States, you and me, before the world yet are not accountable to you.
And now that we have Iraq out of the way, we can hear in the distance, the crescendo of
more war drums. This time they beat for Iran. As the pundits tighten the skins and the war hawks in Congress sharpen their arguments we the people must always remember that war is a lie. It’s conceived in lies, it grows and develops in lies and even after the war ends, the lies live on. Let’s build on the movement of February 15, 2003. Let’s not fall for another lie.
¹ Rather’s loyalty to the Bush Administration during this time of crisis was repaid when his reasonable inquiries into George Bush’s questionable military history was smashed when it was discovered he had unknowingly used forged documents to make his case. Though the story was still relevant, and the facts indisputable even without the forged documents, Rather was ridiculed and humiliated, his career as a major journalist brought to an end. That’s what “getting in line” will earn you.
²An official war, that is, not the twelve years of bombing and inhuman sanctions that was the US/British policy for twelve years before the actual war started. Let’s not be mistaken.
³Whether Powell actually deserved such a reputation is an issue outside of the topic for this essay.