April 3, 2003
The Indecency Of It All
The following conversation took place recently in a courtroom somewhere in America:
Judge: So what exactly happened?
Defendant: Well, your honor, I killed him.
Judge: And why did you do it?
Defendant: I was afraid that if I didn't kill him, he would kill me.
Judge: Had he threatened to kill you?
Defendant: Well, no, not really.
Judge: Had he ever attacked you in any way?
Defendant: No, your honor.
Judge: Had he ever threatened to physically attack you in any way?
Defendant: No sir.
Judge: Was there something about him physically that intimidated you?
Defendant: No, definitely not. As you can see, I'm a big, brawny guy. And he was small and relatively weak.
Judge: Well then, did he have friends that threatened or intimidated you?
Defendant: No, your honor. He didn't really have many friends.
Judge: Did he have any weapons?
Defendant: I was afraid that he might have.
Judge: But did you ever see any weapons? Did he ever threaten you with any weapons?
Defendant: No, your honor. I sent some friends of mine over to his house several times to look for them though.
Judge: And ... ?
Defendant: They didn't find anything.
Judge: And when you killed him ...? Were any weapons found at that time?
Defendant: No sir.
Judge: So he didn't actually have any weapons?
Defendant: Well, I think he kept them well hidden. I know that he used to have some.
Judge: Used to? When was that?
Defendant: Oh, about fifteen years ago. He had some then for sure.
Judge: For sure? What makes you so sure?
Defendant: Because I sold them to him.
Judge: But I thought you were afraid of him?
Defendant: I was.
Judge: I see. Did he live near you?
Defendant: No. He actually lived all the way on the other side of town. We never really had occasion to see each other.
Judge: So your paths didn't really cross on a regular basis?
Defendant: No, sir. Our paths didn't really cross at all.
Judge: So this guy never ventured over to your side of town? And he never threatened you in any way, and never attacked you in any way, either personally or through a surrogate, and yet you felt threatened enough by him that you felt justified in killing him? Is that about right?
Defendant: That is correct, your honor. Like I said, I was afraid that if I didn't kill him, he would kill me.
Judge: I see here that, according to the police report, you were found in the victim's home, standing over his dead body.
Defendant: That is correct.
Judge: So he didn't come looking for you -- you went looking for him? Is that correct?
Defendant: Yes, sir. I wanted to get to him before he got to me.
Judge: I see. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Defendant: Just that a year or two ago, I was assaulted.
Judge: By this same guy?
Defendant: No. By a different guy from a different neighborhood. That's what I told everyone, anyway.
Judge: And was this other guy a friend of the guy you killed?
Defendant: Oh, no. They hated each other.
Judge: So that assault had nothing to do with you feeling threatened by this other guy?
Defendant: No, not really.
Judge: Okay, then. This is clearly a case of self defense. You are free to go, sir.
Defendant: Thank you, your honor.
Did the judge make the right decision in this case? To any reasonable person, and to the vast majority of the world's people, the answer obviously is that he did not. But to a significant number of Americans, he did indeed.
Okay ... I know what you’re thinking: I’ve been promising for several weeks now to open the mailbag and, through your letters, revisit the September 11 attacks. And once again I am putting it off. The problem is, you see, that that same mailbag is now telling me that the topic du jour is the war in Iraq.
Actually, to be perfectly honest, the war isn’t really the most popular topic among the e-mails that are forever piling up in my in-box. It's probably about the fourth most popular topic. The top three are, in approximate order: penis enlargement, Viagra, and pornography.
For reasons that I don’t fully understand, there appear to be a good number of people out there who are convinced that the things I need to make my life complete are: (1) a larger penis, (2) a chronically erect penis, and (3) something for me and my large, erect penis to do with our spare time.
And I suppose that if you happened to be blessed - or cursed, whichever the case may be - with a large, chronically erect penis, you would have a lot of free time, since you probably wouldn’t get out much. What you would likely find, if you did venture out, is that those signs in places of business that say “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” really mean “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone sporting a large, erect penis.”
New subscribers (and there are quite a few of you, so let me take this opportunity to welcome you all aboard) are no doubt scratching their heads right now, thinking: “Didn’t I sign up to receive a political newsletter? I was kind of expecting to get some kind of enlightened commentary on this scary world we live in, and instead I get some guy talking about his penis! What’s up with that?”
Well … I’ll tell you what’s up with that: you get what you pay for, and in the case of this newsletter, you ain’t paying much. So, when all else fails, you get cheap dick jokes.
As for the war, the … uhmm …. uncharacteristically subdued television coverage continues to offer assurance that everything is right on schedule. Washington has a plan and they're following that plan and their plan is right on track and no one, quite frankly, can understand why anyone would think otherwise.
Meanwhile, all across America, people explain to pollsters: “Well, I mean, like, I totally supported the war and everything, because I think we have to, you know, free the Iraqi people from that madman, bin Laden, and we can’t just do nothing while he sells nukes to the North Koreans, but, you know, I didn’t think it was going to last all week.”
Elsewhere, fair-weather anti-war pundits nervously breathe a sigh of relief as the war appears to have quickly settled into quagmire status. The fear was, you see, that this war would be over quickly, thereby vindicating, somehow, the position of the pro-war crowd. In fact, it wasn't supposed to be a war at all; it was to be a quick and decisive occupation by brute force that within days would leave the ruling party vanquished and the entire country firmly under U.S. military control.
A lot of pro-war types were openly drooling at what was seen as the certainty of a quick collapse of Iraq under a U.S. military barrage. A quick victory coupled, preferably, with the discovery of chemical weapon stockpiles, was supposedly going to give all the right-wingers license to launch a merciless smear campaign against anyone who questioned, no matter how feebly, the Bush team's drive to war.
But no one has really bothered to offer up a rational explanation of why it is that a quick war would have been a justified war. And I must confess that I don't quite understand why it is that something should be done just because it can be done with relative ease. Wouldn't a quick and decisive victory have just demonstrated that Iraq was never a threat to us to begin with? Or is the principle of "might makes right" the only one that matters now?
The truth is that nothing that happens, or doesn't happen, during the course of this war can retroactively justify an unprovoked attack upon a sovereign nation -- an attack that violates the Nuremberg Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Charter, international criminal law, and domestic law (given that the U.S. Constitution expressly mandates that any international treaties that the U.S. is a signatory to shall be the law of the land).
I have to pause here briefly to note that my TV is tuned in to Fox News, as it has been for the last two weeks, and as I type these words the Fox team is providing some of the “fair and balanced” coverage that they are famous for.
You may be wondering why I have been making so many references lately to Fox News. The reason is that it is now my cable news network of choice -- because if I’m going to watch the news and be lied to, I want it to be ridiculously obvious that I am being lied to. And I have found that Fox doesn’t really tell any lies that everyone else on the air isn’t telling; they just tell them with a bit more panache.
I can’t really decide what exactly Fox News is. I know that it definitely isn’t an actual news service. That much is obvious. I am reasonably certain that it is either (a) an Orwellian, 24-hour-a-day, state-run propaganda broadcast, slickly produced but amateurish in presentation, or (b) a parody of the other cable ‘news’ services that, tragically, isn’t recognized for its over-the-top comedic brilliance.
It is now just before 1:00 AM (PST), March 29, and a Fox correspondent “embedded” with the troops “somewhere in Iraq” is being questioned by the studio anchor about how and where the troops relieve themselves in the field. That's the kind of thing, I guess, that weighs heavily on the minds of Fox viewers. I probably need to add here, by the way, that I am not making this up.
The field correspondent plays coy at first, noting only that there are no Porta-Potties out in the desert. He then reveals that troops have adopted a technique that involves using a folding shovel as a one-legged stool. A soldier standing by his side demonstrates the technique for the camera, though he has the class not to drop his pants, which is a good thing, as it turns out, since we get to zoom in tight for a live shot of the soldier's ass and the small patch of Iraqi ground that it is hovering over.
All across the Arab world, the cry goes up: “Look at that! The infidels are shitting all over Iraq!” And indeed we are, in more ways than one. But it takes Fox News to so graphically illustrate that fact.
About 15 minutes after that informative story airs, and after the Fox team laughs like a bunch of drunken frat boys over how funny it was, my favorite talking-head on the network makes an appearance. I’m talking, of course, about the Iraqi Minister of Information, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who is the only commentator to appear all week who has any credibility whatsoever.
Tonight, he is introduced by the smirking anchor as “Baghdad Bob.” As has become Fox’s custom, the Iraqi official is shown on a split screen; “Baghdad Bob” is given the smaller portion of the screen, while the larger portion is filled with scenes of shredded U.S. soldiers being offloaded from a cargo plane at Rammstein Air Force Base.
Al-Sahaf is cut off prematurely tonight, which is a shame because he was just getting revved up, and al-Sahaf's press briefings are far more candid and far more colorful than anything that comes out of Washington. The little that we did get to hear from al-Sahaf tonight was our "daily dose of Iraqi propaganda," according to the Fox anchor.
It is hard to imagine that anyone could accuse a 'news' network that reverently broadcasts statements from Washington and then unquestioningly repeats them 24 hours a day, and then allots the other side, with unbridled contempt, a few minutes in the middle-of-the-night, of not being "fair and balanced."
As for the tattered soldiers off-loaded at Rammstein, we are told that they will receive the best medical attention the world has to offer, which makes it okay, I suppose, that just a couple of weeks ago they hadn't the faintest clue that they would be leaving some of their limbs behind in Iraq.
There is no footage shown of the U.S. troops who are being off-loaded in body bags. Bad for morale, you know. I suppose that's why the media isn’t allowed anywhere near the remains of those who don’t make it back alive. Of course, it hasn't always been like that. As Reuters noted:
"In some past conflicts, news cameras and reporters were allowed to record the transfer of soldiers' remains at the Dover base, which houses the U.S. military's largest morgue. But a Defense Department spokeswoman said a policy in place since the 1991 Gulf War shields the return of war dead from the media spotlight and encourages family members not to attend. She said the policy was adopted at the urging of soldiers' families."
Being a bit of a cynic, I'm not entirely convinced that the new policy was instituted at the request of soldiers' families. I'm thinking that maybe it was to make sure that no one goes snooping around trying to do something unpatriotic -- like count the bodies. And having the families dropping by, when you think about it, isn't really such a good idea, since all those visitors might tip nosy people off as to the volume of bodies being processed at Dover.
The funny thing about the new policy is that, as strange as it may seem, it has actually resulted in substantially lower casualties for U.S. forces. Under the old system, as you may recall, lots of people would die when America went to war: nearly 300,000 in World War II and almost 60,000 in both Korea and Vietnam.
With the new system in place, however, we've gone to war in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and now back to Iraq, and through all of that we have only lost about twelve men, according to the Pentagon. And nine of those were due to mechanical failures. And the other three to friendly fire.
Speaking of which, one of the more bizarre aspects of the way in which wars are sold to the American people is the Pentagon's penchant for attributing 'coalition' deaths to 'friendly fire.' So determined is the propaganda machine to deny the 'enemy' the appearance of any competence, that it would rather place blame on American incompetence. Which isn't to say that friendly fire incidents aren't a common occurrence; they certainly are. But surely some of the casualties have been inflicted by the Iraqi military, no?
You would never know that from watching cable news coverage. To the extent that casualties are acknowledged, they are attributed to accidents, mechanical failures or friendly fire. In one particularly inspired use of disinformation, the downing of a 'coalition' jet was actually blamed on a Patriot missile. It's nice to know that we've finally found something that the Patriots are good at.
Speaking of casualties, by the way, Bill O’Liery - who even on the Fox network manages to stand out as a pompous ass, which is quite an accomplishment - made a rather remarkable claim on Friday evening. Going the extra mile to put the best possible spin on the progress of the war, O'Reilly employed some wonderfully creative accounting, along with some information that he claimed he had just received from his high-level intelligence connections, but which he very likely was making up on the spot, to come up with the following scorecard (as of March 28):
U.S. troops killed: 9
Iraqi troops killed: 25,000-35,000
Now that's the kind of lie that I like to be told. Big and bold and reckless and wild. The kind of lie that is so outlandish that if you allow yourself to accept it as fact, if you accept it as your daily ration of ‘news,’ then you can’t with any honesty say that you “just didn’t know.”
That is, more or less, the theme of a couple of responses that I received to the last newsletter. "Nick" wrote:
"MOST people - say 99.9% at the minimum - are avaricious, nasty, greedy, disgustingly perfidious, self centered and total assholes ... And if you don't start from there, analysis-wise, you just ain't starting. More than that, if you don't start from there it is almost impossible to ascribe to those who try, however humbly and ineffectually, to be less harmful than average ... anything like the respect their heroism deserves (or to the overwhelming multitude of others anything like the contempt they deserve) ... Those to whom you refer are not a few Freedom Fries short of a Happy Meal in the intellect department, but in the ethical department. In general, almost to a wo/man they know perfectly well that they're being lied to, and it suits them just fine to believe it."
I hate it when readers sugarcoat things like that. In a similar vein was this missive from "David":
" ... I've concluded that the notion that exposing the hypocrisy and lies of the US government will lead to enlightenment is a seriously wrongheaded strategy. Why? Because the majority of white Americans, the ones who support the war, realize at some level that they are privileged relative to the rest of the world, and that this privilege is based on the hegemony of the US. Therefore, they support whatever it takes to maintain that hegemony. If anything, they want to be lied to so they have a means to deny responsibility."
According to this view, the American people are willing partners in the grand charade. They know that the 'quality of life' they enjoy comes at the cost of the oppression and slaughter of millions, and that is okay just so long as Washington and its media whores supply the lies, no matter how thinly constructed, that allow them to live in a state of perpetual denial.
I must say that it is difficult to not take such a cynical view. Never before in history has a nation of people lent its support to such barbarity based on such poorly constructed lies. Never before in history has a nation of people lent its support to such barbarity based on lies that are, in this information age, so easily exposed as lies. And never before in history has a nation of people lent its support to such barbarity based on lies told by a leader sorely lacking in intelligence, charisma, and the ability to speak coherently in public.
If there is, in the future, to be any honest retelling of this historical period (which assumes, of course, that there will be a future in which "history" will have any meaning), then scholars will look upon Americans with a combination of revulsion and bewilderment unrivaled even by the scorn heaped on the German people after World War II.
How can a nation of people follow a course justified by such poorly constructed and poorly told lies when the entire world is signaling its opposition? Professor John McMurtry has spoken of the "silently regulating principles" of the "ruling group-mind" that afflicts America. One of those principals is that "America is always and necessarily right in all conflicts with other nations or peoples or social forces. This is not a truth which facts can disprove, because it is true by definition in the ruling group-mind. Disproving facts are irrelevant or of no consequence ..."
Is that because the disproving facts are already known or strongly suspected, but cannot be addressed because doing so would puncture the carefully constructed and maintained veil of willful ignorance?
As William Blum noted in Killing Hope, George Bernard Shaw used three concepts to describe individuals in Nazi Germany: intelligence, decency, and Nazism. An individual could posses any two of these characteristics, but never all three. A person could be a Nazi and intelligent, for instance, if he wasn't decent, and he could be a Nazi and decent if he wasn't intelligent. In other words, in order to be a Nazi, one had to be either unintelligent or indecent.
There is no question that those same principals apply to America today. A person cannot support the policies of the Bush administration unless said person is lacking in either intelligence or decency -- or, in the case of Bush himself, both. "I just didn't know" simply doesn't cut it when your proclaimed ignorance is based on lies that are an insult to the intelligence of a child.
Perhaps we have reached a point in history that will separate the decent from the indecent -- a time when the disconnect between the agenda being pursued and the interests of the people has grown so enormous that lies will only continue to sell the system to those who want to be lied to.
We are living in a time when the most popular cable 'news' channel spends less time delivering 'news' than it does openly serving as Washington's attack dog, viciously slandering anyone who challenges the artificially constructed reality ... a time when veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett is fired, once again, for doing nothing more than giving voice to what is perfectly obvious to everyone: that the Bush team's grand plan for a quick occupation of Iraq was a colossal failure. The lies are so fragile, you see, that even one dissenting voice can crack them.
The media hacks claim that they aren't attacking Arnett's right to free speech, merely the fact that he exercised that right on an Iraqi state-run propaganda channel. Of course, such arguments ring quite hollow, especially when the voices being raised to denounce Arnett are being aired on what is quite obviously an American state-run propaganda channel.
When crowds of cheering Iraqis failed to materialize to greet their 'liberators,' and in fact greeted them instead with small-arms fire and artillery barrages, the masters of the big lie didn't skip a beat -- they just gave the truth a few more stabs with that trusty dagger of evil (if you don't understand that reference, then you haven't been reading these newsletters long enough).
The Iraqi people want to warmly greet their 'liberators,' you see, and Iraqi military forces want to lay down their arms and knock back a few beers with the Yanks, but they are afraid to. Those fiendish and shadowy characters with the Fedayeen, in case you haven't heard, strike fear into the hearts of everyone, holding the people and the army in check.
That is why all the Iraqi people, from the Republican Guard troops, to the regular army troops, to irregular, paramilitary forces, to tribal alliances, right on down to rank-and-file armed civilians, have fiercely resisted the U.S. invasion -- not because the people are united in opposition to Western occupation, but because a handful of armed thugs are holding the nation hostage.
They do horrible things (http://homepage.eircom.net/~gulufuture/news/eating_babies030320.htm), like hold women and children hostage to force the men to fight. You have to wonder though how they worked out the logistics of holding all those hostages. And you have to wonder how it is that a force that reportedly numbers just 5,000-10,000 (according to the L.A. Times) could hold such power in a country of some 24 million people, a very high percentage of whom appear to be armed. What we are seeing then is tens of thousands of heavily armed 'liberators,' hundreds of thousands of armed Iraqi troops, and millions of armed civilians, all held hostage by a few hooded thugs. Go figure.
The United States has, for decades, played the role of the planet's resident bully. And like any bully, it has sought to get its way through projecting strength. But also like any bully, when it comes time for an actual fight, Uncle Sam has no interest in fighting on anything approaching a level playing field.
The 'coalition' comes riding into town in enormous tanks, accompanied by heavy artillery and a dizzying array of attack aircraft, and preceded by a barrage of remotely fired cruise missiles and countless planeloads of bombs and incendiaries, and then cries foul when the Iraqis proceed to defend themselves by whatever means they have at their disposal. Epithets such as "terrorists" and "homicide bombers" are tossed about, as if defending your home and country can ever be an act of terrorism, and as if killing an armed assailant can ever be an act of homicide. Hysterical accusations are hurled at other countries for allegedly supplying the Iraqis with military technology that, even if actually supplied, wouldn't even come close to closing the technology gap. Like any bully, America seeks to blame its failures on others.
As things now stand in Iraq, the U.S. could really use a chemical weapon attack. Nothing would make the Washington War Party happier than having a few units of 'coalition' forces, or some Iraqi civilians, come under chemical weapon fire. 'Finding' a cache of chemical weapons would be good also, but not as good as an actual chemical attack.
The 'coalition for the killing' would have already 'found' the prized booty, no doubt, if they had been able to actually secure any areas where they could credibly claim to have 'discovered' a chemical weapons factory. The problem is that the 40% (this figure varies from day to day) of the country that Washington likes to claim it 'controls' is barren desert that nobody lives in and nobody bothered to defend.
Putting together something that would pass for a chemical weapons factory in the middle of the Iraqi desert wouldn't be an easy task. And a lot of the world's people (including Russian officials: http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_221875,0005.htm) have already signaled that they are anticipating that the U.S. will fabricate evidence, so a blatantly manufactured 'discovery' would very likely backfire on the 'coalition' (internationally, that is; the American people would accept any flimsily constructed evidence).
But an actual chemical attack on U.S. troops or on Iraqi civilians, which the cable 'news' channels have been stridently warning of for days now, would solve a lot of problems for the Bush team. It would, first of all, allow all the warmongers to ruthlessly attack and silence their critics with a deafening chorus of "I told you so." It would devastate the anti-war movement. It would give any number of foreign heads-of-state the political cover to drop their opposition to Plan Bush. And, lest we forget, it would allow the war party to justify dramatically increasing the barbarity of the weapons and tactics used.
The problem is that the Iraqis have absolutely no reason to use chemical weapons, if in fact they even possess them in usable quantities. As U.S. military planners are well aware, chemical weapons are not practical, and certainly not reliable, battlefield weapons. The tactical advantage gained through deploying them would be negligible, and the response would be, almost certainly, a nuclear one.
The Iraqi leaders, it must be said, have outplayed their counterparts in Washington every step of the way. On the diplomatic front, they maneuvered for months around the numerous hurdles erected by the White House, thwarting numerous attempts by the Bush team to set up pretexts for war. Of course, the Bush boys aren't really much for that diplomatic stuff, so it's not surprising that they would be outplayed on that front. But the reality seems to be that they are also being outmaneuvered on the battlefield and on the PR front.
Iraq had a tremendous amount of global popular support and sympathy going into the war. That support and sympathy has grown considerably since the onset of the war, aided by the fact that Iraq has refrained from taking any of the actions that the U.S. propaganda machine warned of: no Scud missile attacks have been launched against Israel or Kuwait; there have been no attacks against Americans or American interests outside of Iraq; and there has been no indication that there are plans to deploy chemical weapons. It is extremely unlikely that Baghdad would toss all of its international support and goodwill out the window by launching a counterproductive chemical attack.
The U.S., of course, is already using a variety of banned weapons, including napalm, cluster bombs, and the ever-popular Depleted Uranium. The Iraqi people, and Gulf War I veterans, are already paying a heavy price for the DU used the last time (http://globalresearch.ca/articles/MOR303A.html). This time, it will be much worse. This time, the Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles and artillery pieces that are targeted by the DU rounds are positioned in and around civilian population centers -- and around tens of thousands of U.S. troops who will be following the DU rounds into the cities.
George Bush has now approved the use of tear gas, yet another banned weapon. And the 'rules of engagement' have been changed to allow troops much greater latitude (http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/apr2003/pows-a03.shtml and http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/apr2003/iraq-a02.shtml). Newscasts are filled with stories of volunteers spilling over the border to take up arms, or serve as suicide bombers, against the 'coalition.' Reports are now claiming that Iraq is rapidly running out of actual soldiers. Rumsfeld himself has just taken to the airwaves to proclaim that very soon, all Iraqi military forces will be vanquished and the only resistance remaining in the country will be from "war criminals."
Imagine that. An entire country full of war criminals. Millions of them. It couldn't be any more obvious where this propaganda blitz is headed. The American people are smart enough to figure it out.
But are they decent enough?
[A couple of websites well worth a visit: daily reports on the progress of the war that are said to be based on Russian intelligence intercepts (http://www.aeronautics.ru/news/news002/iraqwar_ru_019.htm) and a running tally of Iraqi civilian casualties (http://www.iraqbodycount.net/bodycount.htm)]