I spent inordinate parts of the Memorial Day weekend doing my part for global climate change by driving across the nation’s interstate highway system. Occasionally I would turn on the car radio, to check the news, listen to…
the other Chicago baseball team (the White Sox – first place AL Central), hear some music, and monitor talk radio. In each of these venues (news, talk, sports, and music), I was told repeatedly that I need to say a prayer of thanks for America’s “fallen heroes” in Iraq: United States soldiers who have been killed in the current war on that nation. My prayer, I was told, should express gratitude to these noble martyrs for two things: (1) dying to protect my American safety and freedom; (2) dying to spread freedom around the world.
I received this “patriotic” admonition from one baseball color analyst, one rock and roll disc jockey, one radio newscaster, three talk radio talk show hosts (including a sports talk host), and three radio talk show callers.
Sorry. I understand that many people joined the military and marched off to this war under the impression that they were protecting Americans’ safety and freedom at home and exporting democracy and freedom abroad.
My ability to offer a sincere “thank you” to America’s dead in Iraq is severely restricted, however, by three troubling facts. First, the Bush administration’s “self-defense” story line was a ruse. The illegal “preemptive” invasion of Iraq was a brazenly imperial occupation sold on the false pretext that that nation posed some kind of serious danger to Americans. Saddam’s severely weakened Iraqi regime posed no such threat. No WMDs were ever found in Iraq and there was no credible link shown between Saddam and al Qaeda.
We know that key administration and Pentagon insiders wanted to invade Iraq long before 9/11 provided them a glorious opportunty to attack the Middle East under the cover of a “war on terrorism” — a war that quickly shifted its focus from the difficult terrain of Afghanistan to softer and “easier targets” (Rumsfeld) in Iraq.
Second, the story line about freeing the Iraqi people and their neighbors in the name of democracy was and is a fairy tale. The American military occupation of Iraq persists without a timetable for withdrawal in the face of the Iraqi peoples’ clearly expressed desire for such a timetable and for a rapid American exit. The U.S. has “neo-liberalized the Iraqi economy without the consent of the Iraqi people” (as Edward S. Herman notes), turned Iraq into a projected permanent military base for U.S. forces, and otherwise assaulted Iraq’s capacity for meaningful democracy in numerous ways, including the opening up of its economy for transnational ownership.
The George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq is about flexing American military muscle and controlling the flow of Persian Gulf oil. It’s about Iraq’s possession of the world’s second largest known petroleum reserves and the immense strategic global (both economic and military) power than ensues from the ability to keep a military boot on the Middle Easter oil spigot. It’s all about empire.
Of course, the “export freedom” and “rescue Iraqis” narrative became the leading official story line behind “Operation Iraqi Freedom” after the “self-defense” narrative was publicly discredited.
It should also be noted that freedom probably can’t be meaningfully exported any other way than by example. And then it should be admitted that America (“the best democracy than money can [and did] buy”) has a lot of work do in that “good example” department.
Third, there’s this not-so little matter of the many tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians who have died so that Uncle Sam can try (not all that successfully) (a) to demonstrate his limitless military might and (b) secure greater control over scare global oil resources. We don’t hear very much in the United States about these anonymous, officially uncounted, and unworthyIraqi victims, who outnumber our precisely tabulated fatalities by a huge proportion.
For these and other reasons, any “thank you” to I could offer to the “fallen heroes” would only come out muffled and insincere. I can’t pull it off and I won’t try.
I will, however, offer some sincere apologies to American soldiers who have died in “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and to their survivors. I am sorry that I have not done more to stop the illegal, immoral, and imperialist invasion of Iraq.
I apologize for not doing more to resist the American war masters (in both the private and public sectors) who have sent often well-meaning American soldiers off to kill and die for richer and more powerful others’ profit and empire.
I am sorry that I have not done more to counter the toxic and authoritarian culture of militarism in American life or to divert American resources from war and empire to social justice at home and abroad. I am sorry that I haven’t done more to make the U.S. a meaningful positive example of democracy in action.
I’m sorry that I have not done more to intervene against the deceptive military recruiters and to provide meaningful alternatives to enlistment for the mostly poor and working class youth who get caught up in the military system.
I am sorry that I have not worked harder to counter and transform the poor quality and related corporate domination of our educational system, which leaves many recruits ill-prepared to evaluate and resist the endless reactionary propaganda that military recruiters, drill sergeants, fundamentalist preachers, high-school history and government teachers, parents, and dominant media authorities foist upon young minds in dark and confusing times.
I will honor the sacrifices of fallen Americans and Iraqis by dramatically raising the level of my resistance to the dangers posed by American militarism. That level has yet to become even remotely appropriate to the threat, and for that I am truly sorry.