Big City Columnist Rejects Chance to Tell the Truth About U.S. Policy

If only more American journalists would fulfill the mission of their profession by consisitently working to discover and tell the truth, then maybe more young American soldiers can be saved from needless deaths. For a case in point, I recommend a recent article titled “Marine’s Parents Reject the Chance to Politicize Death” by the Chicago Tribune’s regular John Kass (1). In this interesting commentary, Kass applauds Roy and Georgette Frank of Elk Grove Village (a Chicago suburb) for refusing to join other bereaved parents in criticizing the policies that led to the death of their children.

When reporters asked Roy Frank if their son Phil “died in vain” when we he was killed in Iraq earlier this month, Roy, according to Kass, said “No. The only circumstance I could ever imagine where I could say that my son died in vain is if the United States turned around from that country [Iraq, P.S.] and did not complete the mission to free those people and to make that government independent.” Kass likes this very much.

He also likes Roy and Georgette Franks’ refusal to criticize parents who “react angrily, even politically” to the sacrifice of their children on the altar of empire. “I can’t fault those people,” Georgette told Kass. “That’s their opinion – that’s what America is all about. That’s what my son went to bring over there, so that somebody in Iraq could stand up and say, ‘I don’t agree with the way you’re doing this,’ without ending up in a torture chamber or watching his daughter get raped.” “When Phil left for Iraq,” Georgette added, “he left with such determination and purpose and he was so clear thinking about where he was going, why he was going. He said, ‘No matter what happens, remember I’m doing exactly what I want to do. I’m with the corps that I love and I will go where I’m needed.’ His final words were ‘no matter what.’”

It doesn’t enter Kass’s mind that the Franks’ comments, spoken to a writer from a major circulation newspaper, are themselves profoundly political and ideological. That’s because Kass takes the highly questionable notion that the U.S. is in Iraq to install democracy as obvious background to serious discussion. The reality, well understood everywhere else in the world except (thanks in part to privileged media functionaries like Kass) the U.S., is rather different.

Switching Pretexts

Kass is known for excellent research and biting commentary on the city’s current Democratic Mayor-for-life Richard M. Daley, son of the city’s previous Democratic Mayor-for-life Richard J. Daley. He has a special passion and flair for exploring and exposing the arrogance, corruption, and hypocrisy of City Hall. It’s a shame he doesn’t extend this same passion to the national stage, where the egotism and duplicity of another beneficiary of American electoral primogeniture – George W. Bush – produces catastrophe on a global scale.

One topic for him to honestly investigate is the disturbing shift in the Bush administration’s rhetoric about the reasons for the war that killed Phil Frank. Until the fall of 2003, the basic argument by which the invasion of Iraq was sold to the American public was that Saddam Hussein possessed and was ready and willing to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against Americans and/or to give such weapons to Islamic terrorists. Along the way, the White House and its obedient “mainstream” (corporate-state) media partners managed to merge Iraq with 9/11 and al Qaeda, in one of the greatest false conflations in the history of imperialist public relations.

When this argument unraveled in the face of the non-evidence (the missing WMD), the White House simply revised history and switched the pretexts, emphasizing a noble “forward strategy of freedom.” The invasion, we were told, was not actually about weapons of mass destruction – Saddam handing off nukes to bin-Laden – but about America’s noble determination to turn the Middle East into “a sea of democracies, thus draining the swamp of tyranny in which terrorism grows.” (2) The media went along, refusing to question the sincerity of a blatantly Orwellian White House that so abruptly – and disingenuously (see below) – changed the rationale for the monumental decision to invade and occupy Iraq.

The Record of Imperial Occupation to Date

Another topic Kass might wish to investigate is the record of imperial and American occupations in the Third World. As distinguished historian Howard Zinn recently noted, those actions “bring neither democracy nor security. The long U.S. occupation of the Phillipiness, following a bloody war in which America troops finally subdued the Filipino independence movement, did not lead to democracy, but rather to a succession of dictatorships, ending with Fernando Marcos. The long U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) and the Dominican Republic (1916-1926) led only to military rule and corruption in both countries”(3).

Kass should look more closely at current U.S. policy in Iraq, which has nothing to do with freeing Iraqis and making them independent. The current Iraqi uprising has been sparked primarily by Bush II’s determination to dominate Iraq economically, politically, and militarily. American forces are overseeing what Stephen Shalom rightly calls “the corporate looting of Iraq.” The primary benefits of U.S.-mandated privatization and neo-liberal economic management (including the opening of the country to foreign ownership) in Iraq are falling to principally U.S.-based transnational firms like Haliburton and Bechtel. Meanwhile, the U.S. is building a number of large, long-term military bases to be maintained in “liberated” Iraq into the indefinite future, and will construct a massive U.S. embassy to be headed by a legendarily authoritarian and blood-soaked ambassador from the Reagan era (John Negroponte). Since the majority of Iraqis have no special self-hating desire to hand over their lives, resources, and nation to the great white Christian-capitalist-imperialists from the U.S., the U.S. has no intent of truly transferring substantive sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30th 2004 or any time soon(4).

The independence granted to Iraq will be nominal at best, richly consistent with prior British efforts to cover their colonial domination of the Middle East with what they called an “Arab façade.” As Noam Chomsky rightly asks, “what was the point of invading if you don’t end up with a client state in which you can have a strong military presence and major diplomatic presence which will extend US control over what the State Department described sixty years ago as a ‘stupendous source of strategic power and the greatest material prize in world history,’ namely Middle East energy resources, a lever of world control” (5).

The Reality of the Bush Doctrine: The Quest for Global Dominance

Looking beyond Iraq, Kass could find other numerous U.S. policies that question the depth and degree of the Bush administration’s concern for freedom, independence, and democracy in foreign lands. Among those policies we might include America’s provision of $50 million in financial aid and $12 million in military assistance to the Islam Karimov dictatorship in Uzbekistan – known among other things for boiling dissidents alive – and comparable sums to the repressive government of Indonesia. The Bush administration’s “freedom forward” strategy also includes looking the other way to maintain strong alliances with Beijing and Moscow as China and Russia continue to brutally repress Muslims across Eurasia(6).

Kass might also want to review a pivotal document issued in September 2002: the White House’s National Security Strategy of the United States (NSS). The NSS, the formal embodiment of the Bush Doctrine, announced a “new” international and military doctrine for the United States. It embraced an openly aggressive foreign policy based on the idea that “the best defense is a good offense” and expressed brazen disregard for international law and opinion when such law and opinion do not suit American interests. It officially endorsed so called “pre-emptive” assaults on (in essence) any all perceived enemies and proclaims the U.S. as the world’s self-appointed gendarme, uniquely qualified to launch “preventive” wars of its own choosing. It advances America’s right to attack other “sovereign” nations when foreign governments fail to meet their “sovereign responsibilities,” as determined by the world’s super-state the United States.

It is a brazen blueprint for total U.S. global dominance through unilateral action and military superiority, and it’s about much more than just Iraq. And among other things, the invasion of that weak and desperate land was intended to demonstrate America’s ability to effectively implement the Bush Doctrine, dedicated to the notion that political power grows out of the barrel of an American gun (7).

Exploiting GI’s Good Intentions

Phil Frank may well have gone to Iraq with a noble personal agenda to help free Iraq. The tragic larger reality is that U.S. soldiers’ good intentions – ie to protect Americans from terrorism and/or to advance freedom and independence abroad – are being shamelessly exploited by the White House. These troops are “being forced,” Howard Zinn notes, “to kill, maim, and imprison innocent people, becoming pawns of an imperial power after they were deceived into believing they were fighting for freedom, democracy, and against tyranny” (8).

Some might wish to blame Mr. and Mrs. Frank for the death of their son. This is not fair. True, if they had known more about U.S. policy, past and present (one might argue), they could have inoculated him against joining the Marines and embracing its mission “no matter what.” They could have given him something more in the way of that basic “bullshit detector” (Ernest Hemingway’s excellent term) that citizens need when listening to American politcians and policymakers, from City Hall to the White House.

But if the Franks are like most of the predominantly working-class GI parents in America, they depend on relatively privileged people in the media, including smart big-city columnists like John Kass, to doggedly discover and disseminate the truth about things that matter. Their need goes tragically unmet, reflecting the profound moral and intellectual limits of what passes for independent journalism in an age of interlocked corporate-state media conglomeration.

Who is killing US GIs in Iraq? The ultimate butchers, the high-state first-degree murderers – the real “masters of war” – reside in the White House and the Pentagon and the upper echelons of the leading U.S. military and media firms. But there are also lesser culprits, who can be fairly accused of a type of imperial manslaughter, so to speak. These more in-between perpetrators include insufficiently critical media professionals, people like John Kass, whose loyalty to state doctrine combines with the powerful reach of corporate communications to advance an Orwellian project that exacts a terrible bloody price at home and abroad.

Paul Street ([email protected] [email protected]>) is an urban social policy researcher in Chicago, Illinois. See his new ZNet blog, “Empire and Inequality,” linked off ZNet’s top page.


1. John Kass, “Marine’s Parents Reject the Chance to Politicize Death, Chicago Tribune (April 23, 2004), sec. 1. p.2.

2. Matthew Ygesias, “Freedom Fraud,” American Prospect (May 2004), p. 22.

3. Zinn, “What Do We do Now?” The Progressive, May 2004, available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm? SectionID=15&ItemID=5404

4. Stephen Shalom, “Where Do We Go From Here? The Antiwar Movement and the Occupation of Iraq,” ZNet, April 25, 2004, available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=5398).

5. Simon Mars, An Interview with Noam Chomsky,” Dissident Voice [April 24, 2004], available online at www.dissidentvoice.org/April2004/Mars0424.htm.

6. Yglesias, “Freedom Fraud”).

7. The National Security Strategy is available online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.pdf..

8. Zinn, “What Do We Do Now?”

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