On Feb. 10, 2003, the headline of my hometown tabloid, the New York Post, was a single word: SACRIFICE. Below was a photo of the American Cemetery in Normandy, France. To the right (in more ways than one), columnist Steve Dunleavy began his discourse: “As I gaze out at this cemetery-the final resting place of nearly 10,000 American kids who made the ultimate sacrifice to save France from Hitler-my heart fills with rage. Where are French now, as Americans prepare to put their soldiers on the line to fight today’s Hitler, Saddam Hussein? Talking appeasement. Wimping out. How can they have forgotten?”
In one short paragraph, Dunleavy had managed to tie together a wide swath of tried and true propaganda tactics. The dead are ” kids who made the ultimate sacrifice.” They weren’t drafted into a war to kill other humans; they set out to “save France from Hitler.” Since Saddam Hussein is “today’s Hitler,” the mistake of “appeasement” could only be made those who have “forgotten” old lessons. “Comparing the leader with Hitler is a good start because of the instant images that Hitler’s name provokes,” explains historian Phillip Knightley.
Vanquishing the epitome of evil has granted Uncle Sam and his boys the freedom to intervene practically at will across the globe ever since. After all, who could question U.S. motives when it saved the world from Hitler? This humanitarian spin, forged on the battlefields of the Second World War, cloaks U.S. policy in the benevolent robes of “The Good War.”
Another current similarity to WWII is the patronizing and racist presupposition that the Iraqis are either unwilling or unable to challenge American might. After a day of “unexpected” setbacks (March 23, 2003), however, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff changed his tune, admitting: “Clearly they are not a beaten force. This is going to get a lot harder.”
This brings to mind U.S. attitudes towards the Japanese before Pearl Harbor. With clear signals that Japan was planning what Dubya might dub a “preemptive war,” why were the Americans caught with their pants down on December 7? Never underestimate the collective power of arrogance and bigotry: “Many Americans, including Roosevelt, dismissed the Japanese as combat pilots because they were all presumed to be ‘near-sighted’,” writes Kenneth C. Davis. “There was also a sense that any attack on Pearl Harbor would be easily repulsed.”
Anti-war protestors in Germany took notice of a third Good War parallel when they held up signs that compared Baghdad to Dresden. The terror bombing of large cities (Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, etc.) is nothing new. The U.S. engaged in “shock and awe” campaigns long before the term was coined. As Huxley said, “The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” Once your opponent has been demonized, such behavior is not only accepted; it’s demanded.
After WWII, the much-ballyhooed Marshall Plan served to line the pockets of U.S. corporations through lucrative reconstruction contracts. Europe was provided with over $12 billion in loans and grants between 1948 and 1951. In 1949 alone, one-third of U.S. exports to Europe was paid for with Marshall Plan funds.
A March 23, 2003 New York Times article entitled, “Which Companies Will Put Iraq Back Together?” brought us back to the future as reporter Diana B. Henriques declared: “War began last week. Reconstruction starts this week. That, at least, is how it looks to government contract officers, who in the coming days plan to give American companies the first contracts to rebuild Iraq, a task that experts say could eventually cost $25 billion to $100 billion… The United States plans to retain control over the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, allowing the administration to decide how it will spend the money needed to repair the country… The companies that have been invited to bid on the work include some of the nation’s largest and most politically connected construction businesses. Among them are Halliburton, where Vice President Dick Cheney served as chief executive from 1995 until mid-2000; the Bechtel Group, whose ranks have included several Republican cabinet alumni; and Fluor, which has ties to several former top government intelligence and Pentagon procurement officials.”
There is one more1945/2003 connection I’d like to end with:
Since 1989, we’ve lived in a one-superpower world. While pining for the Evil Empire-its fail-safe excuse for foreign entanglement-the United States has predictably intensified its already prodigious rate of military interventions. Eschewing the standard M.O. of secrecy and disinformation, post-Cold War presidents have become increasingly bold in detailing their war crimes before they are even committed. Such arrogance can only be chalked up to a feeling of invulnerability that comes with being the only muscle on the block.
Concurrently, the unfortunately-named “anti-globalization” movement has taken center stage, forcing corporate heads to re-think where and when they meet. Also, as the build-up in Iraq commenced, peace rallies of astonishing size have been held in cities across the globe. The largest peace movement in the history of mankind is in full effect…today.
The U.S. came out of WWII in a position of unprecedented power but soon found itself butting heads with a second superpower. Post-Iraq, American leaders and their corporate owners also have a superpower to contend with-the people-and this Cold War will be much different.
Mickey Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet (www.murderingofmyyears.com ) and an editor at Wide Angle (www.wideangleny.com ). He can be reached at: [email protected] .