Scholars to Working America:

“We’re Not Supposed to Be Doing This to Our Kids”

Ordinary working people without advanced degrees and professional titles in Griffith, Indiana get it: the United States occupation of Iraq is a reckless mission that is costing young Americans their lives for reasons that U.S. leaders have failed to make clear. Support for the troops is not the same as supporting the occupation.

A recent front-page Chicago Tribune story on the town’s reaction to the recent deaths of two local young men – Duane Rios and John Amos II – in Iraq shows that many Griffith residents are having second and third thoughts about the imperialist adventure that has claimed two of their young.

We might want to listen to their reflections. Towns like Griffith provide the “homeland” blood that flows beneath the wheels of imperial statecraft.

According to one of Amos’ high school friends, a 22-year old Griffith plumber, “they went over to the war for a good reason. But now they are dying for no reason.” Another of Amos II’s buddies, a “burly19-yeard old” who is “studying for his real estate license,” says he “was supportive of John, but not the war” – a position he finds validated by recent events.

By the estimation of Larry Horvatz, a 56-year old Vietnam veteran who heads the local American Legion, many in working-class Griffith who “might have been in favor of the war before are wondering, ‘did we do the right thing?.” “If we’re having doubts,” Horvatz told Glauber, “others are too.” Griffith, Glauber notes, is a patriotic town, one that “takes pride” in “service to the nation” and displays a large number of American flags and yellow ribbons.

Bev Wortney is a 45-year-old secretary from Griffith. She and her husband Glen, a 47-year old bricklayer, feel validated in their initial opposition to George W. Bush’s war by observing their son after his return from a year in Iraq. “He looked so tired,” Bev observes, and “older. He doesn’t talk much, didn’t want to talk much about what he experienced.” “From what I can tell,” Glen told Glauber, the Iraqis his son was supposed to be liberating “hate our guts,” something that makes Mr. Wortney wonder if we should “get the hell out of there.”

Gaylin Somers is a “feisty” 42-year old woman who “runs a bar” in Griffith and who’s 22-year old son also recently returned from the war. “When you lose more men after the declared major combat is over,” she told the Tribune, “there is a problem. These are our babies. We’re not supposed to be doing this to our kids” (Bill Glauber, “Indiana Town is Torn by War, Duty,” Chicago Tribune, 11 April 2004, p. 1)


The Totalitarian Logic of Imperial Credibility: “No Way Out”

There’s no such ambivalence and anguish about the occupation in the minds of two academics recently interviewed by Associated Press reporter Robert H. Reid. “I think the U.S. is stuck in Iraq for a good decade,” says Dr. Juan Cole, a “Middle East” expert at the University of Michigan. “There is no way to get out,” Cole thinks, because a rapid U.S. departure will “hearten Islamic extremists” and “vindicate Osama bin Laden’s belief that Western democracies cannot stand up to the power of jihad.”  The Middle East will “fall into chaos” without America’s massive military presence. This is an outcome “the U.S.” cannot “afford,” Cole says, because “two-thirds of the proven oil reserves of the world in are in the Persian Gulf.”

Cole’s “no way out” argument is seconded by Dr. Robert Ramil, “a Middle East scholar” who told Reid that rollback of U.S. empire in Iraq “will be perceived” as an American defeat, “a perception that will have dire consequences for the region and U.S. strategic interests around the globe.” “An American flight from Iraq,” Reid learned from Ramil, “would also leave a power vacuum in a strategic Middle Eastern country with the world’s second largest petroleum reserves” (Robert H. Reid, “It’s Bad But U.S. Can’t Quit,” Chicago Sun Times, April 11, 2004, p. 30A). The notions that a truly international peacekeeping and rebuilding effort might be the way to go and that it’s up to Arabs to manage the natural resources under their own soil are too ridiculous to merit discussion.

According to Cole and Ramil, Griffith, Indiana and other disproportionately working-class communities that provide the preponderant majority of U.S. soldiers (see “Forbidden Connections: Bush, Cowardice, Class, and War,” ZNet Magazine (July 25, 2003), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/ howarticle.cfm?SectionID=40 ItemID=3953) must continue to donate the blood of their children for oil and empire. The natural instinct of people like Galyn Somers to protect their kids must be subordinated to the “strategic interests of the United States,” which happen to coincide rather strongly with the special interests of massive, strategically placed petroleum, military, and other corporations like Bechtel and Dick Cheney’s Haliburton.

Does the professors’ imperial credibility argument sound familiar? Tens of thousands of American soldiers died in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s largely to sustain the perception of unassailable U.S. power and protect the political standing of top U.S. officials long after key “defense” planners had determined that ultimate military objectives in Vietnam were unattainable. How many of Griffith’s young men died in Vietnam, one wonders, to help Uncle Sam try to look like a big imperial Don during the late 1960s and 1970s?

Now, as then, there’s a chilling totalitarian logic to that mission. The basic original underlying objective content — good, bad, or indifferent — of the imperial action becomes irrelevant. Once the empire acts, it must “play through,” even at remarkable, domestic costs that are quite disparately exacted beneath classless Orwellian rhetoric about shared national sacrifice and interest. Under this vicious-circle credibility dogma, the primary “homeland” price is paid by working-class soldiers and their families.


Different Types of Expertise

How explain the difference in perspective between the working people interviewed by Gaubler and the academics interviewed by Reid? The elitist, establishment-friendly answer is that Cole and Rios are simply more informed about the complex facts and history of U.S. policy and Middle Eastern affairs. But the people of Griffith possess a different sort of expertise and specialized knowledge. They know from experience that the masters’ determination to demonstrate the invincible U.S. power in the world comes at the cost of the THEIR brothers, sisters, sons, spouses, daughters, and friends, NOT those of the professors and the policymakers. Basic ties of kin, community and morality do not permit them to accept imperial doctrine as easily as heavily indoctrinated academic “know-it-alls,” who insist that working America’s young must be sacrificed to satisfy the Gods of Empire.


Paul Street is a regular ZNet Commentator. For related reflections on class and war, see his “Forbidden Connections: Bush, Cowardice, Class, and War,” ZNet Magazine (July 25, 2003), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/ howarticle.cfm?SectionID=40 ItemID=3953 and “Rachel Corrie, Jessica Lynch, and the Unequal Worthiness of Victims,” ZNet Magazine (May 12, 2003), at www.zmag.org.

Leave a comment