On April 20, when 75,000 US citizens marched on Washington to oppose
the war, others asked: Why? How can the marchers object, given what
we've been told since September?
The reason: Peace advocates don't believe the official stories, as I
learned by surveying a peace rally in Detroit.
To be specific, I asked two main questions. First: to what extent
does US foreign policy try to promote human rights and democracy in
the world? Second: to what extent does the mainstream media
accurately inform the public? On a scale from zero to ten (zero =
"not at all"), the average score on foreign policy was 2.0. For the
media, 2.3. (from 78 responses of 500 attendees)
A Republican senator once said the first casualty of war is truth,
and at some level, we all know this. We never expect to know details
that might endanger our soldiers. But in a country that prides
itself on democratic ideals, we do expect to know the motives behind
a war, and expect those motives to align with our values.
But should we be as skeptical as the peace advocates?
History is a helpful guide. Our leaders have considered significant
deceptions in the past -- such as "Operation Northwoods," easily
found on the web at the George Washington University National
Security Archive (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20010430).
In March 1962, US policy planners wanted to overthrow the Cuban
government. Northwoods recommended "developing the international
image of the Cuban government as an alarming and unpredictable
threat" -- by conducting real and simulated attacks on America which
would then be blamed on Cuba.
The plan proposed a simulated "Communist Cuban terror campaign" --
which would include "attempts on lives of Cuban refugees in the
United States", exploding bombs in Washington, hijacking civilian
airliners, and even to "sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida
(real or simulated)."
Proposed by the Joint Chiefs to the Kennedy administration, Operation
Northwoods was not carried out. This might be comforting were it not
for the fact that many such documents are still classified, like
those from the 1950's when the CIA orchestrated the overthrow of
Iranian and Guatemalan democracies.
With our skepticism properly calibrated by Northwoods, it's easier to
interpret more recent events. Iraq's story is particularly relevant.
We were told during the Gulf War that smart bombs precisely targeted
Iraq's military. But they also targeted Iraq's water treatment
plants, which could not be rebuilt under the sanctions. Declassified
military documents from 1991 explaining this were revealed last year
by Thomas Nagy in "The Secret Behind the Sanctions"
Since 1990, lack of safe water, medicines, and other essentials have
caused the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children. We could blame it all
on the tyrant, Saddam Hussein, were it not for another unfortunate
fact: US planners supported his regime before and after the war.
From 1980-88, Iraq was at war with Iran. We supported Saddam so
strongly that we did nothing when an Iraqi cruise missile struck the
USS Stark in May 1987, killing 37 sailors. We also supported Hussein
throughout his worst crimes, including his use of mustard gas against
the Kurds in 1988.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, US leaders encouraged Iraqis to rebel
against Hussein. Immediately after the war, they did rebel, but were
crushed while US forces, following orders, did nothing. As ABC News
anchor Peter Jennings put it, "The United States did want Saddam
Hussein to go, they just didn't want the Iraqi people to take over."
Declassified government records explain why the US supports
dictators. For example, in 1948 the State Department advised: "We
have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its
population. ... Our real task in the coming period is to devise a
pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this
position of disparity.... To do so, we will have to dispense with all
sentimentality and day-dreaming.... We should cease to talk about
vague ... objectives such as human rights ...." (Policy Planning
Study 23 in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948, vol 1, p
524) This was written in secret, of course, whereas in public that
same year, the US signed the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
In short, the skeptics are unfortunately correct: US planners do not
strive for democracy and human rights. They project power and
control the third world's resources. Dictators in the Gulf are
beneficial because they give us oil on better terms than democracies
would. Unfortunately, this approach has led to many innocent deaths
and hatred of the US among Arabs and Muslims worldwide. That is why
citizens marched in DC: They don't just want peace. They want moral
US foreign policy - both for its own sake and as a means to peace.
Through their demonstrations, peace advocates have raised important
questions in these critical times: Are we willing to insist on moral
foreign policy? Is the Golden Rule something to live by or merely
the impractical musings of an ancient philosopher? What does it mean
to be "patriotic" when leaders are violating our shared values?
And is the "war on terrorism" what it seems?
Rick Stahlhut is a writer and activist in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He
can be reached at email@example.com or