"I didn't want to die for Nixon," said a man I met recently in a Seattle
park. He'd served on military bases in a half dozen states, then had a car
accident just before being shipped to Vietnam. "The accident was lucky," he
said. "It was a worthless war and I didn't want to go."
I agreed. I admired those who fought in World War II, I said. We owe them
the debt of our freedom. But to die for Nixon's love of power, his fear of
losing face, his deception and vindictiveness-to die for him was obscene.
Nixon's war, the man said, had nothing noble about it. And neither did Iraq.
What does it mean to die in a war so founded on lies? Bush may lack Nixon's
scowl, but he's equally insulated from the consequences of profoundly
destructive actions. He came to power riding on the success of Nixon's
racially divisive "Southern Strategy," which enshrined the Republicans as
the party of backlash. He won reelection by similarly manipulating
polarization and fear. Like Nixon, he's flouted America's laws while
demonizing political opponents. His insistence that withdrawing from Iraq
would create a world where terrorists reign echoes Nixon's claim that defeat
in Vietnam would leave the U.S. ''a pitiful, helpless giant.''
While Bush assures our soldiers they fight for Iraqi freedom, and to "make
America safer for generations to come," 82 percent of Iraqis, according to a
British Ministry of Defense poll, say they're "strongly opposed" to the
presence of American and British troops, and 45 percent justify attacks
against them. This creates what psychologist Robert Jay Lifton calls "an
atrocity-creating situation." Lifton first used the phrase during Vietnam.
He now uses it to describe a "counterinsurgency war in which US soldiers,
despite their extraordinary firepower, feel extremely vulnerable in a
hostile environment," amplified by "the great difficulty of tracking down or
even recognizing the enemy." This sense of an environment out of control has
seeded the ground for Abu Ghraib and for massacres, at the villages of
Haditha and Mukaradeeb, already being compared to My Lai. Former Army sniper
Jody Blake recently described his unit keeping extra spades on their
vehicles so that if they killed innocent Iraqis in response to an Improvised
Explosive Device attack, they could throw one next to them to make it appear
those killed were preparing a roadside bomb.
Last December Bush called the Iraqi election "a watershed moment in the
story of freedom." But if our invasion and occupation has created a
watershed moment, it's one yielding rivers of resentment and bitterness that
may poison the global landscape for decades to come. And when Bush talks of
promoting freedom, the world sees the freedom of America to do whatever we
please, no matter how many nations oppose us. America's Vietnam-era leaders
made much of their embrace of freedom as well, while overthrowing elected
governments from Brazil to Chile to Greece. The war they waged in Southeast
Asia killed two to five million Vietnamese, plus more deaths in Laos and
Cambodia. And as with Iraq, those making the key decisions were profoundly
insulated: Out of 234 eligible sons of Senators and Congressmen, only 28
served in Vietnam, only 19 saw combat, only one was wounded and none were
killed. In Iraq, as we know, the chickenhawks led the march to war, and the
sole Congressman or Senator with a son who initially served was Democrat Tim
Johnson, who the Republicans still attacked as insufficiently patriotic. The
sons of Republican Senator Kit Bond and three Republican congressmen have
joined him since, but like Bush and his cohorts, most who've made this war
possible have never been intimately touched by it.
Counting Eisenhower's first deployment of soldiers and CIA agents in support
of the French, the United States fought in Vietnam for over twenty years.
We've been in and out of Iraq for nearly forty, since the 1963 coup when the
CIA first helped the Baath Party overthrow the founder of OPEC. (And
intervening in Iran since our 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected
of Mohammed Mossadegh, where we replaced him with the dictatorial Shah).
With this administration promising no immediate end in sight, Bush now tells
us it will be up to "future presidents" even to consider withdrawing our
troops. Who wants to be the last man or woman to die for George Bush?
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of "The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A
Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear," named the #3 political book of
2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association, and winner of
the Nautilus Award for best social change book of the year. His previous
books include "Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time."
See www.paulloeb.org. To get his articles directly email
email@example.com with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles