August 6 marks two anniversaries of death and destruction.
One is permanently etched into our collective memory -- the
flash of light and mushroom cloud over Hiroshima 55 years ago
that left as many as 140,000 Japanese dead. To forget the tragedy
of the world's first atomic bombing would be a painful moral
The other anniversary concerns death today, death
that continues because of an equally painful moral failure.
This attack is ongoing, and it has killed far more -- at least
1 million innocent people, half of them children under the age
of 5, according to U.N. studies.
For them, death comes
not in a flash, but with the slow agony of malnutrition and
wasting diseases. The weapon is the ancient tactic of siege,
an attack against all living things in a society.
marks the 10th anniversary of the attack on Iraq through siege,
the imposition of the most comprehensive economic sanctions
in modern times. Though administered through the United Nations,
the sanctions are the result of U.S. policy and power, of this
nation's rejection of the international consensus to lift the
siege. The Clinton administration's policy -- or what U.S.
Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., has called ``infanticide masquerading
as policy'' -- is that sanctions must remain until there is
definitive proof that Saddam Hussein's regime is not rebuilding
weapons of mass destruction.
Or is the policy that sanctions
must remain until Hussein is overthrown? It's hard to tell,
because U.S. officials have made both statements, giving Hussein
little reason to think he can satisfy the United States.
Whatever the policy, the United States has made it clear it
cares little about the suffering of innocent Iraqis, who live
-- and die -- with inadequate diets, unclean water that spreads
disease and barely functioning medical facilities.
the point of view of creating and maintaining real peace, U.S.
policy is a failure.
Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott
Ritter -- hardly an ally of the Iraqis -- has called for lifting
the sanctions, saying that Iraq is qualitatively disarmed (meaning
that the capability to produce or use weapons of mass destruction
has been eliminated). But U.S. insistence on quantitative disarmament
(accounting for every last weapon or related material) ensures
there will be no constructive change.
The sanctions also
have done nothing to advance democracy in Iraq. Living on the
edge of survival, the Iraqi people have few resources for pressing
political change. As Denis Halliday, the former U.N. humanitarian
coordinator in Iraq, notes, ``Sanctions will not change governance
to democracy. Sanctions encourage isolation, alienation and
But from the point of view of maintaining
and extending U.S. power, the policy has worked. What U.S. officials
want in Iraq is a government that accepts the iron law of U.S.
policy: The resources of the Middle East must remain, as much
as possible, under the effective control of the United States.
The old colonial model of direct control is gone; now we rely
on the cooperation of compliant local governments (authoritarian
or democratic; we don't much care) that take their cut and ship
most of the remaining profits to the West.
regimes must be broken so that the flow of oil profits to U.S.
and British banks and corporations is not threatened. Iraq,
an ally throughout the 1980s until it challenged the U.S. system,
is so devastated that it will be decades before it can rebuild.
To oppose the sanctions is not to support the brutal regime
of Saddam Hussein, but to reject genocide. That is the term
that Halliday has used, describing the sanctions as an ``intentional
program to destroy a culture, a people, a country.'' Rather
than stage-manage a genocide, Halliday resigned in protest in
1998. In the past year, his successor, Hans von Sponeck, did
the same, as has the director of the World Food Program in Iraq,
U.S. officials don't feel the same tug
of conscience. When interviewed on ``60 Minutes'' in 1996, Secretary
of State Madeline Albright -- then U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations -- was asked if the deaths of a half-million children
in Iraq were acceptable. Her answer: ``I think this is a very
hard choice. But the price, we think the price is worth it.''
I do not know by what moral gymnastics Albright reaches such
I do not know how high the death toll in
Iraq will climb before U.S. policy changes.
And 55 years
from now, I don't know which anniversary of death will weigh
most on the consciences of Americans.
Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE WEB
-- Iraq Action Coalition -- iraqaction.org
-- Education for Peace in Iraq Center -- saveageneration.org
-- Voices in the Wilderness -- www.nonviolence.org/vitw/