THE CATASTROPHE in Fallujah -- 10 Iraqi policemen killed by US forces acting, as one Iraqi said, "just like Saddam" -- can be the occasion of new recognitions. The normal ecology of war is chaos and confusion. But once in a while something occurs to snap the ambiguities into focus, and the real character of what is happening becomes apparent. Indeed, that is the meaning Aristotle gave to the word "catastrophe" in his analysis of the tragic form. Ten of the very men Iraqi recovery needs most -- dead by the hands of our soldiers? Pro-American police at risk from Americans? A tragedy for sure, but here is what the incident reveals:
- This "accident" was not, in fact, an aberration. The killing of allies and of innocents is part and parcel of what the American occupation involves now. Death has overtaken strategy.
- Whether the soldiers who killed the Iraqi policemen "intended" the act or not is irrelevant. American pietism excuses dastardly outcomes when they are committed with good intentions, but morality is measured more by consequences than purposes. No US soldier is "innocent" in this enterprise.
- But every US soldier in Iraq has been taken hostage. The hostage takers are not the terrorists but the small clique of Bush administration officials who have violated US tradition, international agreements, and the sacred trust that commanders owe their soldiers.
- Those who fault the Bush administration for the failed details of this operation (too few troops, poor planning, not enough foreign support, etc.) miss the larger point that there was no "right" way to invade Iraq and there is no "right" way to occupy it. Iraq belongs to Iraqis.
- The corruptions of Bush policies in Iraq are infecting the entire nation. Such aggressive violence requires deceit, and lies are more welcome in Washington than at any time since Vietnam. The Justice Department is increasingly an instrument of repression. On the eve of elections, the American people are in the grip of a vast ennui.
So what is to be done? Such recognitions change the context of what is required now. Instead of politics, it is time for resistance. One needn't assert a facile moral equivalence to know that the relevant precedents for the present circumstance in the United States are the broad-based citizen resistance movements that mobilized against Hitler in the 1940s; against the Vietnam War in the 1960s; against the Kremlin in the 1980s. This means:
- Hope shifts away from the Democratic politicians vying to replace Bush. By timidly giving the vague appearance of opposition while assuming the broad necessity of America's ongoing military presence in Iraq, the candidates are Bush's effective collaborators.
- "Supporting the troops" gets redefined. Instead of muting criticism out of fear of undermining military morale, declare that US soldiers have been conscripted into an unnecessary and therefore immoral war. The troops must simply be removed from Iraq.
- The cutting edge of the political debate becomes money. All funding for the American occupation, including the $87 billion Bush requested last week, must be opposed. Military appropriations must be cut off.
- Patriotism is asserted more by opposition than affirmation. The Bush administration has cagily turned large-hearted American expressions of love for the nation into license for a criminal foreign policy. Just as Bush has kidnapped our young people in uniform, he has captured the flag. For now, the way to take it back is to take it down.
- Refuse to be deceived even while being lied to. There is no way for an American president to engage in such an unprecedented act of aggression without trying to disguise its true character. The very audacity of Bush's manipulations stimulate a cooperative self-deception in the population. That above all must be resisted.
- Mortal danger becomes apparent. Bush policies have reinvigorated suicide bombers across the world while simultaneously igniting a new round of nuclear proliferation. The prospect of that combination -- nuclear weapons in the hands of suicidal fanatics -- poses the greatest risk in human history. Bush himself has thus become the ultimate suicide bomber.
Hence resistance. Public life in America must take its energy now from the word "No!" Such opposition does two things. As happened especially in the Soviet empire, it can transform politics, moving even the Democratic candidates from timid calls for adjustments at the margins to demands for substantial change of policy. And meanwhile, a life lived in resistance remains a human life. In a time of rampant public immorality, it is the only way to live humanly.
The catastrophe at Fallujah can be the occasion of such recognition. But catastrophe, as Aristotle also taught, is the occasion of reversal. The time to turn the momentum of Bush's war back upon itself has come.