I think we all remember the year before the Iraq war, the drumbeat of propaganda, the horrible certainty that nothing we could do would stop George Bush’s messianic belief that he must have a war with Iraq because he was ordained by God, and all the great presidents were war presidents. We argued at the time that there is no decision a politician can make which he or she should think on harder than going to war.
The reason should be obvious. In war bad things happen. Wars are always sold as if they are going to brief, as if only the "bad guys" will be killed, as if "precision munitions" have made horrors a thing of the past. They are sold as easy, and glorious. And they almost never are. War is the archetype of "rubber hits the road", of a situation you can’t control. They have a way of turning into messes we never intended.
World War I was supposed to be brief. So was the Iraq war. A quick march in, lots of flowers, rework Iraq into a libertarian paradise by applying Republican economic and social dogma, then on to Tehran!
We could run through the numbers of dead, of maimed, of orphaned, but I think this story from the San Antonio Express-News speaks more directly to what happens in war. Some time ago some US soldiers raped an Iraqi girl repeatedly, then tried to conceal the crime by burning the corpse and killing her family.
Iraqis were outraged, and later some soldiers were captured. And for four months they were tortured. The antiseptic language in the article is somehow worse than saying it outright: "foot bones detached from commingled remains of Fouty and Jimenez, and finger bones wrapped in a blanket. Part of a pair of handcuffs was found." And a broken nose that had healed.
The men were kept alive, in other words, and tortured. They were probably cut up while still alive.
You can’t control war. Even the best disciplined army in the world (and the America is not even close to being that) will kill people it shouldn’t. Rapes will occur, they do in every war. Brutality and torture are almost certain to occur, even if the army tries to avoid it, rather than institutionalizing it. War, by its nature, requires making the enemy into something less than human, so you don’t mind shooting them. It almost always spills over onto the locals, who likewise are viewed as animals by occupiers or invaders and treated as such by many of them.
War, then, is hell. This isn’t news, everyone knows it. But as with most of what everyone "knows" they don’t really get it, because most people don’t get things that have never effected them or people they love. And if you’re in Congress, well, with very few exceptions, no one you care about is going to fight, no one you know is going to risk their life and maybe even get captured and tortured. The same is true of most people serving in the administration.
That boy being tortured, that girl being raped. All the deaths, murder, rapes, torture, were inevitable. You go to war with the army you have, and the president you have, but even if Jimmy Carter had been in charge there would have been murder, rapes, torture—just less of them. But "less" doesn’t matter much when it’s your daughter who was raped repeatedly at gunpoint; your son who was cut into pieces over a period of months.
And so we come back to the heart of the war. We rarely talk about it anymore, but it’s simple enough. All those people who supported the war, and most especially all those who voted for it, bear the moral responsibility for the results of the war. At least 100,000 dead Iraqis (and probably closer to a million). 4,000 and rising dead US soldiers. Rape. Murder. Torture. Orphans who got to watch their parents being killed. Husbands who saw their wives die, or wives who watched their husbands gunned down or blown into bloody carrion. Families who have buried multiple children.
All because members of Congress didn’t care and because they were gutless. Because they though to themselves "I might have to face attack ads if I vote against this war." Can you think of anything more weak, anything more pathetically evil, than to care more about your reelection than about thousands dying? Than about the certainty that from your vote will come rape and torture and murder?
And can you think of anything more pathetic, more redolent of bad judgment than to say "but I didn’t know. I trusted George Bush?"
As far as I am concerned most of Congress doesn’t just have blood on their hands, they are in it up to their chins. Their gutlessness, cupidity and selfishness is such that most of them, in a just world, would be preparing their defenses for a Nuremburg trial. They attacked a country which had not attacked the US, based on lies that were debunked at the time, for petty personal reasons of political ambition or cowardice.
We all know that won’t happen, but what I will tell you is this. Without the Iraq war, the financial crisis happening right now either wouldn’t be, or would be much less harsh. It is quite likely that Iraq is the last mistake of the American century and marks the end of America as a superpower.
This is only fitting. Those who have proven they cannot be trusted with power must have that power taken away. America had its chance, in 2004, to take that power away from the worst of its elites. It didn’t. For an outsider, whether the election was stolen in 2004 or not is irrelevant, all that matters was the lesson of the result—that Americans are no longer capable of disciplining their own elites.
American hegemony rose out of the ashes of WWII. World War II was an unprovoked war. Germany attacked those that did not threaten it. At Nuremburg Americans hung Nazis who had not been involved in the Holocaust, for no crime other than unprovoked war, declaring that it was a capital offense. Out of that war, and out of Nuremburg, America was born as the leader of the free world. Not just the mightiest, but the nation that said "never again".
It is fitting then that an unprovoked war is what is bringing an end to America’s leadership of the free world, to its economic and military hegemony. Having done what it once condemned, having proven unwilling or unable to correct itself, America has reaped what it sowed.
Alas that a young man had to be chopped into bits; a young girl raped repeatedly, as part of the process—that hundreds of thousand had to be killed.
It is in blood that empires, like humans, are born.
It is in blood that they die.