September 23, 2007

Let's Make It About You: Can We Stop the Slaughter Now?

Considering the subject matter of this post, I must severely criticize myself in advance. Given the point I will try to make, my own perspective is utterly unimportant. To mention my despair and the sense of bleak futility that pervades my view of my own writing is the height of self-indulgence. But I will mention these factors very briefly, if only to explain in part why my writing now occurs in fits and starts.

I have written repeatedly on certain themes for several years now. I try to present my central ideas in new ways, to offer additional historical evidence for my contentions, and to make connections between seemingly disparate phenomena that I have not addressed earlier. But no matter what I attempt to do here, I make no headway whatsoever. It seems to me that my writing has no effect at all. That certainly has been true with regard to the likely coming conflict with Iran, which is the single greatest catastrophe that lies before us. But my essays have had no discernible effect in connection with any of the threats that hang over our heads. It often seems to me that to continue writing about foreign policy and the destruction of constitutional government in the United States is only my own brand of narcissism. Forces are in play that are far beyond the ability of any of us to influence, short of a massive national strike that continues for a long period of time. To expect complacent, ignorant, self-satisfied Americans to undertake such a project in anything close to the required numbers is a fool's dream.

I mention narcissism because that is our subject here. I've written about the national and nationalistic narcissism that suffuses American government and the American populace generally a number of times. This self-absorption springs from our conviction of "American exceptionalism," and our unshakeable belief that we are "the Good Guys" in a way that no other people ever has been, or ever can be. But as I noted in an earlier essay:
Much of the world now considers us to be a barbarian, pariah nation. From the Philippines, through Vietnam , and via many other interventions in Latin America, the Middle East and around the world, there is a monumental amount of evidence to prove the claim. We can appeal all we wish to the "principles" and "freedom" for which we allegedly stand -- but, and here is the point that most Americans refuse even to consider: to the extent those principles were once genuinely admirable, important and good, they are not operative with regard to our conduct abroad. That conduct arises from entirely different motives and concerns, as I am documenting in my Dominion Over the World series.

To continue to believe that we are "the Good Guys" in some unique manner, people must blind themselves to evidence that crashes over us at least several times a day. People must render themselves unforgivably ignorant, and criminally stupid.
Nowhere is our impenetrable national narcissism more sickeningly on display than in our neverending debate about the humanitarian catastrophe of Iraq. That debate will be as endless as our occupation of that forlorn country, for we are not leaving for decades to come. The contours of the discussion in Washington -- including the fact that almost no one talks of giving up our permanent bases or the nauseatingly grandiose U.S. Embassy in Baghdad -- make that conclusion as unavoidable as it is horrifying.

It must always be remembered that Iraq represented no serious threat to the United States, and that our national leaders knew that critical fact before the invasion began in 2003, just as many "ordinary" citizens did. Thus, the invasion and the continuing occupation represent an unforgivable series of monstrous war crimes. Yet our national conversation discusses only American losses, American costs, and American deaths. When the costs to Iraq and to Iraqis are mentioned, they are given a distant second place, if that. As far as Americans are concerned, this is all about us, and only about us.

In a piece from several months ago, and after discussing Iraqi casualties and the massive refugee crisis (one which our government has no intention of alleviating), I wrote:
And all this with regard to a country that had not attacked us, and that did not threaten us. We had a choice: by definition, we were not compelled, by facts, or morality, or history, or by any other factor, to initiate a criminal war of aggression, an offensive war similar in principle to Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland , a pattern most of our national leaders continually announce they may well repeat with Iran.

The Iraqis -- the dead, mutilated, maimed, and displaced Iraqis -- did not have a choice.
Even now, to listen to our political leaders and to read most commentary, and to note the complete obliviousness of most Americans to the horrors we inflict on huge numbers of innocent people, it is still only about us.

On some occasions, and this is unquestionably one of them, a notably crude and vulgar manner of expression is the only way it is even possible to try to break through the wall of resistance almost everyone has erected. So I repeat part of what I said toward the end of the earlier piece. This is addressed to those Americans whose perspective is so profoundly and sickeningly distorted by this degree of self-absorption -- which is to say, almost all Americans:
In previous articles, I have said that the Iraqi death toll resulting from the U.S. invasion and occupation has almost certainly now reached approximately one million, relying in part on extrapolation from the Lancet study. As this post discusses, that study used methods that are widely regarded as completely legitimate and noncontroversial; in fact, the current administration itself uses studies that employ identical methods when it suits their purposes. Obviously, those methods do not suit their purposes when it comes to assessing the destruction the U.S. has caused in Iraq.

It turns out I was wrong. The toll is likely to be even higher:
In the week in which General Patraeus reports back to US Congress on the impact the recent 'surge' is having in Iraq, a new poll reveals that more than 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens have been murdered since the invasion took place in 2003.

Previous estimates, most noticeably the one published in the Lancet in October 2006, suggested almost half this number (654,965 deaths).

These findings come from a poll released today by ORB, the British polling agency that has been tracking public opinion in Iraq since 2005. In conjunction with their Iraqi fieldwork agency a representative sample of 1,499 adults aged 18+ answered the following question:-

Q How many members of your household, if any, have died as a result of the conflict in Iraq since 2003 (ie as a result of violence rather than a natural death such as old age)? Please note that I mean those who were actually living under your roof.

None 78%
One 16%
Two 5%
Three 1%
Four or more 0.002%

Given that from the 2005 census there are a total of 4,050,597 households this data suggests a total of 1,220,580 deaths since the invasion in 2003. Calculating the affect from the margin of error we believe that the range is a minimum of 733,158 to a maximum of 1,446,063.
In a country that remained civilized to any significant degree, this would be the primary subject of discussion, particularly when that country itself had caused such devastation for no legitimate reason whatsoever.

About this study and the near total silence that has greeted it in the United States, Lew Rockwell writes:
To the extent anyone pays attention to this stuff, they only hear the words of the State Department spokesman: "The bottom line is that the secretary wants to make sure that we do everything we possibly can to avoid the loss of innocent life."

In light of the one million plus figure, such statements come off as evil jokes. The US has unleashed bloodshed in Iraq that is rarely known even in countries we think of as violent and torn by civil strife. It is amazing to think that this has occurred in what was only recently a liberal and civilized country by the region's standards. This was a country that had a problem with immigration, particularly among the well-educated and talented classes. They went to Iraq because it was the closest Arab proxy to Western-style society that one could find in the area.

It was the US that turned this country into a killing field. Why won't we face this? Why won't we take responsibility? The reason has to do with this mysterious thing called nationalism, which makes an ideological religion of the nation's wars. We are god-like liberators. They are devil-like terrorists. No amount of data or contrary information seems to make a dent in this irreligious faith. So it is in every country and in all times. Here is the intellectual blindness that war generates.

Such blindness is always inexcusable, but perhaps more understandable in a time when information was severely restricted, when technological limits actually prohibited us from knowing the whole truth at the time. What excuse do we have today? Our blindness is not technological but ideological. We are the good guys, right? Every nation believes that about itself, but freedom is well served by the few who dare to think critically.
Since Americans' narcissism is so all-encompassing, and because the superior value of American lives and goals as compared to those of all other peoples is regarded as an axiom never to be questioned, let's put these horrors in terms that Americans might understand. Let's make it about you.

For ease of computation, we'll use approximate figures. Assume the U.S.'s war crimes have resulted in one million deaths. That is roughly 1/26 of the total Iraqi population. An equivalent number of American deaths would be 11.5 million people. 3,000 Americans were murdered on 9/11. In terms of casualties, 11.5 million deaths represent 3,800 9/11s -- or a 9/11 every day for ten and a half years.

Let me repeat that: a 9/11 every day for ten and a half years.

Perhaps you think these casualty figures are highly inflated. Fine. Cut them in half. That's a 9/11 every day for a little over five years.

Every day.

Do you begin to understand now? Add to this the refugee crisis, which has displaced about four million Iraqis -- which would be 45 million Americans. Add to that the fact that all forms of civil society have been completely destroyed: you have electricity for a few hours a day at most; employment and food are close to impossible to find for many people; there is nothing approaching a normally functioning school system, or legal system, or any of the other aspects of life that Americans take for granted, assuming they could never be destroyed. How well do you think American society would be functioning if a 9/11 occurred every day for five years -- or ten years?

And neither you nor anyone you know can shop for food, go to work, or do anything else at all without fearing you will be murdered -- or that you will be kidnapped and tortured in ways that may cause you to wish for death.

Consider all this, and then think about the obscenity of a politician like Carl Levin saying, "the U.S. is losing lives and squandering resources while the Iraqis continue to 'dawdle.'" Or consider the unforgivable inhumanity of Hillary Clinton proclaiming:
Our troops did the job they were asked to do. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They conducted the search for weapons of mass destruction. They gave the Iraqi people a chance for elections and to have a government. It is the Iraqis who have failed to take advantage of that opportunity.
A 9/11 every day for five or ten years.

Every day.

I realize that even this will no difference at all. The killing will go on. The U.S. will be in Iraq for many years into the future, despite the incontrovertible fact that there is nothing we can do to atone for or ameliorate these crimes, except to make those reparations that are possible, whenever they may be possible.

But think about the equivalent of a 9/11 every day for five or ten years. Make the endless, unbearable horror real to yourself. Then, perhaps, you will have the same question I do:
Please, for God's sake, can we stop the slaughter now?