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Unraveling the U.S. war lies

April 11, 2003 | Page 7

PAUL D'AMATO sorts out the facts about the U.S. war from the Pentagon's propaganda.

EVERY RULING class--including its bought-and-paid-for politicians and its media--is adept at turning the truth on its head, especially in times of war.

In the U.S. war on Iraq, the Bush administration is vigorously pushing the line that American armed forces are conducting a noble struggle to free a country of its hated tyrant. Iraqis who resist the invasion are depicted as "thugs," "terrorists," and so on.

In one joke, comedian Jay Leno captured the hypocrisy of this claim. "They're calling it Operation Iraqi Freedom," he said. "They were going to call it Operation Iraqi Liberation, until they realized that spells 'OIL.'"

It isn't possible to say anything sensible about this war until its character is understood--until the excuses used to justify it are disentangled from the underlying, and usually unstated, reasons for it.

Let's start with this statement: "A puppet regime imposed from the outside is unacceptable. The acquisition of territory by force is unacceptable." Ironically, these words were spoken by George Bush Sr. as the U.S. prepared to drive Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991.

Bush failed to add an important exception: These things are perfectly acceptable if they are carried out by the U.S. government. The U.S. isn't exactly a novice in the game of imposing puppet regimes by force--and disguising it all as "liberation."

A century ago, the U.S. made its debut as an imperialist power by seizing control of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War. In the name of "liberating" these colonies from Spanish control, U.S. armed forces turned them into American colonies.

As in all wars of conquest where a great power faces a militarily weaker but more determined resistance, Filipino nationalists used hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, including various ruses and deceptions, to throw their attackers off balance. U.S. forces routinely referred to Filipino resistance fighters as "devils" and "bandits" who were only supported by a minority of the population.

But the "whole population" supported rebel leader Aguinaldo, one reporter admitted, and "only those natives whose immediate self-interest requires it are friendly to us." When a reporter remarked on the bravery of the Filipinos, Brig. Gen. Lloyd Wheaton shouted: "Brave! Brave! Damn 'em, they won't stand up to be shot!"

This reaction is familiar to anyone paying attention to what is being said about Iraqi fighters today. "Although soldiers of the United States armed forces are expected to abide by the law of war and, in fact, do so honorably, Iraqi soldiers are taught only that this is the law of 'infidels,'" claims Louis Rene Beres, a professor at Purdue University, in the Chicago Tribune. Tell that to families of the dozens of people killed in a cluster bomb attack in the city of Hilla.

In every war, the two sides each portray their cause as righteous, fair and just. The killing of unarmed civilians is seen as a tragic necessity. Atrocities are unfortunate accidents. But "war crimes" are what the other side commits.

Anyone who can complain that soldiers fighting in civilian clothes is a "war crime" when Iraqis do it, but not when U.S. Special Forces do, is a hypocrite. Likewise, the idea that an Iraqi suicide bomber who blows himself up along with four U.S. soldiers is committing a war crime, while a pilot who drops a 2,000-pound laser-guided bomb that dismembers 60 people in a Baghdad suburb is not, is playing with words.

Both are acts of war--an extremely one-sided war because U.S. power is far more lethal. Iraq is a fifth-rate military power whose economy and infrastructure has been devastated by 12 years of war and sanctions imposed by the U.S. Its economy has shrunk by 75 percent since the first Gulf War of 1991. In order to defend itself against the world's largest military power, it must use unconventional means.

"It was astonishing to read of the surprise on the part of the military at the Iraqis' methods," Jamie Fox wrote recently in the Guardian. "The commander of [Britain's] Desert Rats said that their 'terror tactics' were 'outside the rules of war,' although anyone who has attended a war knows there aren't any rules. Hue was the last pitched battle fought by the Americans during the 1968 Tet offensive. In that battle, 5,000 Viet Cong infiltrators climbed out of their civilian clothes in the city to reveal their North Vietnamese uniforms. Gen. Westmoreland complained that Tet 'was characterized by treachery and deceitfulness'--the same outrageous methods Bush speaks about today."

In a war of conquest, everyone in the target country becomes the enemy. Thus, in Vietnam, American soldiers routinely burned down villages, murdered children and raped women. "The logic of the coalition seems to be this," writes author Vijay Prashad. "We are Civilized. We only fight a clean, rule-based war. They are not fighting by the rules. They are forcing us to break our rules. They have made us act like barbarians. We will act like barbarians."

The truth is that while most Iraqis hate the regime of Saddam Hussein, they hate their country being invaded and conquered even more. Patrick Nicholson of the British charity CAFOD, who returned recently from Umm Qasr, reported the words of a man--whose son Nicholson described as "skeletal"--expressing the anger and frustration that clearly runs throughout Iraq.

"You support us when the TV cameras and newspapers are here," the man said, "to show the world you like us. When they have gone you change. You have changed Saddam for another kind of imperialism."

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