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Bush and Hitler and the Strategy of Fear



It’s time to stop trying to explain why a war on Iraq is a bad idea.

The logic, of course, is clear. The administration has no evidence that Hussein has weapons of destruction. If it did, it would have shown it to the American public and the U.N. long ago. It has no evidence that Iraq is in league with Al Qaeda for the same reason. And it’s obvious that even if–a big if according to Genernal Norman Schwarzkopf–a U.S. invasion does succeed in easily toppling Hussein, the result of that unprovoked assault, especially if it is carried out by the U.S. without a U.N. endorsement, will be a wave of terror against Americans and American interests that will dwarf anything seen in the past.

This is all self-evident, and even the Bush Administration has tacitly admitted that increased terrorism will be the result of an attack on Iraq: it has had the State Department issue a warning to Americans overseas and to Americans planning to travel that they should be prepared to be terrorist targets.

The point, however, is that this is precisely what the Bush Administration wants to happen.

A permanent state of American panic, fortified by regular doses of terror attacks, hijackings and building demolitions by crazed Muslim fanatics is exactly what Bush needs to stay in power, win re-election in 2004, stack the federal courts, gut the Bill of Rights, and enrich its corporate sponsors.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for some politician on the Democratic side of the aisle to stand up and confront the administration about this treasonous plan.

That means it is urgent for the left to address the issue–to insert it into the public debate.

If Bush truly wanted to reduce the threat of terror against Americans, he would not be harassing Arab-Americans and Muslims at random and deporting people for minor alleged visa violations after secret hearings and detentions (a teriffic way to create blood enemies!). He would not be using cowboy rhetoric and threatening to invate Iraq all on his own, knowing that one result will be the political undermining of a whole series of repressive secular Arab regimes, and their replacement by fundamentalist Islamic governments. He would not be holding back funds for legitimate homeland y defense efforts, such as bolstering fire departments and police departments. y And if he was really trying to steel America for a battle against the “forces of evil” in Iraq and the rest of the world, he’d be using Churchillian language, talking about mutual sacrifice and of fortitude under fire. Instead he calls up dire warnings of fanciful nuclear or germ attacks against urban centers, and the spectre of unimaginable horrors–things that can only induce a cowering response.

The sad thing is that Americans, fattened up and soft of muscle from their diet of McDonald’s Whoppers and dim-witted from an overdose of “reality” TV shows and entertainment programs posing as news, suck up this kind of fear-mongering (all of which is eagerly played up by ratings-hungry media executives). If one plane gets highjacked, plane travel plummets. If a few letters are found to be contaminated with anthrax spores, people across the land stop opening their mail, or start zapping it first in their microwaves. If a child is reported missing in Arizona, parents across the land clutch their children to their bosoms and begin lecturing them about the evils of talking to “strangers,” forgetting that this is exactly what a child ought to do if she gets lost.

In Europe, Asia, Africa or South America, where wars and terrorism, not to mention natural disasters, have been a way of life, the loss of a few hundred, or even a few thousand people, to a bomb, an earthquake, a flood or a civil war, does not induce a national catatonia. People clean up the mess as best they can, count their losses, and go on with their lives.

The other sad thing about us Americans is that we have no notion of the horrors of war, and so are quick to wish it on others (Indian Americans and the MOVE and Branch Davidian organizations aside, the last war on American soil was fought 137 years ago). It’s no wonder those people of “Old Europe,” as “chickenhawk” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld disparagingly referred to Germany and France, are more reluctant about going to war in Iraq. They know that dropping bombs from B-52s all across the country and fighting door-to-door in Baghdad will produce horrific casualties and create destruction that will take years to repair (There are still several mountains on the outskirts of Darmstadt, Germany, where I spent a year as a highschool student–the stacked rubble, including many human remains, of a city of 200,000 destroyed in one night by a British fire-bombing. Similar man-made mountains can also be spotted around Berlin.) Europeans also know that if terrorism on a wider scale is the result, in the U.S. and in Europe, it will be a grisly affair.

Americans have only the WTC to look at when they try to contemplate the effects of war, and all in all, that was a pretty antiseptic affair. One second you the towers, another second, they were gone, and within a year or so, the site was all cleaned up and ready for a nifty new building. Indeed, the only institutional memory left of that attrocity is the unseemly battle by survivors of the once high-flying investment banker victims of the attack to get better reimbursements from the government for their unfortunate loss of those six-figure incomes.

The naivity of Americans about the reality of war was brought home to me years ago, when as a young journalism student, I found myself working on a story aout a truck accident and ended up in a local firehouse in Middletown, CT. It was 1970, at the height of the Cold War, and the fireman on duty asked me if I’d like to see the bomb-proof back-up government offices that had been built under the station thanks to some federal disaster funding. We walked down a stairwell through three feet of case-hardened concrete, and through a blast door, into a spare-looking room filled with desks. On each desk was an etched nameplate, identifying the government bureau that would be represented by the official seated there. I saw a sign for “Mayor,” another of “Police,” and a third for “Fire,” but there were also desks for “Welfare,” “Assessor” and “Tax Collector,” as though, after a nuclear holocaust there would be need for these worthy bureaucrats!

That, of course, is not how wars look–especially modern wars where military planners don’t bother distinguishing between civilian and military targets. Vietnam is still recovering from its having been the target of all those bombs, napalm and Agent Orange attacks, not to mention the loss of a generation of its young men and women. Afghanistan may never recover from the relatively minor recent war there.

If we Americans value our society, our polity, our rights and liberties, and our security, we must begin exposing George W. Bush and his War Party for what they are: craven usurpers aiming at nothing less than the undermining of all those things that most of us hold dear.

It’s going a bit far to compare the Bush of 2003 to the Hitler of 1933. Bush simply is not the orator that Hitler was. But comparisons of the Bush Administration’s fear mongering tactics to those practiced so successfully and with such terrible results by HItler and Goebbels on the German people and their Weimar Republic are not at all out of line.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here:


Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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