Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Nuance and Innuendo in the War on Iraq

by ROBERT LOPEZ

The caption on MSNBC for December 20, 2003, reads “US troops go on offensive,” next to a picture of armed men raiding a “student dormitory” in Fajullah. The accompanying article mentions, with a little bit of regret, that a case of mistaken identity resulted in American soldiers killing three Iraqi police who were on their side, “thinking they were bandits.” An unrelated incident in Najaf just happened to go along with the story: a former official of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party was wounded when Shiite gunmen “fired on her and killed her son.”

The rhetoric in the press has gone through stages of linguistic nuance when dealing with the ongoing violence in Iraq. There was a moment when American troops were cast as saviors for an Iraqi populace still trembling in terror of Saddam Hussein. Then, when it became clear that Iraqis were just as hostile to the Americans, if not more, than to a return of the exiled despot to power, the language seemed to twist around to make American soldiers look like victims of the evil “remnants” of the Hussein regime. The only threat, officials droned on CNN and NPR, lay in the “Sunni Triangle.” During the summer, all the focus seemed to be on construing the anti-American violence as a localized problem, an outgrowth of Baathist persistence, and a problem that would easily be solved as soon as the troops could receive the green light to be more forceful in their handling of post-Hussein Iraq.

Now, with Hussein captured and there being no explanation for the continuing attacks on American troops other than the one that was most obvious to critics of the war–namely, the fact that our presence there is offensive, threatening, and understandably unwelcome to a large number of Iraqis of all persuasions–the language seems to be casting our men as beleaguered and soft-hearted warriors getting their second wind. The capture of Saddam Hussein was probably the biggest gust of that second wind, since it ostensibly proved that hardball tactics and ruthless persistence pay off in the end.

Beneath every headline is a carefully tailored inuendo. “US soldiers go on offensive” is a perfect example. Underneath its transparent representation of a change in policy is a cliche loaded with meaning: we’re tired of being Mr. Nice Guy. We’re tired of letting the bad guys just shoot at us. We’re tired of being criticized for doing our jobs. We’re going Rambo, full-throttle–we’re cocking our guns and not taking any shit. Turn up the soundtrack, heavy with brassy horns blowing and a melodramatic strings section. We must fulfill our destiny as the born leaders of the free world and the diesel-fueled, corn-fed, tough guys that we have every right to be. And there’s a warning in it, too: Shut up about the innocent deaths of Iraqis. We aren’t going to apologize anymore for anyone who gets in our way. Even if it means killing children, as we have done. Even if it means killing some of our own allies, as we have done. Even if it means targeting a specific faction (the “Baathists”) and licensing countrywide political persecution of them, as we have done. Even if it means telling the rest of the world, a large part of America, and a little part of our own conscience to fuck off–as we have done.

Bad faith is an art. It requires the systematic transformation of reality into a set of symbols that we can manipulate at will. With the symbols, we turn everything into a game of interpretation, a dance of language, a palette of fungible signifiers. If this sounds like postmodernism, you shouldn’t be surprised. This is the very reason I never trusted devotees of postmodernism (whatever that currently means) when I came to graduate school in 1998. There is something sinister and unconscionable about claiming that everything is a matter of perception and that reality can never be described in absolute terms.

What allows you to make glib statements like “there is no difference between autobiography and fiction” or “memory and imagination are indistinguishable” also allows George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and their abhorrent patsies in the press to imply, through layers of masked and misleading vocabulary, that a raid on a student dormitory on Fajullah is a case of refusing to be Mr. Nice Guy, rather than a case of breaking into a school and beating up a bunch of frightened kids in their early 20s.

The pinnacle of bad faith is the “I’m tired of being Mr. Nice Guy” moment. It combines the wounded ego of a self-proclaimed victim with the moral impunity of a bestialized soul and the ideological certainty of a martyr. This is the moment, I would suggest, that every soldier longs for, the brief and breathy window of time when all restraint must be discarded because some string of prior events have proved that any kind of consideration for someone else’s right to exist is a waste of time or playing into the enemy’s hands. You can really only say it when you have the upper hand and your enemy lies defenseless before you, with nothing to save himself but a sense of moral decency, which is precisely what you’re now announcing you’re ready to disregard. Being able to say “I’m going on the offensive now” allows you to pretend that you weren’t on the offensive, from the very beginning.

There is no offensive to go on. Americans are the offensive, the offenders, the offense itself. Bush’s cadre chose not to be Mr. Nice Guy when they adopted Shock and Awe as a military tactic, dismissed civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure as “collateral damage,” and thwarted the more patient and less violent path of allowing the weapons inspectors to finish their jobs. It is painful to face this. Nobody wants one’s own side to be offensive. But the only other option is to spiral into higher stairs of bad faith, which seems to be the current choice. At the top of that stairwell, I suspect, is a student dormitory full of scared 20-year-olds cowering before a posse of Hell-bent 20-year-olds, from halfway around the world, who’ve been told they don’t have to be nice guys anymore and that the folks at home won’t mind if a few of those students die.

ROBERT LOPEZ is a faculty member in the Rutgers University (Camden) English Department.

 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail