Fallujah, the 21st Century Guernica
On November 12, as US jets bombed Fallujah for the ninth straight day, a Redwood City California jury found Scott Peterson guilty of murdering his wife and unborn child. That macabre theme captured the headlines and dominated conversation throughout workplaces and homes.
Indeed, Peterson "news" all but drowned out the US military’s claim that successful bombing and shelling of a city of 300 thousand residents had struck only sites where "insurgents," had holed up. On November 15, the BBC embedded newsman with a marine detachment claimed that the unofficial death toll estimate had risen to well over 2000, many of them civilians.
As Iraqi eye witnesses told BBC reporters he had seen bombs hitting residential targets, Americans exchanged viewpoints and kinky jokes about Peterson. One photographer captured a Fallujah man holding his dead son, one of two kids he lost to US bombers. He could not get medical help to stop the bleeding.
A November 14 Reuters reporter wrote that residents told him that "US bombardments hit a clinic inside the Sunni Muslim city, killing doctors, nurses and patients." The US military denied the reports. Such stories did not make headlines. Civilian casualties in aggressive US wars don’t sell media space.
But editors love shots of anguished GI Joes. The November 12 Los Angeles Times ran a front page shot of a soldier with mud smeared face and cigarette dangling from his lips. This image captured the "suffering" of Fallujah. The GI complained he was out of "smokes."
The young man doing his "duty to free Fallujah," stands in stark contrast to the nightmare of Fallujah. "Smoke is everywhere," an Iraqi told the BBC (Nov 11). "The house some doors from mine was hit during the bombardment on Wednesday night. A 13-year-old boy was killed. His name was Ghazi. A row of palm trees used to run along the street outside my house–now only the trunks are left There are more and more dead bodies on the streets and the stench is unbearable."
An eye witness told Reuters (November 12) that "a 9-year-old boy was hit in the stomach by a piece of shrapnel. His parents said they couldn’t get him to hospital because of the fighting, so they wrapped sheets around his stomach to try to stem the bleeding. He died hours later of blood loss and was buried in the garden."
US media’s embedded reporters presstitutes?– accepted uncritically the Pentagon’s spin that many thousands of Iraqi "insurgents," including the demonized outsiders led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had joined the anti-US jihad, had dug in to defend their vital base. After the armored and air assault began and the ground troops advanced, reports filtered out that the marines and the new Iraqi army that trailed behind them had faced only light resistance. Uprisings broke out in Mosul and other cities. For the combatants, however, Falluja was Hell.
Hell for what? Retired Marine Corps general Bernard Trainor declared that: militarily "Fallujah is not going to be much of a plus at all." He admitted that "we’ve knocked the hell out of this city, and the only insurgents we really got were the nut-cases and zealots, the smart ones left behind- the guys who really want to die for Allah." While Pentagon spin doctors boasted of a US "victory, Trainor pointed out that the "terrorists remain at large."
The media accepts axiomatically that US troops wear the "white hats" in this conflict. They do not address the obvious: Washington illegally invaded and occupied Iraq and "re-conquered" Fallujah — for no serious military purpose. Logically, the media should call Iraqi "militants" patriots who resisted illegal occupation. Instead, the press implied that the "insurgents" even fought dirty, using improvised explosive devices and booby traps to kill our innocent soldiers, who use clean weapons like F16s, helicopter gun ships, tanks and artillery.
Why, Washington even promised to rebuild the city that its military just destroyed. Bush committed the taxpayers to debts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, which Bechtel, Halliburton and the other corporate beneficiaries of war will use for "rebuilding."
Banality and corruption arise from the epic evil of this war, one that has involved massive civilian death and the destruction of ancient cities.
In 1935, Nazi General Erich Luderndorff argued in his "The Total War" that modern war encompasses all of society; thus, the military should spare no one. The Fascist Italian General Giulio Douhet echoed this theme. By targeting civilians, he said, an army could advance more rapidly. "Air-delivered terror" effectively removes civilian obstacles.
That doctrine became practice in late April 1937. Nazi pilots dropped their deadly bombs on Guernica, the ancient Basque capital like what US pilots recently did to Falluja. A year earlier, in 1936, the Spanish Civil War erupted. General Francisco Franco, supported by fascist governments in Italy and Germany, led an armed uprising against the Republic. The residents of Guernica resisted. Franco asked his Nazi partners to punish these stubborn people who had withstood his army’s assault.
The people of Guernica had no anti-aircraft guns, much less fighter planes to defend their city. The Nazi pilots knew that at 4:30 in the afternoon of market day, the city’s center would be jammed with shoppers from all around the areas.
Before flying on their "heroic mission," the German pilots had drunk a toast with their Spanish counterparts in a language that both could understand: "Viva la muerte," they shouted as their raised their copas de vino. The bombing of Guernica introduced a concept in which the military would make no distinction between civilians and combatants. Death to all!
Almost 1700 people died that day and some 900 lay wounded. Franco denied that the raid ever took place and blamed the destruction of Guernica on those who defended it, much as the US military intimates that the "insurgents’ forced the savage attack by daring to defend their city and then hide inside their mosques. Did the public in 1937 face the equivalent of the Peterson case that commanded their attention?
Where is the new Picasso who will offer a dramatic painting to help the 21st Century public understand that what the US Air Force just did to the people of Fallujah resembles what the Nazis did to Guernica?
In Germany and Italy in 1937, the media focused on the vicissitudes suffered by those pilots who were sacrificing for the ideals of their country by combating a "threat." The US media prattles about the difficulties encountered by the US marines. It never calls them bullies who occupy another people’s country, subduing patriots with superior technology to kill civilians and destroy their homes and mosques. On November 15, an embedded NBC cameraman filmed a US soldier murdering a wounded Iraqi prisoner in cold blood. As CNN showed the tape, its reporter offered "extenuating circumstances" for the assassination we had witnessed. The wounded man might have booby-trapped himself as other "insurgents" had done. After all, these marines had gone through hell in the last week.
The reporting smacks of older imperial wars, Andrew Greely reminded us in the November 12, Chicago Sun Times. "The United States has fought unjust wars before — Mexican American, the Indian Wars, Spanish American, the Filipino Insurrection, Vietnam. Our hands are not clean. They are covered with blood, and there’ll be more blood this time." Falluja should serve as the symbol of this war of atrocity against the Iraqi people, our Guernica. But, as comedian Chris Rock insightfully points out, George W. Bush has distracted us. That’s why he killed Laci Peterson, why he snuck that young boy into Michael Jackson’s bedroom and the young woman into Kobe Bryant’s hotel room. He wants us not to think of the war in Iraq. We need a new Picasso mural, "Falluja," to help citizens focus on the themes of our time, not the travails of the Peterson case. The Bush Administration sensed the danger of such a painting. Shortly before Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003 UN Security Council fraudulent, power point presentation, where he made the case for invading Iraq, UN officials, at US request, placed a curtain over a tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica, located at the entrance to the Security Council chambers. As a TV backdrop, the anti-war mural would contradict the Secretary of State’s case for war in Iraq. Did the dead painter somehow know that his mural would foreshadow another Guernica, called Fallujah?
SAUL LANDAU is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. His new book is The Business of America.