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Time to Drop the Face-Saving Fictions

The Rape of Iraq

by DIANE CHRISTIAN

Let’s stop using the word war to describe our action in Iraq. While it is terribly true that we are killing and maiming and destroying and being killed and maimed and morally destroyed we should shelve the word war. It constructs a righteous cause and compels a rhetoric of winning. Winning sets figures of contest and domination and triumph and prevailing victory and honoring those who died in the cause, "We are committed to winning. It is our only course," says Cheney.

‘Iraqi Freedom’ was not a righteous war but a preemptive attack rationalized on faulty ideas, imaginations, and greed. Better to think of it as rape.

We raped Iraq. We began our action with forced, non-consensual penetration and despoilation of that country. Our Vice President publically imagined they wanted us and would welcome us, would love us and our intentions. Guilt followed, and more delusion, and stubborn refusal to admit the action. So stopping the rape, getting out, is where the figure flags. Rather than withdrawing and taking a shower, we’ve continued the rape and recast the story.

Our story now is that we’re waging a war on terror and evil in Iraq a sufficiently abstract story to distract us from the ongoing rape of Iraq.

Rape stories may be instructive.

In Genesis Shechem the Canaanite rapes Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, and seeks to marry her. Dinah’s brothers require circumcision, so he consents to circumcision for himself and his people to promote intermarriage and property alliances. While he’s healing, Dinah’s brothers kill him and his people, "and plundered the city in reprisal for Dinah’s defilement." Jacob disapproves, but the brothers say noone treats our sister like that. The story says kin remember and will avenge.

Another biblical story of King David’s children makes that same point and an additional one. Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar and is killed by her full brother Absalom. After Amnon rapes her he hates her as in Shakespeare’s phrase about lust ‘past reason hunted, past reason hated.’ The story shows the trope eroticize, rape, blame the victim, perish.

Rape stories don’t usually end well. The rapist is a brute and often a deceiver, not a successful romancer. Rape cannot force love or alliance. How then can we forge honor from the Iraq story? Staying the course seems honorable to many, like taking responsibility, fixing what you broke. But rape cannot be fixed by force. It is stubbornness, willful pride, pure error to compound the violation.

Some, like Henry Kissinger, say victory is our only option. They cling to the figure of war and winning. The story for them is not about Iraq but about our loss of face and power. Which means that rape, like torture and terror, remains our strategy. Which means we are caught in the compulsion of our action and unable to break free. Until we can’t anymore keep up the rape.

Americans seem blind to the brutality of violent action but super-sensitive to sexual acts. So perhaps the rape analogy might penetrate the obdurate callous war story we perpetrated and persist in. Rape is harder to spin, closer to skin, ugly. Accurate.

No face-saving fiction is credible now. We need to face our face as rapist and despoiler and change it. However well-meaning and heroic we might wish to appear, intentions cannot transform the actions of barbarism and terror.

Rape is a love story only for sociopaths.

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu