War Talk in the Post Office

“Should we bomb Iraq?” the man asked.

We both stood in the Post Office annex. I was there to buy stamps and mail the monthly bills. He seemed to be doing some sort of mass mailing. The man appeared to be about fifty, overweight, the tail of his shirt drooping over work pants. He waited for me to respond.

These days, in America, it is prudent to measure your words, be circumspect in your responses. Go against the tide–especially in small town America where I live–and there may be consequences. The crowd is less faceless here than in New York or Los Angeles. Black marks are easier to come by.

“I’m tired of war,” I finally responded.

He smiled, pawed envelopes with large hands. “Well, that Arzez guy–Ariz, whatever his name is–how arrogant can you get?” He was talking about the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who had discussed the return of United Nations arms inspectors earlier in the day. “I say we don’t give those guys anything. Who the hell do they think they are? They should be happy we don’t start bombing tomorrow.”

In fact, I wanted to say, the bombing has never ceased, but thought better of mentioning it to the talkative stranger. We have bombed consistently and savagely within two large areas north and south known as no-fly zones–comprising the greater part of Iraq–since Security Council Resolution 688 was put into place on 5 April 1991. The no-fly zones were not authorized by the United Nations. Only the US and Britain believe they should be used to bomb the Iraqis at will–and without much provocation. The French have complained. They say there is no basis within international law for such rampant bombing. Of course, that hardly matters. We don’t listen to the French and we certainly don’t listen to the UN–unless, of course, it suits our purpose. In fact, we don’t even think we should pay our dues to the international organization.

Sick and tired of war. Yet large numbers of Americans believed–up until that fateful moment almost a year ago–we were at peace with our neighbors. So few Americans know the truth–our government has waged unrelenting war for over fifty years. When this truth is mentioned–we are not a good neighbor, our government has engaged in adventurism and intervention far and wide (in Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guatemala–and that’s simply the Americas and Caribbean)–public response is defensive, incredulous, occasionally violent. Colonial tutelage, hegemony, imperialism, transnational elite–these are difficult words incapable of entering the common dialect, words you will never hear Dan Rather speak, concepts unutterable by the likes of CNN, NBC, Fox, CBS, et al.

As Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky point out in Manufacturing Consent (1988) corporate media is a market system reflecting the class values and concerns of owners and advertisers–in other words, media as the propaganda organ of the corporate and ruling elite. Ramsey Clark: “The media is owned by the same interests that profit from exploitation of foreign people and weapons sales.” This needs to be kept in mind as political talking heads on the Fox News channel begin “debating” what should be done about Iraq. The next time you hear Cheney and Rumsfeld talk about what needs to be done in Iraq think Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop-Gruman, TRW, and, of course, the Carlyle Group where Dubya’s daddy works.

I cannot in all fairness condemn the stranger in the Post Office for his ill-informed opinions and suspicions. Corporate media, in the words of Paul Street, “possess awesome, structurally encoded power to shape popular perceptions of current events.” Since 911, this power has kicked into overdrive, has worked tirelessly to build the necessary public consensus for war and mass murder. “All propaganda,” observed Terry Eagleton, “involves a putting of the complex into the simple.” It strives to elicit a visceral rather than intellectual response. Who can resist the imagery? The dead Kurdish mother with baby clutched in her arms, gassed by the Butcher of Baghdad. How long before this madman develops the capacity to do the same to you and your children? Shall we sit idly by and wait for him to pass this terrible technology on to al–Qaeda? War, not diplomacy or even arms inspectors, is the only conceivable answer because, as vice president Dick Cheney has characterized it, “the risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.” War is the answer. Give war a chance.

In the coming weeks, Iraq will be dutifully characterized as a Medusa sprouting snake-haired Scuds freighted with biological, chemical, and nuclear horrors. Saddam, according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has “not been playing tiddlywinks” all these years. A few weeks back, Rumsfeld said Saddam has constructed underground bunkers and mobile labs for his nefarious WMD scientists and engineers. And yet the Secretary does not offer a shred of corroborative evidence. His assertions are to be accepted prima facie. British Prime Minister Tony Blair promises soon to make public a secret dossier of evidence against the Iraqi dictator. This dossier–according to Bronwen Maddox, foreign editor of The Times newspaper–is likely devoid of any substantial evidence. In fact, there is not a shred of evidence to indicate Iraq has nuclear weapons–unlike India and Pakistan, those two implacable enemies who nearly settled their long-standing differences a while back with thermonuclear weapons. Nonetheless, in the weeks ahead, more flimsy and unsubstantiated “evidence” will be manufactured. Iraq will be demonized, ad nauseam, as Dubya and Crew prepares for a war that is already a foregone conclusion.

I said nothing more to the stranger in the Post Office. It is best to be circumspect. He was a talkative sort–and soon changed the subject as we both went about affixing stamps to envelopes. No more talk of war. Instead he mentioned some actress, one I have never heard of and may never hear mention of again. Lottery. Weather. In the two minutes we stood together in the Post Office he changed the subject four or five times. He didn’t bring up the war again–the war that has yet to start.

But has been with us for decades. Kurt Nimmo is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He can be reached at: nimmo@zianet.com


KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent no holds barred blog at www.kurtnimmo.com/ . Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. A collection of his essays for CounterPunch, Another Day in the Empire, is now available from Dandelion Books. He can be reached at: nimmo@zianet.com