In my neighborhood of trimmed lawns and two or more car garages, with one or two more vehicles parked outside the garage, I counted fifteen American flags in less than five minutes of my slow trot, most of them new since the US invaded Iraq. One house had a sign with a US flag waving over a map of Iraq. Americans learn geography through war, experience the traumas of battle-well, virtually-and root for the good guys. We know we’re good because God blesses America and f..s our enemies-with the help of the missiles, bombs, tanks and other war technology with which He has blessed us. Our God loves peace and keeps us, as Gore Vidal quipped, in “perpetual war.” Our God does not like opposition, from within, or from our former friends abroad. He has told our leaders, all of whom remain in close contact with Him, to punish such heretic behavior.
Our God is one of love and compassion, although he seems to act out of rage and retribution. But some of the media, particularly Fox and CNN, seem to have found hidden in FCC regulations some clause that dictates that their major news reporting task is to follow the orders of our God-chosen political leaders-since the majority did not choose them. Former officers, like Lt. Col. Oliver North who, in violation of the law, conspired to sell missiles to Iran in the 1980s in order to fund the Nicaraguan Contras-another violation of the law-now appear as honored war experts and cheerleaders for our troops .
On April 6, before I jogged through my neighborhood, I watched TV images of bombs and artillery shells decimating Iraq, Iraqi women and children pleading for water. One scene even showed a full hospital without running water, so the doctor could not mix plaster with which to make a cast for a small boy’s broken arm.
On line I saw more horrific images from non-US sources, including Agence France Presse. Mutilated bodies of children and weeping adults holding their dead kids! Liberating Iraq! Yes, death is the ultimate liberation!
Bush has set forth “a worldview that is intrinsically paranoid,” writes philosopher Francois Bernard in the March 31 Ha’aretz, “imbued with visions of the most regressive Crusades, drenched in a frightening symbolism that sees any external opposition as evidence of crime and in which every decision and every action bear the seal of a vengeful divinity.” Since 9/11/01-was this the work of the Devil?-God has emerged as the dominant force in US politics. This God preaches democracy, although its meaning has yet to become clear. It has something to do with good, the United States, the United Kingdom and other members of the coalition of the willing, versus the axes of evil and their tacit partners in malice.
Our God teaches us that shopping and going to Disneyland constitute the highest spiritual values-outside of attending church once a week. Our God has singled us out among all peoples, even though we came from all peoples, as His chosen elite to reside in His promised land. After all, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay believed in that very ethos as did the first slave owners in the South. Since God had sent them to this land without first providing them with knowledge of farming, He must have meant for them to acquire slaves to do their work. How else could they remain free to think noble thoughts, engage in carefree sexual adventures with their more comely servants and copse patriotic songs, like Dixie? Yes, tradition vibrates strongly in this land of ever newly arriving immigrants.
Well-dressed people pour out of churches, get in their SUVs and drive to their $400,000 plus homes. Some will watch sports on TV, others will tune in to the presstitutes, as Uri Avnery calls them, who report on the war in Iraq. “Their original sin,” he says, “was their agreement to be ’embedded’ in army units. This American term sounds like being put to bed, and that is what it amounts to in practice. A journalist who lies down in the bed of an army unit becomes a voluntary slave. He is attached to the commander’s staff, led to the places the commander is interested in, sees what the commander wants him or her to see, is turned away from the places the commanders does not want him to see, hears what the my wants him to hear and does not hear what the army does not want him to hear. He is worse than an official army spokesman, because he pretends to be an independent reporter. The problem is not that he only sees a small piece of the grand mosaic of the war, but that he transmits a mendacious view of that piece.”
The rosy reports on the “news” of the virtuous coalition troops’ steady triumph over the unfair-fighting forces of evil give several residents of my suburban neighborhood reason to feel righteous, if not downright pious in their support of the Bush Administration’s policy. Those Bush supporters I have spoken to see no relationship between their comfortable life styles and the devastation the US military has inflicted in Iraq. “Now we’re even for what they did to us,” said a sales manager at a local hotel chain. He referred to 9/11, as if Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis had actually done those foul deeds. “They’re not going to try that one again,” he said smugly. Almost half of Americans polled blame Saddam for 9/11-thanks to President Bush’s constant references to “his links” to terrorists, reported without critical comment by the media.
Most Americans don’t have access through TV news or the daily print press of critical reporting coming out of Iraq. On April 8, Robert Fisk of the Independent filed this report:
“It looks very neat on television, the American marines on the banks of the Tigris, the all-so-funny visit to the presidential palace, the videotape of Saddam Hussein’s golden loo. But the innocent are bleeding and screaming with pain to bring us our exciting television pictures and to provide Messrs Bush and Blair with their boastful talk of victory. I watched two-and-a-half-year-old Ali Najour lying in agony on the bed, his clothes soaked with blood, a tube through his nose.”
Ignorant of and therefore oblivious to Iraqi pain, one would think the suburbanites would at least respond to their state’s fiscal crisis. How much will they have to pay if Bush actually tries to realize his post-war reconstruction plans for Iraq? Californians, already faced with a $35 billion state deficit, look forward to paying heavier state and local taxes to make up for the shortfall from the federal government’s yearly allocation to the states. They do not seem to worry about additional costs for rebuilding Iraq. When I mention the tax-cut for the very wealthy, their eyes glaze over.
I have also met the programmed “born-agains,” those who believe robot-like that what they view on TV as current history is the working out of biblical prophecy. One woman mentioned the battles of Gog and Magog that must precede the final reckoning. She identifies “100% with our President.” He, unlike the lascivious Bill Clinton, “is a true Christian.” Most of the neighbors with whom I spoke said that the bloodshed had upset them, but “that’s the price we have to pay for security,” one man said as he pruned his roses.
In Iraq, the born-again Christians work with the US military. Meg Laughlin in the April 5 Miami Herald quoted Evangelical Christian Army chaplain Josh Llano. “They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized,” he said. “In so many ways,” write Laughlin, “this represents the true mindset of the individuals who have pushed this war. It is right down the line with the actions of this administration over the past three years; recall that, when our airmen were being held in China back in 2001, Mr. Bush was only concerned with whether or not they had Bibles.”
Nothing in the fundamentalist theology seems to inhibit consumption, however. These God-fearing people buy gas-guzzling vehicles, pay Mexicans to mow their lawns and drop chemicals into their swimming pools and take periodic vacations in Las Vegas-where God does not always bless them. In church, they listen to the pious sermons about what being a Christian means in daily life. But their interpretation of the Bible does not sensitize them to the pain of the Iraqis. I notice a satisfied, almost smug smile on the faces of the men as they announce their support for the president and his war like policies. They repeat Bush’s lines about the need to get rid of Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” and “we had to act because the UN is worthless” arguments.
My neighbors have problems, like all people. Their suburban-reared kids often drink and then drive, use drugs and get caught or fail to make college-level grades. But many of the parents themselves also tend to use addictive substances and then go into religious programs to recover-or get divorced, go bankrupt and even commit suicide. Those I spoke with consider themselves good people, kind, charitable. Like many suburban families, my neighbors spend parts of their weekends on shopping expeditions for lawn, garden, patio and pool supplies, home furniture, kitchen needs and of course clothing. Most of them cannot quite understand why some people would protest a war against a brute like Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
“Those hedonistic terrorists are getting what they deserve,” opined one older neighbor with a prominently displayed flag on her lawn. She had just returned from her Baptist church service where she prayed for President Bush to prevail. Later she will take advantage of a sale to buy her grandchildren some new back packs for their school backs. “Lord knows, they sure get plenty of use.” I nod. She says: “God bless you!”
In Iraq, Saddam invokes God as well. Alive or dead, his words continue to call on his people to resist in the name of the Muslim homeland and Allah. That God has lost this war. Or maybe just this battle for Iraq in the last days of born-again history?
SAUL LANDAU’s film IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE STREETS is distributed by Cinema Guild, 800-723-5522. Find him on the web at www.rprogreso.com He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org