In view of the fact that a social endeavor as enormous as invading another nation involves an inordinate amount of co-ordination and organizational capability and foresight, it is only natural that surprising turns of events would come up as a matter of fact, and not due to lack of effort. The basic fact is that invaded people do not like being invaded, and they resist. With resistance come friction, difficulty, and surprises. So when, as expected, events do not follow the desired course, what do the organic intellectuals of the invading company do? With persistence and consistency, they focus on the details at the cost of the larger context. Technicalities are brought to the fore and the big picture of shame is thus pushed out of sight.
Commentators of the mainstream press as well as some on the left are becoming particularly adept at analyzing those aspects of the invasion of Iraq characterized as having been mishandled by the Bush administration. First the museums’ security was mishandled, something about which cultural and humanitarian organizations had warned the administration, months in advance of the invasion (as in, “Go ahead, invade all you need, but please keep the statues intact!”). Then the electricity and other utilities were mishandled. Then the mother of all mishandlings, the disbanding of the army, with its consequent tectonic unemployment fiasco. And now the grandmother of all such, in the form of pictures that refuse to lie.
While it is clear what the ‘mishandlings’ refer to, we see that it has nevertheless become shorthand, and the bigger picture often then takes on an added ambiguous twist, and emerges as a ‘mishandled invasion’. On and on, and it gradually may even become a story of missed opportunities and wasted chances.
What does this mean? That it is OK to invade as long as you organize it a bit better? That invasions are all right if sponsored by more nations, and in the company of a bigger group of internal and external allies? That the legitimacy of barbarity increases in direct proportion to the number of people exercising it?
Is this lack of clear vision something unique to the current round of colonial pursuits? I am afraid that something deeper may be at work. In the history of mankind’s evolution and progress to better organized barbarity, one fundamental contribution of both natural and social sciences has been to insert cool, clinical and analytical tools between us and our down-right evil deeds. Thus alienated from them, we are freed to pursue them more vigorously.
Shorthand phrases can mask just as much as euphemisms can conceal. But this realization may lead us to other places. After a while deeper discursive displacements may become visible, too. For example, in the literature on the invasion of Vietnam by the US armed forces, an overwhelming amount of the available commentary (during and after the war), by both the mainstream as well as some on the left, has been heavily preoccupied with things like, ‘mistakes’ made by American lawmakers, policy writers and the armed forces; ‘mistakes’ made by ‘our allies’ in the South Vietnam government; or else ‘mistakes’ made by the media (by covering things the way they did _ either too well or too poorly, given your perspective). And the discourse gets even more fascinating when we read accounts of what the Vietnam War did to ‘our soul’, ‘our vision of ourselves’ and ‘our self-worth’, or how it ‘divided us’. Why not just as volubly wonder how it came to be that, while ‘we’ were indulging in self-pity and self-absorption, ‘our leaders’ were busy incinerating, raping and pillaging civilizations, families and communities? And why not wonder how to institute practical social conditions such that the same would never happen again?
It has also struck me as odd, in almost twenty years of living in the US in four different States north, south, east and west, how forgetful most of Americans are, and how little overt sense of shame or guilt is exhibited by any public official or among most of the ordinary citizens (of any age) for having murdered five million Vietnamese alone. Or the millions killed in Laos and Cambodia, both by American bombs and the genocidal consequences they brought on. No compensation, nor any accounting for all the millions of acres of farm land in Southeast Asia that the US deliberately laid waste to by mines or through burning-and-salinization ‘techniques’, just to make sure future generations too would continue to perish in some form. Not counting all the other countries the US has invaded, or ‘intervened in’, at times on behalf of a singular fruit company. Nor counting all the strategic occupations in the Western Hemisphere starting from the occupation of Cuba, run by the aptly named General Shafter, nor the colonization of the Philippines. After all that, do we notice a hint of shame? How about a faint shadow of guilt regarding the near-genocide of the Indian Nations on the American continent?
So, it is disconcerting that in the invasion of Iraq (a totally disarmed and starved nation) by the sole superpower on earth, almost from day one of the ‘victory’ phase, the discussion regarding the ‘mishandlings’ has dominated a great volume of the commentary; even on the left.
All the literature, all the exposes, all the evidence is right there in front of us. With all their technology, all their snoops, all their resources, and with the final clean-bill of health that was issued by Dr. Blix, whose thorough reports indeed reassured the villainous Bush and Blair that Saddam could not defend the Iraqis, and not losing a second too many, their armies invaded. They knew full well that in the barbaric chaos they were about to unleash, they would militarily remain be the biggest, best-provided-for monster with the biggest stick. Nothing was ‘mishandled’ in that regard. They wanted to create a jungle, and a jungle they created: so as to ensure that their excuses for remaining in the region will stay valid for a long time to come.
So, why do we still insist on finding out how they ‘mishandled’ the invasion, instead of putting our heads together to come up with better forms of spreading real resistance to this war where it is most desperately needed, i.e. in the US? In whose interest do we write, talk and agitate? Are we to advise these ruling elites who have legions and legions of sycophantic functionaries willingly dedicating their expertise in hundred-hour-weeks in thousands? Are we to go along with their recitations of the ‘mishandlings’ that could have been avoided? Where is the big picture disappearing to?
A band of outlaws, who stole the US Presidential Office, deliberately used the resources of the wealthiest nation on earth to put themselves in the midst of a huge amount of others’ wealth and resources. From their point of view, sure, they may have ‘mishandled’ a few ‘incidents’ here and there. But, such is their language and thus highly indicative of their interests and their designs. For them, it would of course have been better if no looting had happened, if no rapes or ‘abuses’ were caught on film, if the population just rolled over like a dog, wagging its tail in ecstatic happiness to see daddy come home. Sure they would have liked that. And, sure they ‘mishandled’ things in a way that such did not happen. But, no matter what they do, no matter how much they organize, something will always ‘go wrong’ in any invasion. How can it not? Do we think that clean invasions can happen? Just like we think, maybe, that clean revolutions can happen? Do we believe in magic? Has the New Age cosmology been that successful?
Historically as well as now, among the left and the center (except for a number of churches), the outrage has been exclusive to, what in the US political spectrum may be called, the far left. Very precious few ‘respectable’ journalists, academics, media figures, or political functionaries of the center/left have dared construct a very simple truism; invasions are invasions. By nature they are a colossal theft, if anything, of the societal resources of the invaded and the invading nations, by the invading nations’ governments and elites. And it costs something very dear: the ‘native’ people and the children of the invaders sent to do the killing and the humiliating, and their future state of being.
One further cost. Who pays for the war? Citizens. And who receives the profits, whose margins are astronomical compared to ‘normal’ market conditions? The corporations that provide the invading armies with all their necessities. So, not only was the US (and other) national wealth utilized to put a band of criminals in charge of Iraq’s natural and national resources, the ruling thieves in the same process transferred a gigantic amount of money from the pockets of taxpayers into those of the corporations all the thieves came from.
So, no, nothing was mishandled. So far, everything is going as planned. Those who are suffering do not matter to those who wield the power. The meek may as well be ants, their communities anthills littering the path of ‘progress’ and ‘security’.
As for the invaded nation, nothing that results from the arrival of foreign armies can be so politely characterized as a ‘mishandling’. For the invaded, the entire episode, from the first step, has a name that does not lend itself to categorizations that have any capability of being mishandled. That name is Rape. Mishandlings have meaning only for the rapist. And the only thing that can really bugger up a rapist’s plans is resistance.
Resistance, resistance, resistance!
No wonder then that the now-infamous photos of the Iraqi prisoners of Abu Ghuraib have done so much damage to the armor of the invaders. Those photos, bearing witness, brought to life the bigger picture. And in true ‘rationalist’ fashion, not losing a beat after the pictures started to reveal a truer story, the media machinery was put into action to derail the truth yet again, and to refocus the attention of the US public on the details and the minutiae, to talk of exceptions, and to hide the nature of this murderous venture.
Do not let the big picture disappear! Spread the outrage and organize it!
REZA FIYOUZAT can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org