The UN General Assembly’s reaction to George Bush’s speech last Tuesday was begrudgingly polite. Unlike past years, no one clapped during the speech. At the end, applause was subdued. His talk was treated as irrelevant.
What is the sound of no hands clapping? Laughter — a laughter that rolled around the world. The world laughed when Bush began by extolling ‘the equal value and dignity of every human life,’ a dignity that is ‘dishonored Öby all violence against the innocent.’ The world asked, ‘Whose dignity? The dignity of the innocents the US killed and maimed in Afghanistan and Iraq? Of the human beings caged in Guantanamo Bay?’
Did you hear the world laugh when Bush tried to distinguish himself from dictators? ‘We know that dictators are quick to choose aggression, while free nations strive to resolve differences in peace.’ Yes, we know. That’s why the US rejected world opinion and abandoned the UN weapons inspections process to bomb and smash its way into Iraq, only to find there had never been any reason for the war in the first place.
Did you hear the world laugh when Bush tried to distinguish American violence from terrorist violence? ‘Terrorists,’ Bush said, ‘believe that suicide and torture and murder are fully justified to serve any goal they declare. And they act on their beliefs.’ Yes, we know. The Bush Administration believes it may wage preemptive war against threats that might never materialize, and its lawyers look for loopholes to justify torture. In less than three years the US has invaded two countries. It has tortured and murdered prisoners, some of whom were arrested by careless mistake.
The world gaped when Bush had the gall to continue: ‘The Russian children [recently massacred in Beslan ] did nothing to deserve such awful suffering, and fright, and death. The people of Madrid, and Jerusalem, and Istanbul, and Baghdad have done nothing to deserve sudden and random murder. These acts violate the standards of justice in all cultures, and the principles of all religions.’ But does ‘sudden and random’ death differ whether it comes from a truck bomb built in a basement or a smart bomb made in the US? Didn’t the US bombing and invasion of Iraq violate ‘the standards of justice in all cultures, and the principles of all religions?’ The war was patently illegal, and most of the world opposed it on moral and religious grounds. The world has imagined not only the ‘awful suffering, and fright, and death’ of children in Beslan, but the horror of children bombed by the US.
The world rolled its eyes when Bush warned, ‘a terrorist group associated with al-Qaida is now one of the main groups killing the innocent in Iraq today — conducting a campaign of bombings against civilians, and the beheadings of bound men.’ The world knows that THE main group killing people in Iraq is the US, which has killed more people than all the car bombs combined.
What isn’t funny is that President Bush, and many Americans who support him, fail to see that violence, when the smoke clears, is just Ö violence. When a mother cries at one of the ‘little graves’ Bush mentioned, it’s doubtful she cares whether her child was killed deliberately by someone who seeks independence for Chechnya or Iraq, or accidentally by a US soldier. It’s all the same whether the bomb was detonated by someone believing he was freeing people from an illegal occupier that has killed thousands or by someone who believed he was freeing people from an ‘outlaw dictator.’
And let’s look at this sole, remaining justification for America’s Unnecessary War, that the US freed Iraq from ‘an outlaw dictator.’ Are the dead free? Did the maimed AGREE to lose an arm, a leg, their eyes, so that they might have a leader other than Saddam? Did the orphaned and widowed and those who lost children AGREE to trade their parents and spouses and kids for the possibility of democracy?
The Iraqi insurgents are not the only ones who use violence to kill their enemies and scare the survivors into submission. That is precisely what the US is doing.
Bush ended his speech by avowing, ‘I have faith in the transforming power of freedom.’ The world laughed, because Bush’s actions show otherwise: He believes in the transforming power of VIOLENCE — just like the rest of the terrorists and bomb throwers who’ve soaked the pages of history with other people’s blood.
BRIAN J. FOLEY is a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.