As everyone here knows, this is the season of peace and good will towards men (and women). Even if we weren’t raised in the Christian tradition, this season of Xmas is part of our mythology here in the US. As for myself, I was raised in that tradition-as a Catholic, matter of fact. So, as the season of advent unveils itself, please bear with me for a few minutes as I explore the foundations of the story that informs this time of the year in our so-called civilization.
Schoolchildren are told that this is a time of peace, yet the government in Washington wages war. We are reminded that it is a time of love, yet our propaganda machine preaches hate towards those who disagree with the “American” view of the world. This is the time when many in the United States pray for the US soldiers stationed around the world instead of insisting that they come home. It is a time when our children remind us that the season is really about family and caring, while Washington’s policies destroy families both here and overseas with their focus on conquest and domination. The December holidays and the weeks leading up to them (known as advent in the Christian and pagan tradition) are a time that our culture sets aside for thinking about a prince of peace who was born in abject poverty, while all around us are the symbols of our lust for material things-a lust that ultimately leads us to make war on others to satisfy our greed.
I’m not asking people to give up their holiday. That would be pointless, misplaced, and ignored. But, how do we celebrate it? Is this season all about presents and self-gratification and the rest of the world be damned? Is it a feast of self-righteousness and an assumption that we deserve the wealth and riches we have? If that’s what this holiday season is for you, then what I’m going to say next won’t be in the spirit of your holiday.
Last month I saw a photo from Iraq that I can’t get out of my mind. It wasn’t particularly gruesome and there was no blood in it, although there have certainly been plenty of those kinds of photos coming out of that war-ravaged country in the past year and a half. It wasn’t of a headless torso or an armless child, nor was it of a wounded soldier with a look on his face that asked: “What the hell happened? This isn’t what I expected when I joined the Guard?” No, it was a photo of three young Iraqi girls, perhaps around ten years old, wearing the little t-shirts like ten year old girls wear at every shopping mall in the United States. One of the girls had extremely curly hair and blue jeans and the other two had longer, straighter hair and were wearing those pants that look like running pants (you know, they have a pair of stripes running down the outer seam and a slight flare at the bottom). All three of them were watching a vehicle of some sort burn on the street behind them. Except for that burning vehicle the photo could have been taken on a street in almost any US city or town.
That’s why I can’t forget that photo. Because it brought home to me how much more alike than different the people that our military are killing, torturing, and otherwise destroying and oppressing really are. Those three little girls could have been your daughter and two of her friends. Or your little sisters. Their parents could be you or me. The street they were standing on could have been the street you park your car on. The lives being destroyed by the government in Washington and the military it commands could be our lives with only a minor twist of the fates.
Actually, when you think about it, it is our lives that are being destroyed in Iraq. Certainly not in the same way that the lives of Iraqis are being destroyed, but in a fundamentally deep and unalterable way, our lives are not the same as they were before our government embarked on this mission to remake Iraq in our own image. From the moment Washington decided to try and control the destinies of the Iraqi people so many decades ago our country has been complicit in the oppression and murder that decision has required to continue. In the past several years it has only gotten worse. The killing has intensified and our complicity has grown deeper, no matter how much denial we practice. Saddam Hussein was our man in Baghdad for as long as we wanted. Now we have Iyad Allawi. Allawi and over 150, 000 troops to force our way on the Iraqi people. They can call it democracy and they can call it free, but the truth of the matter is unless the Iraqi rulers must do Washington’s bidding or they lose their power. That is the message of the Pentagon, the White House, and the Congress. And it is the message no matter who has been in any of those buildings-Bush, Clinton, Reagan, whomever-they have all had the same agenda. Domination and control. Power and profits.
It’s time for us to decide if that is our agenda, too. If it is, then we can just go on with our lives. Denying to ourselves and our children the price the rest of the world is paying for our comfort and denying to ourselves and our children the price we are paying as human beings for our relative wealth and comfort. We can forget those three young girls living in a war zone that our government created and is determined to continue-even expand if it deems it necessary. We can forget those girls’ relatives who have been killed and maimed by the machinery of death our tax dollars pay for. We can forget the destruction of our own society’s economic safety nets; safety nets that keep the poor and elderly from becoming even more so. Safety nets whose monies have gone to pay for that illegal occupation and war that those Iraqi girls must face daily. We can forget the young men and women of our country who find themselves in Iraq either by choice or because of the economic draft that our military uses to take working class and poor young people into the military. Yes, we can forget them until they come back dead or wounded. Then we can give them a purple heart or a military funeral and fill them and their relatives full of lies about honor and freedom before we forget them again. And send others to take their place.
Or we can decide that Washington’s agenda of war, occupation and conquest is not our agenda, no matter who is running the show. If this is what each and every one of you here decides, then it is time to do something about it. It is time to give up a night at home or a meal out and spend that time and money helping us work to end the war and get the US troops back to the US now! It is time to do more than complain about the fools in Washington and act on those complaints. It is time to join with thousands of your fellow citizens across the country on January 20th, 2005 in Washington, DC, San Francisco or elsewhere and call for an end to the occupation of Iraq. It is time to send a message to Congress and the White House: End the occupation, bring the troops home, and cut off all funding of the war. Do it for those three young Iraqi girls. Do it for yourself and your children. Do it sooner rather than later.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org