Twenty years ago this January, the world waited for a war that was almost certain. On January 16, 1991 the US-led attack on Iraq began. A little more than two months later, it was over.
Millions of people around the world took to the streets to oppose the drive towards war. From Washington, DC to London; Berlin to Tokyo; Bangladesh to Gaza, massive protests were held in the months leading up to the January 16, 1991 attack. I myself attended one of the most emotionally powerful antiwar protests I had ever attended the day before the war began. It was in Olympia, WA. Over 3000 people (in a county with a population of around 100,000) attended a rally and then marched to the Washington State Capitol. We then took over the building and remained there for several hours. Here is a brief description of the moment from an essay I wrote many years ago (it appears in my book Tripping Through the American Night-Ron):
“After the majority of the crowd had reached the parking lot in front of the Capitol, Peter Bohmer began to speak. He gave a rousing twenty minute talk tying together the fight for justice and against imperial war and then urged everyone to join him inside the Capitol where we would attempt to present a petition demanding the Washington State Legislature pass a resolution opposing a war against Iraq. People headed towards the doors. As they went inside police asked them to leave their signs at the door. Once inside, the chant “No War!” began in earnest once again. While most of us remained in the rotunda, about 500 protesters went looking for a door into the chambers. Eventually they found one and streamed into the room. The Legislature had closed early that day because of the demonstration and the room was empty. Not for long, though. Soon, close to a thousand people were in the room, chanting, talking, and dancing. Some of the more organized members of the crowd began to strategize a plan for the longer term. They called the group to some kind of order and expressed their desire to occupy the chambers until the legislators responded to the proposed resolution. Meanwhile the police were gathering their forces and talking to each other on walkie-talkies. The press was sending out their version of the events on the national wire and over the television airwaves via CNN. Within the hour, news of the action had spread and more media were streaming in as protesters began to settle in for a long stay. By dark most folks had left the chambers. Some headed home. Most, however, joined a vigil and prayer session that had begun an hour earlier in the Capitol rotunda.”
The following day saw protests around the world after the attack. But the protests too fell on deaf ears. George Bush, the Congress and the Pentagon were going to end the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all, no matter what.
After that part of the war was over and US troops had come home to a display of empty nationalism that included parades and generals throwing out the first pitches at Major League Baseball games, the Iraqis rebuilt their country as best as they could and the US soldiers were left to deal with their demons on their own. Fewer than 500 US and other coalition troops died during the war. Over 50,000 Iraqis died. In the years that followed, it is estimated that more than a million Iraqis died because of the sanctions that were placed on their nation by the United States (with United Nations Security Council complicity). US and British warplanes continued to fly sorties over Iraq that they called flyovers, occasionally attacking Iraqi towns and military positions. Untold US veterans became ill and/or died from war-related causes, including a new medical phenomenon that became known as Gulf War Syndrome.
It’s not like the sanctions and US flyovers were a time of peace. Looking back, it’s easy to see that these acts were just another part of Washington’s twenty year war against Iraq–a war that continues to this day. As we all know, it is a war that was ramped up several notches in 2003 when George W. Bush followed in his father’s steps and helped launch an even bloodier phase in the war. This phase has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, more than 4400 US troops and several hundred more fatalities of soldiers and workers from other nations. It has been a war whose destruction has been almost complete. Some of its goals have been reached, some obfuscated and some forgotten. Some have been dropped. Israel is even more dominant in the Mideast than it was twenty years ago. The government of Saddam Hussein has been completely destroyed. The US price of oil is not cheap and Washington’s control of it is not a sure thing. More importantly, the country of Iraq is in a shambles and continues to suffer from (among other things) car bombings, banditry, rampant corruption, and the continued lack of an infrastructure that was destroyed by US forces in the 1991 war, rebuilt by Iraqi technicians and destroyed again in the phase of the war that began in 2003.
The destruction, death and suffering wreaked upon the people and nation of Iraq by the United States stands as one of history’s most infamous crimes. Yet, no one has had to answer for it. Instead, many of those most responsible for this crime are presented as decent, even moral humans. They are given awards and positions of honor. George Bush the Elder sits with Bill Clinton on boards that collect money for the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, their hands dripping with the blood of innocent Iraqis. Tony Blair is appointed as an envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the UN. The younger Bush and many in his administration profit from books including, in Bush’s case, one describing his complicity in the multitude of war crimes committed in Iraq in the name of the United States of America. Perhaps they should sign their books in the blood of those they have killed. Generals and politicians profit from the crime known under a multitude of names including: Desert Storm, Shock and Awe, Operation iraqi Freedom and now Operation New Dawn. Eventually, even Barack Obama may find himself echoing Lady Macbeth as he searches for a means to wipe the blood from his hands. Or, will he be as guiltless as those who went before him seem to be?
RON JACOBS is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. His most recent book, titled Tripping Through the American Night is published as an ebook. Fomite (Burlington, VT.) is publishing his new novel, titled The Co-Conspirator’s Tale in Spring 2011 He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org