|April 25, 2006|
Dying for Nixon, Dying for Bush
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
"I didn't want to die for Nixon," said a man I met recently in a Seattle park. He'd served on military bases in a half dozen states, then had a car accident just before being shipped to Vietnam. "The accident was lucky," he said. "It was a worthless war and I didn't want to go."
I agreed. I admired those who fought in World War II, I said. We owe them the debt of our freedom. But to die for Nixon's love of power, his fear of losing face, his deception and vindictiveness -- to die for him was obscene. Nixon's war, the man said, had nothing noble about it. And neither did Iraq.
What does it mean to die in a war so founded on lies? Bush may lack Nixon's scowl, but he's equally insulated from the consequences of profoundly destructive actions. He came to power riding on the success of Nixon's racially divisive "Southern Strategy," which enshrined the Republicans as the party of backlash. He won reelection by similarly manipulating polarization and fear. Like Nixon, he's flouted America's laws while demonizing political opponents. His insistence that withdrawing from Iraq would create a world where terrorists reign echoes Nixon's claim that defeat in Vietnam would leave the U.S. ''a pitiful, helpless giant.''
While Bush assures our soldiers they fight for Iraqi freedom, and to "make America safer for generations to come," 82 percent of Iraqis, according to a British Ministry of Defense poll, say they're "strongly opposed" to the presence of American and British troops, and 45 percent justify attacks against them. This creates what psychologist Robert Jay Lifton calls "an atrocity-creating situation." Lifton first used the phrase during Vietnam. He now uses it to describe a "counterinsurgency war in which US soldiers, despite their extraordinary firepower, feel extremely vulnerable in a hostile environment," amplified by "the great difficulty of tracking down or even recognizing the enemy." This sense of an environment out of control has seeded the ground for Abu Ghraib and for massacres, at the villages of Haditha and Mukaradeeb, already being compared to My Lai. Former Army sniper Jody Blake recently described his unit keeping extra spades on their vehicles so that if they killed innocent Iraqis in response to an Improvised Explosive Device attack, they could throw one next to them to make it appear those killed were preparing a roadside bomb.
Last December Bush called the Iraqi election "a watershed moment in the story of freedom." But if our invasion and occupation has created a watershed moment, it's one yielding rivers of resentment and bitterness that may poison the global landscape for decades to come. And when Bush talks of promoting freedom, the world sees the freedom of America to do whatever we please, no matter how many nations oppose us. America's Vietnam-era leaders made much of their embrace of freedom as well, while overthrowing elected governments from Brazil to Chile to Greece. The war they waged in Southeast Asia killed two to five million Vietnamese, plus more deaths in Laos and Cambodia. And as with Iraq, those making the key decisions were profoundly insulated: Out of 234 eligible sons of Senators and Congressmen, only 28 served in Vietnam, only 19 saw combat, only one was wounded and none were killed. In Iraq, as we know, the chickenhawks led the march to war, and the sole Congressman or Senator with a son who initially served was Democrat Tim Johnson, who the Republicans still attacked as insufficiently patriotic. The sons of Republican Senator Kit Bond and three Republican congressmen have joined him since, but like Bush and his cohorts, most who've made this war possible have never been intimately touched by it.
Counting Eisenhower's first deployment of soldiers and CIA agents in support of the French, the United States fought in Vietnam for over twenty years. We've been in and out of Iraq for nearly forty, since the 1963 coup when the CIA first helped the Baath Party overthrow the founder of OPEC. (And intervening in Iran since our 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected of Mohammed Mossadegh, where we replaced him with the dictatorial Shah). With this administration promising no immediate end in sight, Bush now tells us it will be up to "future presidents" even to consider withdrawing our troops. Who wants to be the last man or woman to die for George Bush?
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association, and winner of the Nautilus Award for best social change book of the year. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org. To get his articles directly email email@example.com with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles.
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