It is not only Iraq that is occupied. America is Too
My country is in the grip of a President
Surrounded by Thugs in Suits
Friday August 12, 2005
It has quickly become clear that Iraq is not a liberated country,
but an occupied country.
We became familiar with that term during the second world war.
We talked of German-occupied France, German-occupied Europe.
And after the war we spoke of Soviet-occupied Hungary,
Czechoslovakia, eastern Europe.
It was the Nazis, the Soviets, who occupied countries.
The United States liberated them from occupation.
Now we are the occupiers.
True, we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but not from us.
Just as in 1898 we liberated Cuba from Spain, but not from us.
Spanish tyranny was overthrown, but the US established
a military base in Cuba, as we are doing in Iraq.
US corporations moved into Cuba, just as Bechtel and Halliburton
and the oil corporations are moving into Iraq.
The US framed and imposed, with support from local accomplices,
the constitution that would govern Cuba, just as it has drawn up,
with help from local political groups, a constitution for Iraq.
Not a liberation. An occupation.
And it is an ugly occupation.
On August 7 2003 the New York Times reported that General Sanchez
in Baghdad was worried about the Iraqi reaction to occupation.
Pro-US Iraqi leaders were giving him a message, as he put it:
"When you take a father in front of his family
and put a bag over his head and put him on the ground,
you have had a significant adverse effect on his dignity
and respect in the eyes of his family." (That's very perceptive.)
We know that fighting during the US offensive in November 2004
destroyed three-quarters of the town of Falluja
(population 360,000), killing hundreds of its inhabitants.
The objective of the operation was to cleanse the town
of the terrorist bands acting as part of a "Ba'athist conspiracy".
But we should recall that on June 16 2003, barely six weeks
after President Bush had claimed victory in Iraq, two reporters for
the Knight Ridder newspaper group wrote this about the Falluja area:
"In dozens of interviews during the past five days, most residents
across the area said there was no Ba'athist or Sunni conspiracy
against US soldiers, there were only people ready to fight
because their relatives had been hurt or killed,
or they themselves had been humiliated
by home searches and road stops ...
One woman said, after her husband was taken from their home
because of empty wooden crates which they had bought for firewood,
that the US is guilty of terrorism."
Soldiers who are set down in a country where they were told
they would be welcomed as liberators and find they are surrounded
by a hostile population become fearful and trigger-happy.
On March 4 nervous, frightened GIs manning a roadblock fired
on the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, just released
by kidnappers, and an intelligence service officer,
Nicola Calipari, whom they killed.
We have all read reports of US soldiers angry at being kept in Iraq.
Such sentiments are becoming known to the US public,
as are the feelings of many deserters
who are refusing to return to Iraq after home leave.
In May 2003 a Gallup poll reported that only
13% of the US public thought the war was going badly. According
to a poll published by the New York Times and CBS News on June 17,
51% now think the US should not have invaded Iraq
or become involved in the war. Some
59% disapprove of Bush's handling of the situation.
But more ominous, perhaps, than the occupation of Iraq
is the occupation of the US.
I wake up in the morning, read the newspaper, and feel that
we are an occupied country, that some alien group has taken over.
I wake up thinking:
the US is in the grip of a president surrounded by thugs in suits
who care nothing about human life abroad or here,
who care nothing about freedom abroad or here,
who care nothing about what happens to the earth,
who care nothing about the water or the air,
or what kind of world will be inherited
by our children and grandchildren.
More Americans are beginning to feel,
like the soldiers in Iraq, that something is terribly wrong.
More and more every day the lies are being exposed.
And then there is the largest lie, that everything
the US does is to be pardoned because we are engaged in a
"War on Terrorism", ignoring the fact that
War is Itself Terrorism, that barging into homes and taking away
people and subjecting them to torture is terrorism, that invading
and bombing other countries does Not give us More Security but Less.
The Bush administration, unable to capture the perpetrators
of the September 11 attacks, invaded Afghanistan, killing thousands
of people and driving hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Yet it still does not know where the criminals are.
Not knowing what weapons Saddam Hussein was hiding,
it invaded and bombed Iraq in March 2003,
disregarding the UN, killing thousands of civilians
and soldiers and terrorising the population;
and not knowing who was and was not a terrorist,
the US government confined hundreds of people in Guantánamo
under such conditions that 18 have tried to commit suicide.
The Amnesty International Report 2005 notes:
"Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times ...
When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose
at the rule of law and human rights,
it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity".
The "war on terrorism" is not only a war on innocent people
in other countries;
it is a war on the people of the US:
on our liberties, on our standard of living.
The country's wealth is being stolen from the people
and handed over to the super-rich.
The lives of the young are being stolen.
The Iraq war will undoubtedly claim many more victims,
not only abroad but also on US territory.
The Bush administration maintains that, unlike the Vietnam war,
this conflict is not causing many casualties.
True enough, fewer than 2,000 service men and women
have lost their lives in the fighting.
But when the war finally ends, the number of its indirect victims,
through disease or mental disorders, will increase steadily.
After the Vietnam war, veterans reported congenital malformations
in their children, caused by Agent Orange.
Officially there were only a few hundred losses in the Gulf war
of 1991, but the US Gulf War Veterans Association has reported
8,000 deaths in the past 10 years. Some
200,000 veterans, out of
600,000 who took part, have registered a range of complaints
due to the weapons and munitions used in combat.
We have yet to see the long-term effects of depleted uranium
on those currently stationed in Iraq.
Our faith is that human beings only support violence
and terror when they have been lied to.
And when they learn the truth, as happened in the course
of the Vietnam war, they will turn against the government.
We have the support of the rest of the world.
The US cannot indefinitely ignore the 10 million people
who protested around the world on February 15 2003.
There is no act too small, no act too bold.
The history of social change is the history of millions of actions,
small and large, coming together at points in history
and creating a power that governments cannot suppress.
· Howard Zinn is professor emeritus of political science
at Boston University; his books include
A People's History of the United States
© Le Monde diplomatique
A version of this article appears in the August issue of Le Monde
diplomatique's English language edition Mondediplo.com
Special report,United States of America