Implication for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

John Turner

Monday: President Bush speaks repeatedly of victory in Iraq. But he doesn't say exactly what he means by victory. That's because if he did, his Iraqi adventure would have even less support than it does now. It's clear that in the minds of Bush and his close supporters, victory in Iraq means three main things:

  • A puppet government with the power to keep the population quiet.
  • A government that would welcome U. S. corporate incursions, especially ones designed to make major profits off Iraqi oil production.
  • A government that would "request" permanent U. S. military bases.

These conditions cannot be attained because there are too many people in Iraq who are opposed to them. Some are opposed violently and thereby earn for themselves the title of insurgents. But far more are opposed quietly and determinedly. It is they the U.S. administration thinks it can win over. But this is self-delusion. Particularly after what the United States has done to the people of Iraq, killing and insulting them, they are bound to see the United States as their enemy. And the longer we maintain the occupation, the more strongly they will despise us. This is why the current policy in Iraq is bound to fail. There's no doubt about that. The only thing that is in doubt is how many more lives will be lost before the American people wake up to what their government has done and insist that it be stopped.

Tuesday: The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins has issued its second study on the number of civilians who have died violently in Iraq since the United States invaded the country in March of 2003. Their estimate is 601,027. There will be many who will immediately call this an exaggeration. But careful examination of the evidence indicates that it's fairly accurate. The study has used accepted standards for estimating deaths and the chaotic conditions in Iraq assure that many deaths never get reported and, therefore, don't show up in "official" statistics. The idea that anything in Iraq now is official is fatuous. The most significant political development in America over decades will occur when the citizens of this country recognize that their ignorance and indifference has enabled their government to cause this many deaths among people who did nothing to us. Though the notion that Iraqis are merely Iraqis and therefore that their lives don't count is fairly strong in America, it probably can't survive the increasing evidence that these deaths are going to have consequences for the United States over at least the next generation. We will pay for them in many ways. And even if the immorality of taking hundreds of thousands of innocent lives never matters to Americans, the payments surely will.

Wednesday: I've noticed that Bill O'Reilly has begun to use the term "the SP Movement" as though its meaning were recognizable to everyone in the country. He's referring to the so-called secular progressives, who, in his mind, represent all evil in the universe. The rest of us should take a tip from him and start always referring to him as a PPFS, meaning, of course, principal participant in the Freak Show. The latter is Mark Halperin's and John Harris's term for the new media outlets which at present are dominated by right-wing extremists. Among these voices truth has no standing and all that counts is the ability to get into the news and be talked about. I suspect that Halperin and Harris have more power of coinage than O'Reilly does, and that the "Freak Show" will have a longer life and more widespread recognition than the "SP Movement" will ever achieve.

Thursday: David Brooks, in a column about the Ohio senate race, says the Republican future lies with independent, party-bucking candidates. He no doubt wishes that were true, but there's little evidence it is. The great majority of Republicans remain true to the xenophobic, whites-are best, the-past-was-perfect, God-looks-just-like-me, militaristic message President Bush and Karl Rove have exploited for the past six years. We may be approaching a great divide after which that demographic group will no longer be able to control the country, or own it, as they like to presume. But they will continue to make a lot of noise and carry out ever more extreme attacks on their opponents. Consequently, lots of politicians will try to ride them to victory. It's hard to imagine the Republican Party turning away from the nativist stance that has defined it over recent decades.

Friday: Waiting at the local Enterprise for my car to be brought out, I thumbed through a view book for Norwich University on the table in the waiting area. Norwich is a college in Northfield, Vermont which used to require that all its students enter the corps of cadets, actually a hyped up ROTC unit. Over the past several decades, bowing to enrollment pressures, Norwich has also admitted students who pursue a so-called "civilian lifestyle." The view book, however, was concentrated on the corps of cadets and reeked with military romanticism. I didn't find it compelling. Perhaps I should try to be more understanding of the romance of militarism. I haven't always been averse to it. I was a young army officer once and I suppose I enjoyed strutting about with brass buttons on my jacket as much as the next guy. But truth is I was just a kid who didn't know much. I still pride myself a little for not having been taken in quite to the degree some of my fellow officers were. I knew from the beginning that much of what I was told was pure propaganda. Still, I didn't know a lot and I see no reason to suspect that the young men who are regularly designated heroes on TV now are any different from what I was then. Military worship is at bottom a glorification of killing and until the world gets over the infatuation we won't have a sensible international community. There are attitudes from the past that we can recognize as having had appeal then which we now need to mature beyond. And military romance is certainly one of them.

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Harvard Square Commentary, October 16, 2006