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20 October 2008

Misused words misrepresent facts, by Dr. Walter Ehrlich

An unpublished essay by Dr. Walter Ehrlich. Had I written it, I'd've put Obama in my sights as well -- in fact, the two candidates stances on Iraq are indistinguishable, once the rhetoric is peeled away -- but otherwise, I agree:

Over five years have passed since the United States invaded Iraq, but in the media and in our everyday discourse we still use inappropriate and misleading words for describing our actions there. Language itself has become a weapon in this conflict, a tool for misrepresenting vital problems and a way to mislead the country.

We hear and read every day, for example, that there is a "war" in Iraq. Senator John McCain promises to bring the boys home after 16 months, but only if the "war" has been won. The truth, however, is that after the first 6 weeks of the unprovoked invasion, the U.S. Army had already destroyed the badly outnumbered and outgunned Iraqi Army. It was five years ago that President George W. Bush, standing on a battleship and flanked by Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, proclaimed victory in the war with Iraq. We saw in the media how the monument of Saddam Hussein was toppled with a rope. Only far later did we see other photos showing that it was not the liberated Iraqi population which pulled the rope, but rather an American tank.

No weapons of mass destruction were ever found, so a new pretext for the grab of oil deposits and strategic positions was needed. The military adventure was rebaptised: it was now a Fight for Democracy. Under this new slogan, the occupying army consolidated power in the country. It soon controlled all activity, all media, and all movement—just as Hitler, and later Stalin, did when they occupied foreign countries. As in previous occupations, when there was no longer an organized army left to defend the occupied country, individuals or groups of citizens tried to drive the invader out. When Hitler or Stalin was the occupier, we called such people "patriots," and we supported them. When the U.S. is the occupier, we call these people "insurgents" and "terrorists" and we destroy them and their surroundings. If a suicide bomber is called a terrorist, what should we call the military forces who throw grenades into occupied houses (throw first, ask questions later), who bombard isolated houses or whole areas with gunfire, who wound or kill innocent men, women, and children? Hitler and Stalin installed puppet governments in the occupied countries to execute their orders. We called these institutions "collaborators" or "quislings." The United States has also installed a collaborating Iraqi government, Iraqi police, and Iraqi army to execute its orders.

During the 5 weeks of the initial invasion, the U.S. and Allied forces reported 184 battle fatalities. During the ensuing occupation, around 4,600 fatalities have been reported, and the number grows. In other words, more than 25 times as many soldiers lost their lives during the occupation than during the actual invasion! And for the Iraqi people—including collaborating and non-collaborating soldiers, the police, and most of all, civilians of all ages—it is estimated that there have been several hundred thousand fatalities! The occupation has caused enormous losses of lives, limbs, and valuables, borne by U.S. citizens, Allied Forces, and the Iraqi population alike.

We are told that the U.S. cannot leave Iraq now. We are told that it would cause chaos. But is there not terrible chaos even now, during the occupation? We do not know what Iraq would look like in 16 months if the U.S. were to leave now, but why should there be less chaos after another 16 months of deaths, torture, disease, and destruction? Why do politicians speak about bringing our soldiers home, rather than about getting out of Iraq? Does it mean, perhaps, that they really have no intention to ever leave Iraq? Do they dream, perhaps, of withdrawing the bulk of the U.S. forces only after they have successfully installed—by bloody terror, by economic isolation, by bribery and intrigue—a stable puppet government with a collaborating Iraqi Army and Police Force who will enforce the American occupation of their own country forever? The U.S. was not able to establish such a self-enslavement, as the Romans once were in their colonies, during a five-year occupation. Why should we imagine that it will succeed if given another 16 months? Why should we imagine it will ever succeed? Is this the victory Senator McCain promises now, more than five years after the so-called "victory" on the battlefield? These vital questions are either evaded or answered deceitfully. Instead, we pretend—against all logic—that remaining in Iraq will save the country from possible chaos. In reality, the U.S. government wants to ensure with all existing means its eternal possession of Iraq.

Thousands of U.S. soldiers lost their lives in the unprovoked invasion and cruel occupation, and their families are told that these loved one made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The question naturally arises: How did the United States benefit from the painful sacrifices of its citizens? The story about weapons of mass destruction was clearly invented, as the claims of the Bush Administration stood in direct contradiction to the findings of international weapon inspectors. Due to its violation of international law, the U.S. lost prestige and became internationally isolated, even hated in many parts of the world. And the costs of this half-decade military adventure have been astronomical. These expenses, which conferred no benefits on local U.S. communities, together with several decades of irresponsible financial deregulation, have contributed to the economic catastrophe the U.S. now faces. Is it this political and economic situation for which so many Americans and Iraqis had to sacrifice their lives? There are, no doubt, some who have benefited greatly from the invasion and occupation of Iraq—namely, weapons manufacturers and military contractors like Halliburton. But even their windfall may shrink as we sink into a deep recession caused partly by their own shortsighted influence on the Bush Administration.

Words matter. A prolonged occupation of a country after an unprovoked invasion should not be called a "liberation" of this country, nor a war for its "democratization." As our adventures in Iraq have shown, such an attack devastates not only the invaded country, but also the invading country. The United States has suffered terrible losses of life and limb and has inflicted grave damage on its own financial system and sense of moral decency. And it is not simply the U.S. and Iraq that have suffered. Unprovoked invasions and lengthy occupations diminish the power of international law and therefore threaten the security of all countries.

Biography of Dr. Walter Ehrlich

I was a leading functionary of the student movement against fascism and war. I edited a student journal for this movement. I was a member of Czechoslovak delegation to the World Congress of Students against War and Fascism in the summer of 1937. After the invasion of part of Czechoslovakia by Hitler's army in1938, I left the country illegally. When WWII started, the Czechoslovak Army in Exile was formed in Agde in the South of France. I joined in October 1939. In the summer of 1940 we defended France against Hitler's invasion from the North. Without proper weapons and equipment, the front retreated. Reorganized as part of the British Army, we took part in the English costal defense. Subsequently, we participated in the liberation of France. In December 1944 on a voluntary mission, I was gravely wounded. I was evacuated by air to a special military hospital in Basingstoke England. Several operations, just introduced penicillin and morphine, saved my life.

After the war I decided to return to my country which, we were told, had been liberated by the Russian army. I finished my medical degree, worked in a hospital and later I became a member of the Cardiovascular Research Institute in Prague. However, it became clear that Soviet Russia was not the peace loving, freedom loving country, as it proclaimed to be, but was a backward, cruel dictatorship. Its army did not come as liberator, but as an occupier. Misleading the population with expressions like human rights, freedom and social justice, the occupying Russia dictated everything, the thinking and speaking, the government, the army and the police, the courts, the prisons, the labor camps and the executions, the economy, the education, the travel and the recreation. Legally it was not possible to leave the country. I decided to bring my family out of this total dictatorship illegally, even though this was difficult and dangerous. We succeeded. Here in the US I could continue my medical research in the Hopkins School of Public Health until I retired. I love the US. However, my life experience has taught me that unprovoked war and unprovoked occupation of foreign countries are evil.

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