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.
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, 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
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