Thoughts, Ideas, Observations

The Principle of Violence Prevails

John Bedell

When George W. Bush brought Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and other hawks into his administration, I knew we were in for trouble. I didn't know which trouble, but I knew that we had a critical mass of men in Washington whose minds are given over to violence, and I knew they would lead us into war somewhere. Now they have.

War is raging in Iraq, and the flag-waving authoritarian patriots are calling on all Americans to get in line and "support the troops." I won't. I opposed this war before it started and I intend to continue speaking out against it while it rages and after it is over.  Where in the Constitution does it say that the First Amendment is suspended during wartime?  In 1864, in the midst of our most dangerous war, our nation staged a Presidential election, and I think that was one of the greatest things we ever did. Wars come and go, but if democracy is to survive its defenders must never lay down their arms. It is not treason to speak out against an unjust and foolish war.  I believe that the highest duty of any citizen in a democracy is to oppose the government when the government is wrong, and right now I think our government has gone insane.

So far, by the Iraqi tally, more than 400 Iraqi civilians have been killed, and if that is an exaggeration it is not likely to be much of one.  Why doesn't anyone care?  Where is the outrage over this?  We went into national mourning over the deaths of 160 Americans in Oklahoma City, and now we have inflicted several Oklahoma cities on the Iraqis and are poised to stage several more.  And for what?  Most Americans seem to think that the war in Iraq is about September 11, but that is a lie. Saddam had nothing to do with September 11, and whatever links his intelligence services have had with al Qaeda are much less significant than those of half a dozen other nations. He is working on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, but so are many other countries (including ours) and there is no evidence that he ever had any intention of using them against the US. He is a vicious thug, but the world is full of vicious thugs.  I think it highly unlikely that Saddam would ever have attacked us, and so I think the argument that this is a preventative war could be used with equal effect against any country in the world.  After all, any of them might one day attack the US.  No wonder everyone else in the world is frightened and angry. 

None of the publicly stated reasons for this war justifies it--but then, none of them is the real reason we are fighting anyway. The real reason is fear. We are making war on Iraq because Bush and his hawkish friends are scared, and when men with their hearts so full of violence get scared, the only response they can imagine is to lash out violently against some enemy, somewhere. For some reason the battle in Afghanistan against al Qaeda, our real enemy, has not satisfied their blood lust, and so they have settled on Iraq.

The American people have been brought to support this war by the old strategy of repeated, bold-faced lying. The most frightening thing about the war, to me, has been that Bush and company have managed to persuade millions of Americans that attacking Iraq is vital to our security simply by telling lie after lie about it. Some of those lies have been outrageous. To take just one example, Bush publicly maintained all summer and fall that he had not made up his mind about Iraq, that he was exploring every peaceful option for disarming Iraq, that war was only the "last resort." He said this at the UN, he said it to the Congress to get them to support his war resolution, he said it to the nation a hundred times. We now have plenty of evidence that it was a lie, and that, in fact, he had already decided last spring that we were going to war with Iraq. Time reported last week that in March, 2002, three senators were meeting with Condoleeza Rice to discuss how to contain Saddam Hussein, and Bush stuck his head into the meeting and said, "Fuck Saddam, we're taking him out." The shifting rationales we have been offered for war, the ever-changing conditions Iraq would have to meet to avoid attack, the appeal to the UN, were all ruses, all designed to distract attention from the basic fact that Bush had decided we were attacking Iraq and nothing was going to stop him.

Not only has the administration been profoundly dishonest about why we are going to war, they were also either dishonest about how they expected it to unfold or blitheringly foolish in their expectations. I can't decide which of these explanations is the right one, or which would be worse.  Sometimes it seems like Bush has been captured by Wolfowitz's fantasy of the US as a nation of white knights riding out against evil, smiting nasty dictators and restoring democracy to the cheering people. The divorce from reality represented by those fantasies that we would be welcomed into Basra like we were into Paris in 1944 is astonishing, and it bodes very ill for our future. Bush does not seem to understand how widely he is hated and how arrogant his policy seems to everyone else in the world. This blindness and arrogance has already led them to fumble at the UN and to throw away any chance of help from Turkey, and it will probably lead to more terrible mistakes in the future.

On the other hand, maybe Bush and company knew perfectly well how nasty the fighting in Iraq was going to be. Certainly that is what they are saying now. In that case those rosy scenarios they were spinning were just so much propaganda designed to build up support for the war until it was under way, when Americans' strong desire to support our troops in combat would take over. The mysterious way the war began tends to support this view. We sent our ground forces into Iraq in needless haste, while the tanks of the 4th Infantry Division that were supposed to help lead the assault were still in ships in the Mediterranean Sea. By waiting just one month we could have had twice the armored force in place to start the campaign, and many army generals are saying that this would have greatly reduced our casualties. By waiting one month we might also have had the support of the UN Security Council; word in the press was that the French had asked us for just 30 more days for the weapons inspectors to do their jobs. Why did we move so quickly? The only possible reason is political. Bush wanted to get the war underway before anything happened that might stop it.  Saddam's toying with the weapons inspectors made Bush's people fear that he might actually come into compliance with the UN Resolutions and deprive their war of its fig leaf of legitimacy; fluctuating poll numbers made them fear that the people might turn against the war and persuade Congress to take away their mandate. So we charged across the border.

Now look at the mess we are in. I have no doubt that we can drive an armored regiment into Baghdad and seize whatever piles of rubble we have decided mark the center of the city. We can destroy the Republican Guard, knock out every Iraqi tank. But what then? Bush seems to think that this is a big game of Capture the Flag, and that as soon as we reach Baghdad and say "We win!" all the Iraqis will lay down their arms and go home. But what if they don't?  What if the militias go on fighting forever, transforming themselves into underground terrorist groups, sending waves of suicide bombers against US soldiers and any Iraqis who step forward as our allies?  How long are we going to stay in Iraq, losing men every day while the country continues to fall apart around us?

War by itself does not solve problems, it only kills people. Killing Saddam and his sons may make Iraq a better place, but then again it may not.  It will certainly make the US more widely hated than
ever before. Even Indian Hindus, who have suffered much more from Islamic extremist violence than we have, are overwhelmingly against the war. Not that this matters in Washington; one of the most disturbing things about Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and company is that the opposition of the entire world does not make them reconsider their beliefs, it only makes them more certain that they are right. They are so certain of themselves that are willing to lead us into war against the entire world.  Rumsfeld is already threatening Syria and Iran, and the British have taken him seriously enough to state publicly that they have no plans to participate in an attack on either nation; Richard Perle has spoken of attacking "many countries." Given the armed might we have displayed in Iraq, we could probably take out the Syrian and Iranian governments, too. It is madness, though, to think that this would bring us peace. It would instead bring us perpetual war. The future Bush is leading us toward is one in which the United States is an embattled fortress, hated by everyone, thousands of our troops are constantly engaged in fighting all across the planet, and any American who steps outside the country needs an armored regiment for protection. Unless we want to live in that world, we need to stand up and denounce this wicked war and the violent men who have led us into it.

April 1, 2003


From the 
Commonplace Book

We must not let the principle of violence prevail.

--George W. Bush


Commonplace Book
On the Dead
Bulletin Board
About us


Faith, Error, and the Death Penalty




At Each Other's Throats

Not just the Execution


The Principle of Violence

Iraqi Democracy

Clash of Civilizations

A Sniper Nation

War and Alienation

Revisiting the War

September 11

Taking Anarchism Seriously

The PLO and the NRA

Shay's Rebellion and
Bankruptcy "Reform"


What is Justice For?


Education Reform