Written 410 pm Feb 22, 1991 by mideastdesk in cdpmideast.forum Beat the Devil THE PRESS AN

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----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Written 4:10 pm Feb 22, 1991 by mideastdesk in cdp:mideast.forum Beat the Devil THE PRESS AND THE 'JUST WAR' by Alexander Cockburn from The Nation, 2/18 In Iraq's case the concept of bombing as an essentially wholesome liaison between morality and Western technological prowess goes back to 1919, when the Royal Air Force asked Winston Churchill for permission to use chemical weapons "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment." Churchill, then in the War Office, rejected timid naysayers. "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas," he wrote. " I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes [among whom he counted Bolsheviks, gas being used in the war of intervention].... It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses; gasses can be used which would cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected." Chemical weapons, Churchill concluded, represent "the application of Western science to modern warfare.... We cannot in any circumstance acquiesce in the non-utilisation of any weapons which are available to procure a speedy termination of the disorder which prevails on the frontier." Journalism annuls history, never more so than in war, where it promotes a depthless present, most tragicomically in television "coverage," the reportersQactors in factQ having mostly as little relationship to reality as the ~reek chorus in the Agamemnon debating among themselves what Clytemnestra is up to ("Is that a noise I hear?") as she hacks the King to death. Febrile discussion of the minutiae of war coverageQhow much censorship in Riyadh, how much lying in the Pentagon briefing roomQitself acts as a form of censorship, for it too avoids history. From Churchill's view that gas bombs might, if properly applied, be merely "inconvenient" to their targets, it is but a short jump to today's hearty applause for Tomahawks and laser-guided bombs as they descend upon Iraq, overture to tomorrow's calls for understanding and approval when it becomes necessary to use nuclear weapons to overwhelm Iraqi intransigence. The U.S. is already talking about using "nonlethal" riot gas, as a humanitarian measure. "This is, in part, a didactic war," the columnist George Will announced as American bombers commenced the task of reverting Iraq's economy to the nineteenth century. In Will's view, the crime of Iraq ("a brittle, over-reaching tinpot country") lay in "transgressing values most clearly enunciated by the United States, the symbol of modern political values and cultural modernity"; and "the hope" is that the war will "pry parts of Arabia into participation in the modernity that is capable of such technological prowess and moral purpose. Both that prowess and that purpose derive from freedom.... The mighty U.S. sword guarantees the pre-eminence of the American pen." Similarly transported by claims of unerring accuracy in the West's bombardments, Clifford Longley wrote in The Times of London, "Developments in the technology of war alter the morality of war. The latest British and American weapons used in the Gulf seem to have new properties both militarily and morally. War is at last becoming more 'user friendly.' " The British press repays study, since it relates robustly what is often tactfully elided on the other side of the Atlantic by the inheritors of the white man's burden. In The Daily Telegraph John Keegan, military historian and "defense editor," ruminated comfortably that "this is the strangest part of this strange war. Never before has a population lived in something close to immunity from enemy attack while everything that makes everyday life tolerable is destroyed about its ears." Of course the bombs and missiles were striking civilians and the "culture" Bush presumes to spare, but by this time the West's press, eased by the thought of "accuracy" and "precision," was ceasing to take much of an interest in what exactly the West's commanders might be coming to consider a military asset. In the end everything is a military asset, and so the "degrading" and "denial" of water (pumping stations, irrigation, etc.), cultivation, roads, bus terminals and other "strategic assets" begins. Despite Churchill's urgings that the R.A.F. use mustard gas, technological problems prevented such deliveries, but by 1920 the British Army was using gas shells in Iraq "with excellent moral effect." High explosives ("conventional weapons") were used when villages did not pay their taxes. The R.A.F. then began dropping bombs with delayed-action fuses (as is now being done on Iraqi runways). Since village children were already playing with dud bombs, one senior officer protested that the result would be "blowing a lot of children to pieces." What would be called in today's press briefings "collateral damage" (dead and mutilated children) did occur because the R.A.F. dropped these bombs to stop tribesmen from working their fields after dark (our friend "strategic assets" again). Prominent among the R.A.F. officers thus engaged was Arthur Harris, who later directed the British bomber offensive against Germany in World War II, most notoriously against Dresden. (Churchill, by the way, was eager to gas-bomb German cities.) In the London Sunday Times last week, just as the hosannas to "smart weapons" and the just war were rising to their peak, a man called Williams wrote in from Nottingham to comment on the Dresden bombing. He said he'd been a navigator in the attack: "We were told it was to be a 'panic' raid, that the market-place would be full of refugees streaming in from the east, and that our aiming point would be the market square. We had no choice. We bombed as instructed and killed, I would estimate, nearly 100,000 people (we will never know), mainly women and children. I was horrified when we learned later what we had done and even more horrified when we were later filmed at a mock propaganda briefing when the original briefing instructions were reversed; but I cannot say more, as I would be in trouble under the official secrets act. We were told the raid would 'put the fear of God up Jerry' and that it would shorten the war. It didn't." Back in 1923 one of the R.A.F.'s men, Air Commodore Lionel Charlton, resigned his position as senior staff officer in Iraq after he visited a hospital in Diwaniya and saw victims of the bombing. Twenty-two years later navigator Williams reacted to the explicit instruction to bomb a marketplace full of refugees with the thought, as he now recalls it, that "we had no choice." Today, no one except the recipients of their lethal cargoes conceives of a culpable linkage between the man pressing the bomb-release button or the missile trigger and the consequential victims. The 'Unavoidable' War The war is "just," Bush declared to Congress, and he had been preceded to this moral eminence by the doyen of liberal commentators, Anthony Lewis, who, after nine days of bombing, reassured his readers, "It is a just war." Set in the depthless present, amid fake-perspective murals of a bogus past, journalism in times of war is mostly moral persuasion of the citizenry that the war is fought by decent people for honorable objectives. The claim that war against Iraq is just followed from the premise that it was "unavoidable," which in turn followed from the claim that neither had Saddam Hussein shown the slightest flexibility in heeding the calls of the United Nations, nor were economic sanctions showing signs of being successful in forcing him to do so. With virtually no exception the press in both the United States and Britain omitted all report, let alone critical discussion, of Iraq's negotiating positions, as publicly proclaimed on August 12, as communicated to National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft later that month, and as relayed to the White House through Yugoslav emissaries in the Non-Aligned Movement in late December. As regards the August 12 negotiating position setting forth the link between Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and other occupations and territorial disputes in the region, The Financial Times declared in an editorial that it was not without substance. The American press, in a few instances, merely sketched its terms in inconspicuous stories. The December overture was reported only by Knut Royce in Newsday, who had in August disclosed another negotiating offer relayed to the White House. Although the three known positions varied in detail, they were similar in overall thrust: regional linkage in the form of a conference on security and territorial disputes in the Middle East; mutual withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and of the U.S.-led forces from Saudi Arabia; negotiated removal of weapons of mass destruction-chemical, biological, nuclear-from the region. At no point did those offers make the slightest impact on public discussion of the pros and cons of going to war, even though it was widely acknowledged that war would be a bloody and costly affair. The effortless victory of the Bush Administration and its British lieutenant in preparing the ground for a "just war" was confirmed by the contemptuous welcome given the French initiative of January 14 and 15. No matter that the French proffered it for the most cynical of motives, or that Iraq by that time was, with some reason given the Geneva encounter between Aziz and Baker, hostile to such overtures. The French proposal merely stated that Iraq should withdraw from Kuwait, adding the language of a codicil appended to a resolution adopted by the U.N. Security Council in December. That codicil, whose language the United States had not permitted in the resolution itself, declared the need for a regional conference at an appropriate time. Such was the infamous French initiative greeted with derision by politicians and commentators alike. Among the innumerable lies in Bush's State of the Union Address, none was more egregious than his assertion that he had "tried every diplomatic avenue to avoid war." He even invoked the efforts of Algerian President Bendjedid, though it was the U.S. that pressured Saudi Arabia to refuse to see him, thus sinking his initiative. There has been much talk about the "world community" and its unity against Mesopotamian evil; far less about the near total isolation of those countries wholeheartedly for war, "a tiny minority in the world," as The Financial Times frankly conceded on January 19. Instead of any useful report on this isolation, the press embarked in earnest on the publication of war scenarios, designed to soften up public opinion for mass murder. Many of those, including exuberant prophecies of a three-day conflict, were overweening and sarcastic about the fiber of the Iraqi fighting man. The Observer's correspondent Colin Smith reported from Saudi Arabia on January 13 that "a few weeks ago, a middle-ranking British officer, who will be in the thick of the fighting if war comes, confided to me that he thought their main problem would be accepting the surrender of thousands of Iraqi prisoners.... 'What we're going to have to do is give them a boiled sweet and tell them to head south.' " While opinion-formers and retired military officers expounded their theories with relish, men of God were asked to give the just war the luster of ecclesiastical sanction. In the United States most prominent church folk denounced the impending war, with predictable exceptions such as Bernard Cardinal Law, whose outlook can be gauged from his enthusiastic support for the proposed canonization of Queen Isabella of Spain, founder of the Inquisition, scourge of Islam and Jewry, patroness of Christopher Columbus. In Britain the prelates were more accommodating. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, commended the just war to his congregation, assuring it that the "harsh reality of human history is that the use of force has been caused as much by human virtues ... as it has been by ... wickedness." National history conditions moral posture. The Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Dr. Cahal Daly, declared that the principle of the "just war" is not applicable, that "we begin to talk of 'surgical strikes' and we forget about the gore and the grime and the mangled bodies on the ground." The Pope similarly expressed his opposition to war. The only major Western newspaper I know of that took a clear moral position against war was the Dublin Sunday Tribune-Ireland's only serious Sunday paper-and if its terms of reference and citation seem a trifle unusual we should realize therefrom how degraded conventional editorial discussion has come to be, weighing the pros and cons of mass killing in the "national interest" with the same aplomb as Churchill. In its January 20 edition, the Tribune began by quoting the letter of an Irish woman describing the accidental death, falling while doing acrobatics on a bridge outside Dublin, of her daughter, and then said: 'That same morning [as Julie died] hundreds, maybe thousands ... of mothers or fathers in Iraq were heartbroken because their ... Julies had been killed, not through some action of their own but by bombs dropped from the air by Allied forces. This is the reality of this war in the Gulf. It is inflicting the most terrible physical and emotional pain on people who are entirely innocent.... It is no use saying that these people are not the intended victims. The fact is that the nature of the bombing that is now undertaken quite clearly has as a foreseeable consequence the infliction of terrible harm on people who are entirely innocent. (The Catholic doctrine of double effect, whereby an action is all right if the intention is not improper even though the clearly foreseeable consequence may be absolutely improper, is an unfortunate piece of Augustinian sophistry which has corrupted moral debate.) ... The contention that war was unavoidable is an abuse of language as well as of sensibility. War was absolutely avoidable by the Allies choosing simply not to inflict war.... The Allied forces ... have tried hard to assure the world that "everything possible is being done to avoid civilian casualties." Again, this does violence to language. Clearly everything possible is not being done to avoid civilian casualties, for "everything possible" would include the avoidance of the bombing of Baghdad for instance.' 'At Peace With Himself' With the first missile that he unleashed upon Iraq the American President placed himself in moral symmetry with his Iraqi opposite number. Saddam Hussein declared that U.N. resolutions and international commitments pledged across the space of many years on the matter of the territories seized and occupied by Israel had been futile, and that force of arms had been his only recourse. George Bush, permitting himself a shorter span for his patience to expire (it seems clear enough that he resolved upon war at least as early as last September and probably by the first week in August), declared the same. To achieve an exact equivalence Saddam Hussein would have to be equipped with "smart," and therefore moral, weapons such as those discharged upon Iraq with heavy loss of life, rather than the Scuds, which by the end of the first week of the war had done far less damage than is wrought by Israeli troops in a busy day on the West Bank. One could read with sympathy accounts by Israelis of the horror of sitting in sealed rooms wearing gas masks while Palestinians cheered. But few journalists and no Israelis quoted gave a thought for Palestinians closeted in their homes day after day under rigorous curfew, tear-gassed, tortured in prisons, their homes demolished by bulldozers with far greater efficiency and no public uproar. Since the intifada began, according to the excellent Palestine Human Rights Information Center, some 900 Palestinians have died, 88 from gassing;1,726 homes have been destroyed.* No such moral symmetries and asymmetries have disturbed the joy of prominent Western commentators. Jim Hoagland, who has rapidly established himself as one of the silliest and most pompous columnists in the English-speaking world, announced to the readers of The Washington Post: 'War is establishing an American credibility in the Middle East that diplomacy alone failed to achieve. A week of war has established a position of American even-handedness and involvement absent from two decades of the "peace process." ... There could be no clearer sign that Desert Storm is proceeding well.' Meanwhile, the State Department was issuing travel advisories for U.S. citizens to avoid more or less every acre of the Muslim world; and, in a coup de main virtually unparalleled in the history of military and diplomatic endeavor, an American President was uniting the populations of North Africa, the Levant, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in execration of his country's actions. In Baghdad itself, the bombing speedily united the populace behind a President many had loathed. My brother Patrick, in the al-Rashid Hotel, noticed the change after the firstdays of bombardment. "Perhaps," he later wrote in The Independent, "Iraq in 1991 will see a repeat of the bombing campaigns against Britain in 1940-1, Germany in 1942-5, Vietnam in 1964-75 and Lebanon in 1982-4. In each case air power appeared attractive as a way to maximise leverage on the enemy while minimising one's own casualties. There is no doubt that being bombed is frightening, but it is a threat so general in its application that it creates more enemies than it intimidates. On Wednesday, many Iraqis would openly say that going into Kuwait was Saddam's business, not theirs. By the weekend it was almost impossible to meet anybody who did not feel that Iraq would, and should fight." A "just war" is hospitable to every self-deception on the part of those waging it, none more than the illusion of the Christian leaders of the West that the enemy is only Saddam Hussein, that all his troops are, so to speak, chained to their machine guns as were-in the legend of World War I propagandists-the Germans in their trenches. In the plans of the Western commanders and the articles by their courtiers in the press there is an emptiness where there should be people; there are no Iraqis or Kurds or Turkomans, which is why it will- should the need emerge-be no great moral agony to drop a weapon of mass destruction on them, thus far outstripping Saddam Hussein in threat and deed. When public rhetoric (the intention had always been there) of the Western coalition shifted from eviction of Iraq from Kuwait to the demolition of Iraq as a modern society and the trial and execution of its leader, there was no great uproar (except throughout the entire Arab and Muslim world, where the clamor was urgent enough to compel the United States to backtrack, even-in consort with the Soviet Union-to hint at linkage). From his dignified eminence as ex officio State Department official, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times wrote calmly that "historians may question whether it was ever right for the Bush Administration to make the 'liberation of Kuwait' a prime war aim instead of focusing exclusively on dismantling Iraq's offensive capabilities [i.e., bombing the country into the Middle Ages], which, after all, were the real threat to stability in the gulf and therefore the real threat to U.S. interests." So much for the just war. Christendom is back where it started in 1919, calculating the "moral effect" of high explosives and gas shells on the wogs. The parallels are so exact as to be haunting, as can be learned from David Omissi's absorbing history, A ir Power and Colonial Control (Manchester University Press, 1990). Churchill, desperate to revive his own political fortunes, was eager to secure British domination of the Mesopotamian oilfields. The nascent Royal Air Force was anxious to prove its worth and thus secure a larger slice of the arms budget from the army and navy. The British government, fearful of impending economic depression, wanted colonial control on the cheap, in terms of both cash and lives. In Omissi's words, "The reduction of the garrison, the elevation of Faisal [the British puppet installed in Baghdad as King of Iraq], the payment of subsidies to Arab leaders and the purchase of French acquiescence were all aspects of a single strategy of indirect rule intended to reduce the costs of imperialism in Iraq. Its ultimate success depended on air control." And thus the tribesmen, Kurds and Arabs, began to receive the bombs; thus too was Iraq saved for the British oilmen and tax collectors from renewed Ottoman appetites. "Words," John Donne wrote in a letter, "are our subtillest and delicatest outward creatures, being composed of thoughts and breath." So let us close with the words of Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, from The Sunday Telegraph for January 20; 'In is beginning to look as if Saddam Hussein has given the West a chance once again to establish its unchallengeable preeminence in a manner impregnable at once to mral obloquy and military resistance. Not only will our arms have prevailed in a most spectacular fashion. So also wil our ideas. Nothing is ever forever. Sooner or later the Third World will throw up other challenges. But if the gulf war ends as it has begun, there can be no doubt who are the masters now -- at any rate for another generation.We have the laser beams and they have not. And the we who matter are not the Germans or the Japanese or the Russians but the Americans. Happy days are here again. Bliss it is in this dawn to be alive; but to be an old reactionary is very heaven.' As he was leaving Baghdad on the twelve-hour drive to the Jordanian border, my brother passed the central post office, half demolished by bombs. Its destruction had been held up as an example of the rpecision of the West's militrary technology. Looking at it from the point of view of an Iraqi, or an Arab, or a person in the Third World, my brother told me later, while he preparted to return ot Baghdad on January 29 with a small group of journalists, that he was reminded of the general post office in Dublin, bombarded with great precision by tghe British in 1916 as they suppressed the Easter rising. to the British it was just another post office...Thus had th West given Saddam Hussein his just war. *The P H.R l.C.'s finances have been a casualty of war and recession. To keep its fieldworkers in the occupied territories and to continue its work here the organization needs your help. Send contributions to 4753 North Broadway, Suite 930, Chicago IL 60640 or call (312) 271- 4492. Alexander Cockburn; Beat the Devil - The Press and the 'Just War'; The Nation magazine/The Nation Co., Inc., (c) 1991 The Nation, $44 per year (47 issues), 72 Fifth Avenue, Box P49, New York, NY 10011 End of text from cdp:mideast.forum Source: Peacenet Via New York Transfer News 718-448-2358, 718-448-2683 --- [ This file has travelled through the Socialism OnLine! BBS at +1-203-274-4639, 24 hours, 300-9600 bps HST/MNP/V42bis, on its way to you, the reader of this file. Please share any information you have about "big brother." Venceremos! ]


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