ZNet Commentary by Stephen Shalom
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The fall of Baghdad has been proclaimed, though there is still fighting in various parts of the city. At this point, one can’t tell how long resistance will continue. Historically there have often been cases of foreign occupiers defeating large scale enemy forces, only to face years of low-level combat. The Israelis were at first welcomed in southern Lebanon for eliminating an overbearing Palestinian presence. But for nearly two decades, until Israel chose to withdraw its troops, resistance and casualties continued.
The relative ease of the US victory military confirms how little threat Saddam Hussein’s regime posed beyond its borders. Where in 1990 Iraq had substantial armed forces, it was clear well before the start of this war that the Iraqi military was no longer a formidable force, even by Middle Eastern standards. The Bush administration claim that Saddam in 2003 was a danger to his neighbors was not taken seriously in the region, and has now been shown to have been baseless.
Despite Bush’s constant repetition that there was no doubt that Iraq had massive supplies of chemical and biological weapons, no such weapons, or even prohibited missiles, were used by the Iraqi forces. Indeed, it seems the only time US-UK troops needed to wear their chemical warfare suits was when recovering a body from a friendly fire incident to protect themselves from the radiation given off by US depleted uranium ordnance — which, of course, the Pentagon claims is absolutely harmless.
Nor, despite many fevered media reports, have any hidden stores of Iraqi proscribed weapons come to light. Since Iraq’s alleged possession of banned weapons was the official explanation for the war, their absence is rather embarrassing for the administration. But even if such weapons are later found (and confirmed not just by the Pentagon, but by independent experts), this will not vindicate the war. The issue has never been whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but whether any such weapons constituted a significant and undeterrable military threat to other nations, which threat could not be neutralized by the inspections process.
The TV screens are full of celebrations in Baghdad at Saddam’s fall. Saddam was a brutal tyrant and his fall is welcome. But it would be wrong to read too much into the televised cheering. There is no way to know how representative the cheering crowds are of the Iraqi population as a whole. Several thousands of celebrants in a city of millions is hardly decisive, and we can assume that no one is going to organize counter-demonstrations, whatever their views.
Pro-war columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times on April 9 that “even here in the anti-Saddam Shia heartland of southern Iraq, no one is giving U.S. troops a standing ovation. Applause? When I asked Lt. Col. Richard Murphy, part of the U.S. relief operation, how Iraqis were greeting his men, he answered bluntly and honestly: ‘I have not detected any overt hostility.’
“Overt hostility? We’ve gone from expecting applause to being relieved that there is no overt hostility. And we’ve been here only 20 days.”
Nor does the cheering tell us to what extent people who are glad to see Saddam gone supported the war. Friedman asked Dr. Safaa Khalaf at Umm Qasr Hospital why the reception for U.S. forces had been so muted; Khalaf answered: “Many people here have sons who were soldiers. They were forced to join the army. Many people lost their sons. They are angry from the war. Since the war, no water, no food, no electricity. . . . We have not had water for washing or drinking for five days. . . .”
Compared to the area bombing of World War II or the free drop zones of Vietnam, this war has been extremely sparing of civilians. But it has been far from a humanitarian endeavor. The weapons used in this war that have been condemned by international human rights groups are not Saddam’s, but the cluster bombs used by US and UK forces, which leave unexploded bomblets as potential landmines targeting the civilian population for months to come. Food shortages, lack of water, under-supplied and under-staffed hospitals are everywhere, with disease spreading in a population already weakened from 12 years of US-UK sanctions. A US sergeant killed a civilian woman near an Iraqi soldier. “I’m sorry,” the sergeant said. “But the chick was in the way.”
Such killings cannot be chalked up to a few over-zealous soldiers. Indifference is a policy approved at the highest levels. When a US tank fired a shell into the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, killing two foreign journalists, Pentagon officials were asked:
“There are reports that a tank took small arms and perhaps RPG fire from the direction of the hotel, although journalists say that they saw no sign of it. Do you think that’s reason enough for a tank to fire a round at the hotel, where you know there are unarmed journalists?”
Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal replied that when troops receive fire, “regardless of how specific they can be of where it came from,” they “have the inherent right of self-defense.”
And Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke added that “a war zone is a dangerous place. Baghdad in particular…. And we were saying it is not a safe place, you should not be there.” But of course five million residents of Baghdad did not have a choice as to whether to be there. One can only hope that as mopping up operations continue in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, not too many other civilians find themselves in “a dangerous place.”
There is reason to hope that the people of Baghdad have been spared the consequences of door-to-door fighting. With the US military getting pointers on urban combat from the Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp, we can only imagine what this would have entailed. Indeed, the fact that the city may have avoided this grim fate is reason enough for jubilation in Baghdad, and reason for us to be glad as well.
At the same time, however, it must be acknowledged that the good fortune of Iraqis has an unfortunate upshot. The relative ease of the US victory will no doubt embolden the fanatics in the Bush administration on to further acts of aggression around the world.
“Iraq is not just about Iraq,” explained one senior administration official. And Assistant Secretary of State John Bolton has declared on several occasions that the war against Iraq should be an object lesson for other nations with weapons of mass destruction programs. Bolton is correct, but the lesson that will be learned is likely to be that only weapons of mass destruction offer any prospect of deterring a US “preventive” attack.
One can’t be certain that military deterrence by the target states alone will be able to prevent endless wars initiated by Washington. Some of the responsibility will have to be taken up by the global anti-war movement.
That movement has grown to unprecedented size and strength, though that still wasn’t enough to stop the war on Iraq. But just as the Bush administration sees the Iraq war as simply one battle in its effort to extend US global hegemony, we in the antiwar movement need to see our unsuccessful efforts to prevent the Iraq war as just one battle in a larger struggle to change US foreign policy. Victory will require a movement that is even larger and stronger than it is now. So instead of despairing at our inability to win this early contest, let us redouble our efforts to prevail in the long-term struggle.
 Audrey Gillian, “‘I never want to hear that sound again’: Five British soldiers have died under ‘friendly fire'” Guardian, 3/31/03, p. 3.
 “Hold Your Applause,” NYT, 4/9/03, p. A19.
 See Amnesty International, “Iraq: Use of cluster bombs — Civilians pay the price,” 4/2/03, http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde140652003
 Patrick Jackson, “Iraqi civilians face crisis,” BBC News Online, 4/7/03.
 Dexter Filkins, “Either Take a Shot Or Take a Chance,” NYT, 3/29/03, p. A1.
 DoD News Briefing, 04/08/03.
 James Bennet, “U.S. Military Studied Israel’s Experience in Close-Quarter Fighting in Refugee Camps,” NYT, 4/1/03, p. B10. One Israeli analyst suggests that the lesson of Jenin is not to be so solicitous of civilian casualties. (Yagil Henkin, “The Best Way Into Baghdad,” NYT, 4/3/03, p. A21.) For what actually occurred, see Amnesty International’s report, Israel and the Occupied Territories: Shielded from scrutiny: IDF violations in Jenin and Nablus, Nov. 4, 2002, http://web.amnesty.org/library/print/ENGMDE151432002
 David E. Sanger, ” Viewing the War as a Lesson to the World,” NYT, 4/6/03, p. B1.
Parenting During War-Time
by Cynthia Peters
“You’re right to be concerned” about having your 9-month old in the room with you when you watch the news, reports Barbara Meltz in a Boston Globe “Child Caring” column. “If watching the news makes you tense and anxious, your baby will pick up on it and that, in turn, could make her irritable.”
The advice is so sincere, so child-centered and affirming of our precious children’s right not to be irritable that you could almost miss the deep cynicism of this forced introspection. The advice implies that the world unfolds in your living room, that your arms are the key purveyors of anxiety, and that preventing infant irritability is your private job — perhaps even a measure of your effectiveness as a parent.
The advice implies that as a parent, the most you can do to decrease anxiety is to turn off the TV and protect your child from “overstimulation.”
We need to pause a moment and try to take in how deeply dis-empowering this advice is, how thoroughly it channels all our adult abilities into stunted expressions directed at our own tiny little offspring.
Does this mean I think it is not valuable for parents to consider ways to have less irritable 9-month-olds? No. I support whatever sanity can be derived from being the parent of a peaceful baby. Do I have something against being a soothing, loving parent who takes the time to figure out what works best for the little ones? Of course not. Showing care, creating connection, making a safe and comfortable home — this is the stuff of life.
Or at least part of it anyway. We should all do it if we can, in the best way we can, but we should keep some perspective about what it amounts to.
Unfortunately, with a consumer culture that virtually defines childhood these days, no wonder parents get absorbed in strategies to protect their own. The alternative to insulation, it appears, is submersion in a plastic world of miniaturized “Operation Obliterate the Enemy” (batteries not included).
With the nation at war this holiday season, toy marketers are pushing Easter baskets loaded with toy knives and grenades, artfully arranged on top of plastic Easter grass and interspersed with chocolate bunnies. On the shelves at Kmart and other major retailers (according to an article in the Village Voice), these holiday baskets show just how far we are willing to go to use our children to help us rationalize our adult exploits. If the kids look cute tossing pretend grenades on Easter morning, does that somehow put the soldiers in Iraq tossing the real ones somewhere along the same continuum?
Do the pretend grenades help divorce us from the brutal consequences of the real ones?
The Easter baskets stocked with war toys are not just an egregious blip on the otherwise non-violent screen that makes up the panorama of childhood.
The $20.3 billion toy industry and the $10.3 billion video game industry are “closely watching the Iraq war with an eye toward new product introductions for Christmas.” One company has already rushed to manufacture a series of “Special Forces: Showdown with Iraq” figures that duplicated as accurately as possible the uniforms and gear being used by soldiers during the buildup in Kuwait, according to the NYT (March 30, 2003). Doing its part to acclimate kids to the new era of escalated state terrorism abroad and reduced civil liberties at home, another toy manufacturer has introduced “Josh Simon” — a Desert NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) Trooper — alongside “Homeland Security Amy.”
Although sales of many of these products are brisk, not everyone is pleased.
Consumer protests have lead to some of the toys being pulled from the shelves. But too often the logic of the protest is: “I don’t want my child playing with this stuff.”
Well, nor do I. But, more importantly, I don’t want Tommy Franks and his men playing with the real versions of these things. These things kill and maim.
They mean real anxiety for children — not from the sound of bombs exploding on TV, but from the sound of bombs exploding immediately overhead. They translate into a parent never being able to soothe a child again. Because the child is dead, or the parent is, or they both are. They equal an absence of anxiety because there are no arms there to transmit it anymore.
I am haunted by a picture that has been circulating by email recently. It is of a child with the top of his head blown off. His face is calm, and his features are so perfect. He looks like he could be sleeping. He makes me think of my children who regularly get soothed to sleep, who will not have grenades in their Easter baskets, and who are not at risk of having their heads blown off. This is my children’s extreme privilege, but it is also their right, as it is the right of every child.
A brutal empire is on the loose, and if you read the mass media, you’d think that parents can choose to relate to it in one of two possible ways — buy toys that imitate it or insulate yourself from it. There’s almost no mention of an obvious third choice — turning outward — facing the world and relating to it.
True, this could very well mean introducing a certain type of anxiety into your home — not via the television, but through heated conversations, meetings taking place at your kitchen table, all-night banner-making sessions on your living room floor. The anxiety might come because you are tired from all the anti-war work, from the fact that you have not been around much lately to make the kids dinner or tuck them in, from the fact that you are genuinely sick at heart about what your government is doing in your name.
But isn’t this an appropriate anxiety? Isn’t this less confusing than turning off the TV and replacing it with a white noise machine or some soothing parental equivalent? If our children are so sensitive, then surely they are picking up on the fact that a public emergency is at hand. What contributes more to their long-term feeling of well-being? Watching their parents block it out or watching them take it on?
Is it even the right question — to be always wondering what is right for my kid?
I do not think it is the most important question for parents, but even if it were, kids need to see parents do not only what is best for their own offspring, but what is best for all children everywhere. When kids sense that the whole world is on edge, they are taking careful notes about what their parents are doing about it.
When greedy corporations work with defense contractors to normalize brutality through play, and when liberal child-caring columns advise us to fortify our nests against the evil outside world, parents might end up thinking that those are the only two choices: Raise your kid in a war culture, or shun all that by barring certain toys from the house and sanitizing our hugs by making them anxiety-free.
But there is a third way: Don’t imagine that being a good enough parent means that you are a good enough public citizen. Attending to private relationships is not enough when your government has gone ballistic. Those of us with children need to find ways to be loving and attentive parents at the same time that we take on the tasks at hand. Take your children to meetings. Help them feel welcome there. Set up childcare at political events. Help kids create their own parallel structures. Talk to your kids about talking to other kids. Let them design banners and anti-war posters.
Let them see you give steady attention to the serious problems we face.
Value your work (and your children!) enough to include them. They will inherit the results of our efforts, after all.