I am re-posting below the very first piece I published on this blog, nearly a decade ago. I am doing so to remind readers that many, many people around the world saw the disaster of the Iraq invasion and occupation coming before it started -- and spoke out.
The reaction among pundits and politicians to the 10th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq has been fascinating -- and at times sickening -- to watch. While one expects unrepentant troglodytes like William Kristol and other neo-cons to continue to defend this war of choice, the more morally compromised reactions have come from centrists and liberals who supported the war back in 2003. Like many of the advisers to Vietnam-era Democratic presidents, they have claimed a kind of retrospective innocence based on ignorance: "who could have known it would have turned out this badly?" Or, "How could we have known that the Bush Administration would be so dishonest and incompetent?" The 'success' of the surge has provided another moral escape hatch for some of these folks, or so they assume. They argue that while Iraq was clearly FUBAR into 2007, the surge redeemed the entire enterprise -- and thus, their position on the conflict at the outset.
Much like the Vietnam conflict, this defense is a disingenuous, self-serving re-writing of history. It was abundantly clear to millions of Americans in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq not only that the attack was being sold under false pretenses, but that the aftermath would be an unmitigated disaster, strategically and morally. The surge did not redeem this disaster. It merely enabled the US to gradually wash its hands of it. I submit that even if the war had gone swimmingly from the outset, the dishonest way in which the war was initiated did enormous -- and possibly permanent -- damage to the rule of law at home, and our reputation abroad.
This is not hindsight. And one should be held morally responsible for one's ignorance, if similarly situated people were capable of seeing things clearly at the time. Some of our fellow citizens tried to stop the war from inside the Pentagon, the CIA, and the State Department. Others wrote, talked and marched, in an effort to wake their fellow Americans up to irreversible rubicon that the Bush Administration was about to cross. I was among that latter group, and vocally so -- as a leader of the anti-war movement in Spokane, and as vice-chair of the Human Rights Commission in that city. I spoke at rallies, I wrote newspaper editorials; hell, I even criticized the war on Mark Fuhrman's radio show.
I said it 10 years ago, and I'll say it now. The American invasion of Iraq was the greatest strategic blunder in the history of the country. It was a criminal act, a violation of American and international law. It was the single greatest violation of the letter and spirit of the law in the history of the American presidency. It is an insult to the rule of the law, and the thousands of American lives wasted and wounded in Iraq, that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld still walk the earth as free men. That they were able to falsely lead this nation into an unprovoked attack on another sovereign state is surely one of the greatest failures in the history of American democracy. Fifty years from now, when we look back on the decline of the American way of life, I'm quite certain we will zero in on two related events: the 2000 election fiasco, and the invasion of Iraq. One hopes that we can use the 20th anniversary of the start of the war to harvest a bit of wisdom on the limits of American power, and military force. We seem to have wasted the 10th.
"On Patriotism," a talk presented March 26th, 2003 at St. Al's church at Gonzaga University, Spokane WA
A 12 year-old school girl in Maine wrote the following essay last year for her 6th grade class:
“The American flag stands for the fact that cloth can be very
important. It is against the law to let the flag touch the ground or to
leave the flag flying when the weather is bad. The flag has to be
treated with respect. You can tell just how important this cloth is
because when you compare it to people, it gets much better treatment.
Nobody cares if a homeless person touches the ground. A homeless person
can lie all over the ground all night long without anyone picking him
up, folding him neatly and sheltering him from the rain.
School children have to pledge loyalty to this piece of cloth every
morning. No one has to pledge loyalty to justice and equality and human
decency. No one has to promise that people will get a fair wage, or
enough food to eat, or affordable medicine, or clean water, or air free
of harmful chemicals. But we all have to promise to love a rectangle of
red, white, and blue cloth.
Betsy Ross would be quite surprised to see how successful her creation
has become. But Thomas Jefferson would be disappointed to see how little
of the flag's real meaning remains.”
As an opponent of this war, and an American historian, I have spent a
great deal of time recently agonizing over what patriotism demands of
us. Like millions around this nation, my acts of protest before the war
began have inspired accusations of disloyalty; even within the anti-war
movement, many have said that all protests must stop once the first
shots are fired – that patriotism demands that we support the troops,
and unify behind our leaders and our soldiers. I do not agree. Or, at
the very least, I do not share the same definition of patriotism, nor of
‘support.’ Indeed, it is my patriotism that drives me to speak louder
now that the war has begun. The logic is simple. If it is right to
oppose a wrong when it is being publicly contemplated, how much more
important is it to do so when it is in the process of commission? “When
a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice,” Ralph
Waldo Emerson once wrote, “I am fain to explore the cleanness of its
hands and the purity of its heart.”
It is not those who protest the war who need to justify themselves. The
burden of proof is on the makers of war. As former President Jimmy
Carter said recently, “war is sometimes a necessary evil. But it is
ALWAYS an evil.” I’d like to share my thoughts on war, patriotism and
support of the troops with you this morning. This will not simply be a
plea for peace; it will also be a plea to stop THIS war. I can’t help
that. I apologize if this talk will seem strident to you, but I believe
it is important for those who support this war, and those who oppose
it, and those who aren’t sure, to understand how much in common we
Why do I oppose this war? There are many reasons, but among the most
important is my belief as an American in the rule of law over the rule
of force. Under the new Bush Doctrine, a bold military strategy of
preemptive attacks–including the possibility of a unilateral nuclear
first strike– is intended to prevent any state or group of states from
challenging our preeminent role in the world. The war in Iraq is the
first application of this doctrine. Preemptive war, however, is
unequivocally illegal. This prohibition was incorporated into the
United Nations Charter after WWII as the basis for a new system of
collective security in which no state retained the unilateral right to
attack another–with two specified exceptions: self defense and Security
All of us should consider whether this radical new strategy is good for
our country and the world, and whether it best represents what this
nation stands for. What would happen in a world stripped of the very
laws designed half a century ago to protect humanity from the carnage of
unrestrained force? Can pure military might really defend us from evil
and secure our freedom at the same time? The passage of the USA-Patriot
Act should tell us no.
Before it is too late, we would do well to heed Sir Thomas More’s advice
on the rule of law in the play “A Man for All Seasons.”
And when the last law was cut down and the devil turned around on you,
where would you hide, the laws all being flat? Do you really think
that you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?
Why do I believe that it is a patriotic act to protest against this war?
There are two visions of America, I believe, with deep roots in our
history. One precedes our founding fathers and finds its roots in the
harshness of our puritan past. It is very suspicious of freedom,
uncomfortable with diversity, unfriendly to reason, contemptuous of
personal autonomy. It sees America exclusively as a religious nation.
It views patriotism as akin to allegiance to God. It secretly adores
coercion and conformity. Despite our Constitution, despite the legacy
of the Enlightenment, it appeals to millions of Americans and threatens
our freedom, in peace and wartime.
The other vision finds its roots in the spirit of our founding
revolution, and in the words of the Declaration of Independence. It
loves freedom, encourages diversity, embraces reason and affirms the
dignity and rights of every individual. It sees America as a moral
nation, neither completely religious nor completely secular. It defines
patriotism neither as blind obedience to government, nor as submissive
worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one's country and
one's fellow citizens (all over the world), and as loyalty to the
principles of justice and democracy.
The admirable obligation human beings feel to their neighbors, their
loved ones, and their fellow citizens, all too often becomes confused
with blind obedience to government. Most of the evils in world history
have come from obedience, not disobedience; from conformity, not from
dissent. Unity, stability and order are not the only desirable
conditions of social life, even in wartime. There is also justice,
meaning the fair treatment of all human beings, the equal right of all
people to life, liberty and prosperity. Absolute obedience to law may
bring order temporarily, but it may not bring justice. And when it does
not, patriotism may require us to disobey the law; and citizens may
protest, may rebel, may cause disorder, as the American revolutionaries
did in the eighteenth century, as antislavery people did in the
nineteenth century, as Chinese students did in the last century, and as
anti-war protesters are doing now.
It is this second vision which is my vision, my patriotism. It is the
vision of a free society. We must be bold enough to proclaim it, and
strong enough to defend it against all its enemies, even during wartime.
When he spoke out against the Vietnam war, Martin Luther King
explained his protest simply: “I criticize America because I love her. I
want her to stand as a moral example to the world.” If we do not speak
out in protest, King continued, “we shall surely be dragged down the
long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess
power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without
sight.” With Dr. King, I claim, without pretense or apology, a place in
the long and honorable tradition of those who demand that American
ideals apply to all and oppose the efforts of those, from whatever
quarter, who try to reserve them for privileged groups and ignoble
causes. The most effective way to love our country, I submit, is to
fight like hell to change it. Through most of U.S. history, this brand
of patriotism was indispensable to the cause of social change. As the
poet Langston Hughes wrote, "Let America be the dream the dreamers
dreamed. Let it be that great strong land of love where never kings
connive nor tyrants scheme; that any man be crushed by one above."
Given this vision of patriotism, what does ‘support the troops’ mean to
me? First, supporting the troops means preparing the nation as a whole
to join with the soldiers in equally and justly sharing the burdens of a
democratically declared war (though this is not, as of yet, a
‘declared’ war). This should include an ongoing public debate over the
rightness, the wrongness, and the feasibility of this war. This means
to me, among other things, following the precedent of WWII and
initiating economic and fiscal policies that call on all of us to
sacrifice, and that support the troops and their families. This would
decidedly NOT include a series of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans,
and punishing budget cuts in the programs which provide social and
economic security for the American working and middle classes -- who
provide most of the soldiers, and build most of our weapons.
Second, Supporting our troops means seeing to it that they have jobs,
and the means to re-adjust to civilian life upon their de-mobilization.
Recently, the Republican majority on the House Budget Committee voted
for $25 billion in cuts in the Department of Veterans Affairs budget,
and a $204 million cut in the Impact Aid program that supports the
education of soldiers' children. 163,000 veterans of the Gulf War
continue to suffer from largely unaddressed illnesses from exposure to
the fall out from destroyed chemical weapons, ammunition depots, oil
fires, depleted uranium and experimental drugs. I question where the
compassionate conservative support for our troops will be in a few years
time, when they come back home, and seek employment, a union contract, a
safe workplace, a living wage, and a labor market and system of higher
education free from racial discrimination. History (as well as the
President’s budget) tells us the support of our troops will fall
somewhat short of this, unless we speak up for them. Supporting the
troops doesn’t mean abject silence. It means seeing them as real human
beings, with families, with fears, with rights, with opinions, and with
moral consciences which will be stretched to the limit by the nature of
modern war. And as human beings who will hopefully live long lives upon
Last, and most important: supporting the troops means speaking up on
their behalf, and demanding that our elected representatives do so as
well. The men and women in our armed forces are duty-bound to follow
the orders of our commander-in-chief. That is their job; it is their
citizenship duty, and they should be honored and respected for
fulfilling it, in an age when too many of us see democracy as a
spectator sport. I salute them for their sacrifice on behalf of our
nation. I thank them for their willingness to risk their lives. Even
as I praise our servicemen and women, however, I regret that the
President of the United States has ordered them to start a preemptive
war fought without international support. A preemptive, unilateral war
is unworthy of the honor and tradition of the U.S. military. Our armed
forces should not be invading and occupying other countries. In a
democracy, it is we the people that send them to war; it is we, the
people, who choose when to bring them home. They die in our name, and
they kill in our name. To attempt to cut off public discussion once the
war starts – or even to question whether the public has any legitimate
say at all – both undermines our essential values, and jeopardizes our
soldiers far more than any protest ever could. We cannot shirk this
responsibility, nor can we allow others to fulfill it for us. We must
speak up for the soldiers, regardless of what we think about the war
itself. Do you want to know how to support the troops in wartime? Do
not be a cheerleader. Be a citizen. Speak up for them, in all their
diversity. When we silence any of us, we silence them as well.
The idea of 'support our troops' is troubling for those who oppose this
war, because it is being used by many to hammer dissenting voices into
silence. Given my definition of support above, I intend to get louder,
not quieter, once the war begins. It is my patriotic duty to do so.
I would like to conclude with the words of Mark Twain:
“Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility,
must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not
lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government,
or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone
decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic
and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against
your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both
to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you
alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right
way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty
by yourself and by your country- hold up your head! You have nothing to
be ashamed of.”
Thoughts on politics, cities and the state of American life, culture and economics, from the perspective of a pragmatic lefty historian. "Chants Democratic" comes from "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman, the avatar of American Democracy.
- Mark Santow
- I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.
Friday, March 22, 2013
Some of us saw it coming, and said no: on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
NICE BLOG!!! Education is the process of bringing desirable change into the behavior of human beings. It can also be defined as the “Process of imparting or acquiring knowledge or habits through instruction or study”. Thanks for sharing a nice information.
Top Film Making Colleges in Mumbai
The worst Obamanation to ever hit this country is Barack Obama who daily assults the constitution that he swore to defend and protect. He lied to the American people about almost everything. His health Secretary had to admit yesterday that Obamacare will increase the cost of people's health care by almost 32%. It will also price out the ability of millions to afford health insurance the bill was promoted as covering. How anyone can still support Obama after he has lied to the American people is beyond me. But I'm sure morons like yourself still lick his boots.
why so quiet lately? Interested in hearing more of your thoughts....you are very thought-provoking. You are not blogging to yourself.
Great bllog you have
Post a Comment