This article was first published at Counterpunch, January 12, 2005.
The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds
of the people who actually live out there.
–Lyndon Johnson, on Vietnam
There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war as least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.
–Daniel Berrigan, on the peace movement
In the months before the election, there was a lot of talk about the Vietnam War, some concerning where George W. Bush had been during that time, some dealing with what John Kerry had done, both in Vietnam and back at home. At the Democratic Convention, John Kerry declared himself proud to have served in Vietnam-consigning to Orwell’s memory hole his post-war activism against the war. In a campaign where he had to be seen as strong to rival Bush’s macho (yet fumbling) discourse, Kerry conveniently let that conscientious part of his own past slip away. (That “forgetting” is at least congruent with his support of the current war in Iraq and his enthusiasm not to withdraw but to stay and win.) And, of course, Kerry uttered the infamous non sequitor that even if he had known there were no WMD beforehand, he would still have gone into Iraq had he been President.
Gore Vidal’s apt subtitle for his latest book is “Reflections on the United States of Amnesia.” John Kerry wanted to be the Commander in Chief of this land of Amnesiacs, and he certainly offered himself as role model for abject forgetting.
Much nonsense was spewed forth at both ends of the political spectrum with each trying to trump the other when it came to proving militarist bona fides. The press can never resist a good martial tune, and so we all pretended, for what we told ourselves would be just a moment, that an illegal invasion and immoral occupation could be set right by a few more troops and better armor on the Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The price we will pay for this collective amnesia will be enormous, though we have only begun to see the faint outline of its contours.
A stirring antidote to such amnesia is the 1974 Oscar-winning documentary by director Peter Davis, Hearts and Minds. Each semester in his Social Justice theology course at Saint Louis University Mark shows his students this film, which has been recently reissued in the Criterion series on DVD. Some students, in their early twenties, share observations of how hard it is for their relatives fathers and uncles, mostly to speak about their experience in Vietnam. Some have testified that these men, now in their fifties and sixties, are still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. For them, and their families, the Vietnam War is not yet over, there is not yet healing. The war lives on, enfleshed yet mostly mute, and still dreadful, with a new generation.
And yet hardly a week goes by that we don’t come across-in newscasts, on the Internet, in newspapers-a pious invocation of our efforts to win Iraqi “hearts and minds,” harking back to Vietnam, and willfully forgetting that our military efforts there (where we learned to “destroy the village in order to save it”) killed 3.5 million Vietnamese before they came to an end.
This year’s political campaigning allowed Americans to indulge in one of our favorite cultural pastimes, playing the impartial observer, interested only in sitting back and hearing both sides of every issue. It appeals to our American sense of fairness at the same time that it absolves us of ever taking responsibility for what is being done in our name.
Truth is, Hearts and Minds isn’t about two sides, you see that there were so many sides and perspectives, American, French, and Vietnamese. Hearts and Minds has a lot of interviews and segments with U.S. soldiers, both on the ground in Vietnam, as well as after they’ve returned, triumphant, as in the case of Lt. George Coker, a POW hero, or Eddie Sowders, who went AWOL, and turned himself in after a hard life underground. Of course, you have to see and hear these men in the whole context of the film, but they offer some reflections that are something more than just a history lesson about the 1960s and 70s.
Here is how Sergeant William Marshall puts it:
You know, you let us all go off to war and said, “Yea, team,” you know, “fight in Vietnam,” and all this kind of shit, in 1965 through 1968. Now 1968 comes along, and it’s “Boo, team, come on home,” and all this shit, you know, “and don’t say nothing about it, because we don’t wanna hear about it, because it’s upsetting around dinner time, you know.” Well, goddamn, it upset me for a whole goddamned year; it upset a lot of people to the point where they’re fucking dead, you know, and all this shit. Now you don’t wanna hear about it, well I’ll tell you about it everyday, make you sit down and puke in your dinner, you dig, because you got me over there, and now you done brought me back here, and you wanna forget it, so somebody else can go do it somewhere else? Hell no, nuh-huh, you’re gonna hear it all, everyday, as long as you live, because, hey, it’s gonna be with me as long as I live, when I get up in the morning, when John gets up in the morning, when a lot of dudes that’s sitting around here, their gut hurts cause they got shot there. I gotta put on an arm and a leg because it ain’t there no more, you dig. And my man here has got a hole in his stomach, he can’t work right, you know. Now you do something about that, make that all disappear, you dig, you know, make it all go away with the six o’clock news, turn it off, you know or switch it to another channel and all that shit. The hell with that, you dig, it’s here, it’s for real, and it’s gonna happen again unless these folks just get up off their ass and realize that it has happened.
Beginning November 8th, just a few short days after the election of George W. Bush to a second term as president, and with hardly a peep from anyone in the United States, the city of Fallujah was first cordoned off, then systematically emptied of its nearly 300,000 residents (with few in the press ever wondering where they might have gone) and finally reduced to rubble.
The Boston Globe’s Anne Barnard was embedded with a task force from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division in Fallujah. As American forces besieged the city, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Newell told her, ‘This is the first time since World War II that someone has turned an American armored task force loose in a city with no restrictions.” After two weeks of assault, Barnard writes:
Captain Paul Fowler sat on the curb next to a deserted gas station. Behind him, smoke rose over Fallujah. His company of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles had roamed the eastern third of the city for 13 days, shooting holes in every building that might pose a threat, leaving behind a landscape of half-collapsed houses and factories singed with soot.
”I really hate that it had to be destroyed. But that was the only way to root these guys out,” said Fowler, 33, the son of a Baptist preacher in North Carolina. ”The only way to root them out is to destroy everything in your path.”
In a piece that appeared in CounterPunch in late December, Mike Whitney fills in some of the details:
The results have been devastating. Over 250,000 people have been expelled from their homes and the city has been laid to waste. The US military targeted the three main water treatment plants, the electrical grid and the sewage treatment plant; leaving Fallujans without any of the basic services they’ll need to return to a normal life.
Most of the city’s mosques have been either destroyed or seriously damaged and entire areas of the city where the fighting was most fierce have been effectively razed to the ground.
So far, the army has only removed the dead bodies from the streets; leaving countless decomposed corpses inside the ruined buildings. A large percentage of these have been devoured by packs of scavenging dogs. The stench of death is reported to be overpowering.
This was the destruction of the city in order to save it, carried out in broad daylight, a brazen “fuck you”? (Last spring the words were scrawled by a Marine on the bridge where the bodies of the 4 contract workers had been hung. More recently, Fallujans returning to examine the rubble have found similar slogans. )
Twenty-four hours before the siege began, Globe reporter Barnard was sitting in on a military strategy session when she wrote:
”The first time you get shot at from a building, it’s rubble,” Capt. Paul Fowler told his platoon leaders. ”No questions asked.”
Suspected enemy buildings were to be ”cleared by fire” before troops entered. ”No boots on the ground unless you’re looking for body parts,” Fowler said.
One short week later she was writing:
Corporal Martin Szewczyk surveyed families’ blankets and snapshots strewn on the floor by troops looking for weapons. ”I feel bad,” he said. ”These were poor people.”
”I think it’s going to get hotter for a while, when people come back and see what we did,” said Specialist Todd Taylor, 21.
Thirty years ago, Randy Floyd was a bombardier, just back from having completed 98 bombing missions in Vietnam. When we first meet him early in the documentary Hearts and Minds, he talks about his upbringing and the prelude to his decision to join the military:
I’m from Duncan, Oklahoma, which is about ninety miles south of here. And I’ve lived around several places: Missouri, Chicago, Detroit, Germany. By the time I got out of high school, I was very conservative. At Duncan High School we had bought, the high school had bought, a John Birch package on Communism, so we studied Communism via the John Birch Society, with the big red map with the flowing out of the disease and learned how Karl Marx was a very cruel man and used to make his family suffer and so forth. So when I got out of high school, I thought basically that Teddy Roosevelt was what this country needed and FDR kind of sold us down the drain to the Commies.
Later we see and hear Floyd describing his reason for being in Vietnam, and what he loves about flying aircraft:
It can be described much like a singer doing an aria, he’s totally into what he’s doing, he’s totally feeling it, he knows the aria, and he’s experiencing the aria, and he knows his limits, and he knows whether he’s doing it and doing it well. Flying an aircraft can be a great deal like that. You can tell when the aircraft feels just right, you can tell it’s about to stall. I can tell where I can’t pull another fraction of a pound, or the airplane will stall and flip out and spin on me. I would follow a little pathway on something like a TV screen in front of me that would direct me right, left or center, follow the steering, keep the steering symbol centered, I’d see a little attack light when we’d step into attack. I could pull the commit switch on my stick and the computer took over, the computer figured out the ballistics, the air speed, the slant range, and dropped the bombs when we got to the appropriate point, in whichever kind of attack we’d selected, whether it be flying straight and level, or tossing our bombs out. So, it was very much a technical expertise thing, I was a good pilot, I had a lot of pride in my ability to fly.
Back in April, when Fallujah came under siege for the first time by American troops in explicit and angry retaliation for the brutal killing of four American contract workers, Tony Perry, an embedded reporter for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a story entitled “Snipers are Strategic Weapons in Fallujah.” His account captures (and glorifies) some of the same spirit of the noble warrior committed to his craft.
Taking a short breather, the 21-year-old Marine corporal explained what it is like to practice his lethal skill in the battle for this city.
While official policy discourages Marines from keeping a personal count of people they have killed, the custom continues. In nearly two weeks of conflict here, the corporal from a Midwestern city has emerged as the top sniper, with 24 confirmed kills. By comparison, the top Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam killed 103 people in 16 months.
”It’s a sniper’s dream,” he said last week in polite, matter-of-fact tones. ”You can go anywhere, and there are so many ways to fire at the enemy without him knowing where you are.
”Sometimes a guy will go down, and I’ll let him scream a bit to destroy the morale of his buddies,” the Marine corporal said, ”then I’ll use a second shot.”
”As a sniper your goal is to completely demoralize the enemy,” said the corporal, who played football and ran track in high school and dreams of becoming a high school coach. ”I couldn’t have asked to be in a better place. I just got lucky: to be here at the right time and with the right training.”
Writing during the same week last April, but from a perspective that makes her less sanguine about the sniper’s art, humanitarian aid worker Jo Wilding made this entry in her online blog immediately after a harrowing trip from Baghdad to bring supplies to the besieged city:
We pile the stuff in the corridor and the boxes are torn open straightaway, the blankets most welcomed. It’s not a hospital at all but a clinic, a private doctor’s surgery treating people free since air strikes destroyed the town’s main hospital. Another has been improvised in a car garage. There’s no anaesthetic. The blood bags are in a drinks fridge and the doctors warm them up under the hot tap in an unhygienic toilet.
Screaming women come in, praying, slapping their chests and faces. Ummi, my mother, one cries. I hold her until Maki, a consultant and acting director of the clinic, brings me to the bed where a child of about ten is lying with a bullet wound to the head. A smaller child is being treated for a similar injury in the next bed. A US sniper hit them and their grandmother as they left their home to flee Falluja.
The lights go out, the fan stops and in the sudden quiet someone holds up the flame of a cigarette lighter for the doctor to carry on operating by. The electricity to the town has been cut off for days and when the generator runs out of petrol they just have to manage till it comes back on. Dave quickly donates his torch. The children are not going to live.
“Come,” says Maki and ushers me alone into a room where an old woman has just had an abdominal bullet wound stitched up. Another in her leg is being dressed, the bed under her foot soaked with blood, a white flag still clutched in her hand and the same story: I was leaving my home to go to Baghdad when I was hit by a US sniper. Some of the town is held by US marines, other parts by the local fighters. Their homes are in the US controlled area and they are adamant that the snipers were US marines.
Meanwhile, Perry concludes his piece in the Los Angeles Times:
Unlike most Marines, the sniper sees his enemy before killing him. The enemy has a face. Most combatants get only a glimpse of their enemies. The distance is too great, the spray of bullets too rapid. But the sniper, with time to set up his shot, sees his victim more clearly through a powerful scope: Their faces, their eyes, the weapons in their hands. And their expression when the bullet hits “their center mass.”
“You have to have a combat mind-set,” said the corporal. Unlike other infantry troops, the sniper thus has a greater confidence that his shot is not as likely to hit a civilian or a “friendly.” Witnesses inside Fallujah claim that many of the more than 600 Iraqis believed killed in the city during the siege have been non-combatants, including a large number of women and children.
The corporal hopes to get back home by late fall in time to take his girlfriend to a college football game and go deer hunting with his father. “When I go hunting for whitetail, it’s for food and sport,” he said. “Here, when I go hunting, it’s personal, very personal.”
In the spring of 1971, John Kerry made something of a name for himself as the young Vietnam vet who appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and spoke from his heart, recounting the horrors that burdened him and thousands of his fellow veterans:
The country doesn’t know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.
We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong.
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.
We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals.
We watched the U.S. falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification of body counts. We listened while month after month we were told the back of the enemy was about to break. We fought using weapons against “Oriental human beings,” with quotation marks around that. We fought using weapons against those people which I do not believe this country would dream of using were we fighting in the European theater or let us say a non-third-world people theater
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, traditionally a slow news period in the U.S., headlines appeared in the European press revealing the use of “mysterious weapons” in Fallujah with reports coming from a number of sources of artillery rounds that created screens of fire that could not be extinguished with water and of “melted bodies.” Paul Gilfeather, political editor for London’s Daily Mirror wrote:
U.S .troops are secretly using outlawed napalm gas to wipe out remaining insurgents in and around Fallujah. News that President George W. Bush has sanctioned the use of napalm, a deadly cocktail of polystyrene and jet fuel banned by the United Nations in 1980, will stun governments around the world.
The story went largely unreported in the United States, however, perhaps because the use of napalm by U. S. troops during the war’s initial assault on Baghdad in the spring of 2003 had already been at first denied, then spun, and finally vanished down the memory hole. Andrew Bunscombe, writing in August 2003 for The Independent (again, a British paper), tells the story:
American pilots dropped the controversial incendiary agent napalm on Iraqi troops during the advance on Baghdad. The attacks caused massive fireballs that obliterated several Iraqi positions.
The Pentagon denied using napalm at the time, but Marine pilots and their commanders have confirmed that they used an upgraded version of the weapon against dug-in positions. They said napalm, which has a distinctive smell, was used because of its psychological effect on an enemy.
A 1980 UN convention banned the use against civilian targets of napalm, a terrifying mixture of jet fuel and polystyrene that sticks to skin as it burns. The US, which did not sign the treaty, is one of the few countries that makes use of the weapon. It was employed notoriously against both civilian and military targets in the Vietnam War.
The upgraded weapon, which uses kerosene rather than petrol, was used in March and April, when dozens of napalm bombs were dropped near bridges over the Saddam Canal and the Tigris River, south of Baghdad.
“We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches,” said Colonel James Alles, commander of Marine Air Group 11.
“Unfortunately there were people there … you could see them in the [cockpit] video. They were Iraqi soldiers. It’s no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect.”
At the time, the Pentagon insisted the report was untrue. “We completed destruction of our last batch of napalm on 4 April, 2001,” it said.
[But] the Pentagon said it had not tried to deceive. It drew a distinction between traditional napalm, first invented in 1942, and the weapons dropped in Iraq, which it calls Mark 77 firebombs. They weigh 510 lbs, and consist of 44 lbs of polystyrene-like gel and 63 gallons of jet fuel.
Officials said that if journalists had asked about the firebombs their use would have been confirmed. A spokesman admitted they were “remarkably similar” to napalm but said they caused less environmental damage.
Our attachment to napalm is a long one, with each war affording an opportunity for product enhancement. Here is an American pilot talking about the joys of napalm while America was attempting to “liberate” Vietnam:
“We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn’t so hot if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But then if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they added Willie Peter [white phosphorus] so’s to make it burn better. It’ll even burn under water now. And just one drop is enough, it’ll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorus poisoning.”
Glenn Chapman, a chemical engineer who worked in military engineering at the Lincoln and Draper Labs at MIT commented in the course of lecture recently, “I’ve said that I’m not in a position to offer any general moral guidelines, but at that time it seemed clear to me that if I had to choose, rather than work as a chemical engineer for Dow, it would be better to make a living selling heroin to schoolchildren.”
Let’s go back to Hearts and Minds. About an hour and a half into the film, we return to a reflective Randy Floyd, sitting on his porch:
During the missions, after the missions, the result of what I was doing, the result of this game, and this exercise of my technical expertise, never really dawned on me. That reality of the screams or the people blown away, or their homeland being destroyed, just was not a part of what I thought about We as Americans have never experienced that, we’ve never experienced any kind of devastation. When I was there, I never saw a child that got burned by napalm. I didn’t drop napalm but I dropped things just as bad. I dropped CBUs, which can’t destroy anything, it’s meant for people, it’s an anti-personnel weapon. We used to drop canister upon canister of these things with two hundred tumbling little balls in there about this big around with about 600 pellets in each ball that would blow out as soon as it hit the ground and shred people to pieces. They couldn’t be gotten out in many cases. People would suffer; they would live, but they would suffer, often they would die afterwards. This would cause people to have to take care of them.
But I look at my children now. And I don’t know what would happen, what I would think about-if someone napalmed them.
After a minute of pained silence, the interviewer asks Floyd, “Do you think we’ve learned anything from all this?”
I think we’re trying not to. I think I’m trying not to, sometimes. I can’t even cry easily, from my manhood image. I think Americans have tried, we’ve all tried very hard to escape what we’ve learned in Vietnam, to not come to the logical conclusions of what’s happened there. The military does the same thing. They don’t realize that people fighting for their own freedom are not going to be stopped by just changing your tactics, you know, adding a little more sophisticated technology over here, improving the tactics we used last time, not making quite the same mistakes, you know I think history operates a little different than that. I think those kind of forces are not going to be stopped. I think Americans have worked extremely hard not to see the criminality that their officials and their policy makers have exhibited.
It seems, though, that for the most part the work of forgetting is not really all that hard. Winning hearts and minds is what it’s all about. All about being American. It’s what we do. Exporting democracy, liberating others from life under tyrants, winning hearts and minds. It’s the American dream writ large. It pervades our thinking, and it endures as our favorite self-image, despite all we’ve ever heard or learned since Vietnam. (Or perhaps precisely because of what we’ve heard!) We are good people who perennially and universally do good things.
A few weeks back, as most of America was engaged in holiday celebrations, the Australian Broadcasting Company carried this story on its website:
About 8,000 people have been admitted to the former rebel bastion of Fallujah in the four days since residents were allowed in to assess the damage from last month’s military offensive, a US spokesman said on Monday.
With most of the city badly damaged in last month’s ferocious street battles, the US-backed Iraqi Government is allowing residents back in to view their homes one neighbourhood at a time.
He stressed that while some of those admitted had opted to stay in the city, most had left after viewing their homes.
Residents have lined up at checkpoints around Fallujah, gripping their identification papers, as they seek to head home after months of violence that climaxed in last month’s US-led assault.
“I passed through very complex procedures before entering the city, U.S. soldiers took my fingerprints and checked my eyes, and then asked for more than one document to prove that I am resident of Hay Al Andalus in Fallujah,” 30-year-old Mohamed Jaleel told the Chinese news agency Xinhua. “I found my house was completely ruined and I do not know what to do or how to bring my family because the city is not livable and most of houses were destroyed and the city lacks basic services,” he said.
This same story was recounted with details of numbing similarity by most everyone to whom reporters spoke.
“When I returned, I found four corpses, and I told U.S. forces and the Iraqi National Guards, but no one paid attention to me. I had to drag them out of the ruin and put them in the street,” 33-year-old Shafeeq Mehdi said. “I cannot take my family to the house, because all the furniture is destroyed and the city lacks services, in addition to my frustrated spirit after I had seen horrible and sad scenes in the city, which became a ghost city,” he said.
“Would Allah want us to return to a city that animals can’t live in?” said Yasser Satar as he saw his destroyed home. “Even animals who have no human sense and feelings cannot live here,” he said, crying. “What do they want from Fallujah? This is the crime of the century. They want to destroy Islam and Muslims. But our anger and resistance will increase.”
62-year-old Nasir Hamdan said that he had experienced many battles and seen a lot of tragedies, but he had never seen such destruction and ruin as that in Fallujah. “I would rather stay in a tent than to stay in a ruined city with only U.S. soldiers and dogs roaming around the city, and I would endure cold and hunger rather than entering such a city.”
“We are three brothers and all of us have lost our homes. I really don’t know how we will start our life again inside this city. I have decided to search for a place in the capital because this city cannot offer a minimum of living conditions for a year. It’s a complete disaster,” Abbas Jumailli, a father of five preparing to leave Fallujah, told IRIN with anger in his eyes.
And, finally, this account from Yasser Abbas Atiya, who though he had sworn he would rather “sleep on the streets of his beloved hometown of Fallouja” than stay in the squalid Baghdad shelter, had seen enough within thirty minutes of his return. He left in disgust with no plans to go back:
“I couldn’t stand it,” the grocer said. “I was born in that town. I know every inch of it. But when I got there, I didn’t recognize it. I thought, ‘This is not my town,’ ” Atiya said Tuesday after going back to the abandoned Baghdad clinic his family shares with nearly 100 other displaced Falloujans. “How can I take my family to live there?”
As Atiya and his brothers traveled through the city and saw the destruction, they braced for the worst. When he caught a glimpse of his roof, Atiya’s first emotion was relief. The house was still there.
As they drew closer, however, Atiya and his brothers began to curse. A gaping hole in the two-story house appeared to have been caused by a tank, whose tracks were visible in the mud, he said. Most of the furniture was smashed. “Half my house was demolished,” Atiya said.
In the kitchen, cabinets had been ripped from the walls, he said. Others were emptied of their contents, which lay in heaps on the floor.
“Every dish was broken, every cup, every plate, as if someone had just stood there breaking one dish after another,” said Atiya’s brother Raaid Abbas, 37. “Why?”
The brothers don’t know who ransacked the house, but they blame American troops, who they say left muddy boot prints.
At this point, it may be instructive to turn to some photographs taken by residents of Fallujah who returned recently to survey their homes and to search for loved ones. The pictures they took, before corpses were buried, have been anxiously shared among other refugees from the city who have not been able to return to see for themselves.
Grim statistics that health care workers have begun to compile these past couple of weeks are now available. Early reports provide data from only the first six of Fallujah’s twenty-seven residential neighborhoods to which residents have returned thus far:
Emergency teams from the Fallujah Hospital have recovered 700 bodies of Iraqis from the ruins of houses destroyed in the US offensive on the city. Among the 700 bodies were 504 bodies of women and children; the rest elderly and middle aged men.
Dr. Tamir Salih al-‘Ani, who is in charge of the morgue in Fallujah General Hospital has reported that emergency teams from the Fallujah Hospital have recovered 700 bodies of Iraqis from the ruins of houses destroyed in the course of the US aggressors’ offensive on the city. Dr. Salih confirmed that among the 700 bodies were 504 bodies of women and children. The rest are the bodies of elderly and middle aged men.
Dr. Salih explained that the bodies were dug out from the ruins on the streets of Fallujah, recovered from rooftops, and dug out of gardens. Many of the dead perished in barbarous ways, their bodies burned by American chemical weapons.
By contrast, United States military officials were offering this more upbeat assessment in the aftermath of the siege:
“We are attacking reconstruction efforts with the same grit, sweat and determination used to eliminate the malicious threat posed by the terrorists and insurgents,” said Lt. Col. Dan Wilson, deputy operations officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Fallujah. “We want to help the residents, so they will be able to live in peace and enjoy the privilege of voting in the upcoming elections.”
Military officials expressed sympathy with the plight of returning residents but said the blame should rest with militants who took control of the city and continued to hide among the population.
“Our forces never intentionally damage structures or homes,” said Wilson, the deputy operations officer. “After all, we, in partnership with the interim Iraqi government, will be at the forefront of assisting in the restoration and cleanup of Fallujah.”
Michael Ware, Baghdad bureau chief for Time magazine, who has been in Fallujah during the fighting said “the name of the game is deny the population to the insurgents. That’s what we’re trying to do, win hearts and minds. But we’re not winning them.”
But there are signs that among the more candid, the language of “hearts and minds” has already given way to a naked realpolitik that offers no such pretense. General George W. Casey, the commander-in-chief of coalition forces in Iraq, told an embedded reporter for The Economist, “Our broad intent is to keep pressure on the insurgents as we head into elections. This is not about winning hearts and minds; we’re not going to do that here in Iraq. It’s about giving Iraqis the opportunity to govern themselves.” Casey’s comment appears in the context of a story that reports on daily life under U.S. occupation:
In Ramadi, the capital of central Anbar province, where 17 suicide-bombs struck American forces during the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan in the autumn, the marines are jumpy. Sometimes, they say, they fire on vehicles encroaching within 30 metres, sometimes they fire at 20 metres: “If anyone gets too close to us we fucking waste them,” says a bullish lieutenant. “It’s kind of a shame, because it means we’ve killed a lot of innocent peopleIt gets to a point where you can’t wait to see guys with guns, so you start shooting everybody…It gets to a point where you don’t mind the bad stuff you do.”
“Sometimes it works in the insurgents’ favour,” admits Rick Sims, a chief warrant officer. “Because by the time we’ve shot up the neighbourhood, then the guys have torn up a few houses, they’re four blocks away, and we just end up pissing off the locals.”
On Monday, January 17, we as a nation will remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Politicians and government officials will weigh in and selectively quote the Baptist preacher (recalling Shakespeare’s line that “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose”). They will necessarily be selective because even the Nobel Peace Prize-winning King must be consigned to the memory hole. Sure, King’s “I have a dream” rhetoric will be repeated from coast to coast, but the King who was a relentless critic of the Vietnam War will not be cited, invoked, or praised by the architects and cheerleaders of the current war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.
So, on the King holiday, meditate on these incendiary lines, not likely to be part of a sound-bite on a television newscast near you:
We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.
The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
Recall Sergeant William Marshall who presciently noted in Hearts and Minds, “it’s gonna happen again unless these folks just get up off their ass and realize that it has happened.” Fallujah has happened. And how and where shall we place our lives on the line this time?
Additional photographs: http://fallujapictures.blogspot.com/
Mark Chmiel and Andrew Wimmer teach at Saint Louis University and work with the Center for Theology and Social Analysis (www.ctsastl.org). They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org