Unacceptable Regimes in Iraq and the United
There are killings every day
in Iraq. Occupying troops, diplomats, aid workers and media
people are killed, as are Iraqis, in far greater numbers. But
President George Bush’s war is not only against opponents in
Iraq and the Middle East: it is a war against his fellow
It has quickly become clear
that Iraq is not a liberated country, but an occupied country.
We became familiar with that term during the second world war.
We talked of German-occupied France, German- occupied Europe.
And after the war we spoke of Soviet-occupied Hungary,
Czechoslovakia, eastern Europe. It was the Nazis, the Soviets,
who occupied countries. The United States liberated them from
Now we are the occupiers.
True, we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but not from us.
Just as in 1898 we liberated Cuba from Spain, but not from us.
Spanish tyranny was overthrown, but the US established a
military base in Cuba, as we are doing in Iraq. US corporations
moved into Cuba, just as Bechtel and Halliburton and the oil
corporations are moving into Iraq. The U.S. framed and imposed,
with support from local accomplices, the constitution that would
govern Cuba, just as it has drawn up, with help from local
political groups, a constitution for Iraq. Not a liberation. An
And it is an ugly occupation.
On 7 August 2003 the New York Times reported that General
Sanchez in Baghdad was worried about the Iraqi reaction to
occupation. Pro-U.S. Iraqi leaders were giving him a message, as
he put it: "When you take a father in front of his family and
put a bag over his head and put him on the ground you have had a
significant adverse effect on his dignity and respect in the
eyes of his family." (That’s very perceptive.)
On 19 July 2003, shortly
before the discovery of authenticated cases of torture at Abu
Ghraib prison in Baghdad, CBS News reported: "Amnesty
International is looking into a number of cases of suspected
torture in Iraq by American authorities. One such case involves
Khraisan al-Aballi. Al-Aballi’s house was razed by American
soldiers, who came in shooting and arrested him and his
80-year-old father. They shot and wounded his brother . . . The
three men were taken away . . . Khraisan says his interrogators
stripped him naked and kept him awake for more than a week,
either standing or on his knees, bound hand and foot, with a bag
over his head. Khraisan said he told his captors, ‘I don’t know
what you want. I don’t know what you want. I have nothing.’ ‘I
asked them to kill me’, says Khraisan. After eight days, they
let him and his father go . . . U.S. officials did not respond
to repeated requests to discuss the case."
We know that fighting during
the U.S. offensive in November 2004 destroyed three- quarters of
the town of Falluja (population 360,000), killing hundreds of
its inhabitants. The objective of the operation was to cleanse
the town of the terrorist bands acting as part of a "Ba’athist
But we should recall that on
16 June 2003, barely six weeks after President George Bush had
claimed victory in Iraq, two reporters for the Knight-Ridder
newspaper group wrote this about the Falluja area: "In dozens of
interviews during the past five days, most residents across the
area said there was no Ba’athist or Sunni conspiracy against
U.S. soldiers, there were only people ready to fight because
their relatives had been hurt or killed, or they themselves had
been humiliated by home searches and road stops . . . One woman
said, after her husband was taken from their home because of
empty wooden crates which they had bought for firewood, that the
US is guilty of terrorism."
According to the reporters,
"Residents in At Agilia, a village north of Baghdad, said two of
their farmers and five others from another village were killed
when U.S. soldiers shot them while they were watering their
fields of sunflowers, tomatoes and cucumbers."
Soldiers who are set down in
a country where they were told they would be welcomed as
liberators and find they are surrounded by a hostile population
become fearful and trigger-happy. On 4 March nervous, frightened
GIs manning a roadblock fired on the Italian journalist Giuliana
Sgrena, just released by kidnappers, and an intelligence service
officer, Nicola Calipari, whom they killed.
We have all read reports of
US soldiers angry at being kept in Iraq. An ABC News reporter in
Iraq recently described how a sergeant had pulled him aside,
saying: "I’ve got my own Most Wanted List." He was referring to
the deck of cards the U.S. government published featuring Saddam
Hussein, his sons and other members of the former Iraqi regime.
"The aces in my deck," he added, "are Paul Bremer, Donald
Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz."
Such sentiments are becoming
known to the U.S. public, as are the feelings of many deserters
who are refusing to return to Iraq after home leave. In May 2003
a Gallup poll reported that only 13% of the US public thought
the war was going badly. In two years the situation has
radically changed. According to a poll published by the New York
Times and CBS News on 17 June, 51% now think the US should not
have invaded Iraq or become involved in the war. Some 59%
disapprove of Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq. It is
also interesting to note that polls taken among
African-Americans have consistently shown 60% opposition to the
But more ominous, perhaps,
than the occupation of Iraq is the occupation of the U.S. I wake
up in the morning, read the newspaper, and feel that we are an
occupied country, that some alien group has taken over. Those
Mexican workers trying to cross the border, dying in the attempt
to evade immigration officials (trying to cross into land taken
from Mexico by the US in 1848), are not alien to me. Those 20
million people who are not citizens and therefore, by the
Patriot Act, are subject to being pulled out of their homes and
held indefinitely by the FBI, with no constitutional rights, are
not alien to me.
But this small group of men
who have taken power in Washington (Bush, Richard Cheney,
Rumsfeld and the rest of their clique), they are alien to me.
I wake up thinking: the U.S.
is in the grip of a president who was first elected in November
2000, under questionable circumstances and largely thanks to a
Supreme Court decision. He remains, since his re- election last
November, a president surrounded by thugs in suits who care
nothing about human life abroad or here, who care nothing about
freedom abroad or here, who care nothing about what happens to
the earth, the water, the air, or what kind of world will be
inherited by our children and grandchildren.
More Americans are beginning
to feel, like the soldiers in Iraq, that something is terribly
wrong, that this is not what we want our country to be. More and
more every day the lies are being exposed. And then there is the
largest lie, that everything the U.S. does is to be pardoned
because we are engaged in a "war on terrorism", ignoring the
fact that war is itself terrorism, that barging into people’s
homes and taking away family members and subjecting them to
torture is terrorism, that invading and bombing other countries
does not give us more but less security.
You get some sense of what
this government means by the war on terrorism when you examine
what the secretary of defense, Rumsfeld (a face on the
sergeant’s most wanted list), said when he was addressing Nato
ministers in Brussels on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. He was
explaining the threats to the West (imagine - we still talk of
"the West" as some holy entity, as if the U.S., having alienated
most western countries, including France and Germany, was not
now wooing eastern countries, and trying to persuade them its
sole aim was to liberate the Iraqis, just as it liberated them
from Soviet control).
Rumsfeld, explaining the
"threats" and why they are invisible and unidentifiable said:
"There are things that we know. And then there are known
unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know that
we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are
things we do not know we don’t know . . . That is, the absence
of evidence is not evidence of absence . . . Simply because you
do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that
you have evidence that it doesn’t exist."
We are fortunate to have
Rumsfeld to clarify such points. That explains why the Bush
administration, unable to capture the perpetrators of the 11
September attacks, went ahead and invaded Afghanistan in
December 2001, killing thousands of people and driving hundreds
of thousands from their homes. Yet it still does not know where
the criminals are. It also explains why the government, not
knowing what weapons Saddam Hussein was hiding, invaded and
bombed Iraq in March 2003, disregarding the United Nations,
killing thousands of civilians and soldiers and terrorizing the
population. That explains why the US government, not knowing who
was and was not a terrorist, confined hundreds of people in
Guantánamo under such conditions that 18 have tried to commit
The Amnesty International
Report 2005, notes: "The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay
has become the gulag of our times . . . When the most powerful
country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and
human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with
impunity and audacity."
The report highlights U.S.
attempts to play down the importance of torture: the US is
trying to redefine torture to create loopholes in the current
ban. But, the report stresses, "torture gains ground when
official condemnation of it is less than absolute". Despite the
public indignation prompted by torture at Abu Ghraib, neither
the US government nor Congress have called for an independent
The "war on terrorism" is not
only a war on innocent people in other countries, but is a war
on the people of the U.S. A war on our liberties, a war on our
standard of living. The wealth of the country is being stolen
from the people and handed over to the super-rich. The lives of
the young are being stolen.
The war in Iraq will
undoubtedly claim many more victims, not only abroad but also on
US territory. The Bush administration maintains that, unlike the
Vietnam war, this conflict is not causing many casualties (1).
True enough, less than 2,000 service men and women have lost
their lives in the fighting. But when the war finally ends, the
number of its indirect victims, through disease or mental
disorders, will increase steadily. After the Vietnam war
veterans reported congenital malformations in their children,
caused by Agent Orange, a highly toxic herbicide sprayed
indiscriminately over the country.
Officially there were only a
few hundred losses in the Gulf war of 1991, but the U.S. Gulf
War Veterans Association recently reported 8,000 deaths among
its numbers in the past 10 years. Some 200,000 veterans, out of
600,000 who took part, have registered a range of complaints due
to the weapons and munitions used in combat. We have yet to see
the long-term effects of depleted uranium on those currently
stationed in Iraq.
What is our job? To point all
this out. Our faith is that human beings only support violence
and terror when they have been lied to. And when they learn the
truth, as happened in the course of the Vietnam war, they will
turn against the government. We have the support of the rest of
the world. The U.S. cannot indefinitely ignore the 10 million
people who protested around the world on 15 February 2003.
The power of government,
whatever weapons it possesses, whatever money it has at its
disposal, is fragile. When it loses its legitimacy in the eyes
of its people, its days are numbered. We need to engage in
whatever actions appeal to us. There is no act too small, no act
too bold. The history of social change is the history of
millions of actions, small and large, coming together at points
in history and creating a power that governments cannot
(1) On 20 June 2005 US
military dead in Iraq totalled 1,724 with 12,896 wounded
Howard Zinn is a historian, playwright, and social
activist. He was a shipyard worker and Air Force bombardier
before he went to college under the GI Bill and received his
Ph.D. from Columbia University. His works include A
People’s History of the United States (HarperCollins, New
York, 2003) and You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A
Personal History of Our Times (Beacon Press, Boston, 1994).
He has taught at Spelman College and Boston University, and has
been a visiting professor at the University of Paris and the
University of Bologna. He has received the Thomas Merton Award,
the Eugene V. Debs Award, the Upton Sinclair Award, and the
Lannan Literary Award. He lives in Auburndale, Massachusetts.