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Scott Ritter: The Good American

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    U.S. soldiers detain a protester as Iraqis rally against the U.S. military presence in the Kamaliyah neighborhood of Baghdad on May 2. Hundreds attended the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2008
      U.S. soldiers detain a protester as Iraqis rally against the U.S.
      military presence in the Kamaliyah neighborhood of Baghdad on May 2.
      Hundreds attended the rally, some throwing stones at a passing
      American convoy. [AP Photo / Adil al-Khazali]

      The Good American
      By Scott Ritter

      I joined the American Legion a few years back. As a veteran of the
      Persian Gulf War in 1991, I was eligible to do so for some time but
      always hesitated, perhaps out of a sense of trying to deny that my
      days as an active-duty combatant were long past. Every year, on
      Memorial Day, my fellow firefighters and I would gather in the
      basement of the local American Legion hall before we paraded before
      the town we protect. I would look around at the uniforms and faded
      patches and ribbons worn by the veterans who joined us in the hall and
      realize that they, too, were deserving of a great deal more support
      than simply being wheeled out once a year to participate in a parade.
      So I sent in my application and was accepted.

      One of the fringe benefits of membership in the American Legion is a
      subscription to its monthly journal, The American Legion, billed as
      "the magazine for a strong America." It quickly became apparent that
      The American Legion magazine was a sounding board for many holding
      quite militaristic and jingoistic opinions based on their rather
      limited personal experiences, many dating back to World War II. The
      war in Iraq, together with the overarching "global war on terror,"
      seems to be viewed by many in the American Legion as an extension of
      their own past service, and much effort is made to connect World War
      II and the Iraq conflict as part and parcel of the same ongoing
      American "liberation" of the world's oppressed.

      It's a shame for these Legionnaires that the Iraqis couldn't have
      turned out to be blond, blue-eyed Germans who looked like us, and
      whose women could be wooed with chocolate and nylon stockings by the
      noble American liberator and occupier. Or, short of that, passive
      Japanese, who freely submitted their women to the massage parlors and
      barracks of their American conquering heroes while their men rebuilt a
      shattered society. The simplistic approach of many of the American
      Legion's most hawkish advocates for the ongoing disaster in Iraq seems
      to be drawn from a selective memory which seeks to impose a carefully
      crafted past experience dating back to the last "good war" (i.e.,
      World War II), expunged of all warts and blemishes, onto the current
      situation in Iraq in a manner which strips away all reality.

      It turns out that the Iraqis aren't like German or Japanese people at
      all, but rather a fiercely independent (if overly complex) nation
      deeply resentful of a so-called liberation which has brought them
      nothing but pain and agony, primarily at the hands of those who have,
      unbidden, "freed" them from their past. The fact that the Iraqis
      resent the ongoing American occupation, and choose to express this
      resentment through violent resistance instead of submissive passivity,
      is in turn resented by many of the Legion's membership. "War has been
      declared on the United States by those who are envious of our freedom,
      and they won't stop until we are under their heel," writes one
      Legionnaire in a letter published in the May 2007 issue of "the
      magazine for a strong America." The juxtaposition of Iraq with those
      who perpetrated the events of Sept. 11, 2001, implied in this
      statement is reflective of a level of ignorance that boggles the mind.
      Iraq never declared war on the United States, the salesmanship
      exhibited in our promotion of "freedom" in Iraq leaves nothing to
      envy, and the Iraqis will stop resisting when we leave their country.
      Don't try telling that to the blustery former Marine who authored the
      letter in question, however. He, like the majority of the Legion, is
      tired of hearing about "Bush's war."

      "Death, Not in Vain" is the title of the feature article of the May
      2007 issue. The story revolves around how the parents of one Marine
      who died in Iraq seek to define their son's sacrifice. "People may
      not agree with the reason we went to war," the mother of the fallen
      Marine is quoted as saying, "but while our troops are over there, we
      can't be telling the world what they are doing is wrong. If we say we
      support them, we have to support what they are doing." Of course, the
      nature of the "disagreement" surrounding the Iraq war is never fully
      articulated in the article. There is no mention made of the
      discredited claims by President Bush and other war advocates about
      weapons of mass destruction or connections between Saddam Hussein's
      government and al-Qaida. Instead, the reader is told repeatedly about
      how fallen American service members gave their lives for America and a
      "free Iraq." Quoting their fallen sons, the families of Marines killed
      in Iraq speak proudly of bold statements such as "We need to be there,
      but it's going to be hard, and it is going to be a long time." Yet
      they never explore the actual "need" cited.

      "We've got to support the troops and the mission," the article quotes
      one family member as saying. "The two are dependent on each other."
      I'm all for supporting the troops. But blind support for a mission of
      such nebulous origin? This is a much different matter, one requiring
      more introspective investigation. I don't think it was the magazine's
      intent, but a foundation of such an investigation was laid in the very
      same issue. In his article "Minimizing the Holocaust," Harvard Law
      School professor Alan Dershowitz slams those who seek to dismiss Nazi
      Germany's effort to commit genocide against Europe's Jews. It is a
      very difficult article to digest, not because of the legitimate
      premise that those who seek to deny or minimize the Holocaust are
      deserving of condemnation, but rather for the ease with which the
      moralistic Dershowitz explains the bombing of Dresden in 1945 as a
      "legitimate act of belligerent reprisal for the relentless bombings of
      civilians in London and elsewhere," or the dismissive waving-off of
      the systematic starvation of 1 million German prisoners of war by the
      United States after the surrender of Germany as an inconvenient result
      of a "food crisis across Europe, a result of the continent's
      decimation," and being a "far cry from the 6 million innocents who
      perished at the hands of the Nazis with absolutely no military

      I would be curious to know how Dershowitz would judge how the families
      of German soldiers deployed in combat operations should have viewed
      the Second World War. What if a mother of a young panzer grenadier
      fighting on the Russian front was to say, "The troops are the mission,
      and we cannot separate our support for either"? Should blind support
      for the fighting men likewise have blinded the families of German
      soldiers to the illegitimacy of their cause? Certainly Dershowitz
      would favor the "good German," one who would have sought to deny
      facilitation of the Holocaust by refusing to support the war which
      empowered it. Would he so favor the "good American," one driven by a
      sense of moral responsibility to speak out against acts perpetrated in
      Iraq and elsewhere by American fighting forces ostensibly in support
      of freedom, but in reality an extension of illegitimate policies
      reeking of global hegemony and American empire? Or would he choose to
      explain away Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, the CIA's secret
      gulag of torture as "legitimate acts of bellicose reprisals" for the
      events of Sept. 11, 2001? In Dershowitz's tortured legal brain the
      events at Haditha and elsewhere, including the Marine massacre of
      civilians in Afghanistan, likewise assume legitimacy in this newfound
      legal defense of "legitimate bellicose reprisal."

      In the end, Dershowitz's opinions are irrelevant. The disturbing
      reality, however, is that his mind-set is not limited to the soap box
      he enjoys as a teacher of jurisprudence at one of America's finest
      institutions of higher learning but rather is increasingly embraced by
      American service members deployed in harm's way. A recent U.S. Army
      survey shows that some 40 percent of American soldiers and Marines
      support the use of torture as a means of gathering intelligence. Some
      66 percent would refuse to turn in a fellow soldier or Marine for
      abusive actions against civilians, and less than 50 percent believe
      that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect. Ten
      percent of those surveyed actually admitted to abusing civilians and
      their property for no reason whatsoever. While acknowledging that
      this mind-set is at complete odds with official policy concerning the
      conduct of military personnel in a combat zone, the Pentagon did its
      best to portray the survey results as clear evidence that there was,
      in fact, "good leadership" in place, since the desires of the troops
      had not manifested themselves in large-scale acts of abuse or torture.
      True, but the survey is also clear evidence that when such abuse or
      torture does occur, it is not the result of a few "bad apples," so to
      speak, but instead indicative of a trend that could easily spiral out
      of control on any given day.

      The survey results should not come as a surprise to anyone. The
      innumerable home movies shot in Iraq and Afghanistan, some
      immortalized on YouTube, some in documentary film, some simply shared
      with friends and family, all show the same disturbing trend. Whether
      it is a Marine singing the lyrics to the self-written "Hadji Girl," or
      soldiers speaking disparagingly about "ragheads" or "sand niggers," or
      any other dehumanizing remark imaginable, the reality is our troops
      aren't in Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people. We're there to kill them
      and we do an extraordinarily good job. The British government
      recently certified as "sound" the methodologies used by the study
      published in the medical journal The Lancet which estimates the number
      of deaths (as of 2006) that can be directly attributed to the 2003
      invasion of Iraq and its aftermath at 655,000. If anything, this
      number has grown by leaps and bounds since the study was conducted.

      One can point to sectarian violence as a major contributor to this
      total, but as an American I tend to reflect on the American-on-Iraqi
      violence, such as the barely mentioned deaths of Iraqi children in a
      recent air-delivered bomb attack against suspected Iraqi insurgents.
      I'm sure Dershowitz and those American service members desensitized to
      their own acts of depravity can explain the deaths of these innocents
      as "legitimate acts of bellicose reprisal." I call it murder, even if
      these deaths occurred in time of war.

      Every mother and father of every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine
      deployed in Iraq should reflect on this as well. "Little Johnny" may
      write home about what he says is a "just war" that "needs to be
      fought," but before one embraces the words of someone in harm's way in
      desperate need of self-justification for the things he has seen and
      done, re-examine the area of operations your loved one is serving in
      or, worse, has perished in. Are they "living among the Iraqi people,"
      as some would have you believe? Or are they sequestered away in base
      camps or fire bases, forced to conduct patrols out among a population
      that for the most part hates them and wants them gone from Iraq? Does
      "Johnny" himself call the Iraqis ragheads? Does he give a frustrated
      kick at the Iraqi male he just apprehended, not because of any crime
      or offense committed, but simply because he was there? Does he point
      his rifle and scream expletives at the mother or wife or daughter who
      cries out for a loved one? Does he break a lamp or table to emphasize
      his point? Or does he do worse, allowing his emotions and frustration
      to break free as he beats, shoots or rapes those he now hates more
      than anything else in the world? Freedom? Get real. The mission of
      our military in Iraq is survival, and that is no military mission at all.

      The war in Iraq is as immoral a conflict as the United States has ever
      been involved in. Past wars were fought in a day and age where
      information was not readily available on the totality of issues
      surrounding a given conflict. One could excuse citizens if they were
      not equipped with the knowledge and information necessary to empower
      them to speak out against bad policy. Not so today. For someone
      today to proclaim ignorance as an excuse for inactivity is as morally
      and intellectually weak an argument as can be imagined. The truth
      about those who claim they simply "didn't know" lies in their own lack
      of commitment to a strong America, one founded on principles and
      values worth fighting for, and one where every American is committed
      to the defense of the same. Ignorance is bad citizenship. In this
      day and age, bad citizenship carries ramifications beyond the environs
      of our local communities. Given America's dominant role in the world,
      bad American citizenship has a way of manifesting itself globally.

      I'm not calling the parents of those who have fallen in Iraq and who
      continue to voice their blind adherence to the Bush administration's
      policies in Iraq bad citizens. I understand their need to come to
      grips with their loss the best way possible, which is to try and
      extract some meaning from the sacrifice their family has had to make.
      But I draw the line when these families allow their suffering to
      translate into blanket suffering for others. As The American Legion
      magazine quoted one such individual who advocated in favor of the Bush
      administration: "Are more servicemen and women returning the way my
      son did, in a casket, as a result of our words and actions? I believe
      the answer is yes. The perception of a weak American military, should
      we lose, will make our enemy stronger than we ever imagined. Because
      we don't want to be at war any more doesn't mean the war is over."

      Thus, in a blind effort to find meaning in her son's death, this
      mother is willing to inflict suffering on other American families.
      This may sound like a harsh indictment, but she indicts herself. The
      same mother concludes the article with the following quote: "I told
      President Bush last summer that the biggest insult anyone could hand
      me would be to pull the troops out before the job is complete. If
      we're going to quit, at that point I'll have to ask, `Why did my son
      die?' " The question she should have been asking long before his death
      was, of course, "Why might my son die?" That she failed to do so, and
      now seeks to send others off to their death in a cause not worthy of a
      single American life, is where she and those of her ilk stop receiving
      my sympathy and understanding.

      The American Legion magazine, in its May 2007 issue, belittles those
      who speak out against the war. "While our forefathers gave us the
      right and privilege to challenge our leaders," one father of a fallen
      Marine writes, "the manner and method that some people have chosen to
      use at this time only emboldens the enemy." Reading between the lines,
      freedom of speech is treasonous if you question the motives and
      actions of those who got us involved in the Iraq war. Alan Dershowitz
      can only wish that there had been more "good Germans" speaking out
      about the policies of Adolf Hitler before the Holocaust became reality.

      I yearn for a time when "good Americans" will be able to stop and
      reverse equally evil policies of global hegemony achieved through
      pre-emptive war of aggression. I know all too well that in this case
      the "enemy" will only be emboldened by our silence, since at the end
      of the day the "enemy" is ourselves. I can see the Harvard professor
      shaking an accusatory finger at me for the above statement, chiding me
      for creating any moral equivalency between the war in Iraq and the
      Holocaust. You're right, Mr. Dershowitz. There is no moral
      equivalency. In America today, we should have known better, since we
      ostensibly stand for so much more. That we have collectively failed
      to halt and repudiate the war in Iraq makes us even worse than the

      Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991
      and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He
      is the author of numerous books, and his latest is "Waging Peace: The
      Art of War for the Antiwar Movement" (Nation Books, April 2007).



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