News from the Madhouse
The United States, as the most powerful country in the world, must be the world’s leading producer of statistics. But for some reason the US has been very coy about producing any estimate of the numbers of Iraqis killed during the American attack. However, others outside officialdom are less reticent, and according to a Times (10 July) report on Iraq, “a group of British and US academics said that the civilian death toll from the war was at least 6000.” But the lack of official American figures does mean that all that suffering can be brushed under the carpet. An American writer in the Times (3 June) said that the Iraqi war was “pretty-close-to-bloodless”. The 2800 people killed in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre are fewer than half the probable figure of Iraqi civilian deaths. No American writer would ever describe the 11 September attack as “pretty-close-to-bloodless”. Of course, the twin towers attacks killed mainly Americans, while in Iraq it was mainly Iraqis who died. Perhaps that makes a difference.
But if you call your dead “victims”, instead of “heroes”, you may find people asking what is the point of supporting a system which results in so many dead victims. Describing them as “heroes”, or so the authorities hope, is a good way of getting people to rally behind the flag, and continue the merciless carnage which is part of capitalism. Private Jessica Lynch, for example, an American maintenance soldier, was in a vehicle at the back-end of an American convoy in Iraq, which lost its way and blundered into enemy territory. In an exchange of fire, she was badly injured, and captured by the Iraqis. She was taken to a nearby hospital in Nasiriyah, and her crushed arms and legs were put in plaster. The Americans discovered she was there, and decided the chance of rescuing a young, good-looking blonde was too good to miss. By that time Iraqi resistance was crumbling, but the desire for a propaganda coup was too strong. So special forces in helicopters, guns firing, stormed the hospital, capturing all the doctors and nurses and not really helping the patients, and triumphantly carried off Private Lynch.
According to the Times (21 June), the press was fed reports about her heroic resistance, fighting and killing Iraqis before being wounded several times herself. There are plans to make films about this exciting story. In fact, it seems, her gun jammed so she didn’t fire at all. Unfortunately, Private Lynch “has been unable to remember anything about the events which have propelled her into the public eye”, and, said the Times reporter, she is now “living in solitary confinement in the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington. Outside her door stands a military guard who prevents anyone except her medical helpers and her immediate family from seeing her. Each lunchtime Private Lynch goes to physiotherapy and works out alone.Other patients are banished from the gym for fear that the press will use them as a way to get to her.” A “hero”, kept in solitary confinement! It makes you wonder if they are helping her to remember what she has forgotten, i.e. all about her heroism. As the report said, “She is deliberately and falsely being portrayed as a hero in a war with few genuine heroes because the Americans would like to feel good about a war that has an ambiguous ending, and the entertainment industry needs to please them.”
In legal circles, there is a well-known story about a barrister, appearing for the defendant, who listened to the other side’s allegations, and wondered how on earth he was going to reply to them. At length his solicitor passed him a note: “No case; attack the plaintiff’s attorney.”
Ten Downing Street is acting on exactly the same principle in the aftermath of the Iraqi war. Much of the media—newspapers, radio, television—has been questioning some of the stories the government put out to justify their action in invading Iraq along with the Americans. Not having a convincing reply to many of these questions, Alistair Campbell (the Prime Minister’s main public relations adviser) decided to seize on one allegation broadcast on BBC television, to the effect that he had “sexed up” some of the information the government got from its so-called “intelligence services”, before issuing it as part of the government’s propaganda drive to persuade people of the necessity of war.
Whether this or that claim is one hundred per cent justified is of minor importance besides the government’s efforts to obscure the basic facts of the matter. America attacked and overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime because it needs to import a great deal of oil to keep its productive and distributive industries functioning. Saudi Arabia, with the world’s largest reserves of oil, is already firmly within the American sphere of influence; Iraq, with the world’s second largest reserves, was hostile to the United States, so had to be brought into line. Britain, and a few other countries, supported the United States because it is by a long way the most powerful country in the world. Some European countries have reacted to this enormous American power by stepping up their attempt to build a capitalist European federation which might in the future hope to rival the United States, and share in world leadership. Others, including Britain, think that a better bet is to go with the country which now has the leadership: in the jungle of world capitalism, the British rulers think, perhaps safety and prosperity lie in cosying up to the most ferocious predator.
Each group of capitalists, ruling in a particular country, does whatever it thinks is best for its own interests. Lots of advice is given, but the decision rests with each country’s ruling class. In Britain, there was a lot of feeling against going to war. Tony Blair, in his present role as right-hand man to the British ruling class, and administrator of British capitalism, ignored the widespread anti-war feeling, and did what he thought the British capitalist class would want him to do. So he went along with the American rulers, hoping that it would help to ensure the oil supplies which British industry needs and will need in the foreseeable future.
Whenever anyone makes an open, honest decision, he adds up all the possible reasons for and against, and arrives at a conclusion. When anyone reaches his conclusion first, and then has to make up his reasons afterwards, there are often a lot of problems. Tony Blair couldn’t announce that he was going to send British soldiers to fight in Iraq, which would involve killing and injuring Iraqi soldiers and civilians, as well as deaths and injuries among the British invading force, simply because he thought it was safer in the modern world for the British ruling class to ally with the single world superpower, and at the same time make sure British capitalism didn’t run out of oil. So reasons had to be made up afterwards. Hence the sudden discovery that Saddam Hussein is a nasty man, running a barbarous regime. Quite true, of course, but not enough to excuse a war which was almost impossible to square with capitalism’s own “international law”. The problems were, firstly, that the British government has supported and traded with this barbarous regime in the past, and, secondly, if that was the reason behind the war, Britain would have to attack many countries round the world, which have regimes just as tyrannical and murderous as Saddam’s. If only the “enemy” country would attack first, then the excuse for war would be obvious—resistance to aggression, which was trumpeted as a complete justification throughout the Second World War. But that wouldn’t do in this case, since America and Britain were going to be the ones committing the aggression. And it wouldn’t be very convincing to claim that Iraq, economically feeble after the Gulf War and the years of sanctions since then, was somehow going to get powerful enough to send an invasion fleet down the Persian Gulf and round the Arabian Sea, up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal, then through the Mediterranean and past Gibraltar, and across the Bay of Biscay before finally invading Cornwall.
What could be done? So in comes the killer excuse—Saddam has weapons of mass destruction: nuclear or chemical or biological weapons which could be sent on a rocket across Europe to land on Basingstoke or thereabouts—and which would be ready for action in only forty-five minutes! (Exactly forty-five, apparently—not forty-four or forty-six minutes: or, as W. S. Gilbert put it, “corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative”.) All this is jazzed up in two official-sounding dossiers, which seek to prove the imminent danger. In due course awkward facts start to emerge—some of the material was taken from an ancient thesis which a student had submitted for his degree (and put on the internet), borrowed without acknowledgement and improved to make it more exciting; and allegations about Saddam trying to import uranium from the Niger republic in West Africa, which turn out to have been based mainly on forged documents.
When all this comes out in the newspapers and the media generally, no wonder Ten Downing Street try to defend themselves by picking out some uncertain bits of the criticism and demanding apologies. But since the Labour Party convinced millions of voters at the last two elections of the gigantic lie that they could run the capitalist system for the benefit of the working class—the great majority of ordinary people—then perhaps these other terminological inexactitudes seem to be very small beer.