"People have often been willing to give up personal identity and join into a collective. Historically, that propensity has usually been very bad news. Collectives tend to be mean, to designate official enemies, to be violent, and to discourage creative, rigorous thought. Fascists, communists, religious cults, criminal 'families' — there has been no end to the varieties of human collectives, but it seems to me that these examples have quite a lot in common. I wonder if some aspect of human nature evolved in the context of competing packs. We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the lure of the mob." ~ Jaron Lanier
Why Not War
There comes a time to fight for what is right, but that determination must rest with the individual conscience, whether it chooses to fight, support, oppose, or remain indifferent to a cause. Lately voices against war seem lonelier here in America than ever, while voices for war in many other countries are undoubtedly experiencing a similar form of pressure to 'shut up and sit down'. Those who dissent out of principle are likely to sympathize with those who dissent elsewhere despite mutual disagreement, because when personal convictions require a person to dissent, he is bound by honor to respect personal conviction in others. The voice is the non-violent weapon of choice for seekers of peace, and it may require a great deal of courage to raise it at times like the present.
The need to defend dissent is understood in theory, even by those who tolerate dissent the least. Once speech is silenced, thought itself becomes suspect, and actions will be subject to forms of scrutiny and interpretation. The walls of our homes need not be made of glass; technology has made the walls sheltering our existence and daily communications increasingly transparent, and susceptible to penetration by anyone with the means and the determination to do so. Technological advances will make new forms of control and observation not only possible, but increasingly practical as well. Modern society presents ethical dilemmas foreseen by yesterday's alarmists; the sci-fi and dystopian visionaries of the past, who saw the lengthening shadows cast by an ominous, foreseeable future.
Intelligent voices that questioned the need for war before it began may now have reconsidered the issue on the basis of humanitarian grounds. Accounts of atrocities are filtering out of Iraq; warehouses of grisly remains, evidence of torture, rape, and inhuman conduct by the regime in power. Weapons of Mass Destruction may yet be found, but if they are not, it's unlikely that a misguided pretext for pre-emptive war will stir up a storm of retrospective protest, since outrage has a way of overcoming clear-minded rationality.
The existence of real abuses is not in question, and the filter of wartime propaganda is self-evident; depending on the source of news, there will inevitably be a tendency to embellish facts, or report them selectively. The larger picture of this war tells the story of a country that no longer presumes innocence until proof of guilt is established, or that judgment should be withheld until all the evidence is presented. When a government acts preemptively to strike against another country, it has acknowledged that the restraints of existing rules of law or diplomacy do not bind it. When such niceties are dispensed with outside of America's borders, they will certainly prove dispensable domestically.
If taking control of Iraq means releasing the U.S. government from traditional restraints of law and due process, and allowing it the same type of authoritarian control of society here that enabled Saddam to perpetrate atrocities in Iraq, the final cost of this war won't be measured in lives lost and dollars spent. When U.S. troops come home, inured to the horrors of war, traumatized and scarred, maimed and exhausted, are they going to find that the freedom they paid dearly for has been forfeited at home, while they fought for it in a foreign desert? What form of freedom will take root in Iraq when the architects of freedom there are the same ones who are steadily demolishing freedoms in America?
The occupying forces are not there to liberate the people of Iraq from oppression, but to install a friendly regime. Out with the old master, in with the new. The new regime will be cooperative with American corporate/political interests, or a decade from now perhaps another Bush will wage another war to replace it. Just as Saddam was once a useful foil for previous administrations, one who grew to love power and resent limitations on his exercise of it, so will a new puppet government desire to cut the strings when it tires of dancing to someone else's whims. The human rights abuses are not new, nor are they exclusive to Iraq. The fewer the existing constraints upon the U.S. government, the more likely abuses are to become an unpleasant fact of life here as well.
This is an administration that cherishes secrecy and controls the spotlight. While it casts a steady glare on those who protest and oppose it, it prefers to remain in darkness. It wants to increase its own control over citizens, while lessening any control (however illusory) its citizens exert over it. Even by the standards of democracy, which is what America is purportedly trying to export to Iraq and the Middle East, that does not bode well for the future here, or anywhere else. We're exporting our own freedom at the risk of importing the same sort of tyranny that is so abhorrent when it bears the imprint of foreign prejudice. It's a double-edged sword, and a two-way street: a bridge of hostility rather than a bridge to understanding, and the traffic it invites will not come bearing caravans of tribute or olive branches. Perhaps Americans will come to experience a more egalitarian footing with the Iraqi people; but there is one sense of solidarity embraced by love of humanity, and another fostered by the shared condition of fear and oppression.
Horrific as the cruelty of Saddam's regime may be, it can only have been amplified many times over by sanctions that weakened the people of Iraq. How easily forgotten are the hundreds of thousands of children and adults who have suffered at non-Iraqi hands due to deprivation and the contamination of resources. All it takes is a few images of barbarous treatment of Iraqis, by Iraqis, and the public eye glazes over. Iraq may be a country with great resources; but oil is rather lower on the list of basic human needs than is food, water, medicine, dignity and hope. The interests of peace and humanitarianism would have demonstrated the need to open supply lines, rather than cutting them off. A strong people, like a strong immune system, will defend itself against a threatening condition.
Any government will know that in order to dislodge another regime, it must attack from the top down, and not erode from the bottom up, or it won't remain in place long itself. Streets will be shut down in the capital, and armed guards posted at its gates; bunkers readied, and supplies stored, for the self-preservation of power. Erosion from the bottom up can only occur when the people at the bottom are able to meet their basic needs. The number of hungry Americans will grow as our shattered economy trembles and threatens to send tremors throughout the world. Crime flourishes among a population increasingly unable to nourish, support and defend itself, and in distress. The architecture of power will survive and thrive, even as society crumbles and civilization staggers backwards.
The troops who fight this war are putting their lives on the line for a cause they must consider justified. Perhaps they will fight as determinedly for freedom when they see that it is threatened at home; an army that is 'just following orders' does not serve the people, but protects the powerful against the people, not the other way around. Freedom of conscience must survive, or all other freedoms will fall like so many dominos in rapid succession behind it. May the people of Iraq attain freedom and prosperity, and attain it permanently because it is what they desire for themselves. A short-lived freedom for the Iraqi people that comes at the cost of our own is a bad bargain; besides, who is going to liberate us when the world catches on that our government is beyond our control? Would America welcome the sort of liberation that Iraq is expected to invite with open arms?