As the U.S. gears up to intensify its campaign against Iraq, the educated classes of the West continue to line up in loyal goose-step, laying the ideological basis for yet another colonial war. As Noam Chomsky observed, the “relatively high degree of internal freedom” within imperial societies “merely highlights the treachery of the intellectuals, who cannot plead that their subordination to the state religion is compelled by force or by constraints on access to information.”
Orwell’s famous Party slogan was indeed quite accurate: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” The point has by no means eluded today’s ruling class, whose intellectual custodians are quite skilled at brushing inconvenient questions under the rug. Consider the words of the American Historical Association’s President, speaking in 1949: “Total war, whether it be hot or cold, enlists everyone and calls upon everyone to assume his part. The historian is no freer from this obligation than the physicist…This sounds like the advocacy of one form of social control as against another. In short, it is.” This declaration came only a couple of years after the U.S. War Department was renamed the Department of Defense; powerful circles in the U.S. have been busy since then, conquering the world in a flurry of self-righteous rhetoric.
With the Cold War having outlived its utility as a rationale for imperial interventions, new policy paradigms are constantly evolving to replace it: clashes of civilizations, a cherishing of democracy and freedom, a hatred for the drug trade, the fight against terrorism. As fact gives way to convenient myths, the world’s leading imperial power continues to destroy Iraqi society for the good of its people, its 11 per cent of the world’s accessible oil supply hardly a consideration. After all, U.S. support for thugs and murders may extend to Saudi Arabia, to Indonesia and to Turkey, but the Iraqi people must have democracy. After all, Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator who is willing to use biological and chemical weapons on his own people.
As usual, a brief glance at the reality of U.S. policy seriously undercuts official doctrine. After all, as a 1994 Senate Committee Report acknowledged, the chemical and biological weapons materials exported from the United States to Iraq until November 1989 “were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and removed from the Iraqi biological warfare program.” However, U.S. support for its strategic ally Saddam—continuing through the reported gassing of Kurds, Iranians and Shiites throughout the 1980s—is too inconvenient a fact to make it into mainstream political analysis.
In recent years, however, the Iraqi people have faced a much more deadly campaign of biological warfare: the U.S.-led sanctions and bombings. Among the targets of U.S. bombs were water treatment plants, sewage treatment plants and electrical generating plants. Before the initial bombings, the most pressing medical problem for Iraqi children was child obesity. Now they are dying of simple diarrhea, typhoid, and other easily treatable diseases. When the 500,000 children who had died as a result of U.S.-led sanctions came up in a prime-time interview with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, she explained that “we think the price is worth it.” Shouldn’t such public confessions land a person in jail? As September 11’s anniversary prompts the predictable intensification of the propaganda war, let’s hop on the anti-terrorist band-wagon. Let’s make it clear that anybody killed by the U.S. government, in Iraq or elsewhere, is a victim of terrorism, and commit ourselves to bringing the perpetrators to justice. Let’s do all we can to undermine the ideological basis for such crimes, as a necessary preliminary to building social movements that can serve to deter them.