Flag waving
Democracies are always in the right
America will never be first to use the bomb

excerpted from the book


the difference in world view between the United States
and everybody else

by Nicholas Von Hoffman

Nation Books, 2004, paper

For many a German, Nazism was not dictatorial. It was the very spirit of liberation. It was freedom. It was jobs. And talk about endowing people with a sense of empowerment! Political enslavement comes in the native clothes of one's own biosphere. It is disguised. If the Judeo-Christian fascism creeping about the edges of the American englobement were to take power it would not be wearing jackboots. You will see none of the gorgeous uniforms they put on the Nazis in the movies intended to show how bad they were but ending up displaying how good they looked. No heel clicking. No Nazi salutes. American fascism, if it were to take over, would be decked out in familiar, Southwestern shitkicker cowboy boots. Our Gestapo would wear blue jeans and shop at Sam's Club. If it were to come, it would be good old boy fascism, informal and friendly, with the perpetual, goofy smile Americans decorate their faces with. People would not know it had happened. Americans would still think that they were living in a democracy. Only the other people, the ones outside the glass, would see what had gone on. Were they to tell their American friends, the American friends would not believe them.

When America insists its citizens must be exempted from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, an institution dedicated to the enforcement of basic human rights laws, the United States is making a statement about itself. Its stance betokens a conviction that Americans are so special they should not be judged as others are, and that is the work product of a different reality.

Flag Waving

Flagolatry , or the excessive or demented reverence for the national symbol, has its innocent roots in the first lines of the National Anthem. Then things began to get out of hand. Respect for the flag commenced to become flagolatry, part of the degraded and antic patriotism which distorts what, in saner hands, are decent and praiseworthy feelings for one's country. That country was hardly born before people started running Old Glory up the flag pole with a vengeance.

Some flag waving is good, a lot of flag waving is tolerable, incessant flag waving is crazy and dangerous and easily manipulated by the war party to get people bubbling at the mouth in fear and rage.

... when flagalotry takes over the landscape, as it has in the last generation, it says something about people who dwell in that country. Not only does every unpaid-for, overly-mortgaged house in the United States boast its own copy of Old Glory, but so does every SUV, every truck, every truck stop, the side of every barn.

I suppose that the purpose of flag display is inspirational, but taken together with allegiance-pledging and such, its effect is stifling, confining, and intimidating. It was used for the same purpose in the months leading up to America's entry into World War I. An electric sign was strung across New York City's 5th Avenue in 1916 flashing the orders for "Absolute and Unqualified Loyalty to Our Country." In a society of lapel pin flags and standing to attention and red, white, and bluing, the uninterruptedly repeated message is don't talk, listen up, and get ready to rumble. The overall effect is not yet that of the totalitarian state, but to visitors from abroad, what's going on here has a different and worrisome cast from what they do back home in Sweden or Holland or Portugal. Everywhere in the United States are the signs and symbols of military nationalism.

Until the late 1970s nationalist fervor declined in America as well as Europe. This was the time of the Cold War, which was conducted primarily on ideological, not nationalistic, lines. For the free countries, the hallmark of their foreign policies, the United States included, was the sublimation of nationalistic urges into cooperation. The United States was the primus inter pares, the first among somewhat equal nations, which freely gave admiring deference to the great republic in a network of voluntary international alliances and working agreements. In some places, however, after the dissolution of Communism the old nationalistic and communitarian passions flared hot again. Half the Balkans was destroyed in a recrudescence of nationalistic xenophobia, but the rest of Europe was untouched. The ancient nationalist furies in the largest countries of Europe continued to recede. As they did, Europe moved in one direction, the United States in another.

In France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Scandinavia, nationalism was on the wane and was being replaced by political and economic forms of cooperation on such a large scale and in such detailed articulation that the grandparents of living Europeans would have said such things were utopian impossibilities. The nations of Western Europe had begun a process of union, not as a result of a conquest by a Charlemagne or a Napoleon, and not in reaction to the threat of an outside enemy, be it the Turks at the gates of Vienna or the Reds in Berlin. Immemorially old qualities of national personality, national character, or national interest which described the Dutchman, the Swede, the Spaniard, the German, Frenchman, Italian, etc., began to soften at least to the extent that these people found more and more things to share and do in common. Europe was no longer merely a word designating an area on the map; now it referred to a political and economic unity. If Euroman had not yet come out to stand on the stage of history, the nations in the Union were exchanging sovereignty for membership in a supranational federation. At the same time in America disgust, anger, contempt, and ignorance of and resistance against any organization asking nations to pool their sovereignty for any kind of common good grew.

Patriotism was getting dialed up. Politicians and their pilot fish swimming in the think-tanks denounced the "Vietnam syndrome," by which they meant the wrongness of looking before leaping or shooting second and asking questions first. Then in 1979, during the Jimmy Carter administration, a wild crowd of Iranian students and religious hop heads took American embassy personnel hostage and refused to let them go. The drama in Teheran, which dominated life in the White House and television for more than a year, set off surges of nationalism which have not yet stopped breaking across America. In the United States every tree, every vertical post was decorated with a ribbon making one kind of patriotic statement or another. The nation was sheathed and swathed in flags. When a stupidly conceived and poorly planned attempt to rescue the hostages crapped out in the middle of the desert, the jingoes took over the stage in American public life and have not relinquished it.

The national gestalt has it that America is the land of the warm and fuzzy. America is the birthplace of Donald Duck, Miss Piggy, Barney, and Mickey Mouse, endearing creatures without reproductive organs or sweat glands. Americans believe they are the most ardent dog and cat owners in the world. Americans also believe they love their children the most, referring to them as "kids," a word used to denote a special love foreigners do not have for their offspring. Mothers are called "moms," another gooey word suggesting unique American love, care and protection. Spanking or physical punishment is not permitted in schools. There are special, almost sharia-like, laws against touching other persons in those bodily places or any places. Doctors are required to report suspicious-looking bruises on a child. A crime committed against a child's person, especially if a child's person is a white person-blond is even better-will set off an indignant, horrified, national hullabaloo which may go on for days or weeks. Wife-beating, once a more or less tolerated Saturday night leisure time activity, is now suppressed and punished. In America, as nowhere else in the world, networks of institutions exist to enforce warm, fuzzy and safe.

Against all of this goodness running in the background are tales past and present of social crimes of violence and community cruelty. Those with the ears to listen can hear stories of events like the Trail of Tears, that uprooting of Native American families, communities, and nations and their transplantation a thousand miles to the west, as if they were nothing more than a bunch of Arabs. The not-so-warm and fuzzy President Andrew Jackson may occasionally be quoted on the subject: "What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive republic, studded with cities, towns and prosperous farms . . . and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization and religion? . . . May we not hope, therefore, that all good citizens, and none more zealously than those who think the Indians oppressed . . . will unite in attempting to open the eyes of those children of the forest to their true condition, and by a speedy removal relieve them from all . . . evils . . ."

From time to time the morality of having dropped the atom bomb becomes a topic of discussion across the mass media and, after the arguments which have been used often before are used again to no effect, attention moves on to another debate topic. But the doubt remains, the question stays unsettled, the conscience is troubled, and every year on August 6th when the quiet bell is carefully struck at Hiroshima, a few stand and ponder. Somewhere in excess of 135,000 people perished at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are remembered in some fashion, but a half a million Iraqi children, dead by the American embargo on food and medicine, are seldom remembered inside the American biosphere. They are gone.

If the findings of the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund are accepted, the figure for the number of Iraqi children killed by the Anglo-American blockade may rise to 675,000. Although these numbers are not disputed, assume they are exaggerated by as much as fifty percent. That would mean "only" 250,000 or 300,000 or so children met their deaths by the starvation forced upon them by the Anglo-Saxon powers, so called because this thing was the work of the United States and Britain in the name of the United Nations, whose other members could not stop it. There were hundreds of thousands of adult deaths as well, but the fate of the children is already more than America has been able to face up to.

Far from owning up to what was done, the deluded inhabitants of the terrarium believe they have invented a novel, humane form of warfare, if that is not a contradiction in terms. In an article in Foreign Affairs called "The New American Way of War," Max Boot, one of the loudest of the pot-walloping Neocons, writes that, "Spurred by dramatic advances in information technology, the U.S. military has adopted a new style of warfare that eschews the bloody slogging matches of old. It seeks a quick victory with minimal casualties on both sides." Mickey Mouse and Barney go to war, nobody smells, nobody poops, and nobody dies.

An indignant Nancy E. Soderberg, a member of Bill Clinton's National Security Council, huffed at a New York Times writer that, "I could not give a speech anywhere in the U.S. without someone getting up and accusing me of being responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children." If not she, who? She was way up there in the foreign affairs/national security apparatus of the Clinton administration.

The annoyances Ms. Soderberg was forced to endure are rare. Today's government officials, guarded by flakjacketed bodyguards, more often than not appear before audiences pureed and sieved for docility and assent. They are protected from close-up contact with the faces of dissent spitting insults at them. Broad, loud, and public dissent is rare. Americans, as do the cannon fodder elsewhere, trot meekly into the abattoir of war. It was not until the Vietnam conflict had been going on as long as the Siege of Troy that the college boy would-be conscripts broke into open rebellion at the prospect of being dropped into the Southeast Asian flesh-shredding machine. The only large scale, anti-war dissent in the 20th century occurred in opposition to World War I, but it was crushed soon enough.

Ms. Soderberg has escaped responsibility as has her boss, President Clinton, who signed the Iraqi Liberation Act. Although he probably will get the blame some day, they ought not to hang the fate of the formerly alive kids on Bush, who has enough of his own to answer for. But in reality, Ms. Soderberg can go unharassed. The dead children are not in the national memory, which accounts for the American astonishment that the Iraqi welcome to the invaders from across the seas was somewhat ambivalent.

Under the dome there are support groups for the parents of murdered children and special provisions for them to testify at the trials of their murderers. Iraqi parents must bear their grief in unassisted despair without professionally trained and licensed grief counselors. They must go it alone with none of the wide spectrum of mood altering drugs available to American parents stricken at the deaths of their small ones. But such are the advantages of living in a level playing-field democracy.

James Rubin, Madeleine Albright's flak, when queried about all those dead little bodies, answered a question with a question, "What should we have done, just lift sanctions and hope for the best? I believed then and believe now that that was just too risky, given Saddam Hussein's past, his repeated attempts to invade his neighbors, his treatment of his own people and the weapons we knew he was developing." A bit of prevarication here. During the years of the children's death agony, there were no weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's "repeated" attempts to invade his neighbors are two in number, the first being his U.S.-backed invasion of Iran and the second being his theft of Kuwait, which he did on his own. Not that it excuses Saddam, but in the opinion of more than one historian, the reason he invaded Kuwait was the debts to Kuwait which he piled up in his war against Iran. His treatment of his own people deserves to put him in the dock at a war crimes trial, but he did not kill a halfa million of them-though he killed more than a half a million Iranians, which does not seem to count when the Rubin types make their speeches.

"What should we have done, just lift sanctions and hope for the best?" Rubin asks. The answer, of course, must be yes, if not lifting the sanctions is tantamount to murdering half a million children. Right off the bat, most of us would be hard pressed to come up with any reason for killing a child, and as for half a million of them, that's for Mr. Rubin to mull over. The children died of starvation and diseases like dysentery for which there are treatments if the medicine is available, but the medicine was embargoed. Some day, perhaps even in a court of law, Clinton himself, and associates like Rubin and Soderberg, should be asked why and how keeping medicine from children would slow down Saddam's development of the non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Most secretaries of state complete their time in office without forming a single, memorable syllable, but one remark by Madeleine Albright will not soon be forgotten. After being asked by a television reporter, "More than five hundred thousand Iraqi children are already dead as a direct result of the U.N. sanctions . . . Do you think the price is worth paying?" Albright answered that, "It is a difficult question, but, yes, we think the price is worth it."

When it dawned on her some years later that her price-is-worth-it remark might remind some people of Ilse Koch, the Bitch of Buchenwald, Albright told the New York Times, "It was a genuinely stupid thing to say . . . I wish people understood that these are not black and white choices; the choices are really hard." She regretted the remark but not the deed. What's vivid to the woman is her pain, for she goes on to say, "What was so terrible for me was that I did see the faces of the people who were suffering-even if I thought then and think now that the sufferings of the Iraqi people were Saddam's doing, not ours . . . No one had thought they would be in place for so long, but then, no one had really thought Saddam Hussein would still be there either. The intelligence was that he'd be gone fairly soon."

They were in place for so long. With each week bringing 6,000 or more children's deaths, still, it was not too long for Madame Albright. As per usual the intelligence agencies' projections of the future were goofy, stupid, and inaccurate so the blame lay elsewhere. Anyway, it was Saddam's fault. That's one of the old saws of officialdom relies on. He brought it on himself. Blame him. But that Saddam or Castro was the reason or the cause of sanctions is not the same as Saddam doing the sanctions. It was the Americans' doing. It was their decision to drop the starvation bomb and the epidemic bomb, weapons which only cause collateral damage. Only the innocent, only the small fry, only the children, only the aged suffer and die.

Did Clinton and Albright think they were depriving Saddam of food? One look at his belly in his own propaganda pictures makes it clear that he was getting his three squares. Did they think if he got sick, his tame slaves would not rustle up medicine for him? She says that she saw "the faces of the people who were suffering." Did she believe that Saddam would see "the faces of the people who were suffering," and it would melt his heart, this appalling human being who was as bad as his enemies painted him? She says it was terrible for her. Do you believe that? Can you believe that it was terrible for her, yet she stayed the course, knowing the children were dying and knowing it had no effect on Saddam? The people who did see the children's faces resigned in protest. People like Dennis Halliday, head of the UN Office of Humanitarian Coordination in Iraq.

Albright saw the suffering faces. Bill Clinton felt your pain, felt their pain, felt everybody's pain, felt the throbbing pain of the universe, yet ultimately, in the last analysis, at the place where the buck stops, what happened to the children is what President Clinton willed would happen to them. In September of 2003 he appeared at a burial site near Srebrenica where 7,000 Muslim men were murdered at the same time the children were perishing in Iraq. The massacre, he said, oblivious to the irony of his words, ". . . laid bare for all the world to see the vulnerability of ordinary people to the dark claims of religion and ethnic superiority. Bad people who lusted for power killed these good people simply because of who they were." As for the children, it is as though they were never born. Clinton is enthusiastically received wherever he goes for he is this handsome, white haired man of gentle manner, Bible in hand, speaking consoling words, confirming that America will never drop the bomb first. He has made himself into the grotesque simulacrum of a warm and fuzzy stuffed animal.

What would Albright have said if she had been told by the Pentagon that they could drop a bomb on Iraq which would absolutely kill Saddam but also half a million children? She would have to say the price was worth it, wouldn't she? The truth is that if the collateral damage, killing the children, is done out of sight of the TV cameras, the price is worth it. But if the collateral damage is a photogenic, bombed-out building with dead people inside and hysterical survivors outside, then the price is not worth it.

In the cockeyed reality which Americans daily breathe, you can murder, if that's not too strong a word, the children and simultaneously give elaborate demonstrations of smart bombs which are so accurate that they almost never cause a civilian death. As befits a nation hipped on teddy bears and other soft, cuddly things, those miraculous bombs, and the scrupulous care with which they are aimed, have convinced everyone under the crystal dome that America fights with a humane, "surgical" precision. One of the descriptions of how these children died would convince even a Madeleine Albright that a fast death from a dumb bomb is better than the slow death the children died. The Americans do their pinpoint bombing on camera and they do their starvation bombing off camera. Is this hypocrisy or schizophrenia?


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