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
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.
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
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
"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
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
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?