by David Swanson
Here's a statement that's blasphemy both in the peace movement and in the halls of the warmongers:
"Whether we escalate the war or not is unimportant."
Here's the situation we're in. President Bush and his gang lied us into a war. The occupation of Iraq has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction or 9-11 or Saddam Hussein or democracy or making Americans more safe. There is no reason for this war respectable enough to discuss in public. And so, the U.S. corporate media does not discuss the reason, or absence of any reason, for the war. Instead we're treated to endless debates over whether the war is a civil war, or we're given hundreds of hours of coverage of a report that has no legal force and no coherent point to it. Or we learn all about new appointees and how their personalities differ from those of the outgoing war-makers. Or we learn about new committee chairs and power-shifts in Congress. Or we hear about polls and surveys on the war. Or media coverage focuses on whether to escalate the war by sending in an additional number of troops that is small relative to the number already there.
All of these stories, including the story of Bush's expected proposal for escalation of the occupation, serve the same purpose: they allow the U.S. media to claim to be covering the war without actually discussing what purpose the war serves and without showing us what the war is doing to people.
Now, in one sense, an escalation of the war is important. Every single person criminally ordered to ship out to kill and risk death is important. Every person they kill or injure or traumatize is important. And an escalation moves us in the wrong direction.
But the possible outcomes of the current debate range from continuing this illegal war using 10 or 20 percent more troops, to continuing this illegal war using the current number of troops. Should Congress find the decency to block an escalation, that will be important, but its importance will lie in its potential to lead to further action. The debate we need to be having is over defunding and ending the war.
Once again, the White House has gone on the offensive from its weakest position and managed to move the full range of debate into the pro-war camp. This could not be done were it not for media outlets that pretend to cover the war without mentioning what the war is about.
If mention were made of what the war is about, Americans would learn about the permanent military bases their tax dollars are building all over Iraq, not to mention the world's largest embassy. And pundits would be forced to stop pretending that the war can ever be brought to a close without completely overturning the operations of the warmongers. "Redeployment" wouldn't cut it. Only honesty would work. Saying "No!" to an escalation, as many peace groups are now focused on doing, completely avoids the topic at hand and defines as victory achieving the status quo, the same status quo that led to the November 7th electoral mandate for peace and accountability.
The insanity of this has penetrated the corporate media only to the extent of putting the word "surge" in quotation marks, a practice that newspapers do not apply to most nonsense terms. "Department of Defense," for example, still appears with no quotation marks. Following the quotation mark policy consistently would mean having to put over half the words in a Bush speech in quotation marks. I expect, rather, that newspapers will soon drop the quotation marks around "surge."
The insanity of the current debate would become clearer if we could see the war. Short of that, we can substitute the term "child abuse" for the term "war". After all, the war is killing and injuring children and their parents by the hundreds of thousands. Surely any conclusions we reach regarding child abuse must be even worse regarding this war. Now, imagine this piece of news:
The White House is expected to announce on Wednesday its long-awaited plan to recruit 20,000 more pedophiles to give a quick boost to project Child Torture. Currently 140,000 child abusers are serving their country in the four-year mission in California, but experts agree that there remain children in the southern part of the state who have not yet been abused at all.
Now, do two things to that piece of news. First, make it worse by adding murder to it. Second, make it totally acceptable by moving it from California to Iraq. But why should that make it acceptable?
Mike Ferner recently calculated what the murder we are engaged in in Iraq would look like in the United States:
"Last fall the British medical journal 'Lancet' published a study done by researchers from Johns Hopkins University estimating that the midrange number of Iraqis dead 'as a consequence of the war' was about 2.5 percent of that country's population, or roughly 655,000 people. Over 90 percent of those died from violence. Comparable casualties in our country would mean that every person in Atlanta, Denver, Boston, Seattle, Milwaukee, Fort Worth, Baltimore, San Francisco, Dallas and Philadelphia would be dead. Every. Single. Person. And we are just now getting serious about cutting off money for this war?
"Besides that unimaginable death toll, every person in Vermont, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, Kansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Oregon, South Carolina, and Colorado would be wounded. Every. Single. Person. Would that be the point we stopped politely asking our Congress members to please end the war, and began taking over their offices in every state in the union?"
Terry Jones, writing in The Guardian, recently calculated what Americans are paying in dollars for all this murder and injury:
"Early this year the Bush administration is to ask Congress to approve an additional $100bn for the onerous task of making life intolerable for the Iraqis. This will bring the total spent on the White House's current obsession with war to almost $500bn - enough to have given every US citizen $1,600 each. I wonder which the voters would have gone for if given the choice: shall we (a) give every American $1,600 or (b) spend the money on bombing a country in the Middle East that doesn't use lavatory paper?
"Of course, there's another thing that George Bush could have done with the money: he could have given every Iraqi $18,700. I imagine that would have reduced the threat of international terrorism somewhat. Call me old-fashioned, but I can't help thinking that giving someone $18,700 brings them round to your side more quickly than bombing the hell out of them. They could certainly buy a lot of lavatory paper with it.
"In 2002 the house budget committee and the congressional budget office both guesstimated the cost of invading Iraq at approximately $50bn; $500bn seems a bit wide of the mark. What's more, with over half a million dead, it means that the world's greatest military superpower has spent a million dollars for every Iraqi killed. That can't be value for money!"
But we don't see film or photos of the dead. We don't think of killing people as a central part of this occupation, even though intellectually we understand that it must be. Now is a moment to do more than understand this. Now is a moment to demand more than a stop to the "surge." Now our chant must be: De-Escalate! Investigate! Troops Home Now! And the specific demands we make of Congress must reflect that.
The National Conference for Media Reform, which will be held this coming weekend in Memphis, couldn't come at a better time. Let's hope that, coming out of it, we can create media that report on war as war.
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