The Second Most Important Thing To Do About Iraq—Repent!

OPS, May, 2007

The most important thing to do about Iraq is exit this ill-begotten war as soon as possible. On the day of the invasion, I was talking with the father of a Marine who also owned the hospice where I was working. He was in a gung-ho,’get the s.o.b.’ mode and said so loudly. I spoke to him in quiet words, “Oh, no, this is a very bad idea for many reasons—every motive is wrong and we are storming into an area of the world where they do revenge in generations.” It is with no pleasure I affirm that opinion today and mourn the consequences of our national belligerence.

There is another thing we need to do simultaneously as we exit the war. Just quitting what the U.S. is doing is not nearly enough. In my mind’s eye, there is an ancient prophet standing on a rocky prominence intoning “repent or be doomed.” “Repent” is an old-fashioned word. It usually is used in religious language. Although faith can inform repentance, it is not, in and of itself, necessarily religious, as any 12-Stepper working a 4th and 5th step can affirm. It seems to me “repent” is the most apt word for what needs to happen.

By dictionary definition, “repent” means: 1. to feel sorry, self-reproachful, or contrite for past conduct; regret or be conscience-stricken about a past action, attitude, etc. 2. to feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life for the better; be penitent. 3. to remember or regard with self-reproach or contrition: to repent one’s injustice to another.

Much of the thinking and behaviors that led us to this point significantly predate this war. Just pulling out of Iraq will not complete what this nation needs to do. We need to examine how we really came to this place, express our deep sorrow and regret, make amends, and determine how to avoid similar thinking and behavior in the future. It is the same kind of repentance that Japan and Germany went through following WWII. Now it needs to be our leadership and us.

Members of this administration need to apologize to the American people and, indeed, to the world:

For lying to and misleading them into this war. No ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ No Al Qaeda presence there prior to the war (there now is, thanks to the U.S.). Saddam Hussein was a repressive, abusive, violent dictator. But we have not chosen to declare war on all abusive dictators. Some dictators are our ‘best buds.’ Part of our government’s history includes a willingness to march into foreign lands on some noble pretext simply to promote or protect U.S. business interests there.

For another war of aggression: U.S. aggression in Central America was promoted as “fighting communism.” But the Marines went into Nicaragua five times before the turn of the 20th century, well before the word ‘communism’ even existed—sent to protect the interests of American plantations established on land which belonged to local farmers who could no longer support their families. The U.S. helped establish the Somoza government there–a U.S business-friendly dictatorship there and abusive as any on the planet. We even helped make it a generational dynasty. Nicaragua’s story is only one in a painful list of U.S. involvement in aggressive war-making. This current first strike war is actually not new behavior—it’s just the most recent, most blatant manifestation of very old behavior and we need to change it permanently if we are to live in peace.

For launching a war that was pre-planned before the September 11th attacks. The plan was simply taken off the shelf and implemented, using our national tragedy, almost literally, as a smoke screen for their real motives. Quietly, they spoke about gasoline at $1 a gallon, a huge boon for the American and other western economies. In the U.S.’ ongoing involvement in Middle East intrigue, this would have given the U.S. independence from the caprices of OPEC production limits and allow the U.S. to take on other countries in the region one at a time. Even now, permanent bases are being built in Iraq for this purpose.

For using our young people and resources in a war that was a grudge match—Saddam had tried to have Bush The Elder assassinated. It was payback time. In the best Texas accent a Bush can muster, with a hitch to the belt: “I’m goin’ after that SOB now that I have a good excuse.” Or, “I’m really mad about this 9-11 attack and I’m lookin’ like a fool sitting in a Florida classroom for 20 minutes following the attack, so I’ll go after Saddam and act real tough.” There is nothing worse than the combination of arrogance and ignorance, and this administration has demonstrated an abundance of both. Early in the war, President Bush said this would be a “crusade” for freedom and democracy. In our country a crusade is associated with Billy Graham. In the Arab world, it refers to a time in history when their land was repeatedly invaded by foreigners intent on exterminating them. Either Bush or his speech writers were totally ignorant of what the Crusades mean to the Arab world or this language was deliberate. What could he have said that would have been more inflammatory?

For using the language of the Christian religion to buttress decidedly un-Christian policies, most notably preemptive war and torture. There is not a single thing in the teachings or life of Jesus that would support such behavior—indeed he would unequivocally renounce it.

For starting a costly war that feeds the war machine-‘the industrial-military complex,’ as Eisenhower called it. It has been so long since this country had a peace-based economy, we don’t know how to sustain one. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, this country blew amazingly good opportunities to lead the world into an unprecedented era of peace. If our nation had chosen that opportunity to behave as the benevolent, helpful big brother of a large family, things could have been very different, not only for us but for our children and grandchildren. After the 9-11 attacks, the U.S. had the sympathy of most of the rest of the world and could have chosen limited actions to bring those responsible to justice rather than a leap into wars on two fronts. But a break from this country’s addiction to weaponry and war-making would cost losses in the war-business sector. The stock market doesn’t like peace—bad for business.

Continuous war somewhere meets the needs of predatory corporations for ever-increasing commerce, regardless of whether it meets the needs of human beings or not. And these corporations are so cleaver they have managed to label any such observation “unpatriotic.” This war never was about Al Qaeda, terrorism, or protecting “our” freedom. It’s about protecting the “freedom” of huge international corporations, whose interests are often not the best interest of the American people.

The administration also needs to apologize to the Iraqi people for keeping them in a constant state of siege since 1991, through two wars separated by years of privation, misery, and death. As our media did at the time of Vietnam, they keep precise count of the number of U.S. soldiers who have been killed. This is as it should be—each one is precious and lost to the fabric of life forever. But each of the Iraqis killed is also precious. And the American people only hear of them in vague estimates. This ancient country is the cradle of civilization. We have poisoned its land and its people with depleted uranium ordinance–an evil gift which will keep on giving for generations Not only have we abused its people in a hundred ways, we have destroyed priceless artifacts and archaeological sites—lost to the human family forever.

One of the subtlest and most devastating consequences of such costly and prolonged warfare is what happens here at home. Those who hate publicly funded assistance of any kind can justify cutting budgets of crucial programs because “we can’t afford them.” It’s not the programs we can’t afford; it’s eternal war.

The media needs to repent also for caving into the administration’s demand that they buy into all the fake justifications for the war and abdicate their responsibility to provide the American people with as much truth as possible. Those journalists and publications that did have courage were branded as unpatriotic and marginalized.

But just blaming the administration and the media is not enough. The American people need to take responsibility for their behavior (or lack thereof) too. The vast majority of Americans allowed themselves to be stampeded into both of these wars and, once there, allowed our leaders to paint those who disagreed with them as unpatriotic, guilty of not “supporting the troops.” A mixture of fear, ignorance, apathy, xenophobia*, and misplaced patriotism contributed to and continue to contribute to a mute electorate. But the most devastating public response is to simply ‘change the channel.’

*fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign