The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Bombing Basra To Baghdad

the language of war, like the language of advertising, political ideology and corporations, is a jumble of jargon, euphemisms and downright lies ... - a sanitising operation, designed to disguise the reality of butchery. - Eddie Holt

Anthony McIntyre • 26.03.03

The US-led invasion of Iraq continues, although not entirely unabated. The will and military power required to prosecute the war is undoubtedly there - George Bush referring to the relentless determination of the Coalition to win. And as Noam Chomsky reminds us, 'they evidently believe that the means of violence in their hands are so extraordinary that they can dismiss with contempt anyone who stands in their way.'

But as Michel Foucault wrote many years ago, where there is power there is resistance. And such resistance, as aptly described by Conor O'Clery in the Irish Times, is 'in contrast with the widespread perception in the US that the war would be an invincible high-tech military operation against a collapsing regime.' A combination of inclement weather and fierce Iraqi resistance has ensured that it is not all plain sailing. Nevertheless, up until now the Coalition forces seem to be killing more of themselves than the Iraqis are. Whether 'blue on blue' as they term friendly fire, individuals throwing grenades in amongst their comrades, or simply helicopters colliding in mid-air, the fatalities so far sustained seem to be largely self-inflicted.

However it is presented - war of liberation or domination - a report on Sky News as I write has just pointed out that civilians in Baghdad are asking how they can be the subject of both liberation and bombs at the same time. Elsewhere, the reporter John Donvan provided a sample of questions he was being asked by ordinary Iraqi civilians:

Why are you here in this country? Are you trying to take over? Are you going to take our country forever? Are the Israelis coming next? Are you here to steal our oil? When are you going to get out? Show Us the Aid.

No amount of political doublespeak effectively parries such concerns.

As if to deny the pervasiveness of such sentiment the Coalition was yesterday talking about an anti-Saddam rebellion in Basra, but is now reduced to references about a limited sort of uprising. Also yesterday we had the word of the British that the Iraqi Army were horizontally firing artillery on their own people - just like the British used to assure us that the IRA were hated within its own community and survived by intimidation alone. And then an English magazine asked the troublesome obvious - why was there so many IRA intimidators in the first place? Then when the British told us that the IRA were all interned somebody asked why then are they still fighting. The discourse of invaders is invariably the same. It is constructed on a failure or refusal to comprehend popular opposition to the invasion which then gives rise to other forms of rationalisation. The language of Invasion Iraq resembles what passed for information here at one time: 'terrorists' - 'bandit country' - thugs - 'gangsters'- 'dead enders' - 'isolated pockets of resistance.' Anyone familiar with the Lisburn Lie Machine which used to dissemble and deceive from Theipval Barracks will pay scant attention to what British Military PR people tell them.

Some things about the conflict are axiomatic. Iraqis have a right to overthrow by force of arms the Saddam regime. It violates their rights in huge measure. But this does not mean that Coalition Forces have any right to invade Iraq. Iraqis therefore have the right to militarily resist armed aggression. As Tom Clonan argues in todays Irish Times 'despite the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, Iraq seems poised to resist the current invasion at all costs.' Such a course would seem a fundamental human right, even an obligation. This is a war waged against the democratic wishes of the UN - the 'U' now being contemptuously dismissed by Rumsfeld and company as standing for 'useless'. It can hardly be said that those of us who think this way are Bolsheviks eager to level any spurious charge against the 'defenders of democratic freedoms.' The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission - hardly a bastion of diehard Marxism - has condemned the attack on Iraq as a violation of international law and a breach of human rights. The most right wing pope in living memory has termed it a threat to humanity.

But being resolutely opposed to the war is no reason to rejoice at the sight of those waging it losing their lives at the hands of Iraqis. The images of a dead American soldier on some highway so far from home is distressing. Combat soldiers don't lie dead - human beings do. And ultimately, we and they are all products of the same Western culture. Maybe only weeks ago they were doing the things that we are doing today - watching the same television shows, eating the same food, dressing in the same fashion and listening to the same music.

But human and cultural empathy can never extend to ethical or political endorsement. For at the heel of the hunt those sustaining the most casualties are the Iraqis themselves - those who have the right to resist those who have no right to invade. Today the cameras brought into our living rooms the casualties sustained by the civilian population of Baghdad after a market place was attacked. While Coalition command and Control is virtually accepting responsibility for the killings in Baghdad, Victoria Clarke, Rumsfeld's assistant, is on television denying it. It seems that the so far amiable relationship between military and media is beginning to grow strained. Journalists have been complaining about the lack of information. A spokesman for US Central Command said: 'this is not an appropriate time to get that level of information out there.' He spoke of 'our commitment to telling the truth and getting the information out, and facilitating you getting that information when it is an appropriate time.' Appropriate to what and whom? One journalistic reaction - perhaps not typical - was expressed by Birgitte Vestermark, a reporter with the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende: "I thought the whole point of having a media centre was that you get information."

Yet the media are themselves guilty of filtering our information in such a way as to shape our perception of war. Listening to Raymond Snoddy of The Times arguing that this is the first war in which we may see soldiers blown to pieces and that therefore presenters have to be careful in their choice of what to show, I was struck by the manipulative purpose of this. These images should be shown so that we can see what war is really about. We might then be prompted to think all the more critically before we either send people off to fight them or do too little to prevent them being waged. Ultimately as Eddie Holt argues 'without censorship, war becomes unbearable'. Powerful forces want to make it bearable through a strategy of deception - concealing its essence from us. If we can deny to ourselves the atrocities and barbarism that accompany wars we may let them continue. And by the time they reach into our homes it will be too late to object that they are unbearable.



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

28 March 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


"Stop the Deportations of the Irish in America!"
Sean O'Neill


The Horse's Head
Anthony McIntyre


"Sprint to Baghdad"
Karen Lyden Cox


Bombing Basra to Baghdad
Anthony McIntyre


Operation 'Coxswain' Continues



25 March 2003


Fitting Ireland into Foreign Moulds
Paul Dunne


Republican Not Bandit Country
Anthony McIntyre


Denigration of Heroes

Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Dodging Double Dicks at the Freak Dance
Eoghan O'Suilleabhain


Bombing Baghdad Rather than Ankara
Anthony McIntyre




The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices