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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Something rotten at the core of US body politic

Mick Hall • 13 June 2004

I have deliberately tried not to crow over how things have turned out in Iraq. Like millions of others who opposed the war, it gives me no pleasure to have been right by my having said from the off "no" to this dreadful and unnecessary war. Being English, with my country's shameful history in Ireland and elsewhere when we had an Empire, I understand only too well how the millions of Americans who have opposed this war must feel. In many ways I admire greatly those Americans who have been forced by events to change their minds about supporting Bush's war. Im sure they must have gone through a fair amount of anguish before coming to that conclusion, having much that they hold dear about their country collapse before them in the process. In many ways I would have preferred to be mistaken and that the US armed forces along with their British counterparts had behaved in a benevolent and noble manner and had soon rebuilt the infrastructure of Iraq. An infrastructure, I must add, that they played a large part in destroying. History however, not least by the experience of the British army's behaviour in the north of Ireland, had taught me otherwise.

Something rotten is at the core of the current US political elite and a section of the senior command of its armed forces. Soldiers do not normally behave in the systematic way US troops have in Iraq, as epitomised in the Abu Ghraib prison photographs, and in all likelihood continue too because of a hand full of lowly bad apples, as the Bush administration and a number of very senior US officers have claimed in the most un-elegant piece of buck passing we have seen in years. They do so because they can, without fear of retribution. When such a system is being operated more often than not it is being indirectly encouraged from above, via a system of nods and winks being passed down the chain of command (Whilst this article centres on US forces, British troops are not behaving like angels in Iraq, I was told five months ago the following by a returning British Squadie, "Mick, you would not believe how we are treating the Iraqis out there, we could do what we like to the poor bastards, no comebacks.").

Nor I might add do they do so, as some journalists have implied, because the chain of command has broken down. Where were the Lieutenants, Captains, Majors, Colonels when the photos were being taken in the Iraqi jail, having a coffee break? Over the past decades we have heard time and again from senior ranks within the US Armed Forces that they have learned the lessons of their defeat in Vietnam. The wretched manner in which the US army brass and their political masters have dealt with the mistreatment and torture of Iraqis and others whilst in US army custody demonstrates that they have not even learnt a damn thing from one of the more prominent outrages of the Vietnam war, the torching of peasant villages by LT Cally and his men. What happened back then as far as the brass and their political masters were concerned was repeated almost exactly over the Baghdad prison affair, i.e., when the shit hits the fan: pass the buck, the lower down the chain of command the better. Today the brass must be especially pleased with themselves, as unlike their predecessors in Vietnam, they have managed to heap the blame entirely on NCOs and below. The officers corp, whilst not escaping bleach white, have almost done so. What has happened one might ask, to officers having responsibility for their troops behaviour?

When the German Army (not SS) behaved in such a disgraceful way in Eastern Europe during WW2, they did so for the reason I have mentioned above, i.e. they were encouraged to, they could and there were no comebacks. The same was true of US troops in Vietnam and the French in Algeria. As too did the British in the north of Ireland in the early 1970s. In all cases including the current situation the army brass tried, with some success to blame a few low ranking bad apples.

As with the US army today, the overwhelming majority of German, French and British soldiers were ordinary young men. Yet they behaved, when encouraged to do so and told by their superiors that there would be no consequences, like barbarians. These young people are also victims, although of course not to the same degree as those they brutalised. If this sort of thing is not going to be repeated, we must reject this bad apple nonsense and find out exactly why this happened. People in positions of power have a responsibility of care for those they command. When the latter go astray, those who command them should take responsibility for their actions. Does it not give our youngsters a dreadful message that not a single senior officer or politician has resigned over what has happened in Abu Ghraib prison? We truly live in times of, "It was not me guv, I blame the little guy".

The likes of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfield, Generals Mears and Kimmitt when things seemed to be going well in Iraq talked a great deal about how they take very seriously all that happens on their watch. None of them seem too keen to do this these days.

Finally one of the things that has struck me about many of those Americans who are in Iraq, is how little they understand about the country and its culture. This ignorance of the world beyond US shores is epitomised by the US President George Bush Jnr, who in turn is reflecting the majority of his fellow citizens. In a recent poll of US adults between the ages of 18 to 25 years, 65 per cent could not find Great Britain and Ireland on a map. 92 per cent of Americans have no passport. The main US TV Networks, ABC, CBS, NBC devote little time to foreign coverage. In 1989 they jointly devoted 4,032 minutes, by the year 2000 it was down to 1,382 minutes. The increasingly popular Fox News Channel by European standards would be regarded as far right, jingoistic, xenophobic, rubbish. Yet it has become the main source of news for millions of people in the US, who take an interest in politics and the outside world. One can only judge the reason being is that this channel reinforces their prejudices whereas a good media outlet challenges them.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

13 June 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

An Open Letter to the Leadership of the Irish Republican Army
Paul Fitzsimmons

Fred Wilcox

Something rotten at the core of US body politic
Mick Hall

Father Mc Manus Replies to Mrs. O'Loan, Urges Proof in Abundance
Father Sean Mc Manus

The Armed Peace
Anthony McIntyre

An Irish Wake for Ronnie Reagan
Radio Free Eireann

Gareth McConnell

Venezuela: terrorist snipers, their media allies and defence of democracy
Toni Solo

11 June 2004

US Nationwide Irish American Group Holds 2004 Convention in Belfast
Sean Mc Aughey

The Chen Case @ the European Court of Justice - Money Talks and a Government Lies
John Meehan

A Left Vote for the Right Person
Anthony McIntyre

John Martin

Response to:
"Irish Americans"

Peter Urban

Sri Lanka: up country with the Tamil Tigers
Cedric Gouverneur

The Letters page has been updated.


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