National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 4, 2003

War’s weapons of mass deception


Theorize. Demonize. Victimize. Rationalize.

In the terminology of American foreign policy currently on display as the war machine gets oiled once again, these are the “izes.” It was the pattern in trying to kill Osama bin Laden and the Taliban after 9/11, and it is at work now with the Iraqi government.

President Bush and advisers theorized, first, that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and, second, that he would use them against the United States. Even as U.N. inspectors searched for theory-free proof that Saddam did or did not have these weapons -- the kind the Reagan administration supplied Iraq in its 1980s war against Iran -- they, too, were subjected to theorizing about the thoroughness of their searches.

Theorizers pose as dispensers of informed opinions. They include retired generals hired by the networks to gab nightly as military analysts, or they are in the Rumsfeld-Cheney-Powell-Rice war council. They have inside information, we are told -- meaning their theories are weighted with knowledge unavailable to the rest of us. In the search for weapons of mass destruction, theorizing becomes a weapon of mass deception.

That out of the way, the natural segue leads to demonizing. In Gulf War I, President George H.W. Bush labeled Hussein “another Hitler.” Hussein, also adept at demonizing, called America “the Great Satan.” At Fort Hood, Texas, Jan. 3, the president readied his warriors for Gulf War II by labeling Hussein and his government “a reckless aggressor” that is “a threat to each American.” Hussein “doesn’t care about the opinion of mankind” and is an enemy with “hate for innocent life.”

Demonizing foes, whether this latest effort or Ronald Reagan’s in 1986 calling the Soviet Union “the evil empire” and “the focus of evil in the modern world” or Bush’s calling bin Laden “the evildoer,” creates the illusion that once more it’s good vs. evil -- and no doubts allowed on who’s good and who’s evil. Echoing Madeleine Albright -- “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation” -- Bush declared: “Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world.”

As the chosen one of the chosen people, Bush can demonize freely: If you’re not with us, you’re against us. You’re on God’s side or the demon’s.

Demonizing is not limited to the commander-in-chief. Dr. Jerrold Post, a Washington psychotherapist who counsels the Defense Department and FBI and who co-edited the recent book, Know Thy Enemy, told The New Yorker that Saddam Hussein “is dangerous in the extreme.” He’s power hungry, said the therapist who has been psychoanalyzing Hussein for years -- from afar, not the office couch.

Theorizing and demonizing lead to victimizing. Whether Iraqi civilians were directly slaughtered by U.S. pilots in the massive bombing runs of 1991, or indirectly killed by the 11 years of economic sanctions, the death toll, according to the World Health Organization and human rights groups, is in the hundreds of thousands. Bush has not started a war against Iraq. He is escalating one -- whether declared or not -- that’s been going on since his father began it and Bill Clinton continued it.

Three days before Christmas, The Washington Post told of “civilians killed and injured as U.S. air strikes escalate in Southern Iraq.” About these victims trapped in the no-fly zone, an Iraqi official stated: “The very people that Britain and the United States claim to be protecting, they’re killing them, maiming them, depriving them of their normal livelihood and also destroying the infrastructure which is there to serve them.”

The victimized include the wounded. The Post quoted the hospitalized Sabah Hassan Mohammed, a 23-year-old nearly killed in his village last month when bombs fell midday while he was walking next to his cousin, who was killed: “I will get better and I will take revenge, for me and for others. We are strong. Even if they keep bombing us, we will bear it and we will show them the results.”

Finally, the rationalizing. Invading Iraq is necessary, Bush says. Our way of life -- our lavishly well-oiled way of life -- is under threat. In the war against terrorism, we must stay the course. Don’t expect a quickie: “There’s a variety of theaters. So long as anybody’s terrorizing established governments, there needs to be a war.” Bush worries, though, that the country might flag: “People are going to get tired of the war on terrorism.” Dick Cheney concurs: The war on terrorism “may never end. At least not in our lifetime.”

It might not, for sure, especially if the voices of peacemakers are ignored. In Boston’s St. Paul’s Cathedral last year, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on Americans to embrace humane, not violent, solutions to conflicts; to share their wealth, not hoard it and then dispatch armies worldwide to protect it. “The war against terrorism,” he said, “will not be won as long as there are people desperate with disease and living in squalor and poverty. Sharing our prosperity is the best weapon against terrorism.”

Unlike assorted war-blessing reverends, Desmond Tutu has not been invited to the While House.

Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post columnist, directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington.

National Catholic Reporter, April 4, 2003

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