|An Occupied Country
by Howard Zinn
It has become clear, very quickly, that Iraq is not a liberated
country, but an occupied country. We became familiar with the term
"occupied country" during World War II. We talked of German-occupied
France, German-occupied Europe. And after the war we spoke of
Soviet-occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Eastern Europe. It was the
Nazis, the Soviets, who occupied other countries.
Now we are the occupiers. True, we liberated Iraq from Saddam
Hussein, but not from us. Just as in 1898 we liberated Cuba from
Spain, but not from us. Spanish tyranny was overthrown, but the
United States established a military base in Cuba, as we are doing in
Iraq. U.S. corporations moved in to Cuba, just as Bechtel and
Halliburton and the oil corporations are moving into Iraq. The United
States was deciding what kind of constitution Cuba would have, just
as our government is now forming a constitution for Iraq. Not a
liberation, an occupation.
And it is an ugly occupation. On August 7, The New York Times
reported that U.S. General Ricardo Sanchez in Baghdad was worried
about Iraqi reaction to the occupation. Iraqi leaders who were
pro-American were giving him a message, as he put it: "When you take
a father in front of his family and put a bag over his head and put
him on the ground you have had a significant adverse effect on his
dignity and respect in the eyes of his family." (That's very
CBS News reported on July 19 that Amnesty International is looking
into a number of cases of suspected torture in Iraq by American
authorities. One such case involves Khraisan al-Aballi, CBS said.
"When American soldiers raided the al-Aballi house, they came in
shooting. . . . They shot and wounded his brother Dureid." U.S.
soldiers took Khraisan, his 80-year-old father, and his brother away.
"Khraisan says his interrogators stripped him naked and kept him
awake for more than a week, either standing or on his knees, bound
hand and foot, with a bag over his head," CBS reported. Khraisan told
CBS he informed his captors, "I don't know what you want. I don't
know what you want. I have nothing." At one point, "I asked them to
kill me," Khraisan said. After eight days, they let him and his
father go. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, responded,
"We are, in fact, carrying out our international obligations."
On June 17, two reporters for the Knight Ridder chain wrote about the
Falluja area: "In dozens of interviews during the past five days,
most residents across the area said there was no Ba'athist or Sunni
conspiracy against U.S. soldiers, there were only people ready to
fight because their relatives had been hurt or killed, or they
themselves had been humiliated by home searches and road stops." One
woman said, after her husband was taken from their home because of
empty wooden crates, which they had bought for firewood, that the
United States is guilty of terrorism. "If I find any American
soldiers, I will cut their heads off," she said. According to the
reporters, "Residents in At Agilia--a village north of Baghdad--said
two of their farmers and five others from another village were killed
when U.S. soldiers shot them while they were watering their fields of
sunflowers, tomatoes, and cucumbers."
Soldiers who are set down in a country where they were told they
would be welcomed as liberators only to find they are surrounded by a
hostile population become fearful, trigger-happy, and unhappy. We've
been reading the reports of GIs angry at their being kept in Iraq. In
mid-July, an ABC News reporter in Iraq told of being pulled aside by
a sergeant who said to him: "I've got my own 'Most Wanted List.' " He
was referring to the deck of cards the U.S. government published,
featuring Saddam Hussein, his sons, and other wanted members of the
former Iraqi regime. "The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald
Rumsfeld, George Bush, and Paul Wolfowitz," the sergeant said.
Such sentiments are becoming known to the American public. In May, a
Gallup Poll reported that only 13 percent of the American public
thought the war was going badly. By July 4, the figure was 42
percent. By late August, it was 49 percent.
Then there is the occupation of the United States. I wake up in the
morning, read the newspaper, and feel that we are an occupied
country, that some alien group has taken over. Those Mexican workers
trying to cross the border--dying in the attempt to evade immigration
officials (ironically, trying to cross into land taken from Mexico by
the United States in 1848)--those Mexican workers are not alien to
me. Those millions of people in this country who are not citizens and
therefore, by the Patriot Act, are subject to being pulled out of
their homes and held indefinitely by the FBI, with no constitutional
rights--those people are not alien to me. But this small group of men
who have taken power in Washington, they are alien to me.
I wake up thinking this country is in the grip of a President who was
not elected, who has surrounded himself with thugs in suits who care
nothing about human life abroad or here, who care nothing about
freedom abroad or here, who care nothing about what happens to the
earth, the water, the air. And I wonder what kind of world our
children and grandchildren will inherit. More Americans are beginning
to feel, like the soldiers in Iraq, that something is terribly wrong,
that this is not what we want our country to be.
More and more every day, the lies are being exposed. And then there
is the largest lie: that everything the United States does is to be
pardoned because we are engaged in a "war on terrorism." This ignores
the fact that war is itself terrorism, that the barging into people's
homes and taking away family members and subjecting them to torture,
that is terrorism, that invading and bombing other countries does not
give us more security but less security.
You get some sense of what this government means by the "war on
terrorism" when you examine what Rumsfeld said a year ago when he was
addressing the NATO ministers in Brussels. "There are things that we
know," he said. "And then there are known unknowns. That is to say,
there are things that we now know that we don't know. But there are
also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know.
.. . . That is, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. .
.. . Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists
does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist."
Well, Rumsfeld has clarified things for us.
That explains why this government, not knowing exactly where to find
the criminals of September 11, will just go ahead and invade and bomb
Afghanistan, killing thousands of people, driving hundreds of
thousands from their homes, and still not know where the criminals
That explains why the government, not really knowing what weapons
Saddam Hussein is hiding, will invade and bomb Iraq, to the horror of
most of the world, killing thousands of civilians and soldiers and
terrorizing the population.
That explains why the government, not knowing who are terrorists and
who are not, will put hundreds of people in confinement at Guantanamo
under such conditions that twenty have tried to commit suicide.
That explains why, not knowing which noncitizens are terrorists, the
Attorney General will take away the constitutional rights of twenty
million of them.
The so-called war on terrorism is not only a war on innocent people
in other countries, but it is also a war on the people of the United
States: a war on our liberties, a war on our standard of living. The
wealth of the country is being stolen from the people and handed over
to the super-rich. The lives of our young are being stolen. And the
thieves are in the White House.
It's interesting to me that polls taken among African Americans have
shown consistently 60 percent opposition to the war in Iraq. Shortly
after Colin Powell made his report to the United Nations on "Weapons
of Mass Destruction," I did a phone interview with an African
American radio station in Washington, D.C., a program called "GW on
the Hill." After I talked with the host there were eight call-ins. I
took notes on what the callers said:
John: "What Powell said was political garbage."
Another caller: "Powell was just playing the game. That's what
happens when people get into high office."
Robert: "If we go to war, innocent people will die for no good reason."
Kareen: "What Powell said was hogwash. War will not be good for this country."
Susan: "What is so good about being a powerful country?"
Terry: "It's all about oil."
Another caller: "The U.S. is in search of an empire and it will fall
as the Romans did. Remember when Ali fought Foreman. He seemed asleep
but when he woke up he was ferocious. So will the people wake up."
It is often said that this Administration can get away with war
because unlike Vietnam, the casualties are few. True, only a few
hundred battle casualties, unlike Vietnam. But battle casualties are
not all. When wars end, the casualties keep mounting up--sickness,
trauma. After the Vietnam War, veterans reported birth defects in
their families due to the Agent Orange spraying in Vietnam. In the
first Gulf War there were only a few hundred battle casualties, but
the Veterans Administration reported recently that in the ten years
following the Gulf War, 8,000 veterans died. About 200,000 of the
600,000 veterans of the Gulf War filed complaints about illnesses
incurred from the weapons our government used in the war. In the
current war, how many young men and women sent by Bush to liberate
Iraq will come home with related illnesses?
What is our job? To point all this out.
Human beings do not naturally support violence and terror. They do so
only when they believe their lives or country are at stake. These
were not at stake in the Iraq War. Bush lied to the American people
about Saddam and his weapons. And when people learn the truth--as
happened in the course of the Vietnam War--they will turn against the
government. We who are for peace have the support of the rest of the
world. The United States cannot indefinitely ignore the ten million
people who protested around the world on February 15. The power of
government--whatever weapons it possesses, whatever money it has at
its disposal--is fragile. When it loses its legitimacy in the eyes of
its people, its days are numbered.
We need to engage in whatever nonviolent actions appeal to us. There
is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is
the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together
at critical points to create a power that governments cannot
suppress. We find ourselves today at one of those critical points.
Howard Zinn, the author of "A People's History of the United States."