Taking on Dangerous Lies: A Response to Zell Miller's Speech
- by M. Junaid Alam
On September 1st Democratic Senator Zell Miller delivered a speech to the Republican National Convention gushing with praise for the president and venom for his own party's nominee. He exalted the Republican Party as the only force that can best protect and preserve the future of his "most precious possession" - his family - because of its aggressive stance in the international "war on terror," and derided the Democrats for making the country "weaker" with their "manic obsession" to unseat Bush. What strikes the conscious American as most disgraceful about the senator is not his betrayal of the party to which he belongs, but his allegiance to the most dishonest set of positions to which justice and reason have never belonged. The promulgation of poisonous myths about the war abroad, like the eagerness of a nervous public to eat up those myths, is the greatest danger confronting America today.
The senator from Georgia opened his defense of Bush's outlook on the "war on terror" by reminding the audience of World War II and the urgency of fighting Nazi Germany's "crazy man across the ocean who would kill us if [he] could." It is a sad comment on the state of public discourse in American society that no great issue can be discussed, no pressing topic considered, without someone somewhere immediately conjuring up the frightening image of Hitler's hordes sweeping across Europe and exclaiming that what we face in the present is a reincarnation of that event.
Senator Miller insists on the comparison. He opines that "the party I've spent my life working in" no longer considers it "the duty of America to fight for freedom over tyranny" and is lacking "bipartisanship" at a time when, like World War II, "this country needs it most" and "face[s] great danger." Has the senator, like a certain one of his sworn enemies, been languishing in isolated caves for the past year? Has he not noticed that the "great danger" of weapons of mass destruction was a figment of the warped minds of right-wing ideologues in the Pentagon and White House? Has he not seen that the "great danger" of the supposed Saddam - al-Qaeda link is another fabrication for which not one intelligence agency in the world has found a shred of evidence? And where are the large armies, the huge tank battalions, the goose-stepping soldiers, who are marching their way to invade America and snatch away our freedoms from us?
So wrapped up in making facile analogies about expansionist dictators, the senator has apparently forgotten one other pressing fact. In the "war on terror", there is only one major standing army deploying itself across the globe, one force of high-tech terror and fearsome armor, one massive killing machine sent half-way across the world to invade other countries - that of the United States. The targets of invasion have been small, weak nations suffering from decades of war, strife, and sanctions; barely capable of raising their bowed heads, they presented no threat to neighbors, let alone the world's most powerful country.
But Senator Miller is hardly perturbed. With a magic wave of the hand he declares that US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are not occupiers, but liberators. "[N]othing" he informs us in the third person, "makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators." Authoritatively, he further intones, "Never in the history of the world has any soldier sacrificed more for the liberty of total strangers than the American soldier." The good senator is quite a clever orator: he states what is true - soldiers have made great sacrifices - and links it with what is patently false - Muslims have been liberated - such that anyone who attacks the second assertion by implication appears to be attacking the first.
Let us defuse this ruse promptly. The men and women shipped off to Afghanistan and more recently Iraq have indeed made great sacrifices. They are far away from their friends, families, and homes, operating in combat situations at great risk to themselves, living under difficult conditions. In the case of Iraq, where most troops are now stationed, soldiers made these sacrifices precisely because the president told them and every other American that we faced a serious growing danger in the form of Saddam Hussein, that we needed to take swift pre-emptive action to stop the threat, and that it was our moral duty to free the Iraqi people who would happily greet us as liberators.
But it is now undeniably clear that all of above is utterly false. The man who Senator Miller fawningly praises has deceived all Americans, including the soldiers, about the nature of the threat and the desires of the Iraqi people. The man who Senator Miller trusts the future of his children with heads a government which completely failed to plan for post-war Iraq, indefinitely extending the stay and endangering the lives of over 150,000 American troops who thought they were simply going to win a quick battle, be showered with flowers from glowing natives, and promptly return home. That Senator Miller clucks and crows about the greatness of the soldiers while pimping for a president whose failed, mistaken policies have imposed upon these same soldiers the pain of hundreds of deaths and thousands of life-maiming injuries is a crucial index of his character.
Now that the senator's thin veneer of "support" for the troops has been peeled away, we can see with equal clarity that Afghanistan and Iraq are anything but "liberated." In Afghanistan, outside the capital of Kabul most territory is controlled by fundamentalist warlords, and the population is subject to the same Taliban-like degradations, minus the stability. US reconstruction and security efforts have been so pathetic that numerous aid agencies have been forced to pull out completely and others have criticized the paltry funding going into building infrastructure. The main US contribution in Afghanistan has been bombing wedding parties and homes from above, resulting in hundreds of dead civilians.
As for Iraq, no person whose IQ can be measured above the range of numbers on the Richter scale can deny that the US has absolutely failed to provide any semblance of security or stability in any major city. Among the poorest Shiite areas, unemployment is rampant, garbage and sewage fills the streets, and reconstruction is nowhere to be seen; in everywhere but the barricaded sections of Baghdad protecting the frightened puppet government, general lawlessness or militia prevail; only a small fraction of money budgeted for reconstruction has actually been spent, and billions of dollars have "mysteriously" vanished. Thousands of Iraqi civilians have been liberated from their limbs and lives, their spirits jubilantly lifted into heaven by a hearty chorus of tank, artillery, aerial bombardment, and machine gun fire.
This is all blasphemous to Senator Miller, who criticized the Democrats for "see[ing] America as an occupier, not a liberator." Let us put aside the supposed viewpoint of the Democrats for the moment: does the good senator know that an 80% majority of Iraqis themselves "see" the United States and the occupation government as untrustworthy - according the now-defunct CPA's own polls? Does he know that a majority of Iraqis also want the US forces to withdraw from Iraq immediately - according to Gallup polls? If the senator is so thoroughly convinced that the Iraqis are liberated, one is justified in asking why he is conspicuously absent from the festivities going on in Iraq to celebrate this great achievement. Why doesn't Senator Miller dress up as a local and visit Najaf, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib to enjoy firsthand the budding liberation of Iraq? If he survives the bulldozing, bombing, shooting, beating, and torturing, he will have quite a riveting account of the net benefits of being on the receiving end of American liberation to tell when he returns home.
Of course, Senator Miller never has and never will visit the people of Iraq; he will never for one second experience what Iraqis under American occupation do. In his heart of hearts, the former Marine doesn't much believe in his own mantra of liberation anyway, for in his speech he quickly shifts gears to announce, "[O]ur soldiers don't just give freedom abroad, they preserve it for us here at home." In a display of unprecedented opportunism and demagoguery, he declares, "It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press;" likewise it is the soldier, "not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech;" it is the soldier, "not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest."
What an abused creature the American soldier is! These mostly young men and women who signed up to escape poverty, to finance their education, to gain skills for the job market, have already been flung into a war with no clear goals, no timetable, no exit strategy, and face a population that deeply resents their presence and doggedly attacks them with devastating guerrilla tactics - all thanks to the myopia of the president, senator Miller, and a few other politicians and ideologues. But Senator Miller is not content with this abuse. Now he burdens with the soldier with all kinds of ridiculous and absurd expectations and pretenses - indeed in his view the soldier is the quintessence of civilization of itself.
According to the senator's proto-fascist rhetoric, the glorified soldier is the epicenter and defender of all that is good in society; journalists, artists, rebels, thinkers, fighters for social justice - they may as well have never existed. All that is really required in America is the government-trained professionally armed man.
Has the senator ever taken it upon himself to read the history of his own country? When American workers were first fighting for their right to organize and exert control over their own destinies, was it the soldier who won them this struggle? It was the soldier and guardsman who were sent to shoot down and beat up these men. When millions of disenfranchised blacks were fighting for their basic right to be recognized as human beings, was it the soldier who won them their freedom? It was the domestic soldier - the policeman - who was sent to maul them with dogs and smash their skulls with sticks. When millions of Americans - including thousands of war veterans - "agitated" to save hundreds of thousands of Americans from the mindless machine of death that was the Vietnam War and bring them home, could it not be said that it was the agitator who risked much to save the life of the soldier? Senator Miller would do well to consider these basic facts of our country's history.
When the senator does bother to refer to the facts, his choice is most peculiar. Citing a long list of weapons that Kerry apparently "tried to shut down," he lambastes him for opposing "the very weapons system[s] that…are now winning the war on terror," declaring it tantamount to "selling off our national security." It is not at all clear how Senator Miller reconciles his pronouncements about America "liberating" Afghanistan and Iraq with his fanatical support for the various bombers, fighter jets, and helicopter gunships employed to deliver a reign of explosive terror that has killed and injured tens of thousands of civilians in those countries. But putting that aside, it is even less clear how he has deluded himself into believing we are "winning" the war on terror, or that victory can be achieved with billions more spent on expensive toys. America spends more on "defense" than the next twenty-one countries combined. Can the senator say with a straight face that this absurdly wasteful expenditure deterred, in even the smallest way, September 11th's nineteen hijackers armed with mere box-cutters?
Our champion of mindless war spending takes rhetorical excess to breathtaking new heights when he delivers his punch line against Kerry: "This is the man who wants to be the commander in chief of our U.S. Armed Forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spit balls?" The blustering congressman cannot constrain his contempt for anyone who fails to jump up and down with glee at the theft of billions of public dollars, who fails to kneel with proper awe and reverence before weapons designed to kill innocents abroad en masse. Yet this is not the fatal flaw of his argument.
For how have American bullets and bombs, used to deliver death to tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims and fear to millions more under occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine, benefited us? If children playing on the street and families driving on roads were not gunned down at checkpoints, but only hit with spitballs; if homes and hospitals were not shattered by bombs, but only hit with spitballs; if entire streets were not bloodied and smashed to pieces by artillery, but only hit with spitballs; if random men and boys were not piled on top of one another, beaten to a pulp and sodomized, but only hit with spitballs, would we not have less enemies? Would there not be less grieving mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers seething in hurt and anger against our country for the massive havoc we have wrought? It is sufficient to pose the question to receive our answer.
Senator Miller's speech is dangerous not only because it is packed with lies and myths, but also because those lies and myths today exercise a powerful hold on a significant sections of the American public. This is due in no small part to the fact that the Democrats do not even actually hold any of the positions Senator Miller spent the bulk of his speech attacking them for, as they strive futilely to appear as tough and cruel as the Republicans. This leaves just and sensible ideas vulnerable, open to widespread ridicule and contempt in the absence of any defenders. Honest Americans concerned by the rightward descent of America must take it upon themselves to man the undefended barricades of justice and rationality before they are overrun by vicious and hateful men like Senator Miller.
M. Junaid Alam, 21, Boston, co-editor of radical youth journal, Left Hook (http://www.lefthook.org), feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.