Professor Bob Nowlan
“Against American Imperialism–Fighting Against the War in Iraq and Beyond”
Talk, Vigil, Sponsored by UWEC Amnesty International–In Sorrow and Solidarity–Tuesday March 25, 2003
Now that the war is fully on, no reason exists to drop
our opposition to it. If it was unjust before, it is just as unjust
I don’t support the troops in fighting this unjust war; they are not fighting to represent and serve my interests–and they certainly are not “protecting” me.
I do support their right to life, liberty, and
economic as well as social well-being, just as I support this right for the
people of Iraq. I support bringing the troops home.
This war is not about liberation of the people of Iraq.
That is a cynical excuse the Bush Administration only latched onto after
it feared it could not make a convincing case that Saddam Hussein, and his
supposed weapons of mass destruction, represented a serious threat to this
country and our people.
Iraqis have been suffering for a long time under this
oppressive regime. Only very recently has the Bush administration shown
any supposed concern about their plight.
I well remember participating in activist work in solidarity
with the people of Iraq, against their regime, long before even the first
U.S. war versus this country in 1991, including in active opposition against
American government support for the Hussein regime as well as versus American
indifference to the suffering his regime caused.
In fact, Saddam Hussein’s regime came to power with the
backing of the U.S. state, and he served as an important ally during the
time of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, as well as throughout the
course of the brutal Iran-Iraq war. We certainly seemed to care a great
deal more about Kuwait than Iran.
What’s more, Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, what
little if any truly are left, virtually all come directly from the U.S.
We also by now have substantial evidence as well that
Hussein himself was most likely in fact at one time a CIA operative, and
that the Baathist military dictatorship in Iraq received Washington’s support
both to help topple a preceding left-leaning regime and to help decimate
the Iraqi Communist Party, long the principal source of popular, democratic
opposition to authoritarian government in Iraq.
Bush has no interest in helping bring remaining Iraqi
Communist Party exiles to power; they are conspicuously absent from the list
of exiled Iraqis the administration trumpets as its favored successors to
Yet even more important than all I have said so far is
the need for us to ask the question why invade Iraq when there are many brutal,
oppressive regimes throughout the world whose human rights records are equally
horrific? Why not many of our supposed “friends” in the Middle East,
In fact the War is about oil and yet it is not only
about oil: it is about the great potential gain for a wide range of American
capitalists who are already salivating in their own trade papers and journals
about the opportunities for profit in “rebuilding” the “infrastructure” of
Who’s going to pay for this windfall? Certainly
not the impoverished Iraqi people. Why we are of course, through our
taxes, through further welfare to these very same huge corporations, and
through the accumulated wealth they can further squeeze out of us by steadily
intensifying the exploitation of our labor.
Our nation has a long, sorry history of imperialist ventures
throughout the world, and this is a history very well-known among people
living outside of the U.S. if not anywhere nearly so well-known within this
That is why the vast majority of the world’s people
are opposed to this war and that is why they fear this country. They
have seen, and they have suffered the consequences of the ways in which the
U.S. state, including its military, has continually supported capitalist
interests that have drained their local economies, destroyed their capacity
for economic self-sufficiency, driven vast numbers of their people into poverty
and slave-labor, and vastly accelerated the gap between a few rich lackeys
and the mass of poor in their countries.
Americans should learn about what the International Monetary
Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization have done to the rest
of the world, and how all of these organizations function as vehicles for
the imposition of American economic and political domination across the globe.
Our government lied to us about the Persian Gulf War–
about how many deaths and how much devastation it caused –as well as about
how severely impaired many of our veterans became chiefly as a result of
what our military demanded they do. Tens of thousands of Persian Gulf War vets now live on permanent disability.
Our government has also lied to us as well about the continually
devastating effects of the draconian economic embargo upon Iraq (embargoing
material goods of the greatest need by the Iraqi people, while refusing to
embargo the chief source of wealth for the Hussein regime – oil).
And our government has been in no way able to document
significant amounts of weapons of mass destruction or collaboration with
Al-Qaeda on the part of Hussein’s regime. Every facile effort
at fabricating the latter connection has proven so laughable that even the
Bush administration quickly gave up attempting to offer any further evidence
for this absurd insinuation.
One might readily imagine Bush couldn’t get Osama bin
Laden, so he turned against Saddam Hussein, but even this fails to do justice
to the enormity of the hypocrisy of this administration: in March 1991, six
months before the terrorist attacks on “9/11," Bush and his administration
had already met and decided one of the definite foreign policy aims of this
administration would be to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.
They may pretend they are fighting a war simply out of
benevolence, but in fact the Bush regime hopes to make considerable profit
from this war for its closest friends and allies, and the very fact it is
pursuing this hugely expensive operation at a time of serious economic crisis
across this country indicates the capitalist interests the Bush regime represents
have decided the only way effectively to deal with the increasingly desperate
situation at home is to ratchet up the level of class warfare by effectively
transferring steadily more and more money from the vast majority of the American
population to the coffers of an extremely narrow oligopoly of the extremely
rich and powerful.
With less and less money around to support human social
needs, it is at the same time highly useful for these capitalists, and their
capitalist state, to divert the attention–and the frustration–of working
class Americans onto an external bogeyman by rallying Americans, across hugely
disparate class lines, into an uncritical, pseudo-patriotic, pseudo-unity.
This new, so-called “patriotism” is in fact especially dangerous as so many
who adhere to its tenets seem to believe one must trust the President no
matter what, never questioning or opposing what he does, and that in fact
no other branch of government matters, while no dissent from complete, uncritical
support of the President is justifiable, especially in wartime.
Many of our European ancestors came to this country as dissenters, and substantial
numbers of Americans have sharply dissented from support of every American
War, including Abraham Lincoln, while still an Illinois congressman, who
firmly rejected President Polk’s war of manifest destiny against Mexico,
attacking it in terms that make virtually every Democratic Party politician
in Washington today look like a member of Bush’s cabinet.
But again, we should here remember, according to Bush
himself, we’ve been at war throughout most of his Presidency and this war
will continue until all “evil,” as he sees it, has been completely defeated
all across the world.
Ultimately, moreover, who’s evil, according to the Bush
regime? Everyone who will not submit and conform to the dictates of
this administration–administration leaders make quite clear that war against
Iraq is only the beginning. Who’s next? Syria? Libya?
Iran? Cuba? Maybe all of these countries, and maybe many
I think Americans need to think long and hard about what
democracy and freedom truly mean, and about how little of our everyday lives,
in this country, are in any real degree truly democratic or free.
We should therefore be thankful we still have some right of dissent, and
of assembly to protest against our government–after all, the American revolution
was supposedly fought to win this right, and it is supposedly guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
People who tell anti-war protestors they should go back
to some other country if they don’t agree with the President really are themselves
in the wrong country. They ought to go to live in a place like North
Korea where dissent is illegal and worship of the President is mandatory.
War is never as benign–nor as surgically precise or as
carefully limited–as claim the Bush administration and its apologists in
the corporate mass media. This is the mightiest military in the history
of the world to date, using the most advanced and powerful weapons of mass
destruction ever designed.
Even when “government facilities” are the direct targets
of American bombs, throughout cities like Baghdad windows break, household
furnishings crash, people themselves are lifted up and swung around the rooms
in their homes, many are hit with flying shrapnel and exploded debris, buildings
collapse, heart attacks and premature births increase, massive numbers of
people suffer from severe psychological trauma (including many, many children
in a country where 50% of the population are children), and access is virtually
entirely cut off to doctors and hospitals, to food, to sanitation, and to
all of the utilities as well as the vast interconnected web of social resources
most of us Americans take for granted every day.
And many civilians do get caught; they do die, and they are injured–while afterwards many of those lucky enough to survive suffer continuing deprivation in refugee camps.
Others not so fortunate struggle in the face of the kind
of humanitarian disaster now looming for the two million residents of Basra,
isolated from resources they desperately need not to fall victim to a catastrophic
health crisis in that city, with the promise of death and suffering that
will considerably dwarf that caused by the Al Quaeda attacks in this country
on September 11th, 2001.
None of this, moreover, is simply because Saddam Hussein
is using civilians as “human shields,” but rather because Iraq is an extremely
poor country, people live in these places right at and immediately surrounding
where the U.S. and U.K. are targeting, and these people do not in fact have
virtually anywhere else to go–or any means to do so.
The U.S. war against Iraq is a preposterously excessive
and wasteful travesty. Yet at this point in time what is ultimately
most important for all of us who have been fighting to prevent this war is
that we continue to build an international mass movement for peace, justice,
real freedom, and real democracy–a progressive grassroots people’s movement–to
transform this American society, and its government, so as to eradicate the
conditions that make possible, overcome the forces that give rise to, and
usurp the interests that profit from American imperialism.
Even at this dark time, I see hope we are moving in that
direction. We as Americans bear a primary responsibility for
bringing about a long overdue change in the way this nation relates to the
rest of the world. Yet I am confident we can do it.
The struggle is long and hard, but we must remember, to
paraphrase Frederick Douglass, that without struggle there can be no progress
and power never accedes to anything without a demand.
Capitalism is a failing system; it has entered a long
period of barbaric decline; it is up to us to make sure that what comes next
will mark the true beginning of a genuinely human global civilization.
Don’t give up, keep up the fight, what we do at UWEC
and in Eau Claire interconnects with a vast ongoing growing global movement;
the vast majority of the world's people are now on our side; we are far from
alone. What we do does make a vital difference.
Thank you for listening to me and I wish you, and us all, peace.
This material is copyrighted (©)
Professor Bob Nowlan
Update: March 25, 2003