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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston Teach-In

As we seek to come to grips with the enormity of what transpired Tuesday, we need to pause and refrain from drawing conclusions based on rumor or hearsay or the desire for revenge. And above all we must urge all in positions of power to refrain from acting precipitously.

I have heard increasing commentary on the talk shows about sending forces into Afghanistan and I have heard more that enough people in the streets who want to bomb someone and ask questions later. That coupled with tough talk from the administration worries me, for, as the CIA knows very well, the possibility of “blowback” could make the atrocities in New York seem like child’s play.

I condemn the atrocities committed here and I want to condemn the atrocities committed everywhere- including by ourselves. Atrocities breed atrocities and the best comment I’ve ever heard was by Gandhi, who said that demands for an “eye for an eye” will lead only to a world of the blind.

Let no one believe that any of this occurs in a vacuum, or out of the blue or has been perpetrated by psychopaths, and crazies, and irrational haters. There is a context for all of this – a context that has been ignored for the most part for decades. If we do not come to grips with some realities, the likelihood that even worse atrocities will take place is great.

I’d like to begin by discussing briefly recently declassified documents from the Department of Defense (DOD) that outline in chilling detail the fact that at the outset of the Gulf War, the U.S. DOD deliberately devastated the water treatment system of Iraq during the Gulf War in order to “fully degrade” it. These documents show that the DOD planners knew perfectly well that the diseases virtually sure to follow from this degradation included cholera, diptheria, hepatitis A and B, meningitis, pertussis, and typhoid.

We know that all of these diseases followed in the train of the air war against Iraq, and continued US policies since then-coupled of course with Saddam Hussein’s own indifference to his people’s suffering-have resulted in the deaths of at least one MILLION Iraqis, most of them women and children.

A protocol to the Geneva Convention signed in 1979 states clearly, “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water, water installations and supplies and irrigation works.”

In fact, all of these results occurred in the aftermath of the bombing of Iraq, which had been one of the most developed of third world countries. [See The Progressive, August 2001 and its link to the DOD Website, www.gulflink.osd.mil.]

After visiting Iraq immediately after the ceasefire in 1991 the UN mission examining the results of the war upon the civilian population said, “It should be said at once that nothing we have seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict has wrought near apocalyptic results upon the infrastructure of what until 1991 had been a highly urbanized and mechanized society. Now most means of modern life have been destroyed or rendered tenuous.” After WWII such acts were described as war crimes and numerous Germans and Japanese were tried and executed for such.

I have been speaking of these matters for the last 10 years and I am usually met with indifference-either that or a sense of futility that anything can be done. For most citizens these facts are simply off the radar screen. The suffering and deaths of Arabs do not seem to matter to us.

But let there be no mistake. These facts matter deeply in the Arab and Islamic world and this is at the root of the terrible problem that exists between our nation now and the Islamic world. We can get Osama Bin Laden-if indeed he is the culprit. But that will not solve the problem. He is only the tip of the iceberg.

Press statements to the effect that this is the work of irrational or psychopathic killers is misleading nonsense. As most members of the American National Security State have been saying these are people who are at war with the US. What they are not saying is why, and most Americans seem not to understand the larger context that can help to explain this profoundly deep reservoir of hatred that exists toward us.

Let me touch briefly on the most important aspects.

At the end of WWII the British promised the Arabs their independence but moved quickly to deny that. At the same time in keeping with their inimitable skills at dividing people against each other they promised European Zionists a homeland for the Jewish people. These promises were mutually contradictory and neither was kept but both groups became determined to achieve their goals. The stage was set for a terrible conflict.

At the end of WWII the US found itself the dominant military and economic power on earth. In 1945 the State Department issued a statement declaring that MidEast oil was the “greatest material prize in world history” while putting in motion policies to ensure that most of this oil came under American control.

In 1946-less than one year after the war-the US intervened in Iran to prevent the USSR from acquiring any oil concessions thus setting off one of the earliest Cold War confrontations. Seven years later the CIA, led by KR, overthrew a constitutional government in Iran and replaced it with what amounted to a military dictatorship under the Shah. When Islamic fundamentalists overthrew the Shah in 1979 US intelligence was caught by surprise and refused to hand the Shah over to the militants to stand trial for very real crimes against his own people. This led to the Hostage Crisis of 1979.

In 1979 Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq. He had been cultivated by the CIA during his rise to power, having especially cozy relations with CIA Director George Bush during his brief tenure. Washington began arming Iraq to conduct war on neighboring Iran in order to stifle the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. In a classic blowback scenario this fostered the spread of that fundamentalism. The Iran-Iraq war resulted in a million Islamic deaths. Note that when Saddam invaded Iran and killed far many more Iranians than he later killed Kuwaitis there was no condemnation of this violation from the US. Indeed when Saddam used poison gas against Iraqi Kurds the US refused to vote on a condemnation in the UN. But again the Islamic world took note.

When Saddam overstepped his bounds and decided to annex-or rather more correctly-to re-annex Kuwait to Iraq. He was attempting to make Iraq the largest oil producer in the region, hence to weaken the power of Saudi Arabia. In response the US led an alliance to crush Saddam, in the process stationing American troops on Saudi soil the birthplace of Islam. One result was the bombing of the airforce barracks in that country. Another was the rapid growth of Islamic fundamentalism all over the region.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism is directly related to centuries of western intervention in the Islamic world, and especially to the last half-century in which the US as become the prime interventionist. As the US has fostered what are called “Moderate” Arab and Islamic regimes many millions of Arabs and others have moved to the bottom of the food chain, enduring hardship and poverty and despair as leaders seemingly cooperate with the West in the exploitation of Arab and Islamic resources, chiefly oil.

If we continue to ignore this context, or to believe that it is irrelevant we will continue to fuel the hatred that results. We in the west and the US must make an effort to respect Islam as a world religion, the tenets of which are humane and very much in line with all the other great religions, to recognize that Arab and Islamic resources ought to be made available to world trade on Arab and Islamic terms and not on the terms of Exxon or Mobil, and we must stop our covert interventions, and surely most not undertake armed interventions that are likely to kill the innocent and then to backfire.

About the Contributor
Felicia Whatley served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years: Managing Editor: Spring 2009 *News Editor: 2009-2010 *Whatley served alongside Caleb Nelson for these years.