This piece was included in Pieces of War: A Mosaic of Views on the War in Iraq, a special section that appeared in the first and only issue of Mosaic: A Magazine of Arts, Sciences & Everything in Between, which evolved into this website.
An increasing volume of media coverage paints a picture of American protesters who are either opposed to an Iraq war or who are in support of American troops who risk their lives for American ideals. This particular way of framing the issue–of either supporting troops or opposing the war–leads media consumers to believe that perhaps these two choices are mutually exclusive (in other words, that media consumers must choose one or the other, but not both). Upon closer examination, however, this rather simplistic view fails to adequately capture the complexities of the present situation.
A view that strays from this mainstream media dichotomy is this one: opposing the war and supporting our troops are two sides of the same coin. Avoiding military action supports our troops by keeping them alive, by not shattering American families and communities (as well as Iraqi families and communities) with the news that their sons and daughters and fathers and mothers have been killed, never to be returned to their parents, siblings, and children. What could provide greater evidence of supporting our troops than wanting to keep them safe and out of harm’s way? The other side of the dichotomy, opposing an unjust war, doesn’t really need justification, as nearly ever yone else in the world (except for a reported 65% of Americans) seems to know.
(As a side note, even the Bush administration itself seems unwilling or unable to really support our troops, except to sent them off to die to protect American oil interests.)
Very often how a question is asked determines how it can be reasonably answered. Nowhere is this more evident than in polls that claim staunch support for the war. One recent poll suggests that 65% of Americans support the war. One can only imagine how the questions were phrased so as to cast such seemingly widespread support; one thing is clear–something smells fishy.
Even with such overwhelming numbers that assert American support for this war, other polls cast a good deal of doubt over whether this 65% approval rating can really be taken seriously. One poll suggests that “an astonishing 51 percent of the [American] public believe that Iraqi President Saddam Hussies was responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.” (Better sources suggest that ties between US government officials and Al Qaeda are much stronger than any between Hussein and Al Qaeda.)
These numbers taken together–65% support the war and 51% don’t know the difference between Al Qaeda and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein–point to some real problems. It would be too easy to say that Americans are just too ignorant to really be expected to know the difference between those responsible for 9/11 attacks and the Iraqi president. The reason it would be too easy to blame ignorant Americans–and the reason why Americans are not actually to blame (nor ignorant)–is because the confusion around these two seemingly distant entities (9/11 attackers and President Hussein) is a direct consequence of how Mr. Bush and his administration has framed the context of this war and how this context is reported to the general public. Blaming Americans for not knowing the facts is problematic precisely because Americans get their information from the media and from our leaders. In this case, blaming Americans for their lack of knowledge when the information is deliberately presented in a misleading fashion is like blaming school children for learning what they read in their textbooks.
Many Americans admit not knowing enough to make an educated decision. With unprecedented media coverage of all aspects of our leaders and the war, how can it be that Americans don’t know how they should feel about this war? How can it be that 51% of Americans don’t know the difference between those responsible for 9/11 attacks and the president of Iraq? One answer may be the relatively powerless role played by the media, such as scripted televised press conferences that aim to look spontaneous for televised viewers, although Mr. Bush himself admits that the conference was scripted. This powerless role essentially turns a “free press” into the PR agency for Mr. Bush and his administration. (This includes not only the White House Press Core, but also the “embedded” journalists moving with our troops.)
Whether to blame ignorant Americans or the American media is not the question I intend to put forth; such a simplistic question is no better than asking whether you oppose the war or support our troops. Framing questions such as these tends to ignore complicated interrelationships that actually cast some light on the issue. This is the important point: how a question is asked often determines how it can be answered.
The most striking example of how an issue is framed affects how we react to it is in the rhetoric of war. Antho ny B. Robinson
argues that declaring a war on terror after 9/11 actually increases the legitimacy of terrorists, instead of treating them as criminals and attempting to prosecute them by more traditional means. He writes:
To speak of war on terrorism assumes a unified and identifiable enemy who has declared war. Such a perception ups the ante tremendously and, ironically, gives the terrorist exactly what he wants, the dignity of war. To view terrorism as crime, rather than war, seems much closer to the reality of what has been experienced. There is no single, unified enemy. (Note the administration’s steady yet unconvincing efforts to tie Iraq to Al Qaeda.) Moreover, to describe terrorists as criminals not only has a de-escalating effect, it robs terrorists of the dignifying rhetoric or war, classifying them as merely criminals.
Robinson’s point is a powerful one–how we classify a thing often affects how we think about it. That is why “terrorism” refers to the actions of other people and groups, whereas “liberation” and “fighting for freedom and democracy” describes the actions of American leaders and military. When we look behind the words and actually see the actions, the patriotic labels tend to melt away, and the actions look strikingly similar. The rest of the world knows this, which is why the majority of the world condemns America’s actions.
While American leaders ignore the disfavor of the rest of the world, American investors are already being given advice about how best to profit from the war. The American military have the task of leveling Iraq, and American businesses have the task of rebuilding Iraq, to the tune of billions of dollars. The Bush administration expects Iraq to pay for much of the rebuilding with their oil resources. In other words, the American taxpayers will pay for all of the military might used to level the country, and then American taxpayers will only pay for part of the reconstruction that will be given to American corporations; the other part of reconstruction debt will be paid for in Iraqi oil. When Mr. Bush says that Iraqi oil is a resource that belongs to the Iraqi people, he really means that it belongs to us–that we can compel them to sell it to us in exchange for re-building all of the infrastructure that we just finished knocking down.
When you think about Americans’ addition to oil, this entire scenario sounds like a pretty good deal–for us. We Americans go in and ruin a country’s infrastructure, depose their leader, install a US-friendly leader, and then take their oil as payment in return for fixing the infrastructure we just finished tearing down. In terms of addictions, ours to oil is a pretty serious one. Instead of a needle being slipped slowly into a warm vein, we slip a slightly larger needle (actually a gas nozzle) into the willing artery that leads directly to our automobiles’ fuel tanks. Iraq’s “oil-for-food program allows Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil on condition that the proceeds are spent on food, medicine and other humanitarian goods, and war reparations.” Between the war reparations that are financed by oil ( which may never be paid off) and the oil-for-food program, Americans should enjoy low fuel prices for years to come. Our addiction will be well-fed, thanks to Mr. Bush and his administration.
Many Americans feel like there is nothing they can do. Mr. Bush has made it clear that he prefers to “respectfully disagree” with his constituents and the world, instead of listening to them. But there is something that you can do, and it doesn’t require writing a single letter to a congressperson, voting, or changing your lifestyle. If you can do only a few simple things during this war, do these: talk, think, and ask questions.
Talk about the war with friends, family, and co-workers. Ask questions and start a dialog. Ask people if they know that there is no relationship between the 9/11 attacks and Saddam Hussein. If they think there is a connection, ask them why they think there is a relation, and what evidence they base their opinions on. Try to understand. Ask difficult questions. Read between the lines. (If Bush had hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction that he could present to the UN, don’t you think he would have in order to garner UN support prior to an invasion? What possible reason would Bush have for not sharing hard evidence with the UN and gaining their support?)
Think about Castro’s reaction to Bush’s speech to understand the perspective that some other cultures share. Or think about Robin son’s article and then ask yourself why we have a war at all. Ask your friends why, if we feel we need a war, we don’t declare a war on joblessness, or a war on hunger, or a war on lack of education, or a war on lack of adequate health care in the richest nation in the world. Ask your friends why there haven’t been enormous investment in research and development for alternative fuels that would lessen our addiction to foreign oil.
Ask questions that should have been asked after 9/11: What have we done so as to make such enemies for ourselves in the world? And what can we do to make these enemies our friends, so that we don’t have to fear them? (Hint: attacking them doesn’t count as a constructive answer.) What should our role in the world be? Should we be the police of the world when we can’t even take care of our own hungry, sick, and unemployed?
Think about about what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II. Learn about the internment camps, the racism, the stolen property and abandoned businesses and homes, and the No-No boys asked to pledge their allegiance to the United States while they and their families were help prisoner behind barbed wire fences in the country of their birth.
And when people ask you if you are against the war or if you support our troops, answer yes. To both questions.
Note Some of the links in this article may have been changed or removed from their respective sources.