Hussein, Saddam

Palm Sunday, War in Iraq, and Our Resistance to Mass Manipulation

Photo courtesy Robert Voight/shutterstock.com

On Palm Sunday many will hear the Gospel of Luke’s perspective surrounding Jesus’ celebrated entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-40). In hearing this well-known portion of the New Testament, we are often led to wonder how the same crowds that so graciously and enthusiastically welcomed Jesus would passionately and viciously call for his death just a few days later. In trying to comprehend the sudden and significant shift in public opinion, we recognize that the crowds did not swing their support independently, but rather, they were acting under the influential push of propaganda.

As Luke’s Gospel reminds us, in between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the calls for his crucifixion, the “chief priests and the scribes” plotted to put Jesus to death (22:2). As these powerful elites were “afraid of the people”, they conspired in a power-protecting push to have Jesus humiliated, tortured, and brutally killed. And so, while Luke’s Gospel does not provide exact details into the strategies of the chief priests and scribes, their motivations appear to be clear, as they, and others within the ruling class, perceived Jesus as a risk and thus needed to ensure his quick and clear elimination. As a result, due to the influential influx of propaganda, combined with an overly complicit public, just a short time after Jesus was welcomed as a king he was sentenced to death as a criminal.

Iraq and North Korea: The Lies We All Believe

Anti-aircraft rockets, Dejan Lazarevic / Shutterstock.com
Anti-aircraft rockets, Dejan Lazarevic / Shutterstock.com

Today, March 19, 2013, is the 10th anniversary of the “Shock and Awe” campaign that was intended to rid the world of the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As it turned out, the threat was a lie. There was ample evidence at the time to prove that the WMDs didn’t really exist, but were manufactured in Saddam’s imagination for political gain.

So why did we fall so easily for this lie? Answers to this question often come via an analysis of the particulars of the Iraqi situation and include discourse about oil fields, geopolitical calculations, even psychological analysis of the relationship of Father and Son Bush. These are good discussions to have. We can learn a great deal from them about our thirst for security and insatiable appetite for oil, political power, and revenge.

On Scripture: 10 Years of War and Hopes for Peace

Soldier with assault weapon, Sunshine Pics/ shutterstock.com
Soldier with assault weapon, Sunshine Pics/ shutterstock.com

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons [and daughters] of God.” 

Matthew 5: 9 from the Beatitudes

I grew up watching casualty reports from the Vietnam War on TV. My Uncle Bill, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was serving there. My family watched the news every evening to learn about the latest casualty reports. I was too young to understand the anxiety of my parents, but I felt the tension while Uncle Bill was deployed.

As an adult, it’s been a different story. I understand and experience things more fully and have an emotional connection to what I see and hear. That has been true for the last decade. Ten years ago, the Iraq War began. Ten years marked by conflict, violence, and loss. Ten years of debate about why we went to war and why we remained. Ten years dealing with death and injury – 4,488 U.S. deaths and 32,321 soldiers coming home with significant injuries. Suicide rates of soldiers are so high it is impossible to ignore – some while in Iraq and others after returning home. Traumatic brain injuries, grieving families, moral injury, and multiple limb loss are just a few of the constant reminders of the tremendous costs of war. The toll on the nation’s economy has been long lasting as well. The jobless rate among veterans is staggeringly high. 

The human toll has been significant. But military personnel aren’t the only causalities of this war. Numbers vary, but statistics tell us more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens also have been killed and nearly 3 million have been displaced.

These figures cannot be ignored. And they are the results of war.

 

Iraq: It's Finally Over -- and It Was Wrong

My son Jack was born just days before the war in Iraq began. So for these last nearly nine years, it’s been easy for me to remember how long this horrible conflict has been going on. Finally, as President Obama announced, the American war will soon be over, with most of the 44,000 American troops still in Iraq coming home in time to be with their families for Christmas.

The initial feelings that rushed over me after hearing the White House announcement were of deep relief. But then they turned to deep sadness over the terrible cost of a war that was, from the beginning, wrong—intellectually, politically, strategically, and, above all, morally wrong.

The war in Iraq was fundamentally a war of choice, and it was the wrong choice. From the outset, this war was fought on false pretenses, with false information, and for false purposes. And the official decisions to argue for this war and then to carry it out represented the height of political and moral irresponsibility—especially when we see the failed results and consider both the human and financial costs.

Saddam Hussein and Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on 9/11, as was falsely implied, and had no weapons of mass destruction, as was falsely claimed and endlessly repeated.  The intelligence on Iraq was manipulated and distorted to justify going to war. This was clearly a war of choice and a war that was painfully unnecessary. We were misled into war and, so far, nobody has been held accountable for it.

The war was sold to the American public with the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Many believed it at the time, and an invasion was mounted on what turned out to be false information. A decade of sanctions and United Nations inspections had already undermined the allegations. And in the almost nine years of war, not a single WMD has been found in Iraq.

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Allies, Not Adversaries

Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall ("With Weapons of the Will," September-October 2002) have done an excellent job in clearly demonstrating the power of strategic nonviolent action in overthrowing oppressive regimes such as that of Saddam Hussein. The 20th century was marked by the growing understanding of the theory of nonviolent action as well as the practice of it in country after country.

Despite these historically significant developments, there is still woefully little understanding of both the power and relevance of strategic nonviolent action in dealing with situations of conflict and oppression. The foreign policy of the Bush administration is predicated on a belief in the efficacy of overwhelming military force, used pre-emptively and unilaterally, in dealing with regimes such as Hussein's. As Ackerman and DuVall point out, our government ignores the power of the Iraqi people themselves and how they could topple Saddam through civilian-based nonviolent resistance.

My problem with Ackerman and DuVall, however, is their insistence that strategic nonviolent action should be carried out without any principled considerations. They reject the idea that it should be weighed down by "moral preference" or even as "a form of ethical behavior." They blame such ideas in large part for the refusal of hard-headed pragmatists to take seriously the power of nonviolence to bring down oppressors. They caricature those committed to principled nonviolence as preaching being "nice to your oppressor."

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
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With Weapons of the Will

Saddam Hussein has brutalized and repressed the Iraqi people for more than 20 years and more recently has sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction that would never be useful to him inside Iraq. So President Bush is right to call him an international threat. Given these realities, anyone who opposes U.S. military action to dethrone him has a responsibility to suggest how he might otherwise be ushered out the backdoor of Baghdad. Fortunately there is an answer: civilian-based, nonviolent resistance by the Iraqi people, developed and applied in accordance with a strategy to undermine Saddam's basis of power.

Unfortunately, when this suggestion is made publicly, hard-nosed policymakers and most commentators dismiss the idea out of hand, saying that nonviolence won't work against a tyrant as pathological as Saddam. That is because they don't know how to distinguish between what has popularly been regarded as "nonviolence" and the strategic nonviolent action that has hammered authoritarian regimes to the point of defenestrating dictators and liberating people from many forms of subjugation.

The reality is that history-making nonviolent resistance is not usually undertaken as an act of moral display; it does not typically begin by putting flowers in gun barrels and it does not end when protesters disperse to go home. It involves the use of a panoply of forceful sanctions—strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, disrupting the functions of government, even nonviolent sabotage—in accordance with a strategy for undermining an oppressor's pillars of support. It is not about making a point, it's about taking power.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2002
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No More Sanctions, No More Bombing

United States policy toward Iraq needs a radical change. We move from crisis to crisis with only two responses: bombings that threaten to kill thousands more civilians and comprehensive sanctions that perpetuate the suffering and death of children. We need better choices.

I agree with those who believe that Saddam Hussein is a real threat and his potential for using chemical and biological weapons is a great danger to countless numbers of people. But continuing to bomb and starve the children of Iraq will neither remove him nor his weapons of mass destruction. Continuing that policy is both politically counterproductive and morally unacceptable. Biblical ethics do not allow for a policy that causes such massive and unnecessary suffering to innocent children, especially when the declared political goals of such a policy are unobtainable. From a religious or humanitarian perspective, to continue our present policy is wrong.

The harsh economic sanctions imposed on Iraqi civilians for the past seven years are now resulting in 4,500 deaths of children each month, according to U.N. studies. Secretary General Kofi Annan reports that one-third of Iraqi children are now malnourished. Hundreds of thousands of children under the age of 5 have now died since the end of the Gulf war in 1991. Those numbers are unconscionable. While Saddam Hussein is indeed culpable for his people's suffering, it does not relieve the responsibility of those imposing sanctions. Children are dying in large numbers, directly due to our policy in Iraq.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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Topple a Tyrant, Protect the Innocent

In November, once again, Iraq responded to a military threat and signaled that it would allow U.N. weapons inspectors to resume their work. This was heartening news. But we've been down this road before. The possibility remains that sooner or later Saddam Hussein will resume his games of hide-and-seek, leading us to threaten more massive air strikes against Iraq.

We know from past experience that cruise missiles and smart bombs will never destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, nor will they remove Saddam from power. And let's be honest: There is no such thing as a "safe" war or a "clean" military strike. Civilians, often children, usually pay the biggest price for war, and they will again. Isn't it time for a new way of thinking about how to deal with Saddam?

I remember traveling to Baghdad on the eve of the 1991 Gulf war as part of a delegation of American religious leaders who challenged Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait before the bombs began to fall. We had hoped that the Iraqi tyrant might make some concessions to religious leaders that he was unwilling to make to NATO or to George Bush. Make a gesture of peace to religious leaders to prevent untold suffering for your people—that's the way our argument went.

Our delegation met with several of Saddam's cabinet members, who privately told us they wished their leader would make such concessions and forestall the war. But Saddam Hussein would have no part of it. He wanted to call America's bluff. I think he wanted the war. The result was 100,000 Iraqi casualties, many of them civilians.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1999
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