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[casi] An Occupied Country

October 2003 Issue

It Seems to Me/ Howard Zinn
An Occupied Country

It has become clear, very quickly, that Iraq is not a
liberated country, but an occupied country. We became
familiar with the term "occupied country" during World
War II. We talked of German-occupied France,
German-occupied Europe. And after the war we spoke of
Soviet-occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Eastern
Europe. It was the Nazis, the Soviets, who occupied
other countries.

Now we are the occupiers. True, we liberated Iraq from
Saddam Hussein, but not from us. Just as in 1898 we
liberated Cuba from Spain, but not from us. Spanish
tyranny was overthrown, but the United States
established a military base in Cuba, as we are doing
in Iraq. U.S. corporations moved in to Cuba, just as
Bechtel and Halliburton and the oil corporations are
moving into Iraq. The United States was deciding what
kind of constitution Cuba would have, just as our
government is now forming a constitution for Iraq. Not
a liberation, an occupation.

And it is an ugly occupation. On August 7, The New
York Times reported that U.S. General Ricardo Sanchez
in Baghdad was worried about Iraqi reaction to the
occupation. Iraqi leaders who were pro-American were
giving him a message, as he put it: "When you take a
father in front of his family and put a bag over his
head and put him on the ground you have had a
significant adverse effect on his dignity and respect
in the eyes of his family." (That's very perceptive.)

CBS News reported on July 19 that Amnesty
International is looking into a number of cases of
suspected torture in Iraq by American authorities. One
such case involves Khraisan al-Aballi, CBS said. "When
American soldiers raided the al-Aballi house, they
came in shooting. . . . They shot and wounded his
brother Dureid." U.S. soldiers took Khraisan, his
80-year-old father, and his brother away. "Khraisan
says his interrogators stripped him naked and kept him
awake for more than a week, either standing or on his
knees, bound hand and foot, with a bag over his head,"
CBS reported. Khraisan told CBS he informed his
captors, "I don't know what you want. I don't know
what you want. I have nothing." At one point, "I asked
them to kill me," Khraisan said. After eight days,
they let him and his father go. Paul Bremer, the U.S.
administrator of Iraq, responded, "We are, in fact,
carrying out our international obligations."

On June 17, two reporters for the Knight Ridder chain
wrote about the Falluja area: "In dozens of interviews
during the past five days, most residents across the
area said there was no Ba'athist or Sunni conspiracy
against U.S. soldiers, there were only people ready to
fight because their relatives had been hurt or killed,
or they themselves had been humiliated by home
searches and road stops." One woman said, after her
husband was taken from their home because of empty
wooden crates, which they had bought for firewood,
that the United States is guilty of terrorism. "If I
find any American soldiers, I will cut their heads
off," she said. According to the reporters, "Residents
in At Agilia--a village north of Baghdad--said two of
their farmers and five others from another village
were killed when U.S. soldiers shot them while they
were watering their fields of sunflowers, tomatoes,
and cucumbers."

Soldiers who are set down in a country where they were
told they would be welcomed as liberators only to find
they are surrounded by a hostile population become
fearful, trigger-happy, and unhappy. We've been
reading the reports of GIs angry at their being kept
in Iraq. In mid-July, an ABC News reporter in Iraq
told of being pulled aside by a sergeant who said to
him: "I've got my own 'Most Wanted List.' " He was
referring to the deck of cards the U.S. government
published, featuring Saddam Hussein, his sons, and
other wanted members of the former Iraqi regime. "The
aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld,
George Bush, and Paul Wolfowitz," the sergeant said.

Such sentiments are becoming known to the American
public. In May, a Gallup Poll reported that only 13
percent of the American public thought the war was
going badly. By July 4, the figure was 42 percent. By
late August, it was 49 percent.

Then there is the occupation of the United States. I
wake up in the morning, read the newspaper, and feel
that we are an occupied country, that some alien group
has taken over. Those Mexican workers trying to cross
the border--dying in the attempt to evade immigration
officials (ironically, trying to cross into land taken
from Mexico by the United States in 1848)--those
Mexican workers are not alien to me. Those millions of
people in this country who are not citizens and
therefore, by the Patriot Act, are subject to being
pulled out of their homes and held indefinitely by the
FBI, with no constitutional rights--those people are
not alien to me. But this small group of men who have
taken power in Washington, they are alien to me.

I wake up thinking this country is in the grip of a
President who was not elected, who has surrounded
himself with thugs in suits who care nothing about
human life abroad or here, who care nothing about
freedom abroad or here, who care nothing about what
happens to the earth, the water, the air. And I wonder
what kind of world our children and grandchildren will
inherit. More Americans are beginning to feel, like
the soldiers in Iraq, that something is terribly
wrong, that this is not what we want our country to

More and more every day, the lies are being exposed.
And then there is the largest lie: that everything the
United States does is to be pardoned because we are
engaged in a "war on terrorism." This ignores the fact
that war is itself terrorism, that the barging into
people's homes and taking away family members and
subjecting them to torture, that is terrorism, that
invading and bombing other countries does not give us
more security but less security.

You get some sense of what this government means by
the "war on terrorism" when you examine what Rumsfeld
said a year ago when he was addressing the NATO
ministers in Brussels. "There are things that we
know," he said. "And then there are known unknowns.
That is to say, there are things that we now know that
we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns.
There are things we do not know we don't know. . . .
That is, the absence of evidence is not evidence of
absence. . . . Simply because you do not have evidence
that something exists does not mean that you have
evidence that it doesn't exist."

Well, Rumsfeld has clarified things for us.

That explains why this government, not knowing exactly
where to find the criminals of September 11, will just
go ahead and invade and bomb Afghanistan, killing
thousands of people, driving hundreds of thousands
from their homes, and still not know where the
criminals are.

That explains why the government, not really knowing
what weapons Saddam Hussein is hiding, will invade and
bomb Iraq, to the horror of most of the world, killing
thousands of civilians and soldiers and terrorizing
the population.

That explains why the government, not knowing who are
terrorists and who are not, will put hundreds of
people in confinement at Guantanamo under such
conditions that twenty have tried to commit suicide.

That explains why, not knowing which noncitizens are
terrorists, the Attorney General will take away the
constitutional rights of twenty million of them.

The so-called war on terrorism is not only a war on
innocent people in other countries, but it is also a
war on the people of the United States: a war on our
liberties, a war on our standard of living. The wealth
of the country is being stolen from the people and
handed over to the super-rich. The lives of our young
are being stolen. And the thieves are in the White

It's interesting to me that polls taken among African
Americans have shown consistently 60 percent
opposition to the war in Iraq. Shortly after Colin
Powell made his report to the United Nations on
"Weapons of Mass Destruction," I did a phone interview
with an African American radio station in Washington,
D.C., a program called "GW on the Hill." After I
talked with the host there were eight call-ins. I took
notes on what the callers said:

John: "What Powell said was political garbage."

Another caller: "Powell was just playing the game.
That's what happens when people get into high office."

Robert: "If we go to war, innocent people will die for
no good reason."

Kareen: "What Powell said was hogwash. War will not be
good for this country."

Susan: "What is so good about being a powerful

Terry: "It's all about oil."

Another caller: "The U.S. is in search of an empire
and it will fall as the Romans did. Remember when Ali
fought Foreman. He seemed asleep but when he woke up
he was ferocious. So will the people wake up."

It is often said that this Administration can get away
with war because unlike Vietnam, the casualties are
few. True, only a few hundred battle casualties,
unlike Vietnam. But battle casualties are not all.
When wars end, the casualties keep mounting
up--sickness, trauma. After the Vietnam War, veterans
reported birth defects in their families due to the
Agent Orange spraying in Vietnam. In the first Gulf
War there were only a few hundred battle casualties,
but the Veterans Administration reported recently that
in the ten years following the Gulf War, 8,000
veterans died. About 200,000 of the 600,000 veterans
of the Gulf War filed complaints about illnesses
incurred from the weapons our government used in the
war. In the current war, how many young men and women
sent by Bush to liberate Iraq will come home with
related illnesses?

What is our job? To point all this out.

Human beings do not naturally support violence and
terror. They do so only when they believe their lives
or country are at stake. These were not at stake in
the Iraq War. Bush lied to the American people about
Saddam and his weapons. And when people learn the
truth--as happened in the course of the Vietnam
War--they will turn against the government. We who are
for peace have the support of the rest of the world.
The United States cannot indefinitely ignore the ten
million people who protested around the world on
February 15. The power of government--whatever weapons
it possesses, whatever money it has at its
disposal--is fragile. When it loses its legitimacy in
the eyes of its people, its days are numbered.

We need to engage in whatever nonviolent actions
appeal to us. There is no act too small, no act too
bold. The history of social change is the history of
millions of actions, small and large, coming together
at critical points to create a power that governments
cannot suppress. We find ourselves today at one of
those critical points.

Howard Zinn, the author of "A People's History of the
United States," is a columnist for The Progressive.

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