Life During Wartime
by Sadu Nanjundiah
April 9, 2003
The U.S-led “coalition of the willing” (i.e. the U.S. military and its faithful British mascot) has been at war with Iraq since March 20. More correctly, the U.S started bombing Iraq and invaded it unilaterally without any international sanction other than the usual self-proclaimed ones. The Bush administration is once again, in the time-honored American tradition, destroying a country to save it.
A country of 270 million people with a per capita GDP of $ 36,000 is pummeling into submission a nation of 24 million with a GDP estimated charitably to be $2,500 per person. The most advanced, powerful and fearsome weapons that $ 300 billion could buy have been targeted relentlessly on an emasculated people, decimated over a decade of the severest economic sanctions. The U.S.A., a country endowed with a multitude of natural resources and self-sufficient in food, has attacked ferociously a country with a devastated economy which two decades ago was the most advanced in the Arab world. A nation armed with a limitless supply of million $ cruise missiles, GPS guided cluster bombs and DU weapons has hurled them, from the safety of the open skies or the depths of the oceans, at a dwindling number of “targets” in Iraq and its rag-tag army equipped only with old rifles and tanks, trying to fend off this unprovoked, illegal and immoral invasion. The cradle of civilization is being systematically reduced to rubble and a proud people reduced to utter penury and humiliation by the “liberators” from the new world. Iraqis must feel privileged that they have a choice of how they want to be “liberated” - either by being freed from the prison of life instantly through the many weapons of death employed by Bush or the slightly slower, albeit more agonizing, way from injury, starvation, disease and thirst?
Never has a “war” been more asymmetric for the sheer scale of disparity. Israel’s devastating assault on the Palestinian people in the occupied territories is reported to have served as a model. A country twice the size of the state of Idaho with a population half of who are under the age of fifteen has been valiantly trying to defend itself from the American juggernaut. A $ 30-billion economy (all based on oil) has not a fighting chance against an aggressor whose high-tech defense budget itself is ten times larger. The fight is as unjust as it is unfair.
How does it feel to be at war? For the Iraqis, and the Americans?
If you are an Iraqi, there is the constant threat of death and destruction from a variety of sources – at once from American bombs, missiles, gunfire; a little more slowly from inoperable wounds lying in hospitals without electricity or medicines; somewhat delayed, if more painfully, from infections acquired from depleted uranium dust, polluted water, untreated sewage or a depleted immune system due to malnutrition. If you are an Iraqi adult, there is no factory work or office job to go to; if you are an Iraqi child or teenager, there is no school or college to attend. Wherever you are, there is the constant threat of being struck by a “precision” bomb. There is no "entertainment" other than the ineluctable, real violence and constant fear of survival surrounding you. There is the real “thrill” of trying to escape the inferno with ones children, driving past the American blockades without getting shot-up to bloody pieces. Iraqi families cower at home, not knowing when death will visit them. They have stocked up food from the rations doled out by the government before the U.S invasion. But how long can this last? Even the psychological trauma of not knowing what is to come, minute by minute, is a war crime against a people who have done nothing to deserve such harsh punishment. The only music filling the air is the whistling sound of "smart", missiles before they strike their “targets” that may even be market places.
If you are an American you can choose to turn off the war entirely. Or watch the 24-hour reality TV show starring Pentagon-embedded journalists bringing the heroism of "coalition" troops live from the battlefield into American homes. Whenever you have had your daily fill of the latter, there are always the non-stop sit-coms and dramas, violence and sex programming, sports and cooking, religion and shopping on 100 other channels. Or one can decide to go shopping at the malls and the supermarkets for the many things one doesn't need and the food one should avoid eating or that one consumes in excess, choosing from the even more staggering variety of cereals, snacks and soft-drinks. Americans can opt to experience the thrill of futuristic violence at the movie multiplexes, go out to restaurants and bars and indulge to excess. March madness is nearly over but a new season of baseball and golf has joined the daily dose of professional basketball. Children go to school plugged into their Discmans or Nintendos, and people drive miles to work, some proudly proclaiming their patriotism by driving the civilian equivalent of the Army's gas guzzling Humvee (giving new meaning to the phrase, "bringing the war home"). But Americans are warned, under Code Orange, to be fearful of the "hate-filled" world outside that is “envious” of American “living standards” and “freedoms”, and to watch out for people who look "Middle-Eastern" living in their midst. Unabashed jingoism pervades the airwaves and the print media, with endless stories of the "good guys" who are only fighting for the "liberation" of Iraq (i.e., its oil) from the evil clutches of a tyrant (who installed him?) and for the god-given exclusive right (to Americans multinationals) to "security" (i.e. guaranteed profits) from the "terrorists" lurking all around the world, especially in the "axis of evil". A brainwashed public, and one blinded by the "shock and awe" of the Pentagon, fails to see the CEO’s ("bandicoots") who are merrily and brazenly bankrupting companies, pauperizing their employees, passing on liabilities to the tax-payers (guess who?) with the unquestioning help of a collaborative White House and pliant Congress. Every day's business section in the newspapers chronicles the insatiable greed, corruption and arrogance that pervade the corridors of power in America. The wretched, the poor, the working class are enticed into doing their "dirty" work across the globe and at home, and yet made to feel that such is their proud, bounden and pleasurable duty on behalf of the greatest country on earth. The deliberate intent with which policies that will widen the chasm between the rich and the poor is dazzling for its sheer audacity. Bush proposes tax cuts for the rich even as he reduces services to the poor including to the very people (veterans) who have defended his ilk.
This country, claimed by its leaders to be the very epitome of human freedom, has two million people incarcerated and 30 million people living in poverty (disproportionately African-Americans and Latinos). A country that has 5% of the world's population, uses 25% of the its energy and produces 20% of global pollution, is at "war" with an emasculated people who just happen to possess the second largest repository of the world’s most coveted energy source. Without Iraq's oil, there is not one who can argue that the Bush administration would be interested in any "regime change". In fact, it has always been America's interest to have manageable dictators control such precious commodities. The sole exception to this category, Iran, is another bete noire of the Bush administration.
Only a deluded person will believe President Bush when he proclaims that Iraq's oil will be entirely at the disposal of the Iraqi people. The tragedy is compounded when one considers the fact that the foot soldiers defending "American interests" (the insatiable greed and life-styles of the rich and powerful) come largely from the ranks of the lower classes. Eighty percent of America’s wealth belongs to one-fifth of its people (within whose ranks there are only an infinitesimal fraction of people of color). The steady refrain is that this gross disparity is the immutable, natural order. While many of the rich are raised in wealth, one in five American children is raised in poverty. Income disparities at the beginning of the 21st century are greater than ever before. But public awareness of poverty and malnutrition in the land specially “blessed” by the gods is almost non-existent. The United States is number one in wealth and power but number 26 in childhood mortality under the age of twelve. Nearly one-third of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted. One hundred billion pounds of safe, usable food is thrown away by restaurants, food stores, farmers, dining halls and one in ten Americans go to bed hungry (13 million of them under age 12). But despite such distress amidst plenty, there is a constant message that plutocrats proclaim to the world, of the "lofty" principles that under gird American society - gender and race equality, class mobility, human rights, democracy. The corporations and the wealthy class have as a firm a hold of power in this society as ever. Their genius has been to make the vast majority of people believe that war and restrictions on civil liberties are in their own interest.
Sadu Nanjundiah teaches physics at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut, and works with the Coalition for Social Justice, a group of faculty and students at CCSU that discusses and acts on issues of peace and justice, locally and internationally. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org