Iraq: A Gnat On The Elephant Of History
(Swans - February 2, 2004) The United States of America, in its short history, has a long history of inviting or precipitating wars. In retrospect, given perspective, these wars have served the purposes of whatever leadership was in place at the time. History being the prerogative of victors, resultant mytho-histories tell quite another story.
Perspective is important, perhaps critical, to understanding events of the moment.
Assume planet Earth from space dust to now is about 15 billion earth/sun cycles or years old. Assume humankind has evolved within the most recent million. Assume civilization as defined by western mytho-history is maybe 5 to 10 thousand years old. Assume history is about half that.
What is now the United States of America began in the late 1700s of Common Era. It was a response, resistance, dissent to British imperial rule. A mere 200-plus earth/sun cycles. A spark of hope emergent from Europe's Age of Enlightenment.
Iraq, once Mesopotamia and before that Assyria, Acadia, Babylon, et al., is no more than the latest geo-national configuration at the confluence of Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, east of the Mediterranean Sea. Western mytho-history is defined as times since known written languages emerged in this area, said to be a bare 3,500 to 4,000 years back. Here, successions of rulers conjoined with successions of religions from animisms to Zoroaster to Islam raised civilizations and in blinks of time razed them. The Old Testament records some of those catastrophic events.
Iraq is a creation of WWI's (1914-1918 C.E.) victors, Great Britain, France and the United States. Paying little, if any, attention to local peoples, they carved up this part of the decadent and defeated Ottoman Empire. In doing so, they obeyed the imperial dictum of Divide and Conquer.
The mixes of Kurds, Arabs, Persians, sects and splinters of Islam, both Sunni and Shi'ia, proto- and heretical Christians spiced with vestigial Hebrews guaranteed strife. Iraq's short history has been one of wars within, wars without and wars against imperial occupiers (Britain in the 1920s and now the U.S.). The British imposed outsiders as kings who were overthrown to be replaced by Sunni-dominated one-party dictatorships, the latest recently blown out.
The United States of America took form first as a loose confederation of geo-political entities straggling along the eastern coast of North America from today's Maine to Florida. After the 1776 Declaration of Independence and during the Revolutionary War, in 1781, Articles of Confederation were agreed upon by 13 areas now called "States." The Articles gave way to a federal republic under a Constitution (1787) still nominally operative.
Nowhere in that Constitution, as amended to date, does the word, much less concept of, democracy appear. The now-sainted founders feared mass rule. Initially, only propertied classes could vote. The founders included a cumbersome Electoral College as a final barrier within which those privileged to judge could hold off even the expressed will of relatively few propertied voters. It was only in the 1920s that the right to vote was finally extended to women offering a near universal suffrage. The Electoral College remains an essential barrier to popular will as was demonstrated in 2000.
An early and parallel principle dear to the founding saints was nullification. The American Revolution was about the right of colonies to nullify imperial fiat -- "Taxation without Representation," and so on. Early leaders agreed that states must be able to reject central government actions. Under the Articles of Confederation, nullification was a recurrent contention. The 1787 Constitution established a clearer balance between federal and state powers. A shadow of nullification lurks within assertions of states' rights. Until the Republican Party was seized by those presently in control, states' rights were among its cardinal shibboleths.
When a group of southeastern states attempted nullification and succession in 1860, a viciously barbaric civil war ensued. Their economies depended upon plantation-organized no wage commodity growing for export markets.
President Lincoln believed in centralized Federal control of American government. He wanted an industrialized future defined by northern perspectives. In his view, folks were either for his ideas or against them, which meant against him.
Relatively late in that war undertaken to maintain and to assert federal authority, i.e., nullify nullification, the cover story of slavery was pushed forward. Mytho-history has since put slavery first and lost sight of the other great irritants motivating the Confederate States of America such as dominance by central government powers, especially those related to economic processes.
Central government authority was firmly established by force of arms. The flattened and defeated Confederate States were occupied and taken over by a victorious army, administered by imported bureaucrats and plagued by local outlaws and outlanders come to loot, pillage and garner reconstruction contracts. Sound familiar?
Within a few years, white southern authority was reasserted. Wage slavery plus tenant farming established then remain in place. Plantations are now called "agribusiness." Corporations supplant Simon Legree.
History shows that wars for peace utterly fail. The fact of continuing wars establishes that generalization. Throughout world history, empires have come and gone, gone and come. As in Mesopotamia, their enduring legacies are death and destruction, death and destruction punctuated only by intervals of tyranny and despotism. Despots are often "popular," though.
Historian John Lukacs prophesied that the decadence of the United States of America and a return to barbarity would characterize late 20th and early 21st centuries C.E. The spark of hope from the Age of Enlightenment was to dim and die.
After the American Civil War ended in 1865, events driven by "economic progress" took center stage. As land was consumed and resources and peoples exploited, northern-focused industrialization and cash- then debt-driven actualities pushed waves of expansions west, north and south, then across the oceans.
Genocides drove off and decimated indigenous peoples, borders moved north and south through wars and diplomacies of force; spatial vacuums filled.
"Manifest Destiny" was invented to give name to mytho-historical justifications. Yet, firming borders and Pacific Ocean barrier did little to quell drives for progress. Nothing less than control and more, ever more, would do.
The emergent baronies of capitalism given legal form as "persons" evolved in partnership with ambitions of "Manifest Destiny," America's "White Man's Burden." Markets beckoned. Corporations soon supplanted republic as actuality of governance. Great and small conflagrations were entered with compelling slogans to enlist masses and to feed graves. Destructions engendered reconstructions. Reconstructions are stuff of history and good for business. Wars, illusions of empire, and good business times are popular. 1930s Germany serves as illustration. There seems no downside until it falls.
The empires of mytho-history come and go, go and come. Their most enduring legacies are death and destruction, tyranny and despotism. Relative timing is about the only variable. It took Rome between 400 and 600 years to collapse. The Soviet Empire fell in a few years. Hope for better times is now about gone. There were no peace dividends, only more military demands.
In parallel with imperial manifestations from assertion of federal dominance through "Manifest Destiny," Great White Fleet, regional wars of conquest, world wars, police actions, Cold War, regime changes, security state -- all becoming too numerous to count -- the once republic of the United States of America has evolved more toward imperial power than beacon of hope.
The latest conflations of imperial form and security state garner force from and through reactions to pinpricks. Masses are captured and mesmerized by "wars" against chimeras, whether drugs or terror. Those "enemies" now command more response, more treasure, than the Soviet Union at its peak. Central authority seeks expansion and uncontested control. Politicians need enemies like junkies need their fixes. The difficulties occasioned by drugs and/or terror are little reduced while imperium grows apace. Resources are diverted and squandered recklessly. Domestic responsibilities are shunned and pushed aside.
An authoritarian-minded clique seized the US government in 2000 through one vote of those privileged to judge and resulting machinations of the Electoral College to deny popular will. Early on they staggered in search of an enemy against whom to organize their programs, impose their will. Given an enemy in September 2001, the wraps came off. Looting treasury, favoring friends, burgeoning bureaucracies, smashing rights, gutting restraints, privatizing public assets, forcing a state religion, arrogating authority, denying compassion... The list grows weekly. Patterns of imperial arrogances spread and merge, merge and spread.
Wars for peace, failed occupations, plethora of deaths and destructions mark and define mytho-histories of recent millennia and these times.
Momentary flickers of hope die again and again. Russia, for one, in its thousand years of time goes through recurrent orgies of horrors. Vlad, the (Transylvanian) Impaler; Ivan, the Terrible; Peter, the Great; Lenin, the Emancipator; Stalin, the Merciless. And, now, a new Tsar, a new Caesar, emerges. George Bush's great friend and compatriot, perhaps role model, Vladimir Putin, takes imperial control. The more it changes, the more it is the same.
The Tree of Life said to grow near the confluence of Tigris and Euphrates died.
Is America's flicker of hope, now dimming, to die in the emergent imperium? Lukacs and others prophesy new eras of barbarities, a decadent American empire..
In perspective then, Iraq: A Gnat on the Elephant of History.
© Milo Clark 2004. All rights reserved. Please DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web. See our reprint policy.
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Other Essays in this Special Issue
Or jump to any one author (in alphabetical order): Tanweer Akram || Justin Alexander || Anthony Arnove || Naseer Aruri || Jan Baughman || George Capaccio || Milo Clark || Gregory Elich || Sara Flounders & John Catalinotto || Manuel García || Denis J. Halliday || Edward S. Herman || Rania Masri || Thomas J. Nagy, et al. || Michael Parenti || Louis Proyect || John Sloboda || Gerard Donnelly Smith || Michael W. Stowell
Iraq on Swans (all articles regarding Iraq published on Swans)
Outside Resources on Iraq (Web sites of interest)
Additional Resources (compiled by Tanweer Akram)