A Warfare State of Mind

Many Americans forget how intimidating it was a decade ago for any U.S. citizen to speak out against President George W. Bush’s rush to war with Iraq. For example, the Dixie Chicks got death threats and actor Sean Penn was denounced as “a stooge of Saddam,” as Norman Solomon recalls.

By Norman Solomon

On a plane circling Baghdad in gray dawn light, a little Iraqi girl quietly sang to herself in the next row. “When I start to wonder why I’m making this trip,” Sean Penn murmured to me, “I see that child and I remember what it’s about.”

After the plane landed at Saddam International Airport, we waited in a small entry room until an Iraqi official showed up and ushered us through customs. Soon we checked into the Al-Rashid Hotel. Back in Washington the sponsor of our trip, the Institute for Public Accuracy, put out a news release announcing the three-day visit and quoting Sean: “As a father, an actor, a filmmaker and a patriot, my visit to Iraq is for me a natural extension of my obligation (at least attempt) to find my own voice on matters of conscience.”

With U.S. war drums at feverish pitch, Sean Penn’s sudden appearance in Baghdad set off a firestorm of vilification in American media. Headlines called him “Baghdad Sean”; pundits on cable news channels called him a stooge for Saddam.

But as the U.S. media attacks got underway, our focus was Baghdad. At the Al-Mansour Children’s Hospital, youngsters lay on threadbare mattresses with haunting dark eyes, mournful mothers sometimes seated next to their tiny beds. As we left, Sean said to me: “You don’t even want someone to slam a door too loud around these children, let alone imagine a bomb exploding in the neighborhood.”

There were meetings with Iraqi officials, including Tariq Aziz, who — with his well-cut suit and smooth talk — epitomized the urbanity of evil. But most of all, we kept seeing children and wondering what would happen to them. The threat of war overshadowed everything.

UNICEF took us to schools in the city, and improvements were striking in the ones being helped by the agency. Sean and I visited the office of UNICEF’s Iraq director, a Dutchman who talked about prospects for aiding the country’s emaciated kids. But what if an invasion happens, we asked. Suddenly, there was silence.

On our last morning in Baghdad, across a breakfast table of pita bread and hummus, I watched Sean write out a statement on a pad. Later in the day, speaking at a huge news conference, he said: “I feel, both as an American and as a human being, the obligation to accept some level of personal accountability for the policies of my government, both those I support and any that I may not. Simply put, if there is a war or continued sanctions against Iraq, the blood of Americans and Iraqis alike will be on our hands.”


That was 123 months ago, in mid-December 2002. The invasion of Iraq came a hundred days later.

The resulting tragedies have been so horrific and large-scale that the overall reporting by U.S. mass media scarcely provides a clue. In real time and in retrospect, the dominant cliches about this war have stayed in circular motion, self-referential, within American bubbles.

Occasional, usually dimmed, strobe lights flicker on the real suffering of American soldiers and their loved ones. Numerically much larger, the Iraqi suffering gets short shrift, barely discernible in the shadows of U.S. media and politics.

A just-released report, “Iraq War Among World’s Worst Events,” provides a cogent summary of devastation so extensive and terrible that readers will be challenged to not turn away. In the report, David Swanson offers a 10-year overview of human consequences of moral turpitude for which no American official or propagandist has been held accountable.

Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, don’t expect the vast numbers of media hotshots and U.S. officials who propelled that catastrophe to utter a word of regret. Many are busy with another project: assisting the push for war on Iran.

Days ago, speaking of possible actions against Iran, President Barack Obama told an Israeli TV reporter: “I continue to keep all options on the table.” Earlier this month, Vice President Biden told AIPAC’s annual conference that the president “is not bluffing.” Biden said “all options, including military force, are on the table.” Those statements are similar to the threats from President Bush and Vice President Cheney before the invasion of Iraq.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

9 comments for “A Warfare State of Mind

  1. Peter S. López
    March 19, 2013 at 22:47

    I am glad some attention is being brought to this ugly anniversary behind the the War in Iraq. I remember when I was a child anniversaries were suppose to be joyful events. That have been a lot of cliches being through about today. The fact remains we need to mobilize the masses to expose and eliminate an Evil Empire that has taken over the world.

    I am not sure folks have learned anything about all this in ten years. Does it take another great global disaster to awaken folks out of their deep slumber?
    Venceremos! Peter S. López AKA @Peta_de_Aztlan ~Email= [email protected]

  2. Dr J
    March 19, 2013 at 16:09

    Much ado about nothing! There was no crucifiction! How can someone be responsible for that which did not occur? And if it were to have happened, wouldn’t god be responsible for letting it happen? I know? It was a way of creating the myth of needing to save the sinners that god made with the knowledge they would be sinners. And if a man named jesus was killed and died, there was no resurrection. Once dead, your dead! Always been a fable! Always will be.

  3. Frances in California
    March 19, 2013 at 13:48

    Gee whiz, Consortiumnews, is there a way you can pen Rehmat and borat up together so they can just go at each other, instead of making us watch their fight?

  4. delia ruhe
    March 19, 2013 at 00:19

    How well I remember those weeks and months. They gave me an insight into why Americans are always going on about freedom, yet seem not to know what that word actually means. “Freedom!” said a huge banner outside a 7-11 store, “Freedom to choose between a 10oz or a 25oz Big Gulp!” Yeah, I thought, more ice in the 25oz.

    Americans go on and on about freedom and living in the freest country in the world because they must know how easily their own government, “of, by, and for the people” can take it away from them. (I’ve read great chunks of the PATRIOT Act.)

    As a Canadian, I take freedom for granted, I guess–a bad habit. The only time I experienced a threat to my “freedom” was when, on my return from Australia, my plane had to make an unscheduled stop in Hawaii and I had my first (and last) encounter with the boys from Homeland Security–everything short of a full body cavity search. I won’t be crossing that border again until the American state gets its paranoia under better control.

    • Peter Loeb
      March 19, 2013 at 07:15

      I have often thought of Canada as place to flee.At what point is fleeing a
      solution? (I fled the US decades ago). “Manufacturing consent” is indeed a
      tool of the powerful in the US but “consent” is not always required as many
      of us know quite well. The oppressors maintain our freedom to SUBMIT. More important than consent, is the MANIPULATION OF DISSENTERS. Our task is defined
      not by chants or marches but by knowledge and its wise use. How many have contacted the US Congressional Internet to read “S Res 65”. You need the bill
      number and ability to dial http://www.thomas.gov. You can read in this bill in Section
      l of the advocated military support of Israel. Since there are 46 “co-sponsors” a measure with AIPAC backing and excellent chances of passage. Dissenters were channeled away from the action to demonstrate across the street from the annual AIPAC convention. The US and its “allies” are tragically preparing for more war, more extermination(of Arabs, Palestinians)…

      • Dr J
        March 19, 2013 at 15:52

        And Israel is totally innocent, Borat?

        • Peter Loeb
          March 20, 2013 at 07:05

          Zionism and this “Israel” are the results of a peak of interent
          in SOCIAL DARWINISM in the 19th century. For Stewart Houston
          Chamberlain the “civilized” and therefore “superior” race were
          teutonic. For the so-called (sanitized) “pilgrims” it was GOD’S
          AFFLICTED SAINTS who were by definition —and religion—
          civilized and Native Americans were uncivilized.The Saints were
          to build their “New Israel” over 400 years ago. The uncivilized
          were to be slaughtered, exterminated. And they were. Just remember
          that these devinely “inspired” Zionists went to PALESTINE to which
          they were NOT by nature or race entitled.

      • MarkU
        March 20, 2013 at 17:03

        To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize – Voltaire

  5. BuzzConrad
    March 18, 2013 at 19:26

    Sean Penn has opened our eyes to the truth and consequences of an imperialistic country that damages our world because of selfishness, power and greed. God bless the innocent childern of Iraq.

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