Randall G. Shelden

War:  The Ultimate Crime

The names mean nothing to me, of course, since I never met them during their lifetime.  Michael D. Acklin, 25 years old, from Louisville, Kentucky; Genaro Acosta, 26, of Fair Oaks, California; Jay Blessing, 23, of Tacoma, Washington; Irving Medina, 22, of Middletown, New York; Michael A. Diraimondo, 22, Specialist, Army; Simi Valley, California; Kimberly A. Voelz, 27, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Nathan W. Nakis, 19, of Corvallis, Oregon. 

        The death toll has now passed the 500 mark since the start of the invasion.  They died, not to protect some vague notion of "freedom," nor to rid the world of the "terrorist threat," but to engage in "regime change,"  or was it "weapons of mass destruction," or was it because Saddam was linked to Osama, or----the reasons matter little at this point, for none of these reasons is valid.  An article in the New York Times reported last November that troops will be in Iraq until March 2006. An average of about 50 American soldiers has died each month since the start of this war; more than 2 each day.  At this rate, by March 2006, about 1900 will have died and suffered who knows how many serious injuries (missing arms and legs, etc.), which too often is a fate worse than death.

        A lot of people have compared this to Vietnam.  I would agree only in part.  At least in Vietnam we were able to see for ourselves some of the horrors of war.  Today, with censorship of the news run amok, we don't see it, not even the body bags that are shipped home.  And about all we hear from our leaders are stupid statements like "stay the course," "bring 'em on" and "sometimes it is necessary to use violence to fight violent people."  The war in Iraq is, of course, more than about oil, for it is part of what Noam Chomsky has appropriately termed the "Imperial Grand Strategy" (as noted in his latest book, "Hegemony or Survival," a term that originated with John Ikenberry in the journal Foreign Affairs just after the “National Security Strategy” was released).  This involves the "right" of the US to engage in "preventive war" whenever it feels like it. Such a goal is to prevent any challenge to the "power, position, and prestige of the United States."  Actually, these words were not from Cheney, Rumsfeld or any other member of the Bush team, but rather were stated by Dean Acheson in 1963.  These general aims go back even further, to the early days of World War II, when high-level planners inside Washington were putting together strategies to use after the war, specifically to engage in "an integrated policy to achieve military and economic supremacy for the United States." 

        One of the principle architects of such a "grand design" was George Kennan who wrote a document known as "Policy Planning Study 23" in 1948 (once classified and thus kept from the general public until recently). One part of the documents reads as follows: "We have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of the population...In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment.  Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity."  There will be no room for "sentimentality," Kennan writes, and we should dispense with such vague notions as "human rights" and democracy.  But we should not tell the public what our goals are and instead shower them with "idealistic slogans."
        Such ideas were already being developed during World War II by various "study groups" within the State Department and the Council on Foreign Relations as they were developing plans for what they called the "Grand Area" of the world that was to be subordinated to the needs of American corporations.  What was this "Grand Area"?  Virtually the entire world, but especially the Middle East (with all its energy resources) and the Third World, which was to "fulfill the major function as a source of raw materials and a market" for capitalist societies, according to a 1949 State Department memo written by Kennan. The "grand area" has evolved into the "Imperial Grand Strategy."

        Instead of lofty notions like "freedom" this strategy aims to defend "vital interests" such as "ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources." Such a plan involves constructing a world system "open to US economic penetration and political control, tolerating no rivals or threats," while at the same time blocking "any moves toward independent development" among nations we seek to control, as they attempt to take matters into their own hands by, among other things, seeking to take control of their own land and resources.

        The soldiers whose names mentioned above are merely the pawns in this dangerous game that threatens the very survival of the planet.  The crime here is the ultimate crime, far more serious than those criminologists like me study and write about, and far more serious than those investigated by our local police.  We are talking about crimes of the American state and corporate power for, as John Dewey once remarked, politics or government is but the "shadow cast upon society by big business."  Yes, it is more than about oil.  It is about our survival as a species.

This originally appeared in the Las Vegas Mercury, January 22, 2004 www.lasvegasmercury.com and reprinted in http://www.antiwar.com.

Update (March 22, 204):  The number of Americans killed is now 583.  Over the weekend the one year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq was marked with protests all over the world.  Is there no end in sight?  An estimated $107.5 billion has been spent on this war.  This is enough to provide 10.8 million children one year of Head Start, enough to insure almost 33 million children for one year, hire 1.4 million teachers for one year, provide almost 2 million scholarships to college, and build 1 million public housing units (Source: http://www.costofwar.com).  Some recent reports indicate that as many as one out of every ten soldiers that have been evacuated to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany has been sent because of mental problems.  The hospital has treated 11,754 soldiers from the "war on terror" (9,651 from Iraq and the remainder from Afghanistan). From Michael Moore’s Home Page (March 23, 2004).  According to a report from Medact, a British affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), between 21,000 and 55,000 people have died since the invasion of Iraq (Source: http://www.antiwar.com).
Update (April 5, 2004):  The number of American soldiers killed passed the 600 mark last week and is now up to 610.  It is starting to look like Vietnam.
Update (April 19, 2004): The death toll is now 683.  Among the latest developments include kidnappings and deaths of American civilians and journalists, plus the now widely-known hanging in Fallouja.  A woman in Baghdad said that the "Americans are killing children, destroying homes, killing women."  She called the Americans "invaders" and said when this happens the people naturally want to defend their city (New York Times). The cost of war has risen to more than $110 billion.  In yet another development, the New York Times reported that an estimated 20,000 private security forces are in Iraq, representing several companies, mostly there to assist in the "reconstruction" of Iraq.  Senator John Warner (R-Virginia) of the Armed Services Committee said "I refer to them as our silent partner in this struggle."  Among the companies involved include Global Risk Strategies, with about 1,500 private guards in Iraq; The Steel Foundation, 500 guards; Erinys (reportedly a new company) now employs about 14,000 Iraqis (New York Times, 4/19/04).  A more detailed report will be forthcoming on this web site.
Update (May 3, 2004):  The death toll has now reached 755 American soldiers killed, not to mention thousands of Iraqi citizens, many of them children.  Comparisons continue to be made with the Vietnam War.  Not surprisingly, accusations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war have emerged, making headlines in all major newspapers and creating anger in the Arab world.  See my commentary called "The Let's kick ass and take names' mentality in Iraq and Elsewhere."
Update (May 31, 2004):  As of this morning, 814 American soldiers have died, plus an additional 110 from other countries (mostly British).  About 3,000 have been officially reported as wounded (probably more, as noted above).  Who knows how many innocent Iraqi citizens have died.  Meanwhile, Bush and Co. continue to "stay the course."  Meanwhile, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal continues and Bush's answer is, incredibly, to tear it down and build a new one! On this Memorial Day, where flag waving will be everywhere and Americans celebrate the so-called "good war" (WWII), it might be a good idea to check out an article written by Mickey Z posted at http://www.zmag.org.

Update (April 27, 2008): As of today 4,052 American soldiers have been killed.  The costs continue to rise, currently above $500 billion.