Dying for War

The Bush warmongers miss the bloody truth

Troops themselves are taking precautions in a gesture at once valorizing the ideal of the epic body of the hetero-macho soldier and its need for reproduction, and poignantly expressing their fears of illness or even death: Before shipping out, they are leaving deposits in sperm banks. (One California sperm bank is offering discounts on storage for servicemen.)

And it's not just the possible contaminants in Saddam's arsenal those soldiers are worried about. A study commissioned by the Defense Department and released by Duke University in January found that rats exposed to just three of the chemicals to which soldiers in the first Gulf War were exposed suffered significant damage to their brains, livers, and testes. Sperm production plunged. The guilty toxins came from a prophylactic treatment against nerve gas and two powerful insecticides provided to troops by the military itself.

With Bush pushing for a permanent war on terrorism, that sperm may eventually produce new troops to take up where their dads leave off. In the meantime, a little-noticed provision of the No Child Left Behind Act—the education bill signed into law last year—requires that high schools provide military recruiters with the names and contact information of their pupils. Students must affirmatively opt out if they do not want recruiters ringing them up at home while they're doing their homework or watching TV. Under the current budget shortfalls, CUNY and other public universities are facing tuition increases and kids paying attention are connecting the dots. Two students from the Bushwick Outreach Center told a crowd at "Poetry Is News," an anti-war meeting of writers held on Saturday, that the military is being held out to them as their only means of getting into college. "If I go fighting this war," said Jesus Gonzales, 17, a kaffiyeh wrapped tight around his head, "there's still gonna be a family of five living in a van down the block."

Medic treating wounded POW. Delta Company Medic Pete Tovar treating wounded POW under the watchful  eye of an M60 machine gun.
Photo courtesy of Rigo Ordaz
Medic treating wounded POW. Delta Company Medic Pete Tovar treating wounded POW under the watchful eye of an M60 machine gun.

Seeing the manipulation of poor and working-class kids in the twin developments of tuition increases and recruitment requirements might smack of a cynicism that most Americans don't want to soak up. Of course it's preferable to believe that our leaders act out of good motives and genuine concern, even if one might disagree with their programs or tactics. That's why many prefer to dismiss the "no war for oil" slogan, and why it's disturbing to think that the war is one means of advancing a social agenda of diminishing freedoms, shrinking social services, and enriching corporations. (Tax breaks for SUV owners!)

But without any immediate threat to the U.S. by Saddam Hussein there really is only one compelling explanation for the war Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz are insisting upon—one that provides even more reason for resistance. As policy analyst Phyllis Bennis puts it in "Understanding the U.S.-Iraq Crisis: A Primer" (available at www.ips-dc.org) the threats of war "are driven by oil and empire—expanding U.S. military and economic power." As is well-known to readers of the Voice and other progressive publications, many top officials of the Bush administration have strong ties to the oil industries (and to the arms industries that also thrive with war and that supplied Saddam with much of his arsenal during the 1970s and '80s).

As Bennis points out, the anxiety about controlling access to Iraqi oil reserves comes largely from the instability of Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. has a lock on oil. Many in the Bush administration believe, Bennis writes, that a post-war, U.S.-dependent Iraq "would supplant Saudi control of oil prices and marginalize the influence of the Saudi-led OPEC oil cartel. Iraq could replace Saudi Arabia, at least partially, at the center of U.S. oil and military strategy in the region, and the U.S. would remain able to act as guarantor of oil for Japan, Germany, and other allies in Europe and around the world." What's more, the superhawks of Bush's administration, she argues, want to see U.S. power expanded more generally in the region. Much of the plan was set forth before 9-11, in a blueprint written in September 2000 for Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others, by the neoconservative think tank Project for a New American Century. The plan includes attacking Iraq to force a regime change and insists on "maintaining global U.S. preeminence" and "shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests." It has conveniently found a rationale in the "war against terrorism."

In invading Iraq to force a regime change, the U.S. would be violating one of the most time-honored doctrines of international cooperation. More frightening, it would be inflaming anti-American sentiment in the region and, as the CIA itself has concluded, providing Saddam with the only scenario in which he'd be likely to share weapons of mass destruction with Al Qaeda. Even as the billions, possibly trillions, that the war might cost would drive the American economy deeper into a hole, the attack would further endanger everyone living in the United States and all Americans abroad, achieving exactly the opposite of what Bush claims to want.

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