Saddam’s Statue: Enduring Myths

Soldiers assist in toppling statue

The truth, C.S. Lewis said, has a knobbly quality. Anything that seems to neat, too pat, too simple is unlikely to be all the truth. G. Bush’s explanation for why terrorists would strike the U.S. when we are such good guys, “They hate our freedoms,” is, at the minimum, not knobbly enough to be true.

Most of us can visualize the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled on April 9, 2003. We can visualize it because it was aired every few minutes on American news media as a kind of saturation Kodak moment. Oh, we didn’t screw up, the Iraqis really did want to be free, as proven by their spontaneous cheering and statue-toppling. Alas, the truth is more knobbly.

The truth is that the scene took place in front of a hotel housing journalists. The hotel had been attacked the preceding day by American forces, resulting in the deaths of three journalists. Killing journalists is incredibly bad PR for the war effort. While the journalists milled about in the square in front of the hotel, they actually outnumbered the Iraqi citizens standing around.

Enter a couple of American tanks, notice the statue of Saddam looming above the courtyard. Voila: big time photo opp, which journalists can not only recognize, but also exploit when necessary. The military guys provided rope and sledge hammers and the citizens supplied some muscle while the journalists supplied not only a large number of individuals in the crowd, but video footage of a somewhat faked moment of triumph that got hours and hours of air time in the U.S.

It was not a complete set-up, as some say, nor a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude by the freed Iraqi citizens as it was presented in the US. It was a knobbly set of circumstances, partly faked, partly valid, and ultimately said little about the attitude of the Iraqis except that a few of them were willing to pull down a statue and kick it for the cameras.

Does it even matter? Truth matters, and many Americans were confused in the days and months following about why the rejoicing citizens seemed to suddenly change their minds and resent the presence of American troops on their soil. Didn’t they all  rejoice and welcome the US as liberators as Dick Cheney had predicted? Who were these “insurgents” trying to mess everything up? (Note: “Insurgents”=code for anyone who opposes U.S. interests.)

No, the Iraqi people didn’t all love America. When confused, I try the following mental exercise. How would I like a bunch of foreign soldiers milling about down at the local mall in my bombed-out nation? How would I like the fact that a bunch of my fellow citizens were blown into meat chunks through several days of shock and awe? How would I like it if these soldiers were still there for many years afterward? I find that I wouldn’t like it at all, and that I would deeply desire for those soldiers to get the heck out.

This is understandably how all the people the U.S. “liberates” feel, and just a few minutes of honest reflection should show us why. They feel just like we would feel given the same circumstances, because we are all human and humans universally resent domination.

The Listening Post, second half of report


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