In order to show that we are winning in Iraq, the U.S. military has decided to resume the abandoned practice of releasing enemy body counts. Its a bit confusing. The idea, as I understand it, is that the more insurgents are killed by U.S. forces, the sooner Iraq will be free.
In other words, some Iraqis are fighting those who invaded Iraq, but the invaders are trying to defeat them so that Iraq will have freedom.
Id also like to see body counts of noncombatants, especially women and children. Just curious, you understand. Im not accusing anyone of anything. Maybe its all worth it. But how can the American taxpayer begin to assess the full price of the war without knowing how many people, American and Iraqi, are dying in it?
Thats just basic information. Why is that sort of thing kept secret from us, when were told the war is being fought for our benefit? Arent we ourselves supposed to decide that? What kind of self-government is it that withholds facts from its own citizens?
Supporters of the war tend to be suspicious of people who ask such questions. Were supposed to trust our government. If we dont trust it completely and support the war, says a columnist in the New York Post, were in effect helping the enemy, and we may cause the war to be lost at home.
After all, our leaders know more than we do about the foreign danger, just as President Bush knows more than we do about Harriet Mierss qualifications for the U.S. Supreme Court. Who are we to second-guess them? So goes the argument, anyway. Asking too many questions is unpatriotic.
Sometimes our leaders have to deceive us for our own good. The classic case is Franklin Roosevelt, who had to lie to the American people in order to get them into World War II, for their own good, when more than 80 per cent of them thought they were better off staying out of it. Roosevelt was proved right when the United States won the war. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Americans stopped asking unpatriotic questions about him, millions died, and today he is remembered as one of our greatest presidents.
Wise leaders often have to save democracies from the people, just as the police may sometimes have to plant incriminating evidence on suspects who they are pretty sure are guilty but who might be acquitted by a jury. Thats one way to look at it. After all, Henry V is remembered as one of Englands greatest kings for invading and conquering France. Today France is free. You cant argue with success.
Lincoln saw that the country couldnt remain free if Southern states seceded from the Union, so he invaded them. He also saw that freedom was threatened by Northerners who opposed the invasion, so he had them thrown in jail and shut down their newspapers. Freedom was saved, 600,000 young men died, and today he too is remembered as one of our greatest presidents.
Drastic measures arent always necessary. People are a strange mix of courage and timidity, and often they are more effectively controlled by subtle social pressures than by crude threats. The man who might be roused to fight by the challenge of torture and death may cower at being sneered at in the faculty lounge. In the one case, he knows his manhood is being tested; in the other, he may not realize hes being tested at all. This sort of social conformity is so powerful because its hardly conscious.
For some time, most Americans supported the Iraq war not because Bush used any real threats of repression, but because of what we now call peer pressure; as I like to put it, public opinion is what everyone thinks everyone else is thinking. But that only works until people start admitting their doubts to each other.
It has now sunk in that Iraq was never a threat to us. It was all a fiction that has gradually expired, and now the only justification for the war is that it is being won. But few Americans are likely to believe that either, at this point, no matter what the body counts may say. The only question that matters now is what the U.S. Government has done to the people of Iraq. Dont hold your breath waiting for a straight answer to that one.
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