Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nazi Occupation of Europe, U. S. Occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq

       The question: What key will provide an explanation of US aggression in the Middle East and public acquiescence? is of course the wrong question, since many keys are necessary.   Hundreds of books, articles, films, and songs have offered keys, accurate keys.   We understand the motives of our leaders and of our public; at least, we can if we just get informed.   
        What is needed, then, is the ability to move leaders and public from imperial domination to world compassion and cooperation.    We have the keys; we just need to give them intensive attention.   Were they promoted as well as any one of a thousand products on television would make the change.   Until that happens, we must build knowledge at the grassroots.
      One of these keys is the facts and experiences of occupation.    This key possesses the possibility of making people see and feel the consequences of their imperial harms.   For we have the ability to compare, and on those comparisons, to change.
        I am referring to the Nazi occupation of Europe during World War Two and the resistance by Europeans.    During those years US leaders and the public sympathized with the occupied.     We admired the resisters who fought back against midnight arrests by the Gestapo, imprisonment without trial, torture.    The Gestapo used intimidation (family threatened), brutality, torture: beatings, broken bones, smashed teeth, burnt feet, electric wire to genitals, fingernails pulled out, ice baths, and water-boarding.
     In The Shadow War: European Resistance, 1939-1945, Henri Michel gives a detailed analysis of the national parts of the Resistance, showing how it drew its members from all political and social groups throughout Europe.   He examines how the Resistance was equipped, organized and recruited, and gives a wealth of information on the varying tactics used in different countries.
        Yet despite the diversity within the Resistance, there was unity.    It was a pan-European phenomenon rather than a series of separate patriotic movement because the subject peoples were unified by the passion to rid Europe of this brutal occupier.     Not only did the Resistance transcend national boundaries, but it also cut across traditional social and political barriers.   In their shared detestation of the foreign occupier, people worked together in ways that otherwise would have been unimagined earlier.   A similar unity existed in the political sphere: political parties took second place in the greater struggle.  
      The question then follows, why do we not sympathize with the Iraqi and Afghan resisters of the US occupations, who share so many similarities to the European Resistance?    Nir Rosen (his most recent book: Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World) for example said, “every day was Abu Ghraib when American soldiers routinely traumatized Iraqi families. . . .Iraq’s social fabric has been destroyed and its population decimated.”*   Yet US leaders continue—ten years occupying Afghanistan, eight years in Iraq—and the Nazis only six years.   Why would not the people despise their occupier?   That the US freed the Iraqis from Saddam’s brutal dictatorship, or that we freed the Afghans from Taliban fundamentalism, makes little difference, when we replaced those tyrannies with our own.   The Afgan feminist Malalai Joya (A Woman Among Warlords) rejects warlords whether Afghan or US.   People don’t want a foreign power telling them what to do-- threatening, displacing, torturing, and of course killing.  
     It does not matter that their resistance is tinged with xenophobia, as Michel describes for the European Resistance, “the instinctive aversion to the presence of the foreigner, particularly in a position of superiority” (245).  The experience of occupation intensified that resentment to white heat in the majority.  And the misery increased in every country, in France and Iraq, Poland and Afghanistan.   The US applied Shock and Awe I in the First Gulf War to Baghdad and the Highway of Death in 1991, and then bombed the country for ten years until its electrical and public health systems were severely damaged, causing the deaths, according to UNICEF, of half a million children.     
      Nor does it matter that US forces in Iraq have moved mainly to bastions outside the cities.    Too many Iraqis or their relatives or friends have been killed, tortured, wounded, intimidated, and humiliated for them to accept us.     Our leaders have labeled the Afghan resistance the Taliban, but they are the families and clans of the Pashtun tribe, the major ethnic group of Afghanistan and of Western Pakistan.   They are tyrannical fundamentalists, and many brutally patriarchal, and they do not like our house searches.  But they brought social order and immensely reduced corruption by driving out the warlords and stopping the opium industry, while the US kicks down doors at night, bombs and machine guns, and assassinates by drones, despite numerous, often denied by the occupier, never counted, civilian casualties.   The Big Warlord, Ms. Joya writes.
      So let us leave those countries and those people, so abused by the most powerful military in the world.   The “Shadow Army” Michel labels the European Resistance, “chained, gagged and tortured” though it was, would not give up until the occupier was driven out  Similarly there is in Iraq and Afghanistan “an inexhaustible reservoir [for resistance] provided by an entire population of accomplices.”   That was hyperbole for Europe as it is for Iraq and Afghanistan, for the statement omits the many collaborators (well-surveyed by Michel), but it is basically true for Europe and for Iraq and Afghanistan, as poll after poll has shown.   They want us out.   They want an end to the constant fear and insecurity of the occupier’s terror, the “merciless cruelty,” the “torture, shootings, summary executions and the destruction of farms and villages,” as Michel describes Nazi occupation (p. 9)   
      Let us leave with the guilt of our wrongs, but let that guilt enable us to leave with compassion.   Let us give them reparations to help individual Iraqis and Afghans at least begin to restore their lives at least materially.    Water and sewage systems destroyed, five million displaced Iraqis.   Let these countless wrongs be not our only legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan.   

*As reported by Jane Adas in The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (September/October 2011) p. 74.

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