The Civil Commons

Appointment in Baghdad

Understanding the War Criminal State

John McMurtry

A media-spotlighted "crisis" with a foreign despot as the villain is the post-1980 format of US-led war.

The action always follows a theatrical formula. The despot is first armed and trained, perhaps as "freedom fighter," but constructed as an ally warring against a monstrous enemy in common. Known well and having performed the right functions, the instrumental psychopath disappears from sight to be reconstructed at the right time years later. This time, however, he is constructed as the Other, the dictator or terrorist beyond dictators and terrorists, the Evil One who must be publicly defeated to vindicate the freedom and justice of the world. He is spotlighted everywhere as the Enemy, a face of alien malice for the mob to vent fury at until the mood has risen to a crescendo of moral outrage too vast to contain, and the cathartic bombing of third-world civilians and their social infrastructures begins.

I wrote that years ago. The plot is having a re-run on American TV as the crisis that must be solved now.

But this time it is only Tony the War Poodle that follows barking behind. Perhaps the world is growing wiser. Accusing the Other in transcending indignation of "weapons of mass destruction," "massive terror," "crimes against humanity and continuous violations of international law," and "a clear and present danger to world security," the US war state increasingly reveals its exact meaning by its accusations.

The Cowboy Plot that Plays America for the Fool

Yet the morality play of "democratic forces" defeating "dictatorship" and "terror" plays out around the clock. All is performed with no accountable process of fact discovery, impartial witness, exposure to trial, or even permitted counter-argument to interrupt the event of sanctified life destruction. One side alone presents reality to the fawning lights of transnational television cameras and rising world audiences. The group-mind forms across societies with the orchestrated continuity of the Good versus Evil plot. When the climax of the real violence-entertainment comes, all are bonded in glory lost from the future prospects of their lives. There is nothing like a war against a demonized Other to win the favour and admiration of the mob. Enrage the audience, ensure the Enemy is far smaller in size, make sure the perimeters of armed force around the world grow as the blackout within them is secured, set the kill-clock for peak television hours, and then test and market the new life-attack wonders in live conditions.

The key to keeping the audience on side in the total morality play is the disconnection of act from consequence – the master theme of this era which defines its character. This disconnection is necessary because, as the Vietnam War showed, the citizens of the smaller and weaker country whose heavens and earth are rained with fire for weeks on end from above must not be seen if demonstration of the unstoppable universal forces is to work. The program of justifying the destruction of a different economic order only succeeds if the systematic terror and destruction of peoples’ lives is blinkered out from view. It is, accordingly, packaged like a one-way video game. One triumph of power after another by "our boys kept out of harm’s way," blanket control of all news-gathering and reports in the name of "security," and selection of all media facts and reporters of acts, sustain a world of paranoid delusion down to the screens in peoples’ living rooms.

From the American Dream to the World’s Nightmare

A crucial fact goes unreported about the current "Iraq crisis." No mainstream medium will report that the Bush-government plan to militarily attack Iraq with no lawful justification is already a war crime under international law. Even the British press will not report it. Tony the War Poodle barks on, unnamed as a criminal accomplice in a preparation that is already in gross violation of the Nuremberg Charter.

Nor do the "responsible media" point out that this continuous threat of war criminal attack is compounded by the US’s unilateral self-exemption from the rule of law and the newly formed International Criminal Court – a self-exemption from the rule of law it is now bullying the poorest countries to sign treaties to endorse.

Why is the monstrously hypocritical crusade of the US against Iraq not featured as the real threat to international peace and security? Given that the US-led bombing killed over 500,000 children by its infrastructural damage and subsequent militarily-enforced embargo, why is it that all we hear about is "regime change" when this horrendous mass murder by the last war is not mentioned?

Given that Iraq’s vast 112-billion-barrel publicly owned oil reserves are the real treasure this oil-led administration desires for US corporate control, just as with the Caspian oilfields around Afghanistan, why is the spotlight not on the US government as the prime violator of international law for the purposes of forcibly seizing of other countries’ natural resources? Why is the world press refusing to investigate this very major war crime for foreign treasure?

Given that the last war against Iraq failed to remove Saddam, who was armed by the US and its allies, is he really the target? Given that the US-led bombing killed over 500,000 children by its infrastructural damage and subsequent militarily-enforced embargo, and given that Iraq’s still publicly owned oil is the new target of this oil administration’s attention, why is the spotlight not on the US government to comply with international law?

The Larger Pattern of Lawlessness

Consider the larger pattern that remains repressed from view. The Bush Jr. administration has already sabotaged laws, covenants and treaties to protect individuals and peoples against nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons, landmines, small arms, international ballistic missiles, torture, racism, discrimination against women, arbitrary seizure and imprisonment, crimes against humanity and war crimes, military weather distortions, biodiversity loss, and international climate destabilization.

As we recall from past experience, it is better that the promulgators of official culture all pretend "that they didn’t know what was going on." That way they can go along for the imperial ride as public figures and media stars, and then act shocked if it ever unravels, as it will.

But observe the pattern now as it unfolds. The new obscene theatre of war in which the poor and the unarmed are always the ones who suffer most is just the latest moment of a unilateralist campaign of attacks on international law by a minority-elected regime to render its puerile megalomania void against its own future violations of every one. All life security on the planet is what every move of this administration is structured to destabilize.

But we need not only to recognise that its rule by lies and perpetual threats marks this US administration as the world’s number one Rogue State. Every step of lawless aggression and unaccountability it takes requires the collaboration of those who tacitly consent to or side with it, still a reported slim majority of the American population. The real war is within America itself. It is really a question of whether the Republic stands, or is taken over by its basest elements, the money-and-war party that every great American statesman from Jefferson to Lincoln and Roosevelt has warned the country against.

John McMurtry

John McMurtry’s latest book, Value Wars: The Global Market versus the Life Economy, is now available from Pluto Press.

— from Economic Reform, November 2002