What Do We Do Now?

by Howard Zinn
Progressive Magazine

It seems very hard for some people–especially those in high places, but also those striving for high places–to grasp a simple truth: The United States does not belong in Iraq. It is not our country. Our presence is causing death, suffering, destruction, and so large sections of the population are rising against us. Our military is then reacting with indiscriminate force, bombing and shooting and rounding up people simply on “suspicion.”

Amnesty International, a year after the invasion, reported: “Scores of unarmed people have been killed due to excessive or unnecessary use of lethal force by coalition forces during public demonstrations, at checkpoints, and in house raids. Thousands of people have been detained [estimates range from 8,500 to 15,000], often under harsh conditions, and subjected to prolonged and often unacknowledged detention. Many have been tortured or ill-treated, and some have died in custody.”

The recent battles in Fallujah brought this report from Amnesty International: “Half of at least 600 people who died in the recent fighting between Coalition forces and insurgents in Fallujah are said to have been civilians, many of them women and children.”

In light of this, any discussion of “What do we do now?” must start with the understanding that the present U.S. military occupation is morally unacceptable.

The suggestion that we simply withdraw from Iraq is met with laments: “We mustn’t cut and run. . . . We must stay the course. . . . Our reputation will be ruined. . . .” That is exactly what we heard when, at the start of the Vietnam escalation, some of us called for immediate withdrawal. The result of staying the course was 58,000 Americans and several million Vietnamese dead.

“We can’t leave a vacuum there.” I think it was John Kerry who said that. What arrogance to think that when the United States leaves a place there’s nothing there! The same kind of thinking saw the enormous expanse of the American West as “empty territory” waiting for us to occupy it, when hundreds of thousands of Indians lived there already.

The history of military occupations of Third World countries is that they bring neither democracy nor security. The long U.S. occupation of the Philippines, following a bloody war in which American troops finally subdued the Filipino independence movement, did not lead to democracy, but rather to a succession of dictatorships, ending with Ferdinand Marcos.

The long U.S. occupations of Haiti (1915-1934) and the Dominican Republic (1916-1926) led only to military rule and corruption in both countries.

The only rational argument for continuing on the present course is that things will be worse if we leave. There will be chaos, there will be civil war, we are told. In Vietnam, supporters of the war promised a bloodbath if U.S. troops withdrew. That did not happen.
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