Andy Stone: Where have all the flowers gone?
April 3, 2003
They were supposed to greet us with flowers. With blessings. With dancing and song.
They were supposed to greet us as liberators.
(And if you want to know who said that – well, it was Vice President Dick Cheney, for one. On March 16, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he said, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”)
But they’re not throwing flowers, are they? Our troops are being greeted with bullets. Up north, some of the Kurds aren’t throwing flowers either. Today I saw videotape of Kurds throwing rocks at American troops.
Never mind the great debate over whether anyone said it was going to be “easy.” War is never easy – and if they were dishonest enough to tell us it would be easy and we were stupid enough to believe them … well, the liars and the fools can dance down that primrose path to hell together.
But it was easier to believe that we would be greeted as liberators. Saddam is a violent, repressive dictator. He has ground his nation and his people beneath his heel. He has killed hundreds of thousands, caused the deaths of perhaps millions. He has looted his country.
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How can they not greet us as liberators?
The easiest explanation is the very reasonable one given by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: Those who remain loyal to Saddam have guns to the heads of the rest of the nation – literally, not figuratively. People know they will be killed if they side with the Americans.
Certainly there’s truth there. And it does give us cause to hope that things will eventually take a turn for the better.
But there are other reasons – good reasons – for Iraqis to resist us. Indeed, to hate us.
For one, though we come in the name of liberty, we are causing great death and destruction.
Yes, it is true – if one steps back and gets it all in perspective – that Saddam’s rule has caused far more death and destruction than our invasion.
But right now, with the bombs falling and the screams of the dying in their ears, the Iraqis can’t step back and get it all in perspective. All they know is that we are bombing them, shooting them, killing thousands, including women and children. We are destroying their homes.
It doesn’t matter that this is the most humane, careful, precise war in history. It doesn’t matter that we are going to great lengths and taking great risks to avoid civilian casualties. The reality is too harsh to ignore.
In the name of freedom, we are bringing death. How can they welcome us? And then there is the fact that we are invading and conquering their homeland.
It is hard for Iraqis to understand why their nation must be defeated, subjugated, forced to grovel, before it can be free. The Iraqis are ashamed at their defeat, ashamed that they could not free themselves.
No nation can gladly welcome invaders. And, say what you will about our motives, we are foreign invaders. Of that there is no doubt. The reality is clear and harsh.
The Arab world – indeed, much of the entire world – says we are invading for oil, for domination, to eradicate their religion. How can they welcome us?
But there’s another reason still.
We may represent liberation. We may represent freedom. But despite that – or, perhaps, because of that – we represent the unknown.
What the Iraqis have now may be terrible. But at least it is theirs. What we are offering them, what we are forcing on them, is something they do not understand. It is something they cannot trust, because they do not know what it is. Freedom, for them, is just a word.
And change is terrifying.
Saddam Hussein has ruled Iraq for almost 25 years. It is likely that a majority of the Iraqi people have never known any other way of life. Saddam is all they know.
Let me tell you a very short story.
When my wife and I lived in Spain in the late 1980s, we had a friend who was a young, hip intellectual. He was an artist. Well-educated. Liberal.
Once, in a late-night discussion, we began to talk about Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the dictator who – though no Saddam Hussein – had ruled Spain with an iron fist for many decades.
Franco had died more than 10 years earlier and we asked our friend how he had felt when he learned that Franco had died – how he felt when he learned he was going to be free.
He thought for a moment, frowned, and said, “I cried.”
He saw the look of surprise on our faces and hurried to explain. “I was young,” he said. “Franco was all I had known. He was like … a father to us all.”
A vicious, repressive, murderous dictator – but still “a father to us all.”
That was Franco 30 years ago and, for many Iraqis, hard though it may be for us to believe, that is Saddam Hussein today.
And, when a father is killed, evil though he may be, the children mourn – and they are afraid.
They do not throw flowers.
[Andy Stone is the former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]