Andy Stone: Iraq’s bad behavior a sign of guilt?
It is sad – tragic, really – that everyone is behaving so badly in Iraq. And I do mean everyone, Americans and Iraqis alike.
Does it matter? Yes, very much. We have won the war – such as it was – but we could easily lose the much larger battle. And with so much hanging in
the balance, behavior – ours and theirs – truly matters. Very much.
America’s bad behavior has been so thoroughly aired and so hotly debated that it isn’t worth spending too much time on at this point.
Our saddest shortcoming would seem to have been our failure to stop the widespread looting, most particularly, of course, the theft and wanton destruction at Iraq’s National Museum and National Library.
Yet, sad as that was, even worse was the shameful behavior of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who refused to even acknowledge that the destruction was unfortunate.
It would have made a vast difference if he had simply had the character and graciousness to say, “The loss of these priceless treasures was tragic, for Iraq and the world. We deeply regret it.”
But he is apparently congenitally unable to admit any error – even the smallest, even in the moment of his own greatest triumph.
So be it. As I said, our bad behavior has been discussed at length.
More puzzling, to be sure, is the blatant hostility of so many Iraqis toward the American troops.
While much of the world may debate the legitimacy of the American invasion, the Iraqis themselves surely know that – however suspect our motives may have been – they were rescued from a truly evil dictator.
When we see mass graves unearthed on television, perhaps we are learning something new about Saddam Hussein. But it was the Iraqis themselves whose teeth were broken with pliers, whose wives and daughters were raped, whose relatives were tortured, whose fathers, husbands and sons were arrested, murdered and sometimes returned to their homes in small bloody pieces.
The Iraqis know the horror from which they have been saved.
And yet, the Iraqis turn on those who saved them. They march through the streets chanting anti-American slogans. They blame Americans for the looting, though all the looters are most certainly Iraqis. They attack, and sometimes kill, American soldiers in the streets.
What is going on here?
Part of it, perhaps, is a very understandable sense of shame.
Saddam Hussein was no foreigner. He was an Iraqi. His regime was supported by Iraqis. Not just those who murdered, raped and tortured, but those who provided the armed might that stood behind the criminals – the police, the army, the Ba’ath Party.
But there were many more than that.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was reported that as many as one out of every three East Germans worked for the Secret Police, spying and informing on the others. Husbands informed on wives, wives on husbands. Children spied on their parents. Brother spied on brother.
It requires an apparatus of evil on that scale to hold an entire nation in subjugation.
And so it must have been in Iraq. If not one out of every three, then perhaps one out of five. We know that no Iraqis ever felt safe expressing their true feelings, except to the tiniest handful of their oldest and closest friends. And perhaps not even then.
If the numbers hold true – one out of five – there were perhaps as many as 5 million Iraqis who, for money or power or privilege, informed on their fellow countrymen and condemned them to the depths of hell in Saddam’s torture chambers.
With that in their immediate past, it is not surprising that many Iraqis are deeply ashamed of themselves – and fiercely eager to shift the blame.
And who else is there to blame? Only the Americans.
For many Iraqis, truly thanking America for their freedom would mean admitting their own shameful guilt and failure.
But, even beyond this, there is another way of looking at the current chaos in Iraq. It is metaphorical. It is Biblical. It is most certainly specific and appropriate to this tiny corner of the world.
We are told in the Old Testament that when Moses led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the desert for 40 years before they entered the Promised Land.
If you look at a map, it is clear that this was by no means a 40-year journey. The distances involved are very small.
When I was in religious school, we were taught that the 40 years of wandering were required so that those who had lived as slaves could grow old and die and a new generation, born into freedom, could come of age.
For the Jews to create a nation, they had to be a strong and free people. They had to find strength and courage in the wilderness and emerge into freedom.
The Iraqis are now lost in that same wilderness, trying to find the strength to create their own nation once again.
We can only hope that it will take far, far less than 40 years.
This time, the world cannot wait that long.
[Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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