“All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”
-- Dante Alighieri
“The way down to hell is easy. The gates…stand open day and night. But to retrace one’s steps and escape to upper air -- that is toil, that is labor.”
On March 22, 2003, the Department of Defense announced the identities of two Marines killed in action in Southern Iraq. Second Lieutenant Therrel S. Childers of Mississippi and Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez of California became the first Americans to die for the ambitions of the White House warlords and the little man with an inferiority complex who should never have become president -- even in his dreams.
History is a strange and fascinating tale. What historians make of this president will be a fiercely fought battle between those with integrity and those with a political agenda. While past presidencies have been held somewhat in check by the knowledge that historians will hold them to account, the current lot believes it is immune to historical judgment. They are determined to control the pen with which the tale is told. They will discredit all accounts contrary to their interests and reduce history itself to the basest form of propaganda.
If it were not so tragic, it would be amusing to observe the machinations of media in reporting the war and occupation of Iraq. In the absence of compelling distracter stories, they seem to have awakened from a long slumber (if only momentarily) to discover there is still a war going on. They pretend that the latest series of attacks represent a sudden upsurge in response to political events. In truth, the violence has been a steady rumble, geared only to opportunity, and the media treatment is a cover for their collective failure to report on the ongoing disaster.
On April 20, a fifth attempted assassination of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi fails, four Iraqis are killed and thirteen wounded in Baghdad. Three police officers are killed, nineteen bullet-ridden bodies are identified in Haditha, and fifty bodies float down the Tigres, confirming rumors of mass hostage taking and executions.
On April 22, a car bomb near a Baghdad mosque kills eleven and wounds 20, the bodies of nineteen soldiers are found near Baiji, a government official in Mosul is assassinated, and fourteen mercenaries are killed when their chopper is shot from the sky.
On April 23, a roadside bomb kills nine soldiers and wounds 20 outside Baghdad, another kills a civilian in Samarra, another on the road to the Baghdad airport kills one and wounds seven, more bombs kill two soldiers and injure three in Yusifiya, two civilians are killed in Baquba, and two more are killed in Basra with two children wounded.
President Bush appeals to Congress in his weekly radio address for another $81.9 billion for the war effort. His voice is confident and his words are optimistic. Progress is being made. The Iraqi security forces outnumber US forces. “Like free people everywhere, Iraqis want to be defended and led by their own countrymen.”
On April 24, bombs in Baghdad kill fifteen, wounding 40, while bombs in Tikrit kill six police and wound 35 unidentified others.
The march of death continues unabated, unaffected by the words of the president or the latest moves of the Iraqi government. The end of April and the beginning of May bring a torrent of violence, death and bloodshed. News stories roll out a daily death toll of mostly anonymous victims: 50, 70, 120, 140 dead and at least twice that many wounded. Occupation forces round up the usual suspects but indiscriminate mass arrests have no discernable effect. The violence continues. The civil war is on. A reporter reveals it now costs $35,000 for a six-mile taxi ride to the airport. Lacking a small mercenary army, you cannot get in and you cannot get out.
Welcome to Baghdad: The Gates of Hell are open for business.
Like the fall of Saddam, the appointment of an interim government and the election, itself, the christening of a new ministry did not have the desired effect. The vast majority of casualties on the side of the occupying forces are no longer American soldiers; they are allied Iraqis, police, militia and contractors -- the euphemism of choice for mercenaries. How much is a man paid to enter the Gates of Hell and descend to its lower depths like Dante and his guide Virgil? It is a closely guarded secret and one reason for the extraordinary cost of this endeavor. There is a special place in Dante’s inferno for those who perform evil deeds for money and an even crueler place for those who paid the hired torturers, killers and assassins so that their hands would remain unstained.
Iraq may not approach the mind-numbing destruction of Vietnam but it is more resembling Algiers with every passing day. For those who require historical review, Algiers was the last stop for French ambitions of a new Napoleonic era. At the beginning of the Muslim uprising, the insurgents were demeaned as terrorists and thugs. The insurgency would never last. The people of Algiers loved their French masters. The people of France, though never directly consulted, supported the continued occupation. The Battle of Algiers raged on for six years. At every turn, the French proclaimed imminent victory. At every turn, they were wrong. Indiscriminate killings, mass imprisonment, torture, bombs carried in baskets by women and children, assassinations, strikes, and the insurgency refused to die. It would calm until the occupiers grew complacent and then it would erupt again. After six years of costly failure, the endgame was clear (in fact, it was always clear) and the verdict in French public opinion finally sealed its fate. Though they left a nation torn and tattered, impoverished and divided, the occupation of Algiers failed. Historically, the only occupations that ever succeeded were those that employed mass murder and genocide (i.e., the conquest of North America).
The occupation of Iraq will reach the same inevitable conclusion as Algiers. It is only a question of how long and how costly. Much depends on the verdict of the American people. We have been shielded from the daily horrors of Iraq but we cannot escape our fair share of responsibility. It would be too easy to fix all of the blame for the atrocities of this war at the president’s feet but it would be neither just nor accurate. He has had his collaborators, beginning with Tony Blair and ending with those who sold out at first sighting of the purple finger of fate.
The White House has the excuse of rose-colored glasses. They were blinded by their own twisted sense of destiny. The turncoats should have known better than to believe in the value of a media controlled event. They would have known if they were not so eager to cut and run.
It is difficult being right in America today. It is difficult to maintain a career in the media and oppose governmental outrage. It is difficult proclaiming the obvious: that both dominant parties are wrong, have been wrong, and will continue to be wrong as long as money is on the table.
“All we like sheep have gone astray.”
-- Isaiah (53:6).
Critics of the Bush administration are wrong when they claim that the warlords are victims of their own faith. If they had any faith at all, they would dismantle the Gates of Hell now while it is still possible. If they believed in the sanctity of life and the rewards of virtue, they would have ended the suffering long ago.
“Long is the way and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.”
-- John Milton.
I did not know Therrel Childers or Jose Gutierrez. I did not know their friends, loved ones and families though I am relatively certain they had them. I did not know their mothers or fathers or the enduring grief they must live with as the years of absence accumulate. I do not know the names of the first Iraqis to die in this war but I am no less certain they had friends, loved ones and families as well. I am certain that their sorrow and grief is no less enduring. I am certain that their numbers are far greater and their nightmare is the ongoing hell of their daily lives under the occupation of their native land.
Jack Random is the author of Ghost
Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles,
Volumes I and II. The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the
Albion Monitor, FirstPeoplesCentury, Trinicenter, Global Research and other
notable sites. The Jazzman Chronicles are available at
City Lights Bookstore
in SF. Visit his website:
May Day: The
Rise & Fall of the Middle Class