Covering Up US War Crimes In Iraq
By James Petras
I am reading William Shirer's Berlin Diary, a journalist's account of Nazi political propaganda during the 1930s, as I watch the US “news” reports of the violent assault on Fallujah.
The US mass media “reports”, the style, content and especially the language, echo their Nazi predecessors of 70 years ago to an uncanny degree. Coincidence? Of course! In both instances we have imperialist armies conquering countries, levelling cities and slaughtering civilians — and the mass media, private in form, state appendages in practice, disseminate the most outrageous lies, in defense and praise of the conquering “storm troopers” — call them SS or marines.
Both in Nazi Germany and contemporary US, we are told by the mass media that the invading armies are “freeing the country” of “foreign fighters” and “armed terrorists”, who are preventing “the people” from going about their everyday lives. Yet we know that of the 1000 prisoners there are only four foreigners (three Iranians and one Arab); Iraqi hospitals report less than 10% of casualties are foreign fighters. In other words, over 90% of the fighters are Iraqis — most of whom were born, educated and raised families in the cities in which they are fighting.
Like the Nazi media, the major US radio and TV networks only report what they call “military casualties” — failing to report the civilians killed since the war started and the thousands of women and children killed and wounded since the assault on Fallujah began.
Like in Nazi Germany, the US mass media feature unconfirmed reports by the US military of the bloody murders, beheadings and kidnappings “by the foreign terrorists”. The unconditional support of Nazi/US mass media for the killing fields is best captured in their reports of the massive bombing of densely populated city districts. For the US network NBC, the dropping of 500-pound bombs in the city of Fallujah is described as targeting an “insurgent tunnel network in the city”. And the houses, markets, stores — the mothers and children above those tunnels — vaporised into “pink mist”, their existence never acknowledged by the leading reporters and broadcasters.
Almost the entire population of non-Kurdish Iraq is opposed to the US military and its puppet regime — yet the media refer to the patriots defending their country from the imperial invaders as “insurgents”, minimising the significance of a nationwide patriotic liberation movement. One of the most surreal euphemisms is the constant reference to the “coalition forces” — meaning the US colonial conquerors and the mercenaries and satraps that they direct and control.
The terror bombing of homes, hospitals and religious buildings by hundreds of airplanes and helicopter gunships is described by the media as “securing the city for free elections”.
“Freeing the city of insurgents” includes the systematic murder of friends, neighbours and relatives of every Iraqi living in the city of Fallujah. “Surrounding the insurgents” means cutting off water, electricity and medical aid for 200,000 civilians in the city and putting tens of thousands who fled under threat of a typhoid epidemic. “Pacifying the city” involves turning it to absolute desolate poisoned rubble.
Why do Washington and the mass media resort to gross, systematic lying and euphemisms? Basically to reinforce mass support at home for mass murder in Iraq. The mass media fabricates a web of lies to secure a gloss of legitimacy for totalitarian methods in order that the US armed forces can continue to destroy cities with impunity.
The technique perfected by Goebbels in Germany and practiced in the US is to repeat lies and euphemisms until they become accepted “truths”, and embedded in everyday language. The mass media by effectively routinising a common language implicates the listeners. The tactical concerns of the generals, the commanders directing the slaughter (pacification), and the soldiers murdering civilians are explained (and consumed by the millions listening and watching) by the unchallenged authorities to the compliant journalists and famous news anchors.
The unity of purpose between the agents of mass murder and everyday US public is established via “news reports”: The soldiers “paint the names” of their wives and sweethearts on the tanks and armoured vehicles that destroy Iraqi families and turn Fallujah into ruins. Returning soldiers from Iraq are “interviewed” who want to return to “be with their platoon” and “wipe out the terrorists”.
Not all of US combat forces experienced the joys of shooting civilians. Medical studies report that one out of five returning soldiers are suffering from severe psychological trauma, no doubt from witnessing or participating in the mass killing of civilians. The family of one returned soldier, who recently committed suicide, reported that he constantly referred to his killing of an unarmed child in the streets of Iraq — calling himself a “murderer”.
Aside from these notable exceptions, the mass propaganda media practise several techniques, which assuage the “conscience” of US soldiers and civilians. One technique is “role reversal” to attribute the crimes of the invading force to the victims: It is not the soldiers who cause destruction of cities and murder, but the Iraqi families who 'protect the terrorists' and “bring upon themselves the savage bombardment”.
The second technique is to only report US casualties from “terrorist bombs” — to omit any mention of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed by US bombs and artillery. Both Nazi and US propaganda glorify the “heroism”, “success” of their elite forces (the SS and the Marines) — in killing “terrorists” or “insurgents” — every dead civilian is counted as a “suspected terrorist sympathiser”.
The US and German military have declared every civilian building a “storehouse” or “hiding place” for “terrorists'—hence the absolutely total disregard of all the Geneva laws of warfare. The US and Nazi practice of 'total war' in which whole communities, neighbourhoods and entire cities are collectively guilty of shielding 'wanted terrorists'—is of course the standard operating military procedure of the Israeli government.
The US publicises the cruel and unusual punishment of Iraqi “suspects” (any male between 14 and 60 years old) taken prisoner: photos appear in Time and Newsweek of barefoot, blindfolded and bound young men led from their homes and pushed into trucks to be taken to “exploitation centres” for interrogation. For many in the US public these pictures are part of the success story — they are told these are the “terrorists” who would blow up US homes.
For the majority who voted for US President George Bush, the mass propaganda media has taught them to believe that the extermination of scores of thousands of Iraqi citizens is in their best interests: they can sleep sound, as long as “our boys” kill them “over there”.
Above all the mass propaganda media has done everything possible to deny Iraqi national consciousness. Every day in every way the reference is to religious loyalties, ethnic identities, past political labels, “tribal” and family clans. The purpose is to divide and conquer, and to present the world with a “chaotic” Iraq in which the only coherent, stable force is the US colonial regime. The purpose of the savage colonial assaults and the political labelling is to destroy the idea of the Iraqi nation — and in its place to substitute a series of mini-entities run by imperial satraps obedient to Washington.
Sunday morning: November 14. Today Fallujah is being raped and razed, captured. Wounded prisoners are shot in the mosques. In New York, the mega-malls are crowded with shoppers.
Sunday afternoon: the Marines have blocked food, water and medicine from entering Fallujah. Throughout the US millions of men sit in front of the television watching football.
Shirer reported that, while the Nazis invaded and ravaged Belgium and bombed Rotterdam, in Berlin the cafes were full, the symphony played and people walked their dogs in the park on sunny Sunday afternoons.
Yes, there are differences between Shirer's account of Nazi propaganda in defense of the conquest of Europe and the US media's apology for the invasion of Iraq and Israel's slaughter of the Palestinians: One is committed in the name of the Fuehrer and the Fatherland, the other in the name of God and Democracy. Go tell that to the bloated corpses gnawed by dogs in the ruins of Fallujah.
[James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked. He can be reached at: .]
From Green Left Weekly, December 1, 2004.