In the early 20th century the American satirist Ambrose Bierce said, “War is God's way of teaching Americans geography”. For the 21st century the truth still resonates, more so if we replace the updated jargon, “the coalition of the willing”, for “Americans”.
The phrase itself has a particularly eerie biblical symbolism, especially “the willing”. It is like “the damned”, “the virtuous” or the “the raptured”.
In regards to the second war with Iraq, the satire present in Bierce’s phrase captures the religious undertones of the coalition’s campaign, as well as the continued cultural and geo-political ignorance suffered by many concerned citizens of the West.
God may be using war to teach the US, UK, Australian, Korean, Polish, Japanese, Romanian, Georgian, Danish and other governments Iraqi geography, but he certainly has used the two major leaders of this coalition - Blair and Bush - in a cheap trick of blind belief (though the Almighty has worked in mysterious ways, from time to time).
We who seek justifications for the war in Iraq can no longer be satisfied with such justifications as the need to locate weapons of mass destruction, overthrow a dictator, secure a monopoly of a global commodity, or settle regional tension. Nor can we accept that this war started with the word of God into Bush’s ear and ends with the word of God into Blair’s ear.
In a moment of spiritual reflection, which should have been confined to a diary or Mrs Blair, the Prime Minister said on the Parkinson program on March 4, 2006 that God will be the ultimate judge of his actions in invading Iraq. “If you have faith about these things then you realise that judgment is made by other people. If you believe in God, it’s made by God as well,” Blair said.
Taken by itself, Blair’s comment is not particularly illuminating or shocking, but it does mark the most irrational kind of theory in a series of myth-making theories that have been tried and tested to describe the presence of the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq.
A good way to summarise these theories is to imagine the way the Iraq war might be taught in a victor’s high school history textbook.
Theory 1: The Iraq war was motivated by the US’ desire to overthrow a dictator, Saddam Hussein, who was a threat to the Iraqi people and to the world at large, by withholding and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Hussein was successfully tried and convicted of committing gross human rights abuse. As yet no weapons of mass destruction have been found. Assess and discuss.
Our children might learn that dictators all over the world have not only oppressed their people, happily knowing that the US will not interfere, but that in many cases the US has happily assisted dictators to maintain geo-political control in their respective regions - such as in the case of Idi Amin’s Uganda, both Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier’s Haiti, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Pinochet’s Chile, Afghanistan and Mobuto Sese Seko’s Zaire.
Our children might also discuss how Hans Blix, Bill Tierney, David Kay and Scott Ritter debunked the “weapons of mass destruction” thesis.
Yet for good history, one needs context. The second theory might present a more measured analysis of the Iraq war within its geo-political context:
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