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Essay

Issue 356

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I’d like to know
As the US-led war on Iraq rages, Eduardo Galeano wonders what George W Bush knows that we don’t.

In the middle of last year, while he was cooking up this war, George W Bush declared that 'we must be ready to attack in any dark corner of the world'. I guess Iraq must be a dark corner of the world. Does Bush think Texas was the cradle of civilization and his fellow Texans invented writing? Has he never heard of the Library at Nineveh or the Tower of Babel or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Does he not know any of the stories of A Thousand and One Nights?

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Who elected the president of the planet? No-one ever asked me to vote in those elections. What about you?

Would we elect a president who is incapable of listening to anything but the echo of his own voice? Deaf to the unceasing thunder of millions upon millions of voices in the streets of the world declaring peace on war?

He can't even listen to the affectionate advice of Günter Grass. The German writer understood that Bush needed to prove something to his father and he suggested seeing a psychiatrist instead of bombing Iraq.

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In 1898, President William McKinley said God had given the order for the US to remain in the Philippines to civilize and Christianize its inhabitants. McKinley said he spoke with God on a midnight stroll down the halls of the White House. Over a century later President Bush swears God is on his side in the conquest of Iraq. Where and when did he receive the divine word?

And why would God give such contradictory orders to Bush and to the Pope?

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War was declared in the name of an international community which is sick and tired of war. And, as usual, war was declared in the name of peace.

It's not about oil, they say. But if Iraq produced radishes instead of oil, who would ever think of invading it?

Bush, Cheney and sweet Condoleezza, have they really resigned from their high-flying jobs in the oil industry? Why is Tony Blair so obsessed with the Iraqi dictator? Could it be because 30 years ago Saddam Hussein nationalized the British Iraq Petroleum Company? How many wells will Spain's Prime Minister Aznar get when they divvy up the spoils?

Consumer society, drunk on oil, is trembling with panic - withdrawal symptoms? Iraq's black elixir is the cheapest and, perhaps, the most plentiful.

At a peace march in New York a sign asked: 'How did our oil get under their sand?'

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The United States predicts a long post-war military occupation. Its generals will take charge of turning Iraq into a democracy. Will it be a democracy like the ones they bestowed on Haiti, the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua? They occupied Haiti for 19 years and set up a military regime that became the Duvalier dictatorship. They occupied the Dominican Republic for nine years and erected the Trujillo dictatorship. They occupied Nicaragua for 21 years and founded the Somoza family dictatorship.

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The Somoza dynasty, which the Marines set upon the throne, lasted half a century, until 1979 when it was swept away by the people's anger. President Ronald Reagan then climbed on his horse and rode off to save his country from the threat of the Sandinista Revolution. Nicaragua, poor among the poor, had all of five elevators plus one escalator that didn't work. But Reagan declared Nicaragua a threat and while he spoke on television a red stain spread northward across the map of the United States to illustrate the imminent invasion. Will President Bush repeat this cold bath of fear? Will Bush say Iraq where Reagan said Nicaragua?

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Newspaper headlines in the days before the war: 'United States Ready to Resist Attack.'

Record sales of duct tape, gas masks, anti-radiation pills... Why is the executioner more afraid than the victim? Is it just a climate of collective hysteria? Or does the executioner sense the consequences of his acts? Suppose Iraq's oil sets the world on fire? Could this war be the vitamin that international terrorism has been waiting for?

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They tell us that Saddam Hussein succours the fanatics of al-Qaeda. A breeder of vultures, so poke out his eyes? Islamic fundamentalists loathe him. They consider satanic a country where people watch Hollywood movies, many schools teach English, the Muslim majority does nothing to prevent Christians from sporting crucifixes on their breasts, and it is not uncommon to see women in pants and daring blouses.

There wasn't a single Iraqi among the terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers in New York. Nearly all of them were from Saudi Arabia, the US's best customer in the entire world. Also a Saudi is Osama bin Laden, the villain on horseback chased by satellites across the desert, who answers the call as professional ogre every time Bush has need of his services.

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Did you know that in 1953 President Eisenhower said 'preventive war' was invented by Hitler? He said: 'Frankly, I would not even listen to anyone seriously that came and talked about such a thing.'

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The United States makes and sells more weapons than any other country in the world. It is also the only country that has used atomic bombs against a civilian population. And the US is always, by habit and tradition, at war with someone. Who threatens world peace? Iraq?

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Iraq doesn't respect the resolutions of the United Nations? Does Bush, who just gave international law the most spectacular kick in the behind? What about Israel, a professional at ignoring the UN? Iraq has contravened 17 UN resolutions; Israel has contravened 64. Will Bush bomb his most loyal ally?

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Iraq was devastated in 1991 by the war of Bush the Father and was pushed to the brink of famine by the sanctions that followed. What weapons of mass destruction could this massively destroyed country hide?

Israel, which since 1967 has usurped Palestinian lands, boasts an arsenal of atomic bombs that guarantees its impunity. And Pakistan, another loyal ally that also happens to be a notorious nest of terrorists, puts its own nuclear weapons on display. But the enemy is Iraq because it 'could possess' such weapons. If it had them, like North Korea claims to have, would the US be so quick to attack?

And what about chemical and biological weapons? Who sold Saddam Hussein the raw materials for fabricating the poison gases that suffocated the Kurds, as well as the helicopters that launched them? Why doesn't Bush show off the receipts?

In those years, years of war against Iran, war against the Kurds, was Saddam less of a dictator than he is today? Donald Rumsfeld himself visited him on a mission of friendship. Why is the plight of the Kurds cause for compassion now and not before? And why only for the Kurds of Iraq and not the many more numerous Kurds murdered by Turkey?

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Defence Secretary Rumsfeld says his country will use 'non-lethal gases' against Iraq. Will they be as barely lethal as the ones Putin used last year in a Moscow theatre that killed more than 100 hostages?

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For a few days the United Nations hung a curtain over Picasso's Guernica so that such disagreeable scenery would not distract from Colin Powell's clarion call. How big a curtain will they need to hide the butchery in Iraq, given the utter censorship the Pentagon has imposed on war correspondents?

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Where will the souls of the Iraqi victims go? According to the Reverend Billy Graham, spiritual advisor to President Bush and celestial surveyor, Paradise is rather small: it measures only 1,500 square miles. The chosen will be few. A riddle: Which country will have bought up nearly all the tickets?

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Eduardo Galeano is one of Latin America’s foremost writers who lives in Montevideo. His latest book, Upside Down, is published by Metropolitan Books, New York.
Translated by Mark Fried.

And a final question, borrowed from John Le Carré:

'Will they kill many people, dad?'

'No-one that you know, dear. Only foreigners.'

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