There’s an old joke in which a fellow natters on endlessly about himself. Finally, he turns to his friend and says, “Well, enough about me, how about you? What do you think of me?” Sometimes, we in the U.S. seem to be that guy. There are so many voices crucial to understanding our world that we seldom or never hear. They just aren’t attended to. This week at Tomdispatch, Nick Turse brought us the forgotten voices of a lost war in Vietnam and now Dahr Jamail offers voices from an ongoing lost war in Iraq. In many ways, we Americans, whether supporters or critics of the war, manage to fill all the roles when it comes to that country. Watch your TV set and ask yourself how often, in the last years, you’ve heard an ordinary Iraqi speaking at any length about his or her life — or seen the Iraqi equivalent of a “talking head.” We’ve talked our heads off about Iraq and yet how often have we even fulfilled the second part of that old joke and asked Iraqis what they thought of us — or the lives the United States has brought them?
Dahr Jamail has been an exception. If you pick up a copy of his riveting book, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, perhaps the most striking thing about it is how many Iraqi voices you do hear and what a different perspective they offer us on our version of their country. Here, then, is the latest from Jamail. Tom
“Reality Is Totally Different”
By: Dahr Jamail
This March 19 will be the fifth anniversary of the shock-and-awe air assault on Baghdad that signaled the opening of the invasion of Iraq, and when it comes to the American occupation of that country, no end is yet in sight. If Republican presidential candidate John McCain has anything to say about it, the occupation may never end. On January 7th, he assured reporters that he was more than fine with the idea of the U.S. military remaining in Iraq for 100 years. “We’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea 50 years or so… As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. That’s fine with me.”
He said nothing, of course, about Iraqis “injured or harmed or wounded or killed.” In fact, amid the flurries of words, accusations, and “debates” which have filled the airways and add up to the primary-season presidential campaign, there has been a near thunderous silence on Iraq lately — and especially on Iraqis.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll indicated that 64% of Americans now feel the war in Iraq was not worth fighting. American opinion on the war and occupation, in fact, seems remarkably unaffected by the positive spin — all those “success” stories in the mainstream media — of these post-surge months. The media now tells us that Iraq is going to be taking a distinct backseat to domestic economic issues, that Americans are no longer as concerned about it.
Once again, with rare exceptions, that media has had a hand in erasing the catastrophe of Iraq from the American landscape, if not the collective consciousness of the public. What, it occurred to me recently, do my friends and acquaintances back in Iraq (where I covered the occupation for eight months during the years 2003-2005) think not just about their lives and the fate of their country, but about our attitudes toward them? What do they think about the “success” — and the silence — in America?