by Robert Jensen
The Defense Department's "Defend
America" Web site reads, "Dear member of the U.S.
military: Thank you for defending our freedom." Fill in
your name and hometown and click to join the more than 2 million
who have sent the message.
The sentiment seems hard to argue with. No matter what one
thinks of the coming war against Iraq, can't we all send such
a message to those who serve?
Not if we want to be honest about U.S. war plans, for those
troops won't be defending our freedom but defending America's
control over the strategically crucial energy resources of the
Middle East. They will be in the service of the empire, fighting
a war for the power and profits of the few, not freedom for the
To some, that statement may seem disrespectful. But resistance
to the coming war against Iraq doesn't
signal a lack of respect for those who do the fighting. I never
have served in the military, but my family and friends have,
and I have empathy for people on the front lines who face the
If I truly am to respect them as human beings and as
fellow citizens I should be willing to state clearly my
objections to this war.
That requires distinguishing between the rhetoric and the
reality of U.S. foreign and military policy. Every great power
claims noble motives for its wars, but such claims usually cover
an uglier reality, and we are no different.
For most of the post-World War II era, the United States'
use of force against weaker nations was justified as necessary
to stop Soviet plans for world conquest. The Soviet regime was
authoritarian, brutal and interventionist in its own sphere,
and it eventually acquired the capacity to destroy us with nuclear
But the claim that the Soviets were a global military threat
to our existence also was a political weapon to frighten Americans
into endorsing wars to suppress independent development in the
Third World and accepting a permanent wartime economy.
With the Soviet Union gone, American planners needed a new
justification for the military machine.
International terrorism may prove more durable a rationale, for
organizations such as al-Qaeda are a real threat, and we have
a right to expect our government to take measures to protect
But the question is: Which measures are most effective?
U.S. intelligence officials have acknowledged that the U.S.
attack on Afghanistan did little to reduce the threat and may
have complicated counterterrorism efforts. But the war was effective
at justifying a
continuing U.S. military presence in Central Asia. A war against
Iraq, being marketed as part of the war on terrorism, is even
more obviously about U.S. control of the region's oil.
So, we have to separate what may motivate people in the armed
forces from the real role of the U.S.
I have no doubt that many of the people who serve believe
they are fighting for freedom, an honorable
goal we should respect. But they are doing that for a government
with a different objective to shore up U.S. power and guarantee
the profits of an elite that we shouldn't support.
There is no disrespect in urging fellow citizens who have
joined the military to ask, "What am I really fightin for?"
and, "Who really benefits from the risks I take?"
If we civilians truly care about the troops as well
as the innocent people of Iraq who will die in a war we
should make it clear to Washington that we won't support wars
for power and instead demand a sane foreign policy that seeks
real freedom and justice, not dominance and control.
My message to the troops would be: "Thank you for being
willing to defend freedom, but please join the resistance to
this unjust war."
That is a message of support for the troops and a plea for
solidarity among ordinary people who want to build a better world,
not serve the empire.
It is a reminder that, as John McCutcheon put it so eloquently
in song: "The ones who call the shots won't be among the
dead and lame/And on each end of the rifle we're the same."
Robert Jensen is the author of Writing Dissent: Taking
Radical Ideas From the Margins to the Mainstream and a journalism
professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
©2002 Belo Interactive
Published on Wednesday, January 1, 2003 by the Dallas Morning