NATIONAL STRATEGY FOR VICTORY IN IRAQ
"Our mission in Iraq is to win the war. Our troops will return home when that mission is complete." (George W. Bush - Excerpts: National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, Nov. 30, 2005)
There was a time when 'war on terror' was not part of our vocabulary. Then the phrase was coined, used repeatedly and with emotional emphasis, and soon it became natural to say these words and to understand that they referred to something real - something that had an inevitability about it. Today, we have a new phrase to contend with, 'victory in Iraq', given renewed emotional emphasis by the recent publication of the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" along with the speech by President Bush that accompanied it.
As part of our ongoing process of learning to discern truth and of coming to understand how language affects thought and feeling, it is important to take note of this recent publication and of the discussion which followed. In his well-publicized remarks, President Bush said that he will not accept "anything less than complete victory" in Iraq. Here, the words of importance are 'victory' and 'complete', the latter signifying an intensity of purpose and commitment to be followed through upon. Today, just a few days later, much of the speech may have faded into the background, but the word, 'victory', still stands out as the new emphasis within the administration's efforts to persuade both the nation and the world that continued war in Iraq is needed - needed in order to safeguard American security and freedom at home and to uphold her image and credibility abroad.
'Victory' means defeating the enemy, not just making modest gains, or entering into a dialogue with, or finding a different arena within which to discuss or influence, but defeating the 'enemy' on the present battleground. The choice of language is important, representing a framing ideology of polarization ('us' against 'them') and of intent.
As with past speeches regarding the situation in Iraq, the justification for war aims to be complete, appealing to both mind and heart and especially to our sense of patriotism and honor. This is why the phrase which most often accompanies the word 'victory' as its polar opposite, is 'cut and run', as if to say: America will always be victorious (courageous, strong, and determined), and never 'cut and run' (be weak, cowardly, or shame-faced). A little thought will make it clear that there are other words that could have been used in this discussion, but none are so well suited to the purpose at hand as the two which polarize those who are brave and honorable against those who are weak and cowardly.
Let us understand that every war is fought using this kind of language or something similar. Every war seeks justification in the hearts of the people who suffer as a result of it. Every war involves polarization. At this time we need to recognize that a choice is being made (in reality, 'continues to be made') to pursue something that will have far-reaching consequences. For not only does America's 'victory' become a rallying cry for the people of America. It also becomes a call-to-arms for all those who object to our policies and practices - those who fear the loss of their own country, culture, and religious identity. The parallel attitudes of fear, anger, and resoluteness embedded in the language of the National Strategy for Victory are equally present among those who are opposed to the strong and continuing American presence in the Middle East. These parallels are remarkable and extensive. Thus, the pursuit of 'victory' on our side becomes a rallying point for all who wish to stand against us, against what is perceived as an American drive for dominance in the Arab world. There are an increasing number who are determined to contain this expanding American initiative, by whatever means necessary.
Within Al-Qaeda and within terrorist groups loosely associated with it, there is a dual motivation that grows with each American proclamation of determination and with each revelation of abuse of power. On the one hand, there is a motivation for containment of an occupying force. On the other, there is a response to the humiliation and degradation of a people. There are, now, seemingly endless stories of inhumane American treatment of detainees, prisoners and, in an ever-growing number of reports, of harm caused to Iraqi civilians and their families. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, secret prisons, 'black sites', extraordinary rendition, military tribunals - our vocabulary reflecting the corruption of power grows with each new instance of abuse, and new additions are continually being added to the existing list. The inhumane treatment of those held in U.S. custody adds to the motivation of 'containment', the motivation of retribution for personal humiliation. Containment of an 'invading' culture (namely, the U.S. and its allies), and redress for the humiliation and harm committed against members of one's own culture, become, then, the two central pillars of Al-Qaeda's hatred of the U.S. and of their own aspirations toward victory.
Let us mark this date of Nov. 30th and surround it with a prayer for grace and benevolence - for on this date a 'call-to-arms' was more explicitly issued by President Bush. Let us hope that its effect can be softened without eliciting the very same battle cry by those who equally seek a 'victory' that can only be achieved by America's downfall. Amen.
Exiting Iraq: Strategies for Bush, BBC, Paul Reynolds
"But those who think that Mr Bush is about to "declare victory and leave", as Senator George Aiken once suggested for Vietnam, are likely to be disappointed... Mr. Bush is a resolute character and does not want to go down as the man who lost Iraq... Indeed all the signs are that he feels he is on a mission...And that means that if US forces are felt to be needed, they will be provided."
Bush Iraq Speech Splits US Press, quoting a report from the Los Angeles Times)
"In many ways his speech was an artful domestic tightrope walk, one in which he forcefully rejected his critics' calls for an immediate troop pullout - or even a timetable for one - and repeated the applause lines cherished by his core supporters."
Also, from the Light Omega website: The Language of War,
The purpose of Light Omega is to bring us all into greater
planetary consciousness with awareness of the suffering
of others and with a willingness to remain awake to the
challenges, dangers, and possibilities we face today.
WHAT PRICE VICTORY
The following poem called "What Price Victory" came in response both to the manipulation of language described above, and also to the ongoing sadness for the many Iraqis who have died during the war in Iraq, while remaining nameless and faceless for much of America.
* * *
What price victory? - what word - what sound -
That hangs like a tattered banner from the roof of an ancient building
whose walls are crumbling, whose steps are no longer walked upon,
whose rooms are empty.
A trumpet cry, meant to call the hearts of men to battle,
to stir the blood of the young and eager.
There is true victory, over the inner forces that seek to limit and distort,
And there is victory the impostor,
the pretender to the throne of truth,
dancing and strutting upon the stage of emotion like the Pied Piper,
saying "come this way," I am what you want.
This pretender, dressed up in fine clothing, the garments of a gentleman,
claims to be the opposite of defeat,
claims to be the opposite of weakness,
Yet must return its fine clothing by midnight to the shop from which it came
for it is no gentleman, and has no cloak,
nor gloves, nor hat of its own.
This pretender, walks over the dead bodies of men, women, and children,
the blood-stained and mutilated bodies of those left by the roadside
to be swept up later on like so many straw dolls.
This pretender looks away when tears flow like rivers,
and old men with thin arms are taken away with the young,
and children walk around with empty eyes,
not understanding anything but war and death.
This pretender is a house built on sand beside an incoming tide,
Achieving it, one achieves nothing, losing it one loses nothing
but gains humility, the willingness to be in error,
and with this, the knowledge that
humility is not humiliation.
Here is the learning:
I acknowledge error, but I am not ashamed,
I express regret, but I am not guilt-ridden,
I change direction, but I am not weak.
Who will tell the mothers and fathers, the wives and children,
that the tattered banner called victory has holes in it?
Who will tell them?
No one, for no one needs to tell them
that it was won with real blood spilled for false promises,
with real tears, shed in heart-wrenching, anguished gulps.
Only the owl on the hill staring blankly into space,
watching, watching, as the wind blows listlessly through the trees
knows the virtue of patiently waiting,
knows the folly of acting falsely,
knows the emptiness of 'being right'.
What price victory?
The last cry of a dying child
whose life ended with the piercing of a stray bullet,
The rubble of houses no longer habitable
whose families have long since gone away,
The tolling of a bell in a parched and sun-drenched mosque
where the bodies of those who paid in blood
are wrapped in fine clothes, strewn with flowers, and laid to rest,
These blood-soaked bodies speak on behalf of all,
declaring that victory is not the opposite of defeat,
that each partakes of the other.
And being wrong is not the opposite of being 'right'.
For between the two is the place in which peace lives
and humility walks with her sisters.
Between the two is a still and quiet chamber
where the trumpet does not sound, and the banner does not wave,
Where, if we listen carefully, we will hear the sound - of hope.
* * * *
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