Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Yesterday marked 1348 days since US forces invaded Iraq. A CNN commentator noted that this was one day more than the time US forces were in World War 2. The contrast is compelling, both because of the nature of the current situation, and the poignant feeling it gave me when I realised that it was relatively quickly and momentously that the Allies defeated the twin giant totalitarian powers of Germany and Japan (along with their sidekick, Italy). One cannot help but note the contrasting facts:

1. In WW2, the US was fighting against an enemy which personified true evil. I call it the last war in which the US was 'good' and the enemy was 'evil', perhaps the last war in which we could unequivocally support US actions as honest and noble. In the current war, the enemy was certainly not good. But what can be said for the US? In fact, this war is being stubbornly touted as a war between good and evil when the facts are much more complicated.

2. The last war was led by a president who was as decent as any American president ever was. This war is led by a president who is more *insert favourite adjective* than almost any American president ever was.

3. The last war was a true collaborative effort, with many nations fighting together against a common and well-defined enemy. This war is essentially a unilateral engagement enforced upon the world by one country, with most other nations rejecting the conflict, some nations accepting it, and almost everyone being uncertain about what on earth it is actually about.

4. In the last war, the people supported the president. In this war, the president supports the people's deception and ignorance. The last war was supported by both political parties. This war is going on on in spite of both parties vehemently disagreeing about it.

5. The last war was at least to a large extent about peace and freedom. This war is about oil. Period.

6. The 'exit strategy' in WW2 was clear; to free Europe and Asia from totalitarian rule and then quietly bow out (although that didn't really happen). In this war, there is no exit strategy, and whatever it is going to be now is going to bring much pain and grief at the least. The last war aimed to forge a peaceful continent from an anarchic one. This war seems to be forging an anarchic state from a relatively peaceful one.

Even points 1. and 5. are in dispute. Some historians (for eg. see Zinn) believe that it was really Japanese challenge of US economic supremacy and Pacific trade routes that forced the US into the war. Still, Franklin Roosevelt was an honorable man, and he joined other nations in denouncing and fighting evil at a time when the US still could claim a reasonable baggage of innocence in foreign relations. GWB in contrast wants to feign innocence where none exists.


Anonymous Siddharth Rege said...

Ashutosh, In general I agree with you (we seem to have fairly similar world views) but I would like to make a few points:

Firstly, what is your view about the 1990 Gulf War? I would say it satisfies most of the conditions to be considered a 'good war' for the US to have fought.

Secondly, WW2 was a 'war' for about 3 and a half year. After that US continued to occupy Germany and Japan for many more years. In that sense, the Iraq was a 'war' for about 3and a half weeks, give or take. Since then US has been occupying Iraq and it is this occupation that has gone horribly wrong. So my point here is that saying that the Iraq war has now gone on longer that WW2 is, well, not entirely accurate.

Finally, Iraq must also share in the blame (I know I sound like Bill Oreilly, but hang on). I mean after losing both Germany and Japan behaved decently. Japan could have easily opted for guerilla warfare and endlessly harassed american occupying troops. Infact, there were factions within Japan that wanted to do precisely this. However, as a nation, Japan took the initiative to truly lay down arms and channel their energies towards economic progress. Infact, it was the first japanese PM (I forget his name) who convinved MacAurther that he must completely abolish the Samurai culture and help Japan adopt its 'peace constitution'. Even MacAurther thought that might be going too far. So anyway, my point is that both Germany and Japan, by truly accepting defeat, played a major role in starting re-construction and rebuilding themselves and are today both world power and fairly staunch US allies (especially Japan). So Iraq too really needs to take some of the blame for this Shia-Sunni fiasco.
Anyway, but on the whole, your article was sound.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Sid, yes, it's true that Iraqis are also to blame. But if the US had not attacked Iraq in the first place and occupied it, there could have been other diplomatic ways to appease both Saddam and the rebel factions. Also, you make a good point about peaceful Japanese behaviour after WW2; it was actually quite remarkable I think. And I don't know what the reason was but I strongly think that there was not as much anti-US sentiment in Japan as there is in Iraq and the Middle East in general. American soldiers were true gentlemen in Japan, and penalties for soldiers misbehaving were high. McArthur as an occupying commander was unusually respected. To my knowledge, there was no Haditha or My Lai in Japan. The other problem is also religion; the Japanese never thought of Americans as specifically Christians occupying their land, but the current occupation is viewed as much as a religious vendetta as an occupation for oil and political dominance. And of course Bush is not particularly succeeding in dispelling that belief.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Siddharth Rege said...

Yes, you bring out a very good point that the US did a much better job occupying Japan and that this religous aspect was not there. MacAurther had an unusually good understanding of Japan, which far exceeded anything the Rumsfeld et al had about Iraq or the Arab culture in general. Plus as you said there were no famous cases of mass atrocities committed by americans. I suppose the americans should have realized that Iraq would really have blown up in their face and with the underlying anti-US and anti-Christian feelings they would never have succeeded doing a Japan in Iraq.
I wonder if a person with a MacAurther-esqe understanding of Iraqi and Arab culture could have done a better job, or whether such a person would have promptly said that this is an impossible job and so we should not attack in the first place.

6:51 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Right. O and yes, I do think the Gulf War came close to being a 'good' American war. The major concern was still oil I am sure, but at least the US was not fighting a democratically elected leader, the way they were doing in Nixon's and Reagan's time.

8:52 AM  

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