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Invasion of Iraq: The War Rolls On|
Posted on Friday, December 19 @ 06:49:11 UTC
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior editor for TomPaine.com. |
Editor's note: Chris Hedges is a New York Times reporter and author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He is currently on leave from the paper and writing a book on the Ten Commandments. He was interviewed by TomPaine.com's Steven Rosenfelld
TomPaine.com: I'd like to talk about the portrayal of Saddam Hussein's capture and display. What's your reaction to the media coverage? Is it fair? Is it sensational? Is it nationalistic?
Chris Hedges: Well, the word that I would use is simplistic. In the sense that they, by playing up the capture, give the illusion that somehow—if not all—certainly a large part of our problems have been solved by taking in Saddam Hussein.
I don't think the resistance movement in Iraq has very much to do with Saddam Hussein at all. And I think it obscures the fundamental issue, which is that Iraqis are chafing against U.S. occupation. Having spent a lot of time in Iraq, I can tell you he was a deeply detested and feared figure. The fact that he was removed doesn't in any way mitigate the fact that most Iraqis do not want to be occupied by U.S. troops.
TP.c: That reality isn't widely covered in the U.S. press. You wrote in War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning that humiliation is a big part of war. And yet here we seem to have the image of humiliation of a tyrant, but we don't want to know about the humiliation or fears faced by our troops or others.
Hedges: I think there is a real thirst of a public in wartimes for tangible signs of victory, or at least signs that we can interpret as victory. There is, I think, a real paucity of reporting of what it's like on a daily basis for U.S. troops, but more importantly, what it's like on a daily basis for Iraqis.
You see hints of it in the press. For instance, when they open fire on a small band of guerillas and you read later that those who were killed—and the reports, at least from Iraqis, is that they were not armed insurgents but were civilians—they can't even identify the bodies, because body parts have been so torn asunder by the power of these weapons.
I think it is a probably a momentary high. Again, we saw bombings again today. I suspect that Saddam Hussein put most of his energy into eluding capture. If he was really moving around, sometimes two or three times in a day as the news reports say, I don't think he was able to orchestrate or play a particularly strong role in the opposition. And I've never felt that he had the kind of following. He was deeply feared, even within his own circle.
TP.c: You have written that war stories or war coverage invoke cultural archetypes and perpetuate national myths. What kind of clichés do you think the capture of Saddam is eliciting?
Hedges: All of the clichés. We refer to him as a rodent, as a rat. We talk about him hiding in a hole in the ground, as if he's a creature. I have no love for Saddam Hussein. I stood over the mass graves of the people he executed. On the other hand, in wartime, that is how you speak about the opponent. You speak about them as animalistic, as barbaric, as less than human. We're certainly doing that now.
TP.c: Does that ever tend to backfire over time?
Hedges: Well, I think it backfires—not so much within your own circle. The problem in wartime is you tend to fold in on yourself. You're just deaf to anyone outside your own tribe. This is a very kind of tribal phenomenon; that spread of nationalism in wartime.
But what it does is it just furthers the distance and the alienation from you and everyone outside that circle in which you inhabit. I think that is what is so dangerous, and it leads to an even greater degree of isolation. And I think as country, we're already very isolated.
TP.c: So, to the extent that Americans are exulting in these images of a captured Saddam, that also underscores the distance that has to be covering in whatever nation-building or reconciliation has to come next...
Hedges: What it is doing is putting an even greater distance between us and the kind of people—those who we should be building bridges with. And not only Iraqis, but those within the Muslim world, those within Europe.
An event like this only serves to reinforce the worst elements within the nation who have no use for anyone outside our shores, or the opinions or concerns of anyone outside our shores. On the one hand it's a good thing that he's captured. On the other hand it reinforces everything we don't want to reinforce. That's the problem.
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