9) Exploring Propaganda (The Gulf War)

(As It Relates to Saddam Hussein, The Mid-East, Democracy, The American Mind, The Gulf War and Human Survival)

“The war got good ratings. It was on every channel and cable. We like war. We like it because we’re good at it. We’re good because we get a lot of practice. This country’s only 200 years old and we’ve already had 10 major wars. That’s an average of one war every 20 years!

We’re good at it. And it’s a good thing. Because we’re not much good at anything else! We can’t make a decent car anymore. Can’t make a VCR or a TV worth a fuck. Got no steel industry left. Can’t provide decent health care for our old people. Can’t educate our young. But, we can bomb the hell out of your country alright! Especially, if your country is full of brown people. Oh, we like that. That’s our hobby That’s our new job in the world – bombing brown people!

Iraq, Panama, Greneda, Lybia – you got some brown people in your country? Tell them to watch out! Or we’ll god damn bomb them. Who were the last white people you can remember that we bombed? The Germans. They’re the only ones. And that’s because they wanted to cut in on our action – dominating the world. Bullshit! That’s our fucking job!” – George Carlin

The American Administration, faced with the prospect of engaging in a bloody onslaught, while in pursuit of economic interests abroad, must, of course, devise some kind of appealing rationale sufficient to soothe the occasional doubts of its professed “Christian” constituency. As every good American well knows, we don’t go to war and kill people for selfish or frivolous reasons. It has to be for freedom, democracy, their own good, or for our defense. The rationale used is generally referred to as propaganda. It can be true, half true, highly exaggerated, or outright untrue. It really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it is believed – and that it helps to unify the country and eliminate dissent, so that the war may be pursued more effectively. “Fighting for rights”, and for “Freedom”, are always used by both sides.

Another general tact is to personify the enemy. We’re not really fighting against other people, we’re against that bogeyman who has either duped or coerced his people into opposing us. Pres. Bush (or Bosh) and his cohorts are usually referred to in Iraq as the “Great Satan”. And we have a word for Hussein : “Hitler”. To make these names stick, a number of transgressions and atrocities are inevitably cited in evidence. Listed here are some of the more highly publicized “facts” about Saddam Hussein:

1) Saddam Hussein tortured prisoners.

2) Saddam Hussein gassed his own people.

3) Saddam Hussein presides over a police state, and he executes his opposition.

4) Saddam Hussein engages in unprovoked attacks against innocent neighbors (Naked Aggression).

5) Saddam Hussein is a madman, too dangerous to rule over a well- armed oil-rich Mid-East state.

The statements above are generally conceded to be factual by the American public, since most polls indicate that 90% favor the war effort. However, since that public gets most of its information via the mass media, which is highly influenced by commercial interests, and tends to believe statements by government officials, who are generally elected with the aid of funds from commercial interests, it’s important to examine this “conventional wisdom”


Torture is, of course, an abhorrent practice. It should not be tolerated. The Amnesty International organization has been exposing use of torture in countless “Third World” regimes – regimes often coddled and supported by the U.S. for political or commercial reasons. We are currently courting Pres. Hafez al Assad of Syria, whose record for terrorism, brutality, and torture is second to none in the Mid-East. The U.S. has generally turned its head to these revelations and appeals by Amnesty International. Torture is standard operating procedure in most Mid-East countries, as is, incidentally, also the case in many Latin American regimes, aided and supported by the U.S. John Healey, Executive Director of Amnesty International states: “Pres. Bush made much of the fact that the “moral purpose” for the war could be found in Amnesty’s horrific report. But you and I know that for more that 10 years Amnesty has been reporting on Iraq’s despicable human rights record… And the United States has consistently looked the other way. For years Amnesty has publicized well-documented evidence of gross violations by the governments of Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and even Kuwait. But even today the United States and the world’s governments close their eyes to such human rights abuses. Some of these abusers are now the U.S.’s allies in the Middle East ; and in other regions of the world they are among our most favored friends.” It’s simply a fact of life, that in unstable regimes, arising from artificially created countries, getting information is often a matter of life and death, with “spies lurking behind each door”, and insurgency a constant threat. Such environments encourage the view of torture as an indispensable tool for obtaining that “information”. We, who live in America, having been blessed with affluence and political stability since the Civil War, find this difficult to understand. Yet, the carnage and pillaging of Sherman’s march through Georgia, and the atrocities committed at the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville serve as grim testament that war can make monsters of almost anyone.

But that was a long time ago, and few today would hold Lincoln, Lee, or Grant responsible or culpable for what was done by their men in the name of freedom. The evidence certainly indicates that Saddam Hussein is guilty of either practicing or condoning torture. And, opposing torture is a very admirable goal. But, simply removing a man who practices it will not do. Removal of the real grievances that give rise to the unstable conditions that foster this type of inhumanity is the only real answer! Let’s put the blame where it belongs. Set aside the propaganda, and ask, what caused these conditions? How can they be changed? And what can we do to help end them? If we don?t, we?re no less guilty than Saddam!


Both Iran and Iraq used poison gas in the war. Saddam Hussein has not publicly admitted responsibility for the infamous gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja. There is some evidence, or, at least, claim that the type of gas that befell the town (cyanide) was of Iranian origin. Notwithstanding, it appears most likely the Iraqis were responsible for the chemical attack on Halabja. Apparently, the Kurds were involved with the Iranians in a strategy to capture the Kirkuk oil fields in Northern Iraq. Halabja was the furthest point of Iranian advance. The Iraqi retaliation at Halabja appeared to destroy the Iranian initiative. The tide in the war turned at that point towards Iraq. (An event that must have provided, at least, some comfort to authorities in the U.S. who were supporting Iraq at that point in time) A typical example of U.S. behavior then found Rep. Sen. Alan Simpson visiting Bagdad and putting his arm around Saddam Hussein, asking that we not condemn this man for using poison gas on the Kurds. It might also be noted here that both sides in W.W.I, in which we participated, used poison gas. And, in any event, the gas attack on Halabja can hardly rank in the same league of horrors as the havoc wreaked on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S. in WWII. Consequently, it would have to be viewed as a trifle hypocritical of the U.S. to place Saddam Hussein on trial for this particular indiscretion.


A brief historical background at this point might best help us to understand the position of a man like Saddam Hussein. As was well depicted in the historical novel, “Laurence of Arabia”, the Allies had promised the Arabs self-rule and self-determination in exchange for their support in fighting against the Central Powers during the First World War. When the war was over, the Arabs were double-crossed and the promises ignored! Since then, few Heads of State have been known to survive removal from power in Iraq – a fate often shared by the loser’s supporters as well. The dance has had a familiar pattern since the British installed the first modern regime (King Fisal) in 1920. Initially, the British, while retaining ultimate power over the monarchies, and “strongman” type leaders in Iraq, still wished to maintain a semblance, or appearance, of democracy; so elections and a parliament were established. Thus, the unfortunate head of state would invariably find himself between “the rock and the hard place”. He could not remain popular, or stay in power without pleasing the Iraqi people. And, at the same time, he could not long oppose or defy his British overlords, who were hated by the Iraqi people. No leader was secure. Opposing factions were everywhere. Iraq’s boundaries had been drawn with little consideration for ethnic, cultural, religious, or language differences in the area. Nor were topographical features considered important. They did, apparently, give serious consideration to geophysical features (oil). The British had simply laid things out in a way that they felt would be in their own convenience. The helpless Iraqi administrators were just expected to “make do”. Almost always, the central issue leading to the eventual coup, and removal from power, of each succeeding regime, was Kuwait! As each head of state would feel compelled to publicly proclaim that Kuwait really belonged to Iraq, the British Intelligence (B.I.) or later even the C.I.A. would locate or establish an opposition group to provide a new coup in hopes of finding a more “enlightened” leader. At one time, one head of state, Gen. Kassim, managed to survive an assassination attempt by a Col. Arif.(Incidentally, Saddam Hussein, himself was at one time involved in an attempt to assassinate Kassim) Kassim, noted for a tendency towards leniency, (a rarity in Iraqi politics) decided to spare Col. Arif. Later, in 1961, after publicly announcing that “Iraq regards Kuwait as an integral part of its territory, and does not recognize the special relationship between Britain and Kuwait …”, Kassim was overthrown in a coup figureheaded by Col. Arif. Kassim asked Arif to spare his life, as he had once done for Arif. Arif replied that he could not help. And, Kassim, one of the few Iraqi leaders who had shown any signs of compassion in dealing with political adversaries in his land, was executed! Is there a moral here somewhere? If so, it was not lost to Saddam Hussein! From 1920 to 1979 (the date of Saddam Hussein’s ascendance to power) there numbered, in all, thirteen coups d’etat in Iraq. Saddam had promised that, “With our party methods there is no chance for anyone who disagrees with us to jump on a few tanks and overthrow the government.” It must be admitted that Saddam Hussein made good on that promise. Over one half million soldiers, battalions of tanks, and more explosive air power than all of that used in WWII, still hadn’t accomplished the overthrow of Hussein!

Of course, the price for this “stability” was high. Although Hussein did much to industrialize and modernize the country, a genuine reign of terror ensued. Any and all conceivable opposition to Hussein, or the Baath Party, was marked for annihilation. Communists, Jews, Trade Unionists, political dissidents, even rivals to Saddam Hussein within the Baath Party were tortured, exiled, murdered, publicly or privately executed, and, at times, slaughtered en mass. It may also be noted, that according to more than one former C.I.A. operative’s testimony, the C.I.A. was active and involved during some of these “indiscretions”.

Now, the sixty-four billion dollar question! Was it really necessary? Would Saddam Hussein, long ago, have gone the way of all others without this insidiously draconian system to protect him? Sadly, there seems every reason to believe that he had little choice -swimming in the sea that he was in. Hussein had to face the legacy of history in Iraq. He had to contend with the threat posed by the Kurdish Independence Movement’s resistance. Even the communists wanted their piece of the pie. There was the impending threat of takeover by the Shiites in the South, aided and abetted by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The ensuing war with Iran. Then, the “economic warfare” emanating from Kuwait. And, above all, the constant threat posed by foreign agents representing powers anxious to keep Mideast countries disunited, and in disarray, so as to assure that no oil monopoly might eventually arise in the Gulf Area.

Yes, indeed, Saddam Hussein runs a police state! And that’s deplorable! There seems little doubt about that. Yet, we, here in America, sit back, basking in affluence, cheering our victory over tyranny, but never bothering to really ask why! Why is every little Arab country over there a “police state”? We sit atop a mountain of riches, much of it gained at the expense of Third World countries, extolling the virtues of democracy. Though, few here even bother to take part in the political system. Most don’t vote; and of those who do, only a few trouble themselves to become informed about the issues, or the candidates. As Sen. Cranston recently bemoaned, while attempting to justify his complicity (accepting contributions for political favors) in the Savings and Loan Scandal, “They all do it!” Translation: Money, not issues wins elections in America.

Interesting question: answer honestly now – if we had all the problems of Iraq, even with all our money, could we afford democracy? It’s difficult to find a Third-World country with political freedom of any kind -especially if that land contains resources coveted by industrialized countries. And, is it not quite hypocritical of us to do our best to uphold and maintain the feudal regimes in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, while, at the same time, decrying the lack of democracy in Iraq? Taking an objective view of the world, one might be forced to the conclusion that political freedom and democracy are the result of affluence, more than anything else. Or conversely, one might say that it’s probably less difficult for a poverty-stricken country in the Mideast to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for that country to obtain political freedoms. Of course, it’s difficult to view some of these oil-rich countries as poverty-stricken. But, such is the actual case for the vast majority of their inhabitants when the available wealth goes to the few, or into defending that country’s political regime.

Heinous and deplorable as police states are : there is no sure cure for them. But the best chance to overcome, or avoid them, lies in prosperity, more equitable distribution of wealth, and the reduction of anger and resentment within the populace; and, above all, the absence of threats and interference from outside powers. The latter became evident, even in America, when the president suddenly decried the threat of a “Hitler” in a far away land called Iraq. Note how readily police state signals arose! Dissent was suddenly sinful. Cries of traitor could be heard! The F.B.I. was menacingly omnipresent for people of brownish skin.

Judging from our recent actions in the Gulf, Americans are not too interested in attacking the real roots of despotism. Our policy has generally been simply to replace an unfriendly despot with a more cooperative one. We appear to act only when we sense that our economic interests are involved, with the result of maintaining or increasing the festering resentment, upon which the police state and all it’s accompanying horrors, feeds.


During the early eighties, following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, Iran’s new strongman, the Ayatollah Khomeini, was apparently fomenting a fundamentalist Muslim revolution in Iraq. Several assassination attempts on Hussein, and his deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, were attributed to sources within Iran. Khomeini’s forces were appealing to the Shiite majority in Iraq to revolt against the secular government of Saddam Hussein. There were riots in Shiite areas in Iraq, and insurrection was threatening! The specter of a united Iranian-Iraqi fundamentalist Muslim power in the Gulf loomed.

The U.S. was concerned. Other Gulf States, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, were alarmed! With apparent U.S. encouragement, Kuwaiti and Saudi leaders promised aid to Saddam Hussein to help him stop Iran before it could overrun the Gulf States. Large “loans” were received from other Gulf States by Iraq for this purpose. Hussein maintained that they were given with the understanding that the loans were not expected to be repaid. Iraq probably could not have prevailed in the war against Iran without the “loans” from Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and U.S. aid. However, with Iran a threat no more, but Iraq’s economy devastated after the war, her erstwhile friends, the Saudis and the Kuwaitis, wanted their money!

After having sacrificed several hundred thousand Iraqi lives and a hundred billion dollars to defeat Iran for their mutual benefit, Saddam began to sense a lack of gratitude in his “friends”. Hussein pressured Kuwait to forgive the loan. Kuwait pressured back. At the behest of Western Powers, Kuwait lowered oil prices to the point of making economic recovery impossible for Iraq. Hussein complained that Kuwait was waging economic warfare ,which, in effect, was actually killing Iraqis. “Iraqis on whom this deliberate injustice has been inflicted, believe firmly in defending their rights, and in self-defense. Better to be deprived of life than the means of making a living. If words fail to provide us with protection, then deeds are badly needed to restore rights to those whose rights have been usurped.”

Another unresolved complaint by Iraq was that Kuwait was stealing billions of dollars of oil from Iraq’s oil fields through the use of slant drilling. It was also alleged that Kuwait had seriously encroached on Iraq’s southern border, taking over hundreds of square miles, while Iraq was busily involved in the war with Iran.

Above it all, however, rests the fact, indelibly clear in the Iraqi mind, that Kuwait and its royal family was being used by the Western Powers to siphon hundreds of billions of dollars from the Middle East where they were sorely needed. Profits from the oil were being invested in banks and industries of faraway foreign countries. (Countries that could actually use those very profits to influence and control politics in Mid-East countries) The Al-Sabah, royal family of Kuwait, is believed to have invested around three hundred billion dollars in countries around the world, rather than in the local area, where people are poor, and capital is needed!

Thus, there seems good reason to believe that the attacks on Iran and Kuwait could not be called entirely unprovoked, to say the least. It appears that in both cases the security of Iraq’s regime, and possibly Iraq itself, was seriously threatened.

Then, of course, there is the matter of the Scud attacks on Israel during the Gulf War. Israel calls these attacks entirely unprovoked. It’s doubtful that many Israelis will ever be convinced otherwise. Nevertheless, Israel’s denial of involvement smacks somewhat of a lawyer’s argument, favoring technicalities over realities. It’s well known that Israel desisted from participation in the actual fighting only for strategic reasons. There’s little doubt that Israel was standing by, ready to become engaged, if needed. It took some heavy persuasion by U.S. officials to restrain Israel from participating in the onslaught from the start, even though it was apparent that Israel’s active participation could only be counterproductive, having the effect of broadening the resistance within the Arab World to the “coalition”.

Israel demonstrated no such hesitance in 1982 when it attacked, and destroyed what was believed to be an attempt to produce atomic power, and perhaps atomic weapons in Iraq. Yet, Israel reserves for itself the right to possess those same weapons. The Iraqi’s, at that time, must have learned something about “unprovoked attacks”.

Regrettable, and tragic, as were the casualties inflicted on Israeli citizens in the Scud attacks, amid untold numbers of civilians being slaughtered by “coalition” bombing attacks on Bagdad, and elsewhere in Iraq, it’s not really difficult to understand Iraq’s comparatively futile attempts at retaliation.


By simple American standards, and viewing things at the surface, it’s easy to understand the ordinary American’s concern over the specter of Saddam Hussein ruling over a powerful, militarized, oil monopoly in the Mid-East. Aside from facing the prospect of higher oil prices, and forcing Israel to come to terms with the Palestinian problem, there looms the more menacing prospect of a violent man in control of atomic weapons and vast oil resources threatening the whole world! There’s little doubt that this portends no small risk.

This paper has attempted to examine the extent to which propaganda may have colored American judgement in assessing the actual risk posed by Saddam Hussein. For even with the demise of Saddam Hussein, as we must guess, many new Saddam’s are waiting in the wings, ever-ready to spring forth in the volatile Middle East.

From what we have seen, Hussein used violent and dangerous methods. Yet, as has been pointed out here, he may have had little choice, considering the situation he faced. Hussein has appeared to have remained true to his goals from the beginning. He was a student of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who espoused Pan-Arabism as a means of eliminating the colonist stranglehold Western Powers seemed to possess over the Arab lands since 1920. There appears to be no solid evidence that Saddam Hussein is really a madman, insane, or out of touch with reality. Dispassionate, cynical, to the point of cruelty, stubborn, single-minded, yet courageous, seem closer to the mark in assessing the “Butcher of Bagdad”.

Yes, Saddam Hussein is a risk. Yet, as we all know, life is not without risks. And, the game of life is played by seeking the lesser of risks in pursuit of our goals. Sometimes the risk on the other side of the coin is more obscured. The picture we receive from our media, and our government must be colored, to some extent, by economic and political interests involved, while little is known, and much misunderstood, when it comes to events occurring in faraway lands across the sea. And, the stakes may be even greater than we think in the Gulf Crisis. We have on one side of the coin, a Saddam Hussein, in power, and in control, in the Mid-East. On the other side rests our continued effort to dominate, and take economic advantage of other areas of the world, amidst a growing awareness by those people of our presence there, and of what’s really going on. For the present, given the apparent choices, America has chosen itself, rather than Saddam Hussein, to settle problems in the Mid-East.

Nevertheless, if we truly want that “New World Order” so desperately required for human survival in an emerging Atomic Age, is it not about time to let go of the old, traditional pattern of domination and exploitation of Third World areas, and allow those peoples to resolve their own problems, to control, and to reap the full benefits from the resources located on their lands, free from the threat of outside forces? And by so doing, truly give democracy a chance! And, of course, only then, can we escape the tangled web of hypocrisy we find ourselves locked into, when we help create conditions in the Mid-East lands that are conducive only to the formulation of police states; and then go to war on the pretense that we’re fighting for their freedom!

Perhaps only then will the world have a fighting chance to escape the “unthinkable nuclear holocaust” which looms on the horizon, more and more nations, including those of the dispossessed Third World, attain the technological weapons of mass destruction. Those “wonderful” weapons which today fill American hearts with such pride! Trite, and redundant as it sounds: TIME IS RUNNING OUT!! America’s enemy is not Russia, not Iraq, it’s Old Father Time, and his gang of Apathy, Avarice, and Ignorance!


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