The Armies of Ashur II, Continued
"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." General William Tecumseh Sherman 1820-1891
If one needs a philosopher of war, then it is General Sherman, the first general to reduce to pithy maxims the content of Von Clauswitz' treatise On War. War is cruelty, it is the attempt to break the will of a political class, and their followers. Within this spectrum there are various degrees of cruelty, and various degrees of the subjection of the civilian population to war. However, the wars which lead to the greatest barbarity are those which accept that there are limited resources of place, and thus, the liquidation of peoples seen as excess must take place.
In such wars, genocide seems a moral duty to those who are swept up in the frenzy.
Atrocity as Policy
This war differs from other wars, in this particular. We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.
America has degenerated into a cultural complex that would have been familiar to the ancient Neo-Assyrians. Let us state the bald fact that the only belief which holds our army in the field in Iraq is the lie that they are there to avenge 911, because Saddam was behind it. It is a conspiracy theory view of history, lacking in even the vaguest foundations of truth. The elites of America were persuaded to accept the invasion of Iraq on the equally misguided assertion that Saddam had some form of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and was within range of acquiring some deterrent status. This too is absurd: prior to the war, there was no credible evidence of anything resembling credible evidence of a WMD program or capability in Iraq which was capable of delivering any form of attack.
In short the threat to country was the excuse for a war which has other purposes. Those other purposes are the subject of much speculation. Some feel it was to get access to Iraq's oil, others felt it was to deny the world access to it to keep oil prices high. Some believe it was to relieve pressure from Israel. But out of all of the hypotheses available, none understand that there was not a reason for war, but a complex of reasons, and these, in turn, go back to the cultural complex of the United States in the present moment.
This is where analogies to Neo-Assyria fade away, our time is not theirs, however many parallels it might have that are illustrative. But there is sufficient parallel in the God-King cults of both nations to produce atrocity as a policy. Because while atrocities attend war the way fleas attend dogs, the policy of atrocity is the hallmark of an altogether different kind of conflict. It was, again, Sherman who pointed this out – the war between the Union and the South was a war of people's not merely a war of political interests. Hence it was necessary to deliver a shock to the culture which had seen war as an appropriate way of dealing with constitutional issues. "War is the remedy our enemies have chosen," He wrote "I say let us give them all they want."
However, his objective was not the slaughter of civilians, but the destruction of what can be called "strategic material" and depriving what remained of the rebellion of centers of civilian support. Sherman's tactics changed the face of warfare, because they removed the aspect of engagement from war itself. The idea of a "battle" in itself was becoming obsolete in the sense that Europeans had known it for almost 800 years – that is the engagement of forces that represented the embodiment of the will to fight, often lead by a monarch, or by his close surrogates. The last "battles" of this kind were less than a decade in the future – the Battle of the Sedan in the Franco-Prussian war being, truly, the last.
The next step from the war of material attrition, is the war of human attrition. Americans were, by 1861, well acquainted with wars which were intended to erase other nations from the map, they had done so to the Cherokee Nation, and would do so repeatedly in the conquest of the west. These wars were attended by slaughter of civilians and desecration of bodies which we associated with war mixed with genocide.
However, the two parts had not met. While individual bands of men might slaughter, and armies might use the technologies of railroad and telegraph to organize campaigns, the application of technology to slaughter was only beginning to occur. It awaited weapons of wholesale slaughter. The first of these was the incendiary shell, followed by the repeating, and later automatic weapon. But it is with the development of flight and chemical munitions that the marriage of technology and eradication was finally attained. If slaughtering large numbers of people is your aim, then poison and fire are the tools to accomplish it.
The allied strategic bombing of Japan is a case in point of the application of technology for the purpose of not merely defeating the war aims of the enemy and frustrating his manufacture – which is a dubious notion with strategic bombing to begin with – but instead the purpose is to eradicate large slabs of population, with the implicit threat of doing so to the remainder. It was Truman's cold declaration to the Japanese after two atomic attacks that they would face a "reign of destruction from the air".
The only point to using fire against cities made of wood and paper, is to kill as many of the inhabitants as possible.
The realization by Truman, prodded by members of the State Department, that the United States was fighting a place cult in Japan, though they did not use that particular term, embodied in a God-King, and upheld by symbols, shaped the last phases of the war. The shift from bombing military targets, to destroying civilian centers, was based on the recognition that defeating the armies of the Empire of Japan would not be enough if the civilians fought onward.
It takes very little time with the Assyrian and Neo-Assyrian corpus to understand that one of the most important transitions from Middle Assyrian empires, to the Neo-Assyrian empire, is the celebration of atrocity, both for the purposes of subjugation, and for the purposes of maintaining control over the core homeland of Assyria. The boilerplate of taking a city, flaying the leaders and then burning the "young men and maidens" is a refrain in the annals that the Assyrians kept. This is not what their enemies accuse of them of, this is what they recorded themselves as having done.
Let us, however, reach back to the 1950's, because American involvement in Iraq reaches back to that time, and the present problems do as well. Indeed, Saddam himself began his rise to power out of the blowback from American involvement in Iraq.
At that time America was involved in a conflict framed in ideological terms. Ideological wars permit a different brand of dehumanization and liquidation. Individuals, rather than groups that are identifiable by sight, are seen as the bearers of infection. It breeds paranoia, and feeds on mythologies of vampirism, demonic possession and betrayal. Because anyone – a seeming friend, or neighbor, or family member, could be possessed of the demon ideology without overt sign the paranoia and personalized destruction of ideological warfare – the dreaded door knock in the middle of the night – produces a hallmark strand of violation of human rights which is traceable back to ostracisms of ancient Athens.
In that time the United States feared any form of "communist" influence in states so much, that it was willing to take advantage of, and even create, political disorganization in order to gain a chance to liquidate them. These programs were modeled on the late World War II and post-World War II programs to assassinate key members of the Nazi party in Europe. These programs, seen as necessary and effective, were duplicated, and one of those places was in Iraq. Saddam began his career, as an assassin.
However he rose to power behind the cresting idea of pan-Arab nationalism, and part of a movement known as "Rebirth". Whatever the specifics of the movement, one can see how the attempt to revive a people who, at various times, had been at or near the peak of world civilization in wealth, learning and influence would have appeal. The rapid disintegration of this movement into a mere tool of strong man cults in Iraq and Syria exposes the fundamental weakness of the "Ba'ath" ideology. Saddam corrupted, if it was indeed all that difficult, a Pan-Arabist and conceptual movement into a tool of his personal reign.
That Saddam was a God-King is obvious from his monumental architecture and trappings of rule, trappings that were maintained almost until the bitter end. That he was also a local cult is something which is not as clearly appreciated. He ruled with the power of his local clan – "al-Tikriti" means from Tikrit, the city. And when given a clear chance to escape, he, instead, chose to hide in the environs of that area. His cadre of assassins, torturers, and other forms of state apparatus of repression were drawn from his clan. Baathism descended rapidly through sectarian chauvinism, down to clan localism in less than 20 years.
But Saddam was not, as a Marxist might say, in possession of the objective means of production of his own rule. He could not manufacture tanks, missiles, communication equipment or other important props to his power. Instead, he was kept supplied by the USSR and the United States as they jockeyed for power in the middle East.
It was the United States, in particular, that would help Iraq obtain chemical munitions which Saddam would use to eradicate the Kurds.
The Great King, The Mighty King, the King of America
The policy of atrocity is rooted in the desire to eradicate the will to resist, and then the existence itself of another population. It requires an elaboration in order to both justify its necessity, and to create the necessary rationalization and dehumanization of the target peoples. In short, people will destroy other people like animals, but only if they are first convinced that the target people are animals, and then convinced that these animals are rabid – diseased.
The creation of this substratum of unreality among the military and civilian class of a nation is part of the purpose of a place-cult. It relates the worthiness of people the triad of place, god and descent, and asserts that all are the same thing – that to threaten one is to threaten all of them.
Let us again be blunt: having saturated the American military with the propaganda that Saddam was behind 9/11, that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism and thus preventing future attacks, and that Saddam was in possession of the capability of producing mushroom clouds – it is inevitable that the American military would commit war crimes as a matter of policy.
Let me repeat that – if one primes ones military with genocidal propaganda, they will behave accordingly.
The disintegration of both Shia Islam and Baathism, now hybridized with Sunni Arab Chauvinism rooted in particular localities of Iraq, is not hard to document. The focusing on shrines – which bring in huge revenues, the use of bombings against civilians, the slaughtering of recruits, the use of kidnapping and torture by insurgents and Republic of Iraq military and security arms is all to easy to document. Bombing funerals, markets and other props of civil and religious society shows the eradicationist behavior which is now endemic among the combatants in Iraq, and their civilian supporters.
That the toppling of Saddam has led to this was entirely predictable. It was evident, from the experience of Yugoslavia and the Congo, that the only possible result of toppling a strong man without political stabilization would be de facto partition and sectarian warfare. This has been amply born out by events. However, what is important is that the United States has been drawn into this matrix, and is a participant in the sectarian atrocities.
That Americans have become entangled in this is for reasons different from Vietnam. In Vietnam the overwhelming reason for American troops committing atrocities was their inability to create safe haven, and a fear of a populace which had large numbers of people hostile to them, and willing to engage in assymetrical warfare. These kinds of abuses are seen in Iraq today, with recent headlines as a mere example.
However, what is not the result of simply having over-stressed and exposed troops is Abu Ghraib, and the torture and abuse which went on there. While the blame has fallen on low ranking individuals who happened to be caught, the interrogation strategies are the direct result of training and orders made by superiors, and the creation of a concentration camp with a torture wing was not the result of a two striper's commands. Instead, the existence of such a place – taken over from Saddam – is a clear indicator of a wholly different driving mechanism for atrocity in Iraq.
The pictures themselves tell the tale. This image, obtained by Salon.com dates from 2003 only months after the invasion and so called liberation of Iraq. It shows clearly that far from being the result of a unit which time and command forgot degenerating in discipline, that, instead, Abu Ghraib was planned, consistent and by procedure. Someone conceived of our rendition of Abu Ghraib, some one planned it, some one ordered it, some one broke it down into steps for enlisted personnel to follow.
The Neo-Assyrians would thread a rope through a person's jaw, and pull them around like a dog. like this photograph here. But what of the greater atrocities? The leveling of whole cities? For slaughter of surrendering combatants and probable civilians Some 2000 bodies were identified in Fallujah. There is no realistic model of the rebellion in Iraq which allows all 2000, or even close to all 2000 to be combatants. Several of the pictures out of Fallujah are of babies and adults who have been burned, and, in one case left, as Iliad might say to the dogs and all of the birds.
In short Fallujah follows the model, not of a liberated city, nor even of an army of occupation, but of a concerted effort to destroy the civilian population's will to resist. The cold pictures are backed by polling and other survey data, and by the cryptic "lost in action in Al-Anbar" province. This province – which stretches to the Jordan border – is the focal point for military resistence to the United States, because this is the smuggling channel for petroleum which was evolved during the long sanctions period. It is here that the life line for the insurgents money flows, and it is here that they have begun to create their own place cult of Islam. Of the various rebel groups, many use the provinces name specifically. It is in and from mosques that they base operations, requiring that the US treat mosques as a target.
For those needing hard visible proof that the war between the United States and Iraq has devolved towards the situation which Neo-Assyria faced with Babylon – a kind of quasi symbiotic twilight conflict, where the military power, desperate for energy to feed its armies, has become an instrument of disintegration.
But the bulk of the atrocities are carried out by local individuals against each other. According to various estimates some 150,000 Iraqis have died in the last 3 years outside of combat operations, added to this another 50,000 killed in combat operations of various kinds – which includes civilian deaths. In a population of 20 Million, this is equivalent to 6 million deaths in the United States. There has been, and continues, a holocaust in Iraq.
The reason of course is that the real wealth of Iraq is not above the land, but under it. Only one group may control the place which is Iraq, which means all groups must create, not merely military or economic, or even social and political, rationalizations. They must create a cult of place. For the United States 911 is the beginning of all 21st century cults of place. America is still a Septembrist nation, washing aside all other meanings of the word. The attack on American place, and its shock to the individual small people is to be the subject of a reverent film. This connection – of how the attack on the World Trade Center was not an act, but it struck at the times of individual friendship and family, and was thus the most unholy of acts – is used as justification for our actions in 911. Thus are armies have been told, over and over and over again, that they are the fist of a god, a god whose vengeance is against an army of darkness –vast, looming, pervasive.
As the Assyrians cried to Shamash when they felt oaths had been broken, our law too is degenerating down into a mere conveyance of power from place to place in its progress through the realm, in order to hold the homeland together. To be dishonourable, and to be opposed to our place cults will are one and the same. The genocidal bigotry which was the Neo-Assyrian trade mark is returning now – with far right wing films looking back tenderly on the age when to be black and in the wrong place, was a hanging offense. Freedom in their vernacular means Lynch Law.
We have learned that War is Hell from so many quotations, and this war, as any war, has seen a share of irreducible misery. The alternative to war is often enslavement by those who make war upon you. There is no sympathy from this pen for those who urge enslavement on others out of some misguided sense of moral purity. However, an analysis shows that the suffering in Iraq is not for the objective of some liberation, it is not in line with America's old concept cult of international liberation, self-determination and enrichment of human destiny, but is, instead, a policy where atrocity is woven into official orders, and the rationalization for atrocity is pumped into the propaganda which the troops are fed.
America, in World War II, and again in Korea, faced place cult dynamics in Japan, Germany and in the PRC armies that joined in the conflict. America faced them again in Vietnam. In each case our best response was to attempt to annihilate the social organization which created the place cult itself. However, in each case America's efforts were supported by the belief in a concept cult of civic society and Democracy. That America rose as far and as fast as it did is a proof of the power of that civic cult. The reason the United States is ineffectual in Iraq, even though we are "undefeated in the field" as one German book post World War I declared – is not because of some stab in the back or failure of our place cult, which is the belief that all place cults come to when beaten, but that the place cult of our time is incompatible with both our military means and our ends.
It is leading to a more important failure, more important than military failure. That failure is the collapsing of American cultural production.
What allows America to act as it does is both a cultural unity, and an economic system which that cultural unity supports and feeds from. It is the image to the rest of the world that we place in the minds of billions which is before, and behind, any exposure to specific actions. The Neo-Assyrians never had this cultural superiority. Instead, it was Egypt and Babylon that others mimicked in that day and age. American cultural superiority flags, simply because we are no longer able to speak the language of progress which the rest of the world hopes to share, but instead, we speak the language of protecting our place on the pinnacle, which is increasingly alienating to other nations.
Nations that will begin to seek other models in their struggle upwards.