Edward S. Herman's landmark essay, "The Banality
of Evil," has never seemed more apposite. "Doing terrible things in
an organized and systematic way rests on 'normalization,'" wrote Herman.
"There is usually a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable,
with the direct brutalizing and killing done by one set of individuals ... others
working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and
more adhesive napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns).
It is the function of the experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the
unthinkable for the general public."
On Radio 4's Today (Nov. 6), a BBC reporter in Baghdad referred to the
coming attack on the city of Fallujah as "dangerous" and "very
dangerous" for the Americans. When asked about civilians, he said, reassuringly,
that the U.S. Marines were "going about with a Tannoy" telling people
to get out. He omitted to say that tens of thousands of people would be left
in the city. He mentioned in passing the "most intense bombing" of
the city with no suggestion of what that meant for people beneath the bombs.
As for the defenders, those Iraqis who resist in a city that heroically defied
Saddam Hussein; they were merely "insurgents holed up in the city,"
as if they were an alien body, a lesser form of life to be "flushed out"
(the Guardian): a suitable quarry for "rat-catchers," which
is the term another BBC reporter told us the Black Watch use. According to a
senior British officer, the Americans view Iraqis as Untermenschen, a
term that Hitler used in Mein Kampf to describe Jews, Romanies, and Slavs
as subhumans. This is how the Nazi army laid siege to Russian cities, slaughtering
combatants and non-combatants alike.
Normalizing colonial crimes like the attack on Fallujah requires such racism,
linking our imagination to "the other." The thrust of the reporting
is that the "insurgents" are led by sinister foreigners of the kind
that behead people: for example, by Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian said to be
al-Qaeda's "top operative" in Iraq. This is what the Americans say;
it is also Blair's latest lie to parliament. Count the times it is parroted
at a camera, at us. No irony is noted that the foreigners in Iraq are overwhelmingly
American and, by all indications, loathed. These indications come from apparently
credible polling organizations, one of which estimates that of 2,700 attacks
every month by the resistance, six can be credited to the infamous al-Zarqawi.
In a letter sent on Oct. 14 to Kofi Annan, the Fallujah Shura Council, which
administers the city, said: "In Fallujah, [the Americans] have created
a new vague target: al-Zarqawi. Almost a year has elapsed since they created
this new pretext, and whenever they destroy houses, mosques, restaurants, and
kill children and women, they said: 'We have launched a successful operation
against al-Zarqawi.' The people of Fallujah assure you that this person, if
he exists, is not in Fallujah ... and we have no links to any groups supporting
such inhuman behavior. We appeal to you to urge the UN [to prevent] the new
massacre which the Americans and the puppet government are planning to start
soon in Fallujah, as well as many parts of the country."
Not a word of this was reported in the mainstream media in Britain and America.
"What does it take to shock them out of their baffling silence?"
asked the playwright Ronan Bennett in April after the U.S. Marines, in an act
of collective vengeance for the killing of four American mercenaries, killed
more than 600 people in Fallujah, a figure that was never denied. Then, as now,
they used the ferocious firepower of AC-130 gunships and F-16 fighter-bombers
and 500-lb. bombs against slums. They incinerate children; their snipers boast
of killing anyone, as snipers did in Sarajevo.
Bennett was referring to the legion of silent Labour backbenchers, with honorable
exceptions, and lobotomized junior ministers (remember Chris Mullin?). He might
have added those journalists who strain every sinew to protect "our"
side, who normalize the unthinkable by not even gesturing at the demonstrable
immorality and criminality. Of course, to be shocked by what "we"
do is dangerous, because this can lead to a wider understanding of why "we"
are there in the first place and of the grief "we" bring not only
to Iraq, but to so many parts of the world: that the terrorism of al-Qaeda is
puny by comparison with ours.
There is nothing illicit about this cover-up; it happens in daylight. The most
striking recent example followed the announcement, on Oct. 29, by the prestigious
scientific journal, the Lancet, of a study estimating that 100,000 Iraqis
had died as a result of the Anglo-American invasion. Eighty-four percent of
the deaths were caused by the actions of the Americans and the British, and
95 percent of these were killed by air attacks and artillery fire, most of whom
were women and children.
The editors of the excellent MediaLens observed the rush no,
stampede to smother this shocking news with "skepticism" and
silence. They reported that, by Nov. 2, the Lancet report had been ignored
by the Observer, the Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the
Financial Times, the Star, the Sun, and many others. The
BBC framed the report in terms of the government's "doubts" and Channel
4 News delivered a hatchet job, based on a Downing Street briefing. With one
exception, none of the scientists who compiled this rigorously peer-reviewed
report was asked to substantiate their work until ten days later when the pro-war
Observer published an interview with the editor of the Lancet,
slanted so that it appeared he was "answering his critics." David
Edwards, a MediaLens editor, asked the researchers to respond to the
media criticism; their meticulous demolition can be viewed on the
alert for Nov. 2. None of this was published in the mainstream. Thus, the
unthinkable that "we" had engaged in such a slaughter was suppressed
normalized. It is reminiscent of the suppression of the death of more
than a million Iraqis, including half a million infants under five, as a result
of the Anglo-American-driven embargo.
In contrast, there is no media questioning of the methodology of the Iraqi
Special Tribune, which has announced that mass graves contain 300,000 victims
of Saddam Hussein. The Special Tribune, a product of the quisling regime in
Baghdad, is run by the Americans; respected scientists want nothing to do with
it. There is no questioning of what the BBC calls "Iraq's first democratic
elections." There is no reporting of how the Americans have assumed control
over the electoral process with two decrees passed in June that allow an "electoral
commission" in effect to eliminate parties Washington does not like. Time
magazine reports that the CIA is buying its preferred candidates, which is how
the agency has fixed elections over the world. When or if the elections take
place, we will be doused in clichés about the nobility of voting, as
America's puppets are "democratically" chosen.
The model for this was the "coverage" of the American presidential
election, a blizzard of platitudes normalizing the unthinkable: that what happened
on Nov. 2 was not democracy in action. With one exception, no one in the flock
of pundits flown from London described the circus of Bush and Kerry as the contrivance
of fewer than 1 percent of the population, the ultra-rich and powerful who control
and manage a permanent war economy. That the losers were not only the Democrats,
but the vast majority of Americans, regardless of whom they voted for, was unmentionable.
No one reported that John Kerry, by contrasting the "war on terror"
with Bush's disastrous attack on Iraq, merely exploited public distrust of the
invasion to build support for American dominance throughout the world. "I'm
not talking about leaving [Iraq]," said Kerry. "I'm talking about
winning!" In this way, both he and Bush shifted the agenda even further
to the right, so that millions of antiwar Democrats might be persuaded that
the U.S. has "the responsibility to finish the job" lest there be
"chaos." The issue in the presidential campaign was neither Bush nor
Kerry, but a war economy aimed at conquest abroad and economic division at home.
The silence on this was comprehensive, both in America and here.
Bush won by invoking, more skillfully than Kerry, the fear of an ill-defined
threat. How was he able to normalize this paranoia? Let's look at the recent
past. Following the end of the cold war, the American elite Republican
and Democrat were having great difficulty convincing the public that
the billions of dollars spent on the war economy should not be diverted to a
"peace dividend." A majority of Americans refused to believe that
there was still a "threat" as potent as the red menace. This did not
prevent Bill Clinton sending to Congress the biggest "defense" bill
in history in support of a Pentagon strategy called "full-spectrum dominance."
On Sept. 11, 2001, the threat was given a name: Islam.
Flying into Philadelphia recently, I spotted the Kean congressional report
on Sept. 11 from the 9/11 Commission on sale at the bookstalls. "How many
do you sell?" I asked. "One or two," was the reply. "It'll
disappear soon." Yet, this modest, blue-covered book is a revelation. Like
the Butler report in the UK, which detailed all the incriminating evidence of
Blair's massaging of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq, then pulled its
punches and concluded nobody was responsible, so the Kean report makes excruciatingly
clear what really happened, then fails to draw the conclusions that stare it
in the face. It is a supreme act of normalizing the unthinkable. This is not
surprising, as the conclusions are volcanic.
The most important evidence to the 9/11 Commission came from General Ralph
Eberhart, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad).
"Air Force jet fighters could have intercepted hijacked airliners roaring
towards the World Trade Center and Pentagon," he said, "if only air
traffic controllers had asked for help 13 minutes sooner. ... We would have
been able to shoot down all three ... all four of them."
Why did this not happen?
The Kean report makes clear that "the defense of U.S. aerospace on 9/11
was not conducted in accord with preexisting training and protocols. ... If
a hijack was confirmed, procedures called for the hijack coordinator on duty
to contact the Pentagon's National Military Command Center (NMCC). ... The NMCC
would then seek approval from the office of the Secretary of Defense to provide
military assistance... "Uniquely, this did not happen. The commission was
told by the deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Authority that there
was no reason the procedure was not operating that morning. "For my 30
years of experience ..." said Monte Belger, "the NMCC was on the net
and hearing everything real-time. ... I can tell you I've lived through dozens
of hijackings ... and they were always listening in with everybody else."
But on this occasion, they were not. The Kean report says the NMCC was never
informed. Why? Again, uniquely, all lines of communication failed, the commission
was told, to America's top military brass. Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense,
could not be found; and when he finally spoke to Bush an hour and a half later,
it was, says the Kean report, "a brief call in which the subject of shoot-down
authority was not discussed." As a result, Norad's commanders were "left
in the dark about what their mission was."
The report reveals that the only part of a previously fail-safe command system
that worked was in the White House where Vice President Cheney was in effective
control that day, and in close touch with the NMCC. Why did he do nothing about
the first two hijacked planes? Why was the NMCC, the vital link, silent for
the first time in its existence? Kean ostentatiously refuses to address this.
Of course, it could be due to the most extraordinary combination of coincidences.
Or it could not.
In July 2001, a top secret briefing paper prepared for Bush read: "We
[the CIA and FBI] believe that OBL [Osama bin Laden] will launch a significant
terrorist attack against U.S. and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks.
The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against
U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will
occur with little or no warning."
On the afternoon of Sept. 11, Donald Rumsfeld, having failed to act against
those who had just attacked the United States, told his aides to set in motion
an attack on Iraq when the evidence was nonexistent. Eighteen months
later, the invasion of Iraq, unprovoked and based on lies now documented, took
place. This epic crime is the greatest political scandal of our time, the latest
chapter in the long 20th-century history of the West's conquests of other lands
and their resources. If we allow it to be normalized., if we refuse to question
and probe the hidden agendas and unaccountable secret power structures at the
heart of "democratic" governments and if we allow the people of Fallujah
to be crushed in our name, we surrender both democracy and humanity.