This week, our “President” requested $74 billion from Congress for 30 days of war with Iraq. Of that $74 billion, just $543 million is going to humanitarian aid for the Iraqi people. $1.7 billion goes towards rebuilding the country. No monies are allotted for any continued U.S. peacekeeping effort in the area.
My friends and fellow Yalies, you can do math. Republicans know this, and it frightens them. Look — they’re white with dread. The men in charge of this war know that you are smart enough to see that these numbers do not add up — at least not to anything like true “Iraqi Freedom.” When $62.6 billion is requested for the U.S. Department of Defense to keep them going for a month, and less than $2 billion is requested for the indefinite, immeasurably fragile period following — you know what, I’m not going to finish that sentence. Put it together, it doesn’t add up. You’re not a government official, but you know this. You can see it. Fuzzy math, as Mr. Bush might say, eyebrows at full tilt.
This is not a war about “Iraqi Freedom.” If it were, wouldn’t you expect to see a greater commitment to the Iraqi people, at least on paper? What’s $1.7 billion going to do? Are we going to throw the Iraqi people a big pizza party? Maybe even a moon bounce! That’s about as seriously as the Bush administration seems to be taking the real nonviolent work to be done in a post-war Iraq.
But then, it’s always been clear that America has far less interest in the liberty and welfare of the people of the world than it does in that of its own citizens. That’s understandable. But if this country really were the arbiter of world freedom, peace and equality it purports itself to be, then we wouldn’t be in all this trouble to begin with. You see, the richer this land has gotten, the less willing its citizens have been to give of our wealth freely, to help those who don’t have the opportunity to be Americans. This is a fact.
Many liberals on my side of this war debate use the term “imperialism” in describing American foreign policy, but nothing could be more erroneous. If we were imperialists, we would in essence make everything America. We would divide and conquer and re-label. As dubious and undesirable as that prospect is, I dare say it’s better than hoarding our money, limiting immigration and beefing up homeland security, sending the unmistakably cocky message to the rest of the world: “We’re America, and you can’t be.” The fact that we only bother with the affairs of the rest of the world when we feel that our own monopoly is threatened — you know, I’m not going to finish that sentence, either.
As a symbol, America has, in this way, become mutated in the eyes of the world. Those sacred things that we once thought iconic of the basic spirit of our nation are now iconic only of what our nation has made itself: a monolith, a juggernaut, a big, fat son-of-a-bitch that wants to control the world without really taking it over. Beginning with the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, the U.S. has periodically played the role of “global policeman” — self appointed defender of the principles on which it was founded: liberty, freedom, justice — those things that we consider objective goods. But in playing this role of policeman we have become, well, policemen (and women — I love you, ladies.)
We Americans are just as fallible as any other humans on earth, regardless of race or national origin. But in that spiffy policeman’s uniform, with our badges and pins, our pomp and circumstance, our sirens, we make ourselves into something far flashier than what we really are. We make ourselves so symbolically big and imposing in the eyes of the world that we forget (or perhaps consciously hide) the fact that underneath all our money and power and assumed superiority, we are merely human — not American — no better than those who have nothing, and to whom we refuse to give anything of our own. We hide behind our sacred symbols to escape the reality of exactly how arbitrary our good fortune has been, and exactly how nasty we are to deny others their fair share.
In this way, our symbols have taken us over. Our flag has become a sacred representative of our land, though in this flag, one could also point to that which is truly wrong with our country, and all that it has done and is doing wrong. And there is plenty wrong. (See: other columns.) This symbol has lost the purity of idea and spirit it once held, but as long as so-called American patriots continue to salute it, refusing to acknowledge the deep imperfections of their country, as long as they make this flag symbolic only of what is good about the U.S., while ignoring what is wrong and bad, this becomes a corrupt and untruthful symbol. Saluting it becomes a dishonest practice.
That the powers that be make themselves out to be the morally pure police of the world — while obviously behaving unrighteously and without moral purity, hiding all their ulterior motives and denying past indiscretions — corrupts America’s worldwide image, and invalidates its symbolic worth. To now worship the same old symbols makes us all liars, because we are making these symbols (the flag, the songs, the yellow ribbons) stand for something we are not, not anymore at least.
On Sept. 11, 2001, images of the American flag rising above the rubble of the Twin Towers stood as a symbol of our great and powerful soul, of our courage in the lowest times. But the American flag that waves in front of the White House is not the same flag. This war makes this symbol of the greatness of this nation devoid of real meaning, hollowing it of the beauty it once possessed. Empty, our symbols will crumble, do not doubt it, and the nation they represent will likely follow. If not in the next 30 days, then in the months and years that follow.
The people of the world will not forget our actions. They will not forget America’s violence, ignoring the voices of our allies, outright mocking them when they refused to join us. They will not forget the way we have manipulated the images of our tragedy on Sept. 11 to wage this illegal and unnecessary war of unprovoked aggression, in the process dishonoring the memories of all those that perished on that day.
Regardless of whether this war is won or lost in 30 days, America with a capital “A” will never be the same. If you support this war, and are foolish enough to think that you have done so in love of freedom or justice or any such intangible, then know that you have done nothing less than poison the well from which you drink. Get used to the taste.
Greg Yolen is a junior in Pierson College.