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Fear Eats the Soul | The Nation

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Fear Eats the Soul

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"I think we agree, the past is over." --George W. Bush

About the Author

John Berger
John Berger's collection of essays, The Shape of a Pocket, was recently published by Pantheon.

Baghdad has fallen. The city has been taken by the troops who were bringing it freedom. Its hospitals are wailingly overcrowded with burnt and maimed civilians, many of them children, and all of them victims of the computerized missiles, shells and bombs launched by the city's liberators. The statues of Saddam Hussein have been destroyed. Meanwhile, in the Pentagon at a press conference, Mr. Secretary Rumsfeld is suggesting that the next country to be "liberated" may be Syria.

Early this morning an e-mail arrived from a friend of mine who is a painter: "The world today is hard to look at, let alone think of." All of us can recognize ourselves in that cri de coeur. But let's think.

There are certain moments of looking at a familiar mountain that are unrepeatable. A question of a particular light, an exact temperature, the wind, the season. You could live seven lives and never see the mountain quite like that again; its face is as specific as a momentary glance across a table at breakfast. A mountain stays in the same place, and can almost be considered immortal, but to those who are familiar with the mountain, it never repeats itself. It has another time scale.

Each day and night of the ongoing war in Iraq is different with different griefs, different acts of defiance, different stupidities. It remains, however, the same war, the war that almost everyone in the world perceived, before it began, as an aggression of unprecedented cynicism (the ravine between declared principles and real aims). This war was undertaken not only to seize control of one of the world's richest oil reserves and to test out new weapons like the microwave bomb--weapons of pitiless destruction, many of which were offered to the Pentagon free by the manufacturers seeking substantial contracts for wars to come--but principally and above all to demonstrate to our fragmented but globalized world what "shock and awe" is.

This can be put less rhetorically. The primary aim of the war, launched in defiance of the United Nations, was to demonstrate what is likely to happen to any leader, nation, community or people who persist in refusing to comply with US interests. Many propositions and memos about the vital need for such a demonstration were being discussed in corporate and operational planning circles well before Bush's fraudulent election, and before the terrorist attacks of September 11.

The term "US interests" can lead to confusion here. It does not refer to the direct interest of US citizens, whether poor or well-off, but to the far-reaching interests of the most powerful multinational corporations, often dominated by US capital, and now, when necessary, defended by the American military.

What Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, Perle and Co. have succeeded in doing since September 11 is to shut down any debate about the legitimacy or ultimate efficacy of such a threatening deployment of power. They have used the fear spawned by the Twin Towers attack to enlist the media and public opinion in support of unilateral, pre-emptive strikes against any target they identify as terrorist. As a result, the world market with its spin is being woven into the Stars and Stripes, and the making of profit (for the few who can) is becoming the only inalienable right.

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