Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, July 20

Gapers Block

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Nobody asks to be born, yet, once born, the compulsion to live is the strongest compulsion in us.

It is that fact, not any other, that makes all human creatures equal — "created equal." It is this fact that makes the suffering of all human creatures equal. It is this fact that makes all rights universal.

That our individual creation was a process we had no choice in makes us all, in a sense, prisoners to our time and location — and prisoners to the society created by those before us. It makes us prisoners, then, to our fellow human creatures, and each of us is then warden to one another.

Five years ago, I was among those who supported the US invasion of Iraq — I did so as an Assyrian-American, the son of political émigrés from Iraq, a good Diaspora son who knew the horrors of the Baathist regime and who believed — and still believes — in the right of every human being to participate in their own governance, who believes in the universality of the Enlightenment and the rights of mankind. I knew then, of course, that there would be death, and suffering and destruction — but I believed it would be limited; and I believed that history would judge the actions positively, because surely, democracy and liberty would flourish. I also believed that the Baath regime was a criminal regime that had long ago warranted its destruction.

What I knew and believed are less relevant than what I ignored. Here are the things I ignored: that the administration calling for war had not demonstrated trustworthiness. That the rush to war was riddled with irrelevancies, prevarications, and lies. That the forecasts for a post-war Iraq were too rosy, that the troop levels were too low, and that spreading democracy is noble, but we cannot be for spreading democracy in one place while squashing it elsewhere — even when you have blood ties to one place, and not another.

Five years on, and 4,000 American soldiers' lives later, I am still ashamed of my support for the war, and am convinced that it is a mark on my conscience that I can never absolve, exactly because I was not wholly fooled, but rather allowed my lust for avenging the harm done to my people and my family to win out. Given that, not only was my support a reason to be ashamed, but my failure to oppose the war with every fiber of my being was an even greater mark.

I cheered — albeit uneasily — as American soldiers were sent into battle, knowing (or "half-knowing") that it was not to spread democracy, not to fight terrorism, not to bring a criminal regime to justice, but to serve an idealistic geopolitical strategic objective. They were lied to as I was lied to, but they at least had the honor to put their lives on the line; I didn't. My war lust was a coward's.

We can dress it up however we want, but we cannot deny that it was bloodlust which fueled the mass hysteria that supported war. And that bloodlust, like bloodlust always will, has resulted in counter-productive results.

The Assyrian situation in Iraq was untenable under Saddam Hussein; with him gone, there is opportunity for the future, indeed — but thousands have been killed, too. Would those human creatures who did not ask to be burdened with consciousness judge this as progress?

Hundreds of thousands of Assyrians, along with millions of their fellow Iraqis, have been displaced and forced to flee. Assyrian woman are forced into lives of prostitution in foreign nations to feed their children. Would these human creatures judge this as progress? Can we say we have emancipated the million who will never draw breath again?

War is the human condition. There will always be war, and we will always have to fight wars. When we do fight them, however, they should be fought because there is no other path to our objective, and that objective must be a high principle. Revenge, and the bloodlust that is its fellow traveler, is never a sufficient reason for war, which will bring so much suffering and destruction to human lives. Children are excused for seeing revenge as a remedy — we adults, the ones responsible for crafting the world our progeny will be imprisoned in, we are the ones who are supposed to know that revenge may provide fleeting delight, but will rarely achieve our ends. We, and I, didn't see that then, and we are shamed for it. I am not among those who think that wars of emancipation are coequal with wars of profit or revenge. Some wars are better than others. But we must act out of principle.

On Feb. 20, 2008, Corporal Albert Britton, a native Chicagoan, died in Iraq. Somewhere in our city as we slept comfortably, his family wailed in torment. As we debated the "relevance" of the war to the coming election, they were forced to imagine what their dear Albert must have been thinking in his final moments. They were forced to imagine the details of his death in a nation half a planet away. When Corporal Britton lost his life, he joined seven other native Chicagoans who had fought, and died, in a war we needn't have fought. They will be remembered and adored, but what solace is that for them?

The 4,000 dead American soldiers are only the tip of the iceberg. Some 13,000 total American lives have been lost in that war. And although we toss the number out as of secondary importance, perhaps a million Iraqis have perished.

But even counting them this way is foolish. The only accurate way to count is to count human beings lost — consciousnesses extinguished, unique beings, eternally irreplaceable individual lights snuffed out. The borders they were born behind make no difference now. Because none of those "architects" of this war have died, or been maimed, or had their lives irretrievably damaged by sights and sounds too horrific for us to even imagine. The bosses sit still pristine and immaculate.

Not only those architects here — but those foul, Dark Age death cultists who convince young men to blow themselves up in public, to murder and mutilate Bishops, to beat women to death for the sin of existence. Let's not gloss over the butchers on the other side. Who is blowing themselves up? Moqtada al-Sadr is not manning the barricades. He is in comfortable repose, directing the murder not only of others, but also his own. The youth being impressed into immoral servitude of perverted ideologies must actually believe they are enlisting in a noble service. They are preyed upon by human jackals who exploit superstition and hatred as ably as our leaders here exploited our fear and patriotism.

If any good can come of this war, it'll be that it strikes a blow against the rule of superstition and ignorance that compels men like al-Sadr. I can only hope that my unprincipled support of the war is retroactively justified by history with a free, independent, democratic and flourishing Iraq. But even if this ends up being the case, it wouldn't be a full absolution.

No, everywhere the bosses are directing others to die to serve their aims, aims which will benefit still more bosses.

Can we say there is a real difference between the mother and father pulling the limbs of their children out of rubble in Basra, and the mother and father gripping each other in convulsions of sorrow at the delivery of the tricorner-folded flag?

Four thousand American soldiers gave their life in service to their people — in that they did their duty and gave the ultimate sacrifice, we could never say their deaths were "in vain." But it is important for us to never forget that to "serve" America is to "serve" the goal of human emancipation. For those of us who did forget, we have a burden to continue that fight for human emancipation from servitude to rulers, who will always lie, and manipulate, and make war if there is nobody to resist them.

I, like many — millions — of others, set our principles aside exactly because in waging this war, America was setting its principles aside. We cannot spread democracy by propping up regimes like the House of Saud. We cannot wage a war against terrorism and yawn at African genocides. Partisanship without principles is the lowest form of public participation, and while it may work in the short-term, in the long term it always weakens us as a nation and as an idea. And the short term is our own lives, which we at least deserve to befoul — but the long term are the lives of billions of unborn, prisoners to our choices.

The human condition across much of the planet is one of such deep misery, that to bring more of it, even temporarily, must be supremely justified. It must be in service of the greatest good we human creatures have dreamed up: emancipation from servitude, from superstition, from submission. Wars fought on lies are wars fought to defend the very power structures that bring much of that misery and sorrow.

A soldier's death in defense of the principle of human emancipation is a sorrow, but not a tragedy. A soldier's death in defense of a power structure is both.

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Fitz / March 28, 2008 10:40 AM

I was against the war from the beginning, but I have always been of the we broker it, we brought view. However, I wondered the other day if us leaving would be more tragic than us staying. I do not doubt that there would be great bloodshed if we left. But I think there would be some form of equilibrium to take hold. All I can see now is a slow motion, and still bloody, attempt at some sort of lasting order.

But more importantly, these country needs to do its duty to the Iraqi peoples. More than 2 million Iraqis are international refugees, yet we have allowed only the 4,000 into this country. This, in my view, is our greatest crime, because it is some obvious and evident, and solvable.


About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon studies and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at

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