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Terrorists Or Resistance Fighters: America’s Dilemma In Iraq

By Gerald Rellick

16 March, 2006

"Hitler's decisions had ceased to have anything in common with the principles of strategy and operations as they were recognized for generations past. They were the product of a violent nature following its impulses, which recognized no limits to possibility and which made its wish-dreams the father of its acts.”

--Gen. Franz Halder, Chief of the German General Staff, 1944

In his latest book, “Hegemony or Survival,” Noam Chomsky raises provocative questions about America’s role in the world, and not just in our current crisis in the reign of Bush II. Ever since World War II America has assumed the role of the world’s super power, particularly so after the fall of the Soviet Union.

One critical question he raises is the difference between terrorism and resistance.

During World War II, after German occupation of Europe was complete, there arose underground resistance movements. Prominent among these were the French and the Norwegians. When I was in high school in the 1950’s I was a World War II buff. After all, the war was not long over and many men in our small community, including my father and his three brothers all fought in WWII.

Many have disparaged the French resistance as too few in number and ineffectual. But while in high school I recall reading a story of a husband and wife in the French resistance. One day they were in a café when the Gestapo stormed in, guns drawn, and advanced toward their table. The husband pulled out his pistol, shot his wife in the head and then killed himself. They knew the end was at hand and that before death there would be torture. It took incredible courage to do that. That was 40 years ago and I have never forgotten that story. When your homeland is occupied by foreign troops, extraordinary courage seems to come naturally.

Norway had its own style. Although Norway had professed neutrality, the country was critical to the German Navy with its thousand miles of coast line. With Norway in their control, Germany could launch its submarine wolf pack into the Atlantic at will. So, in April 1940 the Germans invaded Norway. But the Norwegians gave the Germans a bit of surprise. They fought bitterly and the Germans took heavy casualties, although Germany’s superior numbers won out in the end. But the Norwegians never gave up. They established an extremely effective underground, and throughout the war were able to relay to Allied forces submarine movements, the results of which were critical to the British Navy. Once again, when your homeland is occupied by foreign troops, destroying all you have lived and fought for, extraordinary courage is not so extraordinary after all.

Anther story I recall vividly from those same high school days was that of the Norwegian resistance discovering a traitor amongst them, a man who had given over names of the resistance to the Nazis. He was confronted by the resistance in his home with his family. They tied him to a chair and then summarily executed his wife and three children in front of his eyes, and he was allowed to go free, to live whatever life was possible for him.

So, what defines terrorism? Was this terrorism? Or was it resistance against an occupying force?

This episode echoed the thinking of the French anarchist, Emile Henri, discussed recently by Alexander Cockburn:

“Asked at his trial in 1894 why he had killed some many innocent people…Henri explained to the court that anarchism ‘is born in the heart of a corrupt society which is falling to pieces; it is a violent reaction against the established order. It represents egalitarian and libertarian aspirations which are battering down existing authority; it is everywhere, which makes it impossible to capture.’ So, said Henri as he faced the guillotine, "il n'y a pas d'innocents". “There are no innocents,” at least among the privileged classes.”

And to add one more note to this saga, let me cite a recent article by former Sen. Gary Hart in the Boston Globe. Hart writes that, “In 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia and…marched on and occupied Moscow. Napoleon and his generals took over the palaces of the court princes and great houses of the mighty boyars.”

“Sadly for Napoleon, the Russians had different plans for their nation. Within days after abandoning their city to the French army, they torched their own palaces, homes, enterprises, and cathedrals. They burned Moscow down around Napoleon. Denied his last great triumph, the disappointed emperor abandoned Moscow and started home. Along the way, he lost the world's most powerful army.”

The lesson of history is to never underestimate the occupied and oppressed. And the second lesson is you can’t win against the occupied. You don’t have the same will. They will die for their cause. Consider our own revolutionary soldiers, a rag-tag bunch at best, up against a well trained and disciplined British Army. But through sheer tenacity, determination and courage, the British were defeated and finally gave in. They realized this war would go on forever, no matter how many troops they sent to the colonies. American courage and determination to be free was endless, stopless. This is how history plays out.

So, now when we look at Iraq, we see the same thing. Even with the ethnic strife and potential for civil war, Iraqis want their country back from the U.S. occupiers. In fact the civil strife has worsened to the point that U.S. military commanders are ordering their troops to stay in their barracks as much as possible. So, one asks, why are our troops there if they are only hiding out in their barracks? What exactly is their mission now?

The sickening answer is they are to save George Bush’s “reputation.”

The average Army soldier or Marine in Iraq probably has a pretty decent life at home. Most likely he is close to his mother and father and is probably married with children, and has a good job in the U.S. He found the military to be both an adventure and an opportunity for growth and a chance to honor his country in military service, just as those who fought in WWII in the Pacific islands of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan. He might recall the bloody beaches of Normandy, where the 2nd U.S. Ranger battalion had the unenviable job of scaling up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, with German troops firing down on them. Casualties were heavy. At the end of the 2-days action, the landing force of 225+ was reduced to about 90 men who could still fight.

But there was purpose to their mission. They fought to destroy Nazism and Japanese Imperialism. But today our troops in Iraq fight for no honorable cause, and it is not their fault. They are soldiers. They take their orders. But one has to wonder about the big guns, General Abizaid and General Casey. They have shown no courage or commitment to their troops. They have proven be stooges of Donald Rumsfeld. When the history of this war is written, the U.S. military command will be seen as weak and compliant, unwilling and unable to defend America against a rogue president -- nothing more than toy soldiers kissing ass to get ahead. The lesson is that courage is not to be found in the military.

But now after three years, and the recognition that the war was a fraud, theses brave soldiers in Iraq know the difference: 70- 75% of them want the war to end and want to come home to their families rather than fight George Bush’s personal war. This is not what they signed up for. They signed an oath to defend and protect the United States. After three years it has become clear to them that this is not the goal in Iraq. Good, decent American soldiers have become the oppressors, destroying much of Iraq’s infra- structure, where water, food and medicine are hard to come by, and electric power in Baghdad is available only 20% of the day.

It is time to admit defeat in Iraq as has concluded ultra- conservative William F. Buckley recently in an article in the National Review. Writes Buckley:

"One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed… Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols."

Buckley concludes, “…different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.”

Gerald S. Rellick, Ph.D., worked in aerospace industry for 22 years. He now teaches in the California Community College system. He can be reached at









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