Notes From the Margins…

George Washington in Fallujah

  • October 17, 2012
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Less than a year ago Barack Obama delivered a speech at Fort Bragg, Carolina, to commemorate the withdrawal of the last US troops from Iraq.  The Nobel Laureate hailed the successful conclusion to ‘one of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military’ and praised the war that he had once opposed for leaving behind ‘  a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.’

Obama praised the sacrifice of US soldiers in bringing about this outcome, which he placed within a noble American tradition stretching from

the colonists who overthrew an empire, to your grandparents and parents who faced down fascism and communism, to you – men and women who fought for the same principles in Fallujah and Kandahar and delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11.

To call these conflations ahistorical doesn’t even begin to describe this gobsmackingly dishonest drivel.   But Obama’s ‘invention of tradition’ was not only intended  to make his audience feel good about themselves – and about him.

American politicians always describe US wars as inherently noble, benign and well-intentioned, no matter how squalid, aggressive, and no matter how destructive their effects, and these narcissistic tendencies have been given a new lease of life in the era of ‘regime change’ and ‘humanitarian intervention.’

The inclusion of Fallujah within Obama’s freedom-fighting, anti-totalitarian tradition was particularly outrageous.  In 2004 the US launched  two massive assaults against  the recalcitrant ‘City of Mosques’,   in which helicopter gunships and artillery were used to bombard dense urban neighborhoods.

Over the last few years,  there has been a steady stream of reports on a rise in the numbers of babies born with deformities in Fallujah, that Iraqi doctors and foreign journalists claimed were linked to the use of chemical weapons and depleted uranium during the two assaults.

These reports were either ignored or denied by the American and British governments.    But this week a new international study  published in the Environmental Contamination and Toxicology bulletin reported a ‘staggering rise’ in birth defects in various Iraqi cities.  Its findings, according to the Independent, reveal

High rates of miscarriage, toxic levels of lead and mercury contamination and spiralling numbers of birth defects ranging from congenital heart defects to brain dysfunctions and malformed limbs have been recorded. Even more disturbingly, they appear to be occurring at an increasing rate in children born in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of  Baghdad.

Based on research on 56 families in Fallujah, the report found that

more than half of all babies surveyed were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010. Before the siege, this figure was more like one in 10. Prior to the turn of the millennium, fewer than 2 per cent of babies were born with a defect.

One of the report’s authors, Doctor Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental  toxicologist at the University of Michigan, described  a clear ‘footprint of metal in the population’ and linked what she called ‘the staggering increases in Iraqi birth defects’ to ‘ neuro-toxic metal contamination following the repeated bombardments of Iraqi cities.’

Will Obama or any other American or British politician acknowledge this legacy or take responsibility for these horrors?   Don’t you hold your breath.  For the narcissism of good intentions, to paraphrase T.S Elliot, cannot bear very much reality, and the new humanitarian militarists of our era cannot allow the public to dwell for too long on  the possibility that their wars are really not that humanitarian after all.

Thus the Indie contains a statement from a US Defence Department spokesman to the effect that

 ‘ We are not aware of any official reports indicating an increase in birth defects in Al Basrah  or Fallujah that may be related to exposure to the metals contained in munitions used by the  US or coalition partners. We always take very seriously public health concerns about any population now living in a combat theatre.  Unexploded ordnance, including improvised explosive devices, are a recognised hazard.’

In other words, none of this ever happened.  And if it did happen then it was the fault of insurgents and their nasty homemade IEDs, which unlike our weapons are a ‘recognized hazard.’

Either way, the meta-narrative remains the same; that we are good and our wars are good too; that our foreign policies are always based on higher moral values and the ‘principles’ that once inspired George Washington,  and which our troops defended with such selfless humanity on the banks of the Euphrates in 2004.






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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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