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| | |-+  Only American Deaths Count in Iraq?
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Author Topic: Only American Deaths Count in Iraq?  (Read 6011 times)
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« on: July 28, 2004, 07:16:01 PM »

Why Americans Believe Only American Deaths Count in Iraq

By Robert R. Goldberg

07/27/04 "History News Network" -- Nationalism can be a vicious disease, and an infectious one, too. It can take all sorts of forms, and its most destructive strains can surely sneak up on any country. Just think of the tens of thousands of German Jews--German nationals--who refused to believe what was happening, even after Kristallnacht and the ghettos, until the trains arrived at Dachau. We know well from this past century what sentiments intense nationalist fervor can ignite among a country's people, but we have yet to learn deeply those lessons after two "great" wars, hundreds of so-called conflicts and countless millions of young men, women, and children dead. It's striking how rarely we talk about the most recent abuses of nationalism as well as the genocides--attempted eliminations of groups considered impure or unwelcome in a society--they engendered, in Bosnia or Rwanda, for example. Shouldn't the ones we read about firsthand logically instill the most compassion, the most closeness? We say never again while it happens under our knowing gaze. And yet Americans are not fully immune. Think of the violent attacks on, and illegal detainment of, thousands of Arabs and Muslims after September 11, 2001. Never again?

The U.S. government, harking back to some mythologized splendor of the revolutionary era, has long favored using the rhetoric of patriotism over that of nationalism--often to deem who, and what, is and isn't "American"--even though historically and today those in power define the two concepts as one and the same. While dissenters have been identifying this sly manipulation of terms since the colonial days, somehow most of us fall back on the government's chosen meaning, wishing upon its version, albeit foolishly and romantically, what it meant to a Sam Adams or a Thomas Paine. But the differences between patriotism and nationalism are significant, and we must not conflate the terms if we wish to make the world less brutalized by war, our society less open to the kind of fear, whether brought on by poverty and unemployment, or by "the foreigners" and "the communists" (or today's "the terrorists"), that the most destructive forms of nationalism feed on.

The privileging of American lives over those of other countries--soldiers and civilians--is one important way the U.S. government (and a corporate media biased in its favor) displays its nationalistic tendencies through the guise of the rhetoric of patriotism. Moreover, this act of valuing Americans over non-Americans has arguably been a key factor not only in garnering public support for subsequent military ventures but also in fogging the horrible reality of war: that individuals suffer greatly on both sides. It so happens that America's past is chock-full of wars, headliners and covert ones, "good" and "bad." From the 1902 "liberation" of the Philippines to the 2003 "liberation" of Iraq, tens (and sometimes even hundreds) of thousands of civilians died (and continue to die) by U.S. bombs and guns. Hardly do these deaths enter the American popular imagination, our cultural narrative, or our commemorations of war.

Take Vietnam, for instance. Important as it is to recognize the nearly 60,000 Americans who gave their lives in that war, where is any acknowledgement in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial of the two to three million Vietnamese, each also with a name, who got caught in a carpet bombing and were incinerated by napalm? My argument is not that the horrors of war didn't happen to U.S. troops, but more so to point to how our selective recounting of the human casualties of war--so-called collateral damage--plays a critical role in how we both construct the past in our cultural memory and understand current issues based on that memory.

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