A war memorial in Santa Barbara, Calif., calls attention to American soldiers killed in Iraq (AP/Ric Francis)
It is a staple of our widely trumpeted Judeo-Christian heritage that the acknowledgment of sin is a prelude to redemption. So how is it that there is no palpable sense of soul searching associated with the 10th anniversary of a war based on officially concocted lies and a policy of torture? It is because the presumption of a unique American claim to an original and enduring innocence perseveres, no matter the death and destruction.
Indeed, some of our most celebrated publicists defined moral deceit as virtue in justifying the Iraq War. "As far as I am concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war," New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in April 2003, when U.N. inspectors had clearly established that the proclaimed basis for invading Iraq was a lie. "Mr. Bush doesn't owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons (even if it turns out that the White House hyped this issue)."
The big lie, that bane of human existence when embraced by obvious dictators elsewhere, is perceived as merely hyping when employed by an American president. Lyndon Johnson hyped the nonexistent second Gulf of Tonkin attack on American ships to justify the U.S. war in Vietnam, and George W. Bush hyped the fraudulent WMD issue when his fabrication of a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attack was proven factually absurd.
Even though Iraq never threatened the security of life in the United States, the Bush administration launched a genocidal civil war replete with a systemic policy of torture directed by U.S. officials at the highest level.
Just weeks ago, a devastating documentary produced by The Guardian newspaper and the BBC provided all the evidence needed for any decent person to demand trials for the perpetrators of an extensive system of Iraqi torture centers, operated and financed by the U.S. government. It was part of a policy of stoking a genocidal war of Shiite extremists against Sunnis that was directed by U.S. government veterans of similar efforts in Latin America and elsewhere. As the lead on The Guardian story put it:
"The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the "dirty wars' in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country's descent into full-scale civil war."
This effort, conducted with the full knowledge of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. David Petraeus, utilized the most violent Shiite militias including the savage Badr Brigade to wreak vengeance on their Sunni opponents.
The BBC/Guardian investigation exposed our propensity for moral turpitude, with no thanks to the Obama administration, which brazenly closed the door to any serious investigation of the war crimes of the Bush era, and much credit to Pfc. Bradley Manning and his WikiLeaks trove.
As The Guardian reported, its "investigation was sparked by the release of classified US military logs on WikiLeaks that detailed hundreds of incidents where US soldiers came across tortured detainees in a network of detention centres run by the police commandos across Iraq. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a prison sentence of up to 20 years after he pleaded guilty to leaking the documents." There are no trials or prison time for Americans who directed the torture camps that Manning's documents exposed.
But such revelations will not likely puncture the sanctimonious stance of presumed American virtue. We make mistakes; we don't commit war crimes. And if word leaks out that we do, it is handled by throwing out a few bad apples from the otherwise pristine bushel.
Yes, a majority of Americans, 53 percent according to this week's Gallup poll, think it was "a mistake sending troops to fight in Iraq" 10 years ago. But the lessons of our folly will likely not stick for long. The memories fade as we now see in that same Gallup poll with perceptions of the Vietnam War. A majority of Americans ages 18-29 believe sending U.S. troops to Vietnam was "not a mistake." By contrast, 70 percent of those 50 and older, the generation with contemporary knowledge of the war, think it was.
That the young now approve of an irrational conflict in which 3.4 million Indochinese and 58,000 Americans died suggests that even the madness that was Iraq will come to be viewed by this fatally jingoistic nation as a good war.