Ever since George W. Bush lost the popular vote by 500,000 souls and was selected President by a right-leaning Supreme Court, the United States has seemed to me devoted to a twisted fate of slow-motion Armageddon.
What seems to guarantee this is one of our most characteristic American traits: We don't learn from the past; instead, we choose to officially forget embarrassing history so we can move on from our debacles without losing an ounce of glory. We all know how it goes: Sure, mistakes were made, but we need to keep our eye on the ball and move forward. The costs are paid in slow motion and out of sight.
Our leaders are either complicit in the gig or they feel compelled to pander to this weakness for forgetting history as they pump up the boilerplate myth and symbols. We're now, of course, officially entering the silly season in America, so maybe we should not be surprised that the idea of going to war is in the air.
Norman Schwarzkopf sr, Mossedegh, the Shah and Khomeini arriving in Teheran by unknown
The fear of history became clear to me back in 1992 when President George Bush Senior was pushing something called Education 2000 and decided to make a speech at Norristown High School outside Philadelphia, where my wife taught Art. The President's advance team asked that the school's Art Department provide a painted backdrop for the President; they wanted a large book. Being artists and, thus, by nature subversive, my dear wife and her colleagues asked themselves what was the subject matter the President of the United States would be most uncomfortable with. They chose HISTORY and painted those words on the cover of the book.
Early on the day of the speech, the White House advance party arrived and right away told the Art Department to change the book's title from HISTORY to MATH. History, of course, was not even a part of the President's Education 2000 program. The America of the first George Bush was forward looking. Yes, mistakes had been made in our history, but it was mathematics and cold-blooded technological advancement that had to be emphasized. We want to hear the confident hum of a machine future, not the human shrieks of horror from the past.
Official history is limited to antiseptic and patriotic narrative and anything that supports the Myth of American Exceptionalism. All other history is certainly available for those so inclined, but it's not the stuff of American politics or our mainstream media. It's not something to be learned from. History is written by winners, and the US is always a winner -- even when it loses, as in Vietnam. Then official history focuses on scapegoats and on whom to pin the Stabbed in the Back Myth.
Only those outside the political carnival, the detached and the marginalized, are able (or interested) to see a national debacle for what it is. Consider George W. Bush's unnecessary nine-year invasion and occupation of Iraq, something that helped put the economic squeeze on the poor and middle class of America, as it sent their sons and daughters to be mangled in a confusing war zone, as it wrecked Iraq and empowered Iran, which we're told ad nauseum now is our worst enemy.
And of course the current Democratic President who opposed, and campaigned against, the Iraq War now follows the rules of power in America and talks like Richard Nixon about honor as he belatedly brings the troops home from the debacle he opposed. It's guaranteed now that his Republican opponent will use the Stabbed in the Back Myth against him like a flaming tire flung around his neck. These folks would have had him re-invade Iraq, which would have been necessary for our soldiers to continue to be immune from Iraqi law.
So Iraq is history. Iran is The Big Show now.
It's historic fact that the United States in the 1940s and early "50s joined with Britain in making Iran a servile colony for the extraction of oil. Mohammad Mossadegh rose to office as a popular Prime Minister devoted to Iranian dignity and independence vis-a-vis the West. Mossadegh was so troubling to the West he was put on the cover of Time magazine twice and was even named Man Of The Year in 1951 -- as in boogie-man of the year. According to the highly disrespectful story in that issue, "The fact that Iranians accept Mossadegh's suicidal policy is a measure of the hatred of the West." In other words, the un-modern Iranians had to be delusional to find resonance with Mossadegh's life-long dream of independence from the West.
Mossadegh went on to nationalize the British oilfields in 1953, whereupon he was overthrown by a joint US/British coup. As we have done in many other places, we bamboozled the Iranians, wrecked things and installed a friend, in this case the notorious Shah of Iran, who cleaned the place up with a ruthless, brutal secret police force. That police force -- the dreaded Savak -- was organized and advised by Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr, a tough mob gangbuster in the US and father of the famed Gulf War general. (In an interesting note, in the current film J. Edgar, gangbuster Schwarzkopf is disdainful of the more dandy J. Edgar Hoover.)
As a friend formerly married to an Iranian told me the other night, as bad as the Shah was, he greatly modernized Iran. And no doubt there is some truth to that. The same can be said for Hitler and Stalin. But a great many Iranians don't think modernization efforts outweigh the atrocities of the Shah's oppression. And, furthermore, as the consumer, ecological and sustainability movements have made clear, much that goes under the rubric "modernization" can be quite problematic for the Earth and the sense of community needed for a Middle Eastern society to flourish. Also, much of the benefits of that modernization ended up in the hands of westerners and the rich cronies of the Shah.
Western historians like Samuel P. Huntington and Bernard Lewis have made esteemed careers with the argument that the Middle Eastern and Arab world has failed to modernize at a pace consistent with Western standards. The trouble is the Huntington/Lewis argument comes with a history of voracious Western designs on those nation's resources and demands for fealty to our military might. In response, places like Iran have turned to Shia Islam for cultural strength. The same goes for the Sunni Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere. The Iranian government may be alien and not be our cultural cup of tea, but it's a quite logical response to the historic hostility to independence Iran has faced from the west, including Israel.
Personally, I don't want Iran to have nuclear weapons. It's a terrible idea. But I also don't want Israel to have nuclear weapons. The same goes for India, Pakistan, England, France, Russia, North Korea and the United States. If I have missed anyone, I would include them too.
History makes it tragically clear why Iran wants nuclear weapons. They want them for the same reason we have them, as an emblem of their power and a check on others who have historically shown very real hostility towards them.
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