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The Sad Parallels Between Iraq and Reconstruction

News Abroad




Mr. Wyatt-Brown is Richard J. Milbauer Professor of History at the University of Florida in Gainesville and a writer for the History News Service.

American indifference to Iraqi society and values is proving calamitous. That's because American authorities remain dismissive of Middle Eastern culture, in which the powerful and ancient code of honor determines behavior and ideals. That code fuels the enmity of our opponents throughout the Arab world. Yet Washington policy-makers seem oblivious to Arab motivations and how best to deal with resistance to American peacekeeping.

We should know better -- from our own historical experience in the Civil War -- how cultural differences powerfully affect events. With their defeat in 1865, Southerners claimed to have lost all "save honor." Retaining their sense of insulted honor, they boiled with resentment of the Northern occupiers, brutally suppressed freedmen's rights and eventually overthrew Northern-imposed Reconstruction.

In Iraq today, humiliation under the coalition forces sparks a mounting hatred of their presence and a hunger to restore Iraqis' pride. The appetite for rekindled self-respect resembles that of the Johnny Rebs of 1865.

Honor in Middle Eastern societies serves not as a benchmark of upright individualism but instead requires demonstrations of martial valor, family loyalty and male power over possessions both material and human, most especially female dependents. The West no longer values the ethic of honor, but in the non-Western world honor traduced incites quick and bloody retribution.

The Middle Eastern expert Raphael Patai observes that the many shapes in which honor is molded, envelop "the Arab ego like a coat of armor." He observes, "The smallest chink can threaten to loosen all the loops and rings." Honor was avenged when thousands of irate Muslims protested when a helicopter inadvertently took down a religious flag flying over a Baghdad minaret. The flag's dismantling signified to the Iraqis American contempt for them as if they were conquered, not liberated people.

The speed of the coalition's triumph has left the Iraqis free of tyranny, as we promised. But they are now subject to Arab neighbors' scorn for alleged cowardice in the briefest war imaginable. In dealing with Iraq, we can learn a sobering lesson from the policy misjudgments of the post-Civil-War era. In the glow of victory, the triumphant Republicans had hoped to fashion a bi-racial, two-party democracy in the South. Their experiment failed.

Occupying the former Confederacy, Northern forces were too few to control the murderous assaults on Republican state administrations and their black and white constituents. The Yankees wearied of constant turmoil and withheld taxpayers' dollars for rebuilding the vanquished Southern states and policing them with sufficient troops. Sadly, that could be our destiny in Iraq.

The zealots' sabotage heightens Iraqi insecurity and fear. It also suggests American vulnerability. With neither enough military personnel to secure the peace, nor enough experts to restore electricity, nor enough resources to put matters right, we resemble the undermanned Union peacekeepers in the Reconstruction South. By Middle Eastern standards of honor, America now appears shamed by displaying inadequacies that almost beg for Iraqi contempt and retaliation.

The recent tragic bombings of the Jordanian Embassy and the UN headquarters in Baghdad were designed to destabilize the American occupation. They also were intended to restore Arab and Islamic honor, as the terrorists see it, even if it means misery for the people themselves. In the case of the embassy's destruction, it's possible that Saddam Hussein's enemies sought to punish Jordan for the lavish hospitality shown to his relatives -- with tacit American compliance. Or Osama bin Laden's operatives could have been the perpetrators because of Jordan's crackdown on their conspiracies. Those who committed these atrocities no doubt believe that honor is vindicated in dramas of death and retribution that degrade the American efforts of stabilization.

To pull out of Iraq or let it fester in uncertainty would fatally diminish our sway throughout the Arab world. Moral retreat also confronted the nation in 1877. The new president, Rutherford B. Hayes, caved in to Southern demands for removal of all Union forces from the former Confederacy. That withdrawal permitted one-party rule, an epidemic of lynchings, Jim Crow laws, black and poor-white disfranchisement and the destruction of equitable governance.

By means of ritual, gesture and subtle formalities, honor masks raw power and lends it the dignity of authority. We must win respect by appreciating Iraqi customs, conceding power gradually out of strength and not fatigue. To appear less than overwhelmingly in command would prove no less catastrophic for transforming Iraq than it was for Northern authorities at the tragic close of southern Reconstruction.

American policy-makers must use all the means necessary, including the aid of allies, to suppress terrorism and armed resistance They also need to understand the venerable codes of honor in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. Our leaders would then be enabled to bring peace to that troubled region and not be forced to say all was lost "save honor."


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Greg Lang - 11/6/2003

Excellent article. Very true. The northern government has failed to reconstruct me. I'm still a loyal Confederate.


Jonathan Dresner - 9/15/2003

Mr. Thomas,

Your disdain is clear, if boring. It would be far more interesting if you actually took a stand and said something substantive. But that would expose you, of course, to critical attention. Have you an historical point to make, or are you just here to annoy people who are trying to have an adult discussion?

What kind of world do you want to see, and how does that connect to the past?


Stephen Thomas - 9/15/2003

Thanks for a very interesting post.

One factor you've omitted is the assassination of President Lincoln. Lincoln was determined that the South would be readmitted to the Union without punishment. His death ensured that the opposite occurred.

This board is still divided over the issue of American Reconstruction. 150 years after the end of the war, contempt for the South is still one of the dominant themes on this board. President Bush is repeatedly reviled for the sin of residing in the South.

How this relates to Iraq, I cannot say. Perhaps the U.S. has to find a way to include Islamic fundamentalism in the mix. The deep South remains a bastion of traditional masculinity, respect for the military and for religion. And the deep South continues to be the whipping boy for northern liberals.

Perhaps the lesson to learn is real compassion and tolerance. In other words, the U.S. needs to cease its mission to implant feminism and gay activism in the Middle East. If democracy is to flourish in Iraq, it probably has to exist within a context of respect for masculinity, tradition and religion. Attempts to re-fashion a traditional Arab society into a political correct society will likely lead to disaster and a century and a half of strife.


Stephen Thomas - 9/15/2003

You are a very good little boy. You've absorbed the brainwashing and you can parrot it back. You'll go far in the academic world.

Your description of the past is ridiculous. There is no system called patriarchy that is separate from people.

And, no, the fathers never behaved the way you have described. A few did, but that's just because humans are weak and sinful.

The human failings that you have described, authoritarianism and the like, are just human failings. Those failings exist within you, too.

You hate people as they are, Mr. Dresner, and want to make them perfect. That's a very big problem. It was at bottom what caused the murder of tens of millions of people in the 20th century. What is to be feared is not the normal failings of humans, but the delusions of martyrdom and perfection that you harbor.

You are a very good little boy. The women will pat you on the head and tell you what a good little boy you are. This has become a very good way to get ahead in the world of the liberal arts. It's the party line. You'll do well to keep burping up the brainwashing. I suspect you'll succeed brilliantly.


Jonathan Dresner - 9/12/2003

Either you're ignorant of what the term means (which I doubt) or you're being deliberately distorting.

Patriarchy is the subordination of the lives of women to the interests of men, usually associated with highly authoritarian systems of both politics and family. Is that what you're in favor of?

Are equality and democracy too threatening to take seriously?


Stephen Thomas - 9/12/2003

The world is not condemned to patriarchy. Patriarchy is one of the great strengths and beautiful structures of this world.

The notion that patriarchy should be abolished is both abysmally stupid and quite impossible.

That any sane person could describe patriarchy in the terms Mr. Dresner uses suggests the need to download your PC brainwashing and spend some time observing reality.

The root of the word patriarchy is simply "father." Fathers are good. My father was a wonderful man. The society built by the fathers is beautiful and wonderful.

You might as well curse God and nature, which indeed is precisely what you have done. I suspect that God and nature will both survive and triumph over the fruitcake Utopian nonsense you comments indicate dominate your thoughts.


Ben H. Severance - 9/8/2003

Bertram Wyatt-Brown has rightly urged Americans to apply lessons from Reconstruction in the South to Reconstruction in Iraq. His observations about honor are insightful, as usual given his extensive knowledge of the issue. And contrary to some of the comments that debunk historical conjecture, there are several other significant parallels in the two Reconstructions worth noting:

1) Paramilitary Opposition. In the South, ex-Confederates resisted Reconstruction via the Ku Klux Klan, a decentralized organization of vigilante bands, and later through more sophisticated extra-legal militia units (e'g., the White League in Louisiana or the Redshirts in South Carolina). In Iraq, anti-Americans resist via the Fedayeen and other scattered, but no less dangerous, insurgent groups. Donald Rumsfeld wishfully describes these guerrillas as "dead-enders." It remains to be seen whether these deadenders reorganize into full-blown political armies, such as the White League. One key difference is that the Klan rarely attacked U.S. soldiers, prefering to kill politically active blacks or southern Republicans, whereas the "deadenders" and recently arrived terrorist forces make U.S. troops their primary target. The lesson to be learned is that the Iraqi guerrillas can be subdued without completely destroying Iraqi society, but it will require an Iraqi constabulary, not endless coungerinsurgency campaigns by the U.S. army. In the American South, several Republican governors declared martial law and employed effective state militias comprised mostly of white Unionists, but in some cases enlisted black volunteers. In Arkansas especially, but also in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Texas, these militias temporarily stymied Klan activities. Unfortunately, fiscal constraints, political diffidence, and intra-party squabbles undermined these promising efforts. In Iraq, Paul Bremer (the very loose equivilant of Oliver Howard of the Freedmen's Bureau) is trying to develop a local militia force to combat the Fedayeen. And with $87 billion now on the way, money shouldn't be a problem.

2) The Problem of Loyalty. In the South, ex-Confederates never acknowledged the legitimacy of Reconstruction. And as former rebels and "traitors," no sensible victor could allow them a voice in post-war government. Only the small number of white Unionists and 3.5 million poorly educated and ill-experienced freedmen could be relied on to restore republican government. Moreover, the allegiance of many whites could only be determined through dubious loyalty oaths. For this reason, Congress exercised arbitary power over the South. The nation, then, would not tolerate a resurgent confederacy under the guise of reunion. It is the same today, where the U.S. will tolerate neither a Baathist return, nor a fundamentalist theocracy, nor even a monarchy. Congress dissolved the Andrew Johnson governments in 1865-66 because they comprised former Rebels and subjected the freedmen to oppressive black codes; President Bush will do the same in Iraq if the new government is not to his liking. Then as now, it is useless to talk about violations of democratic procecure, for Reconstruction by its very nature is a time when normal relations do not exist, therefore the constitutionalism is in abeyance as political power is realigned and redefined. Who is loyal in Iraq? The U.S. can certainly count on the Kurds, however much this country has abused their aspirations in the past. Some kind of self-determination for them is in order, regardless of Turkish apprehensions. Moreover, the Kurds could well make up a sizeable and reliable contingent in a homegrown militia, at least in the northern areas. As for the Sunnis and Shiite Iraqis, the U.S. must continue fostering loyalty even as it gradually relinquishes political authority. It can do this, in part, by promoting an economic middle-class. Moreover, it must be wary of the political armies likely to arise around strong-man figures, be they Islamic mullahs or charismatic army/paramilitary officers.

To be sure, this comparison is broad and doesn't account for many other variables, but drawing on the Reconstruction in the South is a valuable way to come to grips with what's going on in Iraq. It is another example of finding a "usuable past." I am not trying to justify the U.S. invasion or conquest; merely to objectively analyze how a nation goes about winning the peace without maintaining a garrison for generations, or commiting atrocties in its efforts to suppress terrorism.


NYGuy - 9/7/2003

Johnny,

War is hell. What is your point? How does your illustration compare to the thousands of innocents in U. S. who were killed or those thousands of graves found in Iraq? It would help if you would say what you mean and not leave the audience with an example of what happens almost daily throughout the world. Not nice, not pretty but not enough to make a point within the larger context of our society.


Jonathan Dresner - 9/5/2003

Mr. Thomas writes "The infantile notion of the left is that structures that have existed and worked for several millenium can simply be junked."

Things change, that's why we study history. Nothing has survived unchanged for several millenia; very few social institutions actually remain truly stable (ignoring vast regional differences) over centuries, and some things change even more quickly now. Institutions that seem to have "worked for several millenia" have actually been changing and adapting, sometimes dramatically, with the economic, political and social changes around them.

Trying to keep things from changing requires at least as much effort as changing them. There is no fundamental difference between the "radical" and the "conservative": each has chosen a direction in which society would, optimally, progress, and is struggling against both social process and other activists to move it in that direction.

So, if "Feminism and gay activism are the religions of the left" (what happened to redistributive equity and secular humanism?) then libertarian free trade, theocracy and heterosexual patriarchy are the religions of the right: these are not naturally occuring institutions, but radical positions.

Why do you insist that the "left" is alienated from the mainstream when the majority of Americans support government protections against the free market, support some form of redistributive tax code, support equality for women and civil rights for homosexuals?

Who gave you the right to condemn the world to patriarchy and stagnation?


Stephen Thomas - 9/5/2003

And here in a nutshell is the insanity of this site.

It's odd that the left complains so of "imperialism." The export of feminism and gay activism is the sword of U.S. imperialism throughout the world. Feminism and gay activism are not, as the Marxists who frequent this board like to say, scientific. Marxism isn't scientific. It's crackpot and criminal.

This is a religious war. The problem is that the left doesn't see itself as the ferocious protaganist in this war that it is. Feminism and gay activism are the religions of the left. The left is not the neutral bystander it likes to pretend to be. It is one of the principal combatants and it is determined to destroy the traditional cultures of the East wherever it encounters them. Just like the Spanish who knew that it was their mission to civilize the Phillipines, the left knows that its mission is to civilize the savage Arabs. The arrogance of this assumption pervades this site like a stale cloud of dust.

Patriarchy is good. It's the way things have been done for several millenium. Read "A Hero of Our Times." The fashionable leftists on this board have no idea how fervently they are loathed by middle class Americans, so lost are they in their Christ-like determination to save the world. So, the one question I have to ask of you is: Who asked you to save the world? Why don't you take up a hobby like collecting cars or stamps... something positive, instead of the nonsense on this board.

The infantile notion of the left is that structures that have existed and worked for several millenium can simply be junked because "ideally" they don't seem perfect. This silly notion pervades this site, and makes one wonder how any of you can find a job doing anything. If any of you actually teach history at any level, I've got to wonder why anybody would employ you.


Jesse Lamovsky - 9/5/2003

Your comments are appreciated, Mr. Johnson. May I ask, what country do you live in these days? And why the heck did your family leave America? We may have lunatics running the government, but it's beautiful here!

Actually, you'd be surprised at the level of anti-war feeling among Americans, and it's not just confined to the "Counterpunch" set, either.


Janah Casey - 9/3/2003

I DONT REALLY AGREE WITH THE ARTICLE ABOUT RECONSTUCTION IN THE 1865 BECAUSE RECONSTRUCTION IN THE SOUTH OPENED THE IDEA OF FREEDOM AND IT MAY HAVE FAILED IN MANY WAYS BUT EVENTUALLY BLACKS WERE COMPLETELY FREE AND YES I BELIEVE TODAY THEY ARE. THE DEAL WITH IRAQ I HAVE TO OPINIONS ABOUT. FIRST I THINK ITS HYPOCRITICAL TO WANT TO CHANGE A NATION TO BE LIKE US WHEN WE ARE BASED ON FREEDOM. WHY TRY TO MAKE ANOTHER COUNTRY GOVERN AND ACT AS WE DO? BUT THEN AGAIN I AM FOR THE WAR THAT HAPPENED BECAUSE IRAQ WAS A THREAT TO OUR COUNTRY. BUT I FEEL FOR THOSE WHO SUFFERED THAT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. BUT RECONSTRUTION IN IRAQ, YOU JUST SPENT MILLIONS DESTROYING IT NOW SPEND MILLIONS REBUILDING IT? THEY SHOULD PUT ALL THAT MONEY IN TO THEIR OWN COUNTRY AND HELP WHERE HELPS NEEDED LIKE SCHOOLS.


Lloyd Drako - 9/3/2003

I'm surprised more people don't see the parallel with the British experience in S. Africa after the "March to Pretoria."
It may be salutary to recall that the Empire at great length prevailed militarily but caved politically in 1902, with consequences troubling that part of the world right down to the present.


Johnny Johnson Jr. - 9/1/2003



Care for some real information on what's going on in Iraq?

try this for a start:
http://counterpunch.org/butterly08202003.html


Johnny Johnson Jr. - 9/1/2003

yay!


Johnny Johnson Jr. - 9/1/2003

I believe HNN's insistence on publishing such articles as this one and "Werewolves", besides others I shall not bother reading, is due to the need the ones in power have to keep asserting their so-called "views of the World".

We are living in very scary times, where the limit of the sole remaining world superpower state(corporate)-sponsored brutality (and it's eastern mediterranean "cub"'s too) is more stretched than ever, and I guess will burst any minute now.

I am not an American (even though my grand-grand-father was) so I must be _very_ careful as to what I write here, as I might be labeled "terrorist" or something, be very easily tracked and end up wearing a chainlocked hood at Guantanamo.

After reading this article and "Werewolves", I once again felt nothing but dismay. The thought-control steamroller keeps on rolling, doesn't it? I could go on and on about it, but I guess you catch my drift.

Anyway, after reading so much elaborated garbage in supposedly "serious" sites like HNN, you have no Idea what relief I feel when I read such lucid thoughts - in the form of these comments - coming out of Americans' minds. Helps me not to lose my hope sometime soon this "Dubya's Imperial Lunacy on Cruise Control" will end (nonviolently, I pray) and the World will again breath with relief and _real_ Peace.

greetings


Gus Moner - 9/1/2003

You are right about these outward signs of separation between church and state. However, my inference, obviously not clearly uttered, was that the government is being directed and rules, funding, and the very philosophy behind them are fostering Christian principles, blurring that line between state and church significantly in practice, if not form.

Right or wrong in my estimation, I am sorry I did not make that clearer.


Jesse Lamovsky - 9/1/2003

Agreements with Mr. Moner here, but disagreements as well.

"The little separation of state and church available in the USA today is nearly indistinguishable from Arab societies. The US President wants to codify that marriage is between man and woman only, according to him because that’s the moral Christian way."

Is Mr. Moner serious? All I've seen is the Federal government energetically stamping out the public display of religion, everywhere and anywhere. Who but the feds ordered the removal of Roy Moore's Ten Commandments property from property belonging to the people of Alabama, in direct violation of no less than three of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution? Who but the feds outlaw prayer in its government schools? So Mr. Bush mumbled something about an amendment codifying heterosexual marriage. So what? Does Mr. Moner actually think the President and his party would even try to carry this out? I don't. I think it was political moonshine, designed to cloud the heads of real Christian conservatives who are skeptical of the war and outraged over the Republican surrender on social and religious principles.

It's in the interest of the Federal state to erode religion from American life, because religion is a competitive force for the allegiance of people. The Feds want to replace God with Government. Mr. Moner makes good points, but he should recognize that the enemy is the State, not Christians.

By the way (and this is a general observation, not a dig on Mr. Moner), I'm not sure that pushing military occupation and Womens' Lib is a really sure-fire way of selling the Iraqi people on Western-style democracy.


Gus Moner - 9/1/2003

These gentlemen have made good points that I thank them for. The ever more bizarre analogies are becoming nauseating and I am getting tired of responding to them. I am surprised at HNN's insitence on publishing them when there are so many good, relevant article about.


Gus Moner - 9/1/2003

Well, it is not just “Arab” civilisation where these appalling practices are current. Slav societies, Christian and Muslim ones, both keep women as possessions, Chinese society disdains women and they are often drowned when born. Some African tribes practice clitoris ablation; women are bought for marriage throughout Asia and Africa. Much remains as it was in 300 years ago.

That, however, does not ordain the USA to change other people’s societies. Just as ‘western’ Christian nations’ divorced themselves from the power of the churches, aided by the Enlightenment, and it brought about a cultural revolution that eventually, only in the 20th Century, liberated certain aspects of female life in society, each culture needs to undergo its own Enlightenment.

No one imposed this upon these ‘western’ nations, and if they had tried to they would have been met with the same hail of bullets and bombs we meet when we try it anywhere. After all, Muslims were chased out of most of Europe, Mongols from the Middle East and so on. All people and cultures need their own time and space to evolve, and invasions or forced makeovers fail. A historian ought to know, and respect, these basic truths about social evolution.

In modern history, Arab tribes, cultures or states have done nothing to interfere in western ones. Western ones, in turn, have invaded their lands, partitioned them to suit their needs and set up corrupt, dictatorial states to exploit their natural resources- caring not a whit about their women, by the way. The worst offence has been that Britain and then the USA supported a Jewish invasion of Palestine in the 20th Century, its subsequent colonisation, settlement and apartheid included.

The little separation of state and church available in the USA today is nearly indistinguishable from Arab societies. The US President wants to codify that marriage is between man and woman only, according to him because that’s the moral Christian way.

Every Presidential pronouncement invokes God. Most politicians follow suit. The notes and coins say God Bless America. The pledge of allegiance, you name it, it’s all based on this Christian God. Every politician bows to “God Bless America”, with God’s will on our side, etc. They sound ever more like the fundamentalists they claim to be fighting.

One can argue, pro or con, for Iraqi regime change. However, we have no right to inflict our values on others. What comprises Iraq today has been a Muslim-ruled land for nearly 1,400 years. It is not an aberration. It is the historical rule. We have no idea how many Iraqis, more or less would be dead today if we had not invaded. My guess is that with the estimated over 6,000 killed and wounded in the war, and those perishing since, the regime would have had to have had a significant rebellion to reach those figures.

Since when is it any nation’s brief to destroy “medieval customs”? Who appointed the USA judge, jury and executioner for the planet? This viewer posting has serious authoritarian tones.

I agree the Iraqi connection to reconstruction is at best weak. Honour is but one piece of a large puzzle before us in Iraq. There is, however, as little comparison between Iraq and Japan as there is to the Japan and the ‘reconstruction’ in the south. Bad comparison, bad policy in this or any century.


Edmund Birkenstock - 9/1/2003


Last week it was George Bush as FDR, this week it is Dubya as Thaddeus Stevens in danger of morphing into Rutherford Hayes.
Sleepwalking through history can take you anywhere, concoct any comparative fantasy, no matter how patently absurd. Only the waking, it seems, can realize that there is no historical precedent for Mr. Rumsfeld's hypocritical and unworkable foreign policy.


Jesse Lamovsky - 9/1/2003

Dr. Wyatt-Brown's column is an almost perfect encapsulation of the neoconservative worldview, combining a deeply-flawed, mis-read interpretation of history with a patronizing attitude toward the Arabs that we have bombed, starved, and conquered.

Like most liberal historians, Dr. Wyatt-Brown remoans what he sees as the premature end of Reconstruction; that Union troops didn't "reconstruct" the South enough and magically transform it into a "bi-racial, two-party democracy". He follows the party line: we didn't follow through enough on Reconstruction, so therefore the South turned into a cesspool of racism and brutality for the next century. The same will happen to Iraq, Dr. Wyatt-Brown posits, if we don't stay the course there.

Reconstruction was an anti-democratic travesty and, coming on the heels of the physical destruction of the Confederacy, was a further injustice to the Southern people. The defeated Confederate states were initially ruled by Northern military governments, until puppet Republican regimes could be set up. Southern men who had taken part in the late rebellion- most of the white male population of the region- were disenfranchised, while newly-freed slaves were given the ballot and instructed to vote Republican. Thomas DiLorenzo states: "The ex-slaves were promised... the property of white Southerners, if they registered and voted Republican". By 1868, according to DiLorenzo, "ten of the fourteen southern U.S. senators, twenty of the thirty-five representatives, and four of the seven governors were Northern Republicans who had never meant their constituents until after the war." Is this the kind of democracy Dr. Wyatt-Brown is talking about? Add in the rampant graft, theft, and corruption that went hand-in-glove with carpetbag governments, keep in mind that all this took place on top of a brutal and unconstitutional four-year assault on the Southern states that destroyed millions of dollars worth of railroads and property, obliterated entire cities, and killed off a full quarter of the men of military age in the region, all carried out by Republicans, and it's small wonder why white Southerners were discontented, and why they chose to take their discontent out on the Republicans' unwitting black proxies. Reconstruction was a cause- maybe the cause- of the race problems in the South, not a solution.

The United States cannot spread "democracy" and "freedom" at gunpoint. We couldn't do it in 1865 in the South, and we won't be able to here. Nor should we want to. Hopefully, our Reconstruction of Iraq will fail in the same manner of the Reconstruction of the South, for that will mean true freedom and self-determination for the Iraqi people. And hopefully we won't stay there for twelve years and undermine all the social institutions of the country, like in the South.

"The speed of the coalition's triumph has left the Iraqis free of tyranny"

Yeah, except for ours.


Oscar Chamberlain - 9/1/2003

While Dave Thomas is absolutely right about some of the real problems with Iraqi society, his pointing to Japan simply suggests the weakness of our situation.

1. We had defeated Japan; therefore we could treat them with ruthlessness. They knew that. We also had cooperation of the emperor in establishing initial reforms. That helped immensely, too. We also were less ideologically hamstrung then in our range of policy options.

2. In Iraq, we came in as liberators. It is not easy to liberate a society and then say to the people in that society that you are not free to choose (in some manner) the society you wish.

3. Some of the major reforms in Japan, particularly land redistribution and the liberation of women, are not high on the Bush administration's agenda. Bush and Co. wish to privatize the economy in a manner favorable to the US (and not necessarily the Iraqis). This is one of the ideological limits I alluded to above.

As for women, while I don't think they liked the Taliban's treatment of women, Bush and Co. have shown no particular interest in furthering women's rights. After all, they have already moved to weaken international attempts to further the rights of women.

4. Finally, and a bit more optimistically, Wyatt-Brown's suggestion that we need to understand Iraqi honor is a good one. Unwritten codes of male honor can, over time, shift to incorporate the independence of women. Finding aspects of Iraqi honor that can be appealed to as a reason for respecting women's freedom of action is likely to be a better approach than imposition of new laws in a land in which we have come as liberators, and not as conquerors.


Dave Thomas - 9/1/2003

The United States is right to ignore the medieval, tribal nature of the worst elements of Arab civilization. Where gang rape by elders is the punishmnet for adultery, but only the gang rape of the women involved. Arab society denies separation of church and state, free speech, women's rights, and an end to male patriarchal rights. If these archaic traditions survive in Iraq is should not be with our blessing and cooperation.

The connection to Reconstruction is weak. The Iraqi people are not freedmen trying to escape plantation slavery. Saddam's regime was the abberation in Iraqui history and not the rule. We need an honest gut check on Iraq. More Iraqis would be dead today if Saddam was still in power. It takes intestinal fortitude to pay the price to do our best to destroy Saddam's regime and medieval customs. We did so in Japan after World War II and we can do so again in Iraq in the twenty-first century.