Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- September 2, 2003


By Ernest Partridge 



Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We’ll take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.

"River," Anonymous Iraqi
Baghdad Burning

Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana (paraphrased)

The ironies of history are cruel and remorseless.

The military strategy that won us our independence in 1781, has been successfully adopted by our adversaries today, and threatens to be our undoing. 

First in Viet Nam and now in Iraq, we are the “Redcoats” – the arrogant super-power from abroad, determined to impose our will on the “natives” by force of arms.

Like the British in 1775, we believe that overwhelming military might guarantees victory. Like the American patriots, and in our time, Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap, the Iraqi and Afghan resistance will likely understand that it is folly to engage the enemy at its strength – by direct encounter in the battlefield. There are other, better, ways to conduct the struggle – tactics that are regarded by the opposing Great Power as “cowardly,” and “ungentlemanly,” while those who utilize these tactics are called “terrorists.”

Recently, as I have taken time to study the American Revolution, I have been struck by the similarities in the conditions and tactics of the “colonial rebels” of our revolution, and of our government’s adversaries today.

At the outset, at Lexington and Concord, the Redcoats were infuriated by the rebels’ “cowardly” disposition to take cover and fire from behind rocks, trees, and buildings. According to the military conventions of the time, “gentlemen” stood in the open and fired their muskets in ranks and files.

When General Washington “played by the rules” and faced the British army in the fields of Long Island in 1776, he was soundly defeated. It was a mistake that he was not inclined to repeat.

Eighteenth century armies typically “stood down” during the winter, when movement was restricted. By treating the habits and expectations of the enemy as their weakness and as his opportunity, Washington crossed the Delaware River and took Trenton the day after Christmas in 1776.

According to the conventions of the time, when an army captured the capital city, the war was won, and all that remained was for the opposing general to hand over his sword and for the defeated government to sue for peace. But when the British took Philadelphia, the colonial capital, in 1777, the rebel government and army dispersed to fight again. To be sure, the American cause was bolstered by its simultaneous “unconventional” victory at Saratoga.

The parallels with today were most striking in the southern campaign. When Cornwallis seized Charleston, and then South Carolina, and moved north, his opponent, General Nathanial Greene repeatedly engaged the British and lost. Indeed, Greene lost virtually every battle, as Cornwallis marched north through hostile territory, extending his supply lines, his army growing weaker and weaker with each Pyrrhic “victory.” 

While the American patriots did not invent guerrilla warfare, they surely refined it. As the Redcoats marched through the Carolinas and into Virginia, they were constantly harassed at the rear and the flanks by the likes of “the swamp fox” Francis Marion, who struck and then disappeared into the forests and swamps. Brutal retaliation by British regulars such as Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton and his “Raiders,” only served to solidify American opposition. 

Eventually, Cornwallis’ army paused in eastern Virginia to rest, recover, regroup and re-supply. He chose a place that was ideally suited to a British army – a peninsula with a narrow line of defense and bordering on the coast, thus affording re-supply and re-enforcement from the sea.

The sanctuary proved to be a trap, when the French fleet cut off opportunity for re-supply or escape. The name of this place was Yorktown. 

Soon after the end of the Viet Nam war, an American general remarked to a Vietnamese counterpart, “we won every battle.” 

“That may be,” replied the his opponent. “But we won the war.”


George Washington is often described as a great leader but a poor general who lost most of his battles. That he did. But that quite misses the point. He did, after all, win the war (with the essential assistance of the French, to be sure – right-wing francophobes take note).

During the Vietnam war, Secretary of State Dean Rusk was asked, "when are our boys going to come home?"  He replied, "when the Viet Cong go home!"  But, of course, the Viet Cong, like the American revolutionaries, were “at home” in their own territory, and thus needed most of all to endure and outlast their opponent, until the struggle became too costly in lives and treasure for the invader to endure. And then it was over.

Did we really believe that Saddam Hussein would fail to take note of the winning tactics of the Vietnamese nationalists?

Faced with an imminent invasion by the United States military (sorry, “Coalition”), would Saddam, with a military budget one four-hundredth that of the United States, prepare his pitiful army for a conventional showdown on the Iraqi deserts with American tanks, jet fighters, cruise missiles, etc.? If so, he would be a fool.

Or might he, like General Giap, concede the first inning, and prepare for the guerilla war to follow? Say what you will about Saddam: he was a tyrant, a brute, and a mass murderer. Granted. But he was not a fool.

Saddam Hussein clearly understood that Phase One would soon end with the American occupation of Iraq. So his army gave token resistance, fell back, then shed its uniforms, blended into the civilian population, and prepared for Phase Two, which is now in progress.

From the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln, George Bush proclaimed “mission accomplished” – that with the “capture” of Baghdad, we had “won the war,” just as General Howe proclaimed the end of the American rebellion with the capture of New York in 1776.

Sadly, the war continues, and the prospects for our side are grim. Material aid and recruits for the Iraqi resistance are pouring into Iraq from throughout the Islamic world. The resistance has abundant “staying power,” and is well-prepared to wait out and wear down the occupiers, now losing on the average a soldier a day and a billion dollars a week to this misbegotten and continuing war.

In Iraq today, friend and foe look alike. If the American soldier hesitates, the fedayeen will take the first shot, and another American casualty will be added to the list. But if he shoots first, his target may be a twelve-year old boy on the roof, a photographer lifting his camera, or a family rushing to get home before the curfew. More dead innocent Iraqis. More rage against the invaders. All to the advantage of the resistance.

This is how an entire population is redefined by the occupying army from “the gratefully liberated,” strewing flowers before their “valiant liberators,” to a pervasive threat, whereby each individual must be presumed guilty until proven innocent.

The parallels with the Viet Nam war – “hit and run,” “pacification,” WHAM (“winning hearts and minds”) – are both compelling and painful to contemplate.

“But surely, most Iraqis must be grateful to us,” the Bush loyalists will reply, “after all, we freed them from a brutal dictator.”

Indeed we did. But then what?

The Bushistas thus make a fundamental albeit typical error: they fail to empathize – fail to consider how they might feel if placed in the Iraqis’ situation. For the Iraqis, like us, are a proud, educated and sophisticated people with no desire whatever to be occupied by a foreign power, whatever “favors” that power might have bestowed upon them at the outset. We would feel the same, if the roles were reversed. And if we would not long tolerate foreign occupation, why do we suppose the Iraqis would do so? Our “coalition” allies, the British should know better, given their experience in Iraq between the World Wars.

The widespread Iraqi sentiment is expressed in graffiti found throughout the country: “Thank you Americans, now go home.”

They want us to “go home” because the “favor” of “liberation” has come at a exorbitant price to the Iraqis: a forfeiture of their sovereignty, loss of control and much of the revenue from their oil industry, relinquishing of sizeable plots of land for American military bases, a prolonged crippling of the vital infrastructure (water, electricity, transportation). an influx of militant Islamists into this secular nation to carry on a holy war against the “infidels,” a reawakening of tribal and religious conflict that threatens to tear the country apart.

Apparently, none of these consequences were anticipated by the self-assured neo-conservative dogmatists in Washington who launched this tragic misadventure. 

On the contrary, the decision to go to war was born of arrogance and wishful thinking, combined with a profound ignorance of the history, culture and psychology of the Iraqi people. In other words, this was a typical Bushevik policy decision – a decision by a group of individuals residing in a simplistic thought-world, blinded by dogma, accustomed to getting their own way and of being “bailed out” by beneficent patrons when things go awry, thoughtless of the lives that they impact, and apparently incapable of asking the simple question “and then what?”

Clearly, the situation in Iraq today is not, to say the very least, what George Bush, Condi Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and the Neo-Cons anticipated and promised. So what, then, is Bush’s response to this “surprise”?

Stay the course! – “There will be no retreat,” as he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In a word, persistence in a preordained course of action, in the face of obvious and compounding failure – a classic indicator of insanity.

How are we to escape from the trap into which the Bush Administration has led us?

We begin by pausing and taking stock of what we have become, and how we are perceived in the world. It is not a pretty picture.

We then reflect back to a time, not long past, when we were respected throughout the world and, to turn the Bushistic rhetoric around, “admired for our freedom” – a time before the Patriot Act and the Guantánamo Gulag when, as American citizens, we were protected by our Bill of Rights, a time when we had a free and diverse media, a time when the sanctity of our ballot was taken for granted, a time when the national wealth was shared and did not flow from our labor into the hands of a few fortunate oligarchs.

And we look forward to a time when we shed our “redcoats” and once again become the champion of the impoverished and oppressed, both within and beyond our borders – when we cease at last to be what we fought against at the birth of our republic.

We then resolve to take our country back. 

There is no salvation to be found amongst the incumbent White House Gang. Even if they were to propose a reversal of policy this would be to no avail, for, through their web of lies, broken promises, secret dealings, and their apparent immunity from Congressional oversight, they have forfeited forever any claim to credibility.

Our only hope is to clean out the White House and the rubber-stamp Congress. 

For only the American people can restore to the United States, its lost honor.

And if we fail, we may never get another chance. Then God help us all, for clearly we will then have lost the capacity to help ourselves.

Copyright 2003 by Ernest Partridge

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .