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March 2008 (Volume 59, Number 10)

Notes from the Editors

This month marks the fifth year of the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq, which commenced on March 19, 2003. Despite setbacks for the U.S. empire, including unexpected losses in lives and money as a result of the continuing resistance of the Iraqi population, this war has succeeded in the U.S. imperial objective of eliminating Iraq, once a powerful force in the Middle East, as a nation to be reckoned with. Much of its population is dead, displaced, and divided. Its infrastructure is in tatters. The country is occupied on a seemingly permanent basis by U.S. military forces, allowing Washington to project its power more fully in the region, and making it easier to threaten Iraq’s neighbor Iran. Iraqi oil, designated as a vital strategic asset by Washington, is now largely in the grip of the U.S. empire.

Since a very substantial portion of the U.S. population would probably have refused to support the war if the real reasons for the illegal invasion of Iraq had been known, a propaganda war was targeted at the American people (and to a lesser extent international public opinion) in the lead-up to the war, employing all the tools of modern marketing. In January 2008 the Center for Public Integrity released the results of a stupendous two-year study, entitled The War Card, documenting the Bush administration’s numerous lies with regard to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq between September 2001 and September 2003. All of the lies singled out in this study were related to claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda before the war—the two false justifications offered for the so-called “preventive war.” It was discovered that eight top Bush administration officials (President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Rice, Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, and the two White House press secretaries, Fleischer and McClellan) together told at least 935 lies on 532 separate occasions over the two year period. The largest number of documented lies (260) came from Bush himself, followed by Powell (254), Rumsfeld (109), Fleischer (109), Wolfowitz (85), Rice (56), Cheney (48), and McClellan (14). Each of these false statements is shown in the report to have contradicted known intelligence at the time, evaluated on a day-to-day basis. The entire study complete with a fully searchable data base for all 935 documented Bush administration lies can be found on the Center for Public Integrity’s Web site.

No less critical than the administration’s own lies on Iraq was the dutiful circulation of them, usually unscrutinized, by the media, which was therefore complicit in the propaganda effort, along with the rest of the U.S. political-economic power structure. As the Center for Public Integrity stated, the lies of the administration with regard to Iraq were “amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts…with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war…[M]uch of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” Although the media, like the administration, subsequently fell back on the claim that they were misled by faulty intelligence, the essential facts were widely available at the time. MR readers can compare the overall analysis of the U.S. aims with regard to Iraq and the misinformation with respect to the allegations of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq’s connection to al-Qaeda in a mainstream periodical such as the New York Times to the coverage in these pages during the same period (see for instance, “U.S. Imperial Ambitions and Iraq,” MR, December 2002; reprinted in John Bellamy Foster, Naked Imperialism [Monthly Review Press]). Facts that the New York Times and other publications claimed were unknown at the time (such as the probable nonexistence, despite administration assertions, of functional weapons of mass destruction in Iraq) were in fact well-known to other, nonestablishment publications, which drew on more reliable sources such as the reports of UN inspectors. If nothing else this highlights the reality that the mainstream media, which was fully “embedded” even before the war began, sought for its own reasons to peddle falsehoods (whether those emanating from the administration or its own creations) in the buildup to and subsequent promotion of the war. Those searching for an in-depth explanation of the media’s own complicity in the war and how this was connected to its institutional position in the larger power structure of U.S. society are encouraged to obtain a copy of Robert W. McChesney’s soon to be published book, The Political Economy of Media (forthcoming from Monthly Review Press in 2008). Order online or by calling 1-800-670-9499.

Monthly Review Press has recently published On the Global Waterfront: The Fight to Free the Charleston 5 by Suzan Erem and E. Paul Durrenberger. In a time of widespread suppression of unions, the courageous struggle of the Charleston 5 (four black and one white) longshoremen from the largely black Local 1422 in Charleston, who were held for twenty months under house arrest on trumped-up felony charges of inciting a riot, is one that all those on the left should be acquainted with. On the Global Waterfront tells the story of how on January 19, 2000, 50 longshoremen (a number that grew to 150 before the night was over) picketing against the hiring of scabs to break their union were confronted by 660 battle-dressed troops (with helicopters overhead) deployed to prevent them from picketing and determined to provoke a fight, resulting in the arrest and prosecution on felony charges of five of the longshoremen. But in ruthlessly attempting to crush the union and to punish the Charleston 5 for their defiance, the powers that be badly miscalculated. They suddenly found themselves faced by an angry and united international working-class movement, with longshoremen from Australia to Europe to Korea and the entire Pacific Coast of the United States threatening to close down the ports at a cost of billions of dollars if the Charleston 5 were not freed. The story of the Charleston 5 thus marks the onset of a labor struggle on the docks with ramifications around the world. As Michael Tigar, lawyer and author of Law and the Rise of Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 1977) states, “Teachers of law, history, political science and economics should assign this book to their students. Everyone who cares about economic justice should read it.” Order online or by calling 1-800-670-9499.

Richard Lewontin, reviewing two books of the palaeontologist, evolutionary biologist, and political radical Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) in the February 14 New York Review of Books, describes his central place in the modern emergence of so-called public intellectuals. Public intellectuals come in a variety of flavors, Lewontin notes, many, sadly, using their celebrity to “invent and advertise theories of human nature” about which they may know little, and, in any event, vulgarize their scholarship. In stark contrast, Gould, whose contributions to evolutionary theory are arguably the most consequential since Darwin, saw his public role in a social context. Like geneticist J. B. S. Haldane (who, Lewontin notes, wrote on science for the London Daily Worker), or the late physicist and MR reader Melba Phillips (who started the scientists’ campaign for control of nuclear arms, lost her job for her troubles, and went on to reinvent high school science teaching), and the radical Philip Morrison (coholder of the “patent” on the Nagasaki bomb who communicated ideas on physics and cosmology to millions on public television and in the pages of Monthly Review), Gould successfully empowered a large audience with both the rigors and humanism of his science. Gould, Lewontin, and frequent MR contributor Richard Levins (his “Living the 11th Thesis” is in the January 2008 MR) worked together as scientists and as public intellectuals, explaining their ideas to a wider audience (see Gould and Lewontin, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm”) even as they agitated against war and for social justice. Lewontin and Levins carry on this tradition in their new book, Biology Under the Influence, published by Monthly Review Press. Order online or call 1-800-670-9499 to order by phone.

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2008, Volume 59, Issue 10 (March)
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