We chose to write this blog together as father and daughter, Veterans for Peace member and Iraq Veterans Against the War National Advisory Committee member, psychologist and oil expert to answer the question: how can service members and veterans help to bring to an end the war in Iraq, now entering its eighth year, as well as the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan? We focus on the need to expose the tactic of “psychological invisibility” being used to wage an ugly war for oil. Our answer is that IVAW must continue to do simply more of the same: make the war visible.
I resigned my commission as a full lieutenant in the Regular Navy in the spring of 1965. The prospects for success of a long-term land war on the Asian Continent seemed doomed. Further, there was no moral justification for this losing proposition. The only honorable thing to do was to hang up my sword and to seek another life. I was not the only member of the U.S. Military to reach that conclusion in 1965. Although mass resignation and passive and active resistance within the military to the Vietnam War were not the only reason for ending that war, it was certainly one of the major reasons. Similar resistance within the U.S. military is once again key to ending today’s wars.
We achieved a significant victory in 2008 when the Bush administration was defeated and a Republican ticket whose campaign mantra was “drill, Baby, drill!” and which vowed to continue the Iraq war for 100 years was rejected in favor of a candidate who pledged to end the Iraq war. Unfortunately, a consequence of the political victory has been a sense among the broader public that the war is already over and a disillusionment and even cynicism among those who thought that by now the war would have been brought to a decisive end.
We believe President Obama does intend to fulfill his pledge to largely (although not fully) end the occupation of Iraq. However, we also believe that the administration is continuing a policy adopted from the previous government of maintaining and even expanding upon a permanent U.S. military presence with land bases throughout the Middle East. This is a proposition as unsustainable and immoral today as was the American involvement in Vietnam in 1965—likely more so. A permanent U.S. military presence in the region has several objectives, but high among them is a quest to gain a stranglehold on the region’s oil and natural gas sources.
As a direct result of the war, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Occidental are the first U.S. oil companies to receive production contracts in Iraq in over thirty years. ExxonMobil won a contract for the second largest oil field in the world. A U.S. troop presence will likely be required, if not in Iraq then nearby, to ensure the security of these operations and to achieve the goal of bringing additional U.S. companies in. These contracts are historic, but the oil victory is far from complete. This is due to the sustained organizing efforts of Iraqis, Europeans and Americans, including members of IVAW. These activists spent seven years shining a bright spotlight on the oil agenda and stymied the Bush administration and the oil industry’s efforts to transform Iraq’s oil sector from a fully nationalized to an all-but-privatized system, open to foreign oil company ownership and control, through the passage of the Iraq Oil Law. Not only have the Iraqis resisted passage of this Law drafted largely by the oil companies themselves, but also many other U.S. companies that had sought contracts were rejected in favor of companies from Russia, Angola, China, and elsewhere.
Unfortunately, while Big Oil’s political influence has diminished with the election of Barack Obama, it is far from over. Big Oil remains the wealthiest industry in the world and the one with the most “cash on hand” with which to influence political decision-making. Its interests are also hard-wired throughout the U.S. political system such that even if President Obama wanted to extricate it, he and his administration would be largely unable to do so. Again, unfortunately, the administration has demonstrated no such interest.
The irresistible economic power of the oil lobby creates an unquenchable military need to maintain a presence in the Middle East until its oil and natural are gone. To maintain such a long-term military commitment, the Obama administration has chosen to continue Bush’s tactic of “psychological invisibility.” On the home front, there is an illusion of peace hiding the reality of war. The only way to maintain a perpetual military state is to pretend no war exists—or, more precisely, a war with no costs and no consequences for the home population.
On the home front, this is the first war not only in U.S. history, but likely in the world, during which taxes were lowered. There is no corporate war tax, much less a requirement that corporations forgo profiting from the war. It is a war that is “not costing anything,” that is “free.”
We have been lulled into acting as if nearly two million soldiers who have fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and an estimated ten million of their family members are all but invisible. If you walked down any street in the U.S. in 1944 you would have seen signs for war bonds, ration coupons, and car pools to save fuel for the war front. Homes held victory gardens and big gold stars were posted in the windows of families who lost a child. Today, walk down those same streets and ask yourself, “is this a country at war?”
This invisibility in created in several ways. War is an unpleasant reality from which it is easy to distract people. There is no draft. Iraq veterans have no national “homecoming”—no welcome back to the land they have fought for--a high visibility granted to veterans of all previous wars, even the war in Vietnam. Thus, a perpetual war can be waged, because no one notices it. And those that do notice are forgotten.
In fact, this is a war that has cost nearly $4 trillion. It has denied the Obama administration the ability to address desperately needed human services. We are, rather, subsidizing war if not for, then certainly in support of, the wealthiest industry the world has ever known—another reason to mask it from the American public. Big Oil is the most hated industry in the United States. It is not only disliked, but also mistrusted. Even its product is, simply put, “ugly”—from the point of production, to transport, to refining to sales. Thus, the wars are, in actuality, being fought against no specific enemy. If there is “no enemy,” and no public declaration of the truth of what we’re fighting for, than there can also be no “real” soldiers fighting it. The most literal outcome of this is the increased adoption of drone warfare and the perpetuation of the myth that no humans are involved—neither those who operate the drones nor those who are killed by them.
But we are not despairing. The Bush administration was defeated in the last election. The oil agenda has been kept in the public view and has not fully succeeded. More importantly, we know that IVAW is in a uniquely powerful position to “take the sword off the wall” and wage the battle to end the wars on two fronts: the war front and the home front.
On the war front, there remains absolutely no alternative to passive and active resistance as a means to deprive a government of its ability to wage war. While Chevron may want soldiers to secure passage for its oil out of the Caspian, if the soldiers refuse to fight, Chevron loses.
On the home front, IVAW’s ongoing efforts to make itself and its members visible is even more critical today than ever—not only to demonstrate that the war continues, but also, through your example, to encourage others to continue what the past has proven is a winnable struggle.
Joseph Juhasz is an environmental psychologist who is professor of architecture and environmental design at the University of Colorado, he blogs regularly on Psychology Today Magazine.
Antonia Juhasz is the director of The Chevron Program at Global Exchange, and the author of The Tyranny of Oil: the World’s Most Powerful Industry, and What We Must Do To Stop It and The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time.