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November 12, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 149




Tom Roberts The tsunami of patriotism

Tom Roberts NCR editor

In his book, War Is the Force that Gives Us Meaning, New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, writes that patriotism, "often a thinly veiled form of collective self-worship," requires that we turn a blind eye on "the murder and repression done in our name."

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"We define ourselves. All other definitions do not count."

Hedges, who reported from war zones for more than 15 years, is not a pacifist, but he is a reporter and part of the truth he sees in war is that it always entails a lie.

The self-worship that is patriotism and that celebrates the best idea of ourselves feeds the delusion; it allows us to dismiss any other perception of ourselves. We spin the myth and believe what we must to prosecute the war.

And so it goes in Iraq.

From the sham intelligence that presented exaggerated threats to the recent Pentagon spin on the Jessica Lynch less-than-heroic heroism story, the war in Iraq has been an exercise in information control and grand fiction. And the ones who are really getting hurt are the kids who went into this either wide-eyed on the tsunami of patriotism and war fever that issued from the eruption of the Twin Towers or those who slogged along making a unexpected down payment on college money they hope to pocket.

Remember, this is the war in which, President Bush tells us, the measure of progress is the degree to which things are getting worse.

There are no body bags in this war. The press and TV aren't allowed to photograph such bad news.

There aren't any injured either -- or no readily available figures. Except that Esther Schrader of the Los Angeles Times went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where she found out that so far more than 1,875 soldiers have been treated since April, when the first casualties began arriving. That averages out to 10 a day or 300 a month.

"The new armored vests that soldiers are wearing in this war protect the human torso and have saved countless lives, but often at a terrible price," Schrader wrote in a story that appeared Nov. 9. "One day last week, all but 20 of the 250 beds at the center were taken up with casualties of the war. Fifty of them have lost limbs, often more than one. Dozens more suffer burns and shrapnel wounds that begin where their armored vests ended.

Other Today's Takes by Tom Roberts
Nov. 10, 2003 Visible symptoms of deeper troubles
Sept. 5, 2003 Horses, a child and a fancy recently revived
Sept. 4, 2003 'Not what I thought it was going to be'
Sept. 3, 2003 Reporters on the religion beat
Sept. 2, 2003 Questions that won't go away
"On average they are 23 years old."

The hospital workers now keep a bulletin board on the fifth floor that they call their "Wall of Heroes."

"'Even the most experienced people here -- it is beyond their imagining," said one physical therapist. "These are our babies. And they just keep coming, coming, coming."

But the Bush administration doesn't want the bad news out. They want only good news so bad that they enlisted their biggest guns in what they openly called a public relations blitz just a few weeks ago. It was all the media's fault, they said, that people were beginning to get the wrong impression. We really are making a lot of progress in Iraq.

Meanwhile, a new report has come out from International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War claiming that the war on Iraq may already have caused more than 20,000 Iraqi deaths. The number could be as high as 55,000.

But our own song of glory to ourselves won't allow a look at such things. It is not good news.

The lie must be perpetuated, writes Hedges, or the people would demand an end to the war.

Tom Roberts e-mail address is

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