Falluja: The Real Face of U.S. Power

Liberation or Destruction?

As cartographers race to redraw the map of the Indian Ocean basin after last month’s tsunami, they might also have to account for new changes in Iraq. No, Iraq is not yet an autonomous democracy, nor has it been carved up along ethnic and sectarian lines. Neither has Iraq joined the Union as the 51st state.

Instead, Falluja, an ancient trading post straddling the winding Euphrates and the blighted Syrian Desert, might no longer merit placement on a political map. Once a city of 250,000, Falluja today exists as a black stain from the air—or, perhaps to some, a mere drop of oil. Flattened and charred, its thousands of buildings and homes wasted from the sky and from the ground, its districts and quarters heaped together like the piles of dead bodies that welcome visitors to its borders, proudly attest to America’s vision for Iraq.

This, we are reminded, is the “price” of freedom, the necessary cost for a bright, democratic future. Were it not for those ashen mounds of disqualified humanity and the acres of annihilated culture and society, Iraq could never be free and secure. Destroying a major population center, its schools, town centers, mosques, cafés; eliminating an entire local society of relationships, families, friendships, and careers—all of this, we are told, is how freedom is made.

While the intent of American power, as pronounced from the well-observed chambers of Washington, seems righteous and irrepressible to our ears and hearts, the effect of that power in the anarchic and hidden zone of operations in Iraq is less than noble. And it is the effect of power, far from the gaze of the microphone and camera, far from the critical and moralizing eye, and veiled from the force of law, that matters most. The actual, free exercise of power, distant from its dolled-up rhetorical intent, betrays and cancels the original intentions of its architects. The blood stains at Abu Ghraib, and the flattening of Falluja, and not the confident speeches of Rumsfeld and Bush, expose the true intentions of America’s extension of power.

America’s decision to use solely military power to spread freedom and democracy was an initial glimpse into the true purposes of our mission in Iraq. It should not have been surprising that America’s deployment of men of war to Iraq brought that country war and not freedom. It is not at all shocking to find an “enemy” waiting to sabotage our plans in Iraq—we created the “insurgent” the moment we brought tanks and guns into the streets. America’s troops were trained to seek and engage an “enemy”; they were not motivated by abstract principles like liberty and representational government. And, of course, an enemy is what we found.

A soldier cannot so easily flick off his “kill switch”; he is programmed for the destruction of his adversary, and not for the negotiation of a diplomatic cultural exchange leading to the creation of a flourishing democratic society. He is not an ambassador, but a belligerent force that executes the true intent of American power. Therefore, a “war for liberation” must inevitably end with the sacrifice of the latter for the former.

As Falluja’s dazed refugees trickle back to the rubble of their possessions, they will be choked by the cold grip of American freedom. Indefinitely parted from their livelihoods, denied their history, ripped from the fabric of a vibrant society, and separated from the irreplaceable life of a city, refugees will have earned a brutal freedom to start anew, from nothing. The freedom to part their arms and legs at checkpoints, the freedom to watch idly as Americans rebuild their city according to plans drawn in Washington, and, of course, the freedom to submit to a war for liberation that is increasingly short on liberation and incredibly long on war.

Erol N. Gulay ’05, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Kirkland House.