May Day, Memo Day, Mission Accomplished Day

By David Swanson

The first of May is May Day, the real labor day, the commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre and the fight for an 8-hour day in Chicago – an American holiday celebrated everywhere except America. But the first of May is two other things as well in more recent but already fading history.

This May first will be the three-year anniversary of a flight-suited George W. Bush waddling across an aircraft carrier in San Diego harbor and declaring “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq – a holiday celebrated only in America and only once: this will be the second year in a row in which this holiday is minimized to an extent that should horrify Bill O’Reilly were he not so obsessed with defending Christmas and Easter.

This May first will also be the one-year anniversary of the publication of the Downing Street Minutes in the London Sunday Times – a holiday about America likely to be celebrated primarily in England and secondarily in the rest of the world, with the exception of the United States.

In preparation for May-Memo-Mission Day, I’d like to recommend three pieces of reading material aimed at restoring the True Meaning of M Day.

The first is “Day of Reckoning,” an amazing play by Melody Cooper about Albert and Lucy Parsons. Albert Parsons was one of three labor journalists who were framed and executed in Chicago during the struggle for an 8-hour day. His last letter to his children from jail concluded: “My children, my precious ones, I request you to read this parting message on each recurring anniversary of my death in remembrance of him who dies not alone for you, but for the children yet unborn. Bless you, my darlings. Farewell.”

The second thing to read is a brand new book by Mark Danner called “The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History.” It’s a short book. Half of it is simply the text of the Downing Street Memo/Minutes and the seven related documents that were leaked to the media last year. To have these laid out so clearly, with short introductions and explanations of abbreviations, in a handy paperback book is a great service. But this book provides a lot more than that, by reproducing Danner’s writings on the Downing Street Minutes from the New York Review of Books, along with an introduction and an afterword.

The book opens with a short preface by Frank Rich of the New York Times, which strikes a couple of false notes, blaming the public for the media’s initial failure to cover the Downing Street Minutes and other evidence of war lies, and claiming that the media has now caught up to the public. But skip ahead to Danner’s writings for a brilliant and honest analysis of the media’s failings, and in particular a debate over the Downing Street Memo with Michael Kinsley that must have left Kinsley feeling more foolish than Dubya in his flight suit.

The third thing that everyone should read, if they haven’t already, is “Secrets and Lies,” a book published in 2004 by Dilip Hiro. This is the best history I’ve read of the build up to the war and the early months of the war itself. Rather than an analysis, this is a chronological tale. Everything is here in order, as it happened, including what we were often falsely told was happening. Here we see the war from the point of view of Americans, Iraqis, and others around the world, and we watch events unfold as they actually happened, with the myths and distortions scraped away and their creation presented as part of the story. The tale of Jessica Lynch, for example, (remember her?) is told in the way that evidence suggests events actually occurred. But we are also told what the U.S. military and media told us occurred, and how some minority of us later heard (much more quietly) the corrections.

The initial days and weeks of the war seem a distant blur now, but Hiro brings them alive, blow by blow, as we remember them and as we should have known them had we possessed more information. He takes the reader up to and beyond the day of Mission Accomplished.

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