Worlds Apart

By David Swanson

The other day I wrote a column that no corporate newspaper would ever dream of printing, but submitted it to all of them anyway in hopes it might jar something loose. The Editorial Page Editor of Barron’s Weekly wrote me back to disagree with my column, and I wrote him back, and he wrote me back, and so forth. The exchange, reproduced below, suggests that two people can read about the same events for several years and still live in completely different worlds.

In the world I live in, the neoconservatives running our government openly laid out their plans for the Middle East through a think tank called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). In 2000 they wrote: “[W]hile the unresolved conflict in Iraq provides the immediate justification [for U.S. military presence], the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein” and “Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region [explained by PNAC to include: oil].”

In the world my new editor friend lives in, the President and Vice President mean basically what they say. And they never say the sorts of things that PNAC said. They have absolutely no interest in oil. Etc. Again, this is not the view of some random uninformed schmuck but of a serious corporate media editor. Maybe I’m nuts. Maybe he is. Maybe it’s our communications system. The column I originally sent him was this:

Slavery, Iraq, and Justice Delayed

The Governor of Virginia, Timothy M. Kaine, has just pardoned Gabriel Prosser for leading a slave revolt in Virginia over 200 years ago. Prosser sought to organize thousands of slaves to accomplish the “wholesale massacre” of whites in Richmond and other slave-holding areas, according to historian Virginius Dabney. Kaine cited Prosser’s “devotion to the ideals of the American revolution – it was worth risking death to secure liberty.” Kaine concluded that “Gabriel’s cause – the end of slavery and the furtherance of equality of all people – has prevailed in the light of history.”

So seeking to massacre Americans can come from devotion to the ideals of the American revolution, even if it’s done by people not quite considered real Americans? Of course it can. The American revolution involved killing lots of people too. Prosser was not hanged for advocating violence but for opposing slavery and advocating violence against slave owners. Of course, in the light of history, over 200 years too late we can recognize the horror that slavery was and see slave rebellions as acts of self-defense. It is slightly remarkable for a Virginia governor to say so out loud, even today. But it’s not a great moral breakthrough.

The moral breakthrough would have been for the slave owners in 1800 to have said “My God, they dislike slavery so much they are willing to kill and die to end it. Slavery must be wrong. We will end it peacefully. We will make amends. We will share the burden together of moving past slavery so as to avoid a future war.” That would have been the moral breakthrough.

Rebelling slaves today are called insurgents. They speak a funny language called Arabic. They practice a strange religion. They dress weird. And almost every depiction of them on television is negative. But we’ve killed an estimated 1,028,907 of them in Iraq alone and driven another 4 million Iraqis out of their homes. They are in utter and desperate poverty. Diseases are sweeping their remaining population. They are dying at twice the rate this year as last year. Their fury at the occupying army of slave owners is immeasurable. Slave owners today are called Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, the Congress, and “our troops.”

The moral breakthrough today would be to recognize that Iraqis defending their country against an occupying and murderous force – a force which in fact uses slave labor to construct its gargantuan embassy – is acting in self defense. The moral breakthrough would be to recognize now, before it’s too late, that the Iraqi resistance is in fact in line with the ideals of the American revolution and is in fact destined to prevail in the light of history – if we all survive long enough to have that history.

My friend Dahlia Wasfi recently said:

“Our so-called ‘enemies’ in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, our other colonies around the world – and our inner cities here at home – are struggling against the oppressive hand of empire, demanding respect for their humanity. They are labeled ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ for resisting rape and pillage by the white establishment, but they are our brothers and sisters in the struggle for justice.

“Last Sunday, my family’s luck ran out, and one of my cousins in Iraq was killed in the violence we have brought upon Iraqis and their children. He leaves behind a wife; a 2 year old son who keeps asking ‘Where’s Daddy?’; a heart-broken mother and brother; and an entire family devastated by grief for whom life will never be the same. If there are political differences, then whatever they may be, there’s nothing complicated about fighting for Iraqi women and children, who are the majority of the suffering population. And if we respect their humanity, can we not respect their grief as they lose their brothers, fathers, husbands and sons, the same way we mourn with and share the pain of American military families?”

Perhaps we can, Dahlia. It just might take us a couple of hundred years.


Where was the spirit of rebellion in these so-called slaves when they were actually enslaved by a ruthless dictator, who killed millions by leading them into a war of conquest against Iran? Many were complicit in that regime. Others were terrorized then, and not terrorized now by their much gentler enemy. Whom will you blame for the further millions killed in the civil war?

It is odious to demand “respect” for people who strap bombs to themselves and kill women and children. I am not learned about the Prosser revolt in Virginia, but I doubt the morality of “wholesale massacre” can be superior to that of slavery.

I reject your op-ed submission.


you blame american slaves who did not rebel every day under slavery and iraqis who did not rebel every day under Hussein? but if they do rebel violently, you condemn that too? this leaves only saintly nonviolent resistance as an option. I agree that would be best. But look at how high your standards are. You cannot even recognize as self-defense regrettable violence that is self-defense. (Unless it’s American; you don’t condemn the American revolution).

But let’s look at what you have to say of slave owners and imperialists. Your standards seem a wee bit lower. You defend slavery as better than murder and say not one negative word about it. you pretend that an occupying army that most Iraqis remaining alive believe has made their lives worse than under Hussein is made up of women and children.

Who aided Iraq in its war on Iran? Who installed your ruthless dictator and propped him up for years? You and I, my friend, were complicit.

for some people enlightenment comes late – maybe 300 years?


I am only blaming the Iraqis for not overthrowing Hussein.

You conflate massacre of all whites with rebellion against slave owners and call both “violence.” There are gradations, and some types of violence are worse than others. And yes, being a slave is bad but it isn’t as bad as being a murder victim.

If you are willing to believe that most Iraqis preferred Hussein to the current government, wouldn’t you have to admit that Iraq would be a better place if the so-called rebels quit rebelling and lived quietly under the current government. Which would also have the result that U.S. troops would leave.

The occupying army isn’t made up of women and children; the people being blown up in marketplaces include women and children.

The U.S. may have aided Iraq, but it did not start the war or put Hussein on the throne. Our degree of complicity in his crimes is minor.

Whom will you blame for the millions to be killed in the Iraq civil war after the U.S. troops leave?


You actually believe that if the Iraqis all lay down and accepted the occupation and its puppet government, the occupation would leave? You actually imagine that we’ve built all those permanent military bases in Iraq just for kicks? You actually seriously honest to god think that this is all about getting the barbarians to behave and not about stealing their oil and using their nation as a launching pad to invade others? You serioiusly suppose that Bush and Cheney and gang would trust the Iraqis to keep giving US companies their oil, and just bring all the occupying troops home?

And you are an editor at a major publication?

This, I think, is what’s wrong with our educational and communications system in this country.

The only scientific estimate of the Iraqis dead as a result of the invasion and occupation is slightly over a million. That’s above and beyond the high death rate under sanctions and bombings pre-invasion. And the death rate is twice this year what it was last year. Another 4 million Iraqis have been displaced, half of them out of the country. We know with as much certainty as can be had that things will continue to go from bad to worse as long as the occupation continues. If it ends, in the short term things may be better or worse, but Iraq will have a chance. And I will place blame on any Iraqis not practicing nonviolence and on any non-Iraqi governments in the wealthy part of the world not providing financial aid and supporting UN peacekeeping efforts, especially the nation responsible for destroying the nation of Iraq and especially the nation of which I happen to be a citizen.

I never suggested that blowing women and children up in marketplaces is self-defense.

The US did not put Hussein on the throne? Have you checked the CIA’s employment records?


In a word, yes.

If this were about “stealing their oil,” we would do a better job of it. Only a _________ would imagine that U.S. policy is to spend $100 billion a year to secure a supply of high-priced oil that is sold to other people and that is less than optimal production in peacetime. If we wanted to reduce the price of oil we would have let Hussein or some other tyrant pump and sell all the oil he wanted. If this weren’t about getting the barbarians (not all Iraqis, just the barbarous ones) to behave, we would leave and let them kill each other. It wouldn’t be about trusting anybody, and it wouldn’t matter whether it was Bush and Cheney or Mike Gravel or Dennis Kucinich. Iraq never did and never will “give” US companies oil; Iraq governments past and present sell it because they want money. And you seem to ignore the one way in which this whole thing is about oil: The previous gang stole a lot of oil wealth; now other gangs want to steal it for themselves. Iraqis with any sense and means are getting out of the way of the gang war.

What is your idea of “scientific?” The much-publicized Johns Hopkins study published in the Lancet in 2006 said 655,000 “excess” Iraqi deaths occurred since the invasion above the normal death rate during Hussein’s rule. Which, by the way, was estimated at a lower rate than the U.S. death rate. And 655,000 was way beyond anything reasonable. The U.S. Civil War, with two large armies in the field, and with awful death by diseases, did not kill that many people in four years in a country of roughly the same population.

We know with as much certainty as can be had that things will go from bad to worse if the U.S. leaves. Perhaps we should leave anyway, but Iraq is the nation responsible for destroying the nation of Iraq. What amount of financial aid and what amount of UN “peacekeeping” will prevent it? We are already trying to bribe the population into helping us.

You referred to “regrettable violence that is self-defense,” and complained that I didn’t recognize it as self-defense. I assumed you were sympathetic to the kind of self-defense that includes marketplace bombings. I think the assumption was warranted.


i don’t know whether your assumption was warranted or not, but i am not sympathetic to any violence at all. i was merely pointing out that the Iraqi resistance is self-defensive in a similar way to the plotted slave rebellion just pardoned by the Virginia governor. But there is resistance and there is resistance, and blowing up women and children is probably the least effective and least acceptable sort. Of course, most of the blowing up of women and children in Iraq has been done by the United States, although raping and shooting are other approaches we’ve used to liberate them.

whether things get worse when the occupation ends is far from certain. the overwhelming majority of Iraqis (on whom we are supposedly imposing “democracy”) want the occupation to end. Many Iraqis have told me that the rumors of civil war and sectarian division leading to even worse violence are overblown. Much will depend on what is done, on whether a respected international peace keeping force handles a transition, on whether people quickly begin to recover safety, healthcare, electricity, clean water, etc., in short on whether a reconstruction finally begins. but you don’t dispute that things will get worse if the US stays. you only claim (unpersuasively for me) that things will get worse if the US leaves. Given that staying is costing a fortune and endangering us all, isn’t the balance clearly weighted on the other side?

The Johns Hopkins study, whatever shortcomings you may detect, is the only serious study that has been done. But it was done quite some time ago. Extending it to the present day yields these results:

My idea of scientific is certainly not to dismiss the only study there is on the grounds that fewer people died in a shorter war in the 19th century.

We would do a better job of it? What has the Bush-Cheney administration ever done a decent job of? Bush and Cheney and gang are not spending a dime. They’re just putting our grandchildren into debt. What do they care? They don’t want to reduce the price of oil for godsake, they want to increase it, and they want to control how it increases, and they want the profits to go to their friends’ companies, and they want to use Iraq as a launching pad for attacking nearby countries. If you don’t think the puppet government will give US companies its oil, you haven’t read the draft oil law: from

how could i miss that saddam hussein stole lots of oil wealth? that was not a secret

Dick Cheney has profited from Halliburton while enriching the company with public monies. Would that justify me in bombing and occupying Dick Cheney’s house, costing a million lives in collateral damage? I don’t think so.

So you don’t think it’s about oil or empire. You don’t think we’re staying until the Iraqis “stand up.” What do you think we’re doing there? And why do you think we went there in the first place? (I’m assuming that for you, as for most, these have two completely different answers, but I really don’t know).


[He sent a reply with no words in it.]


i don’t believe you’re speechless 🙂

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