An Open Letter to the American People on War with Iraq

Words (excluding footnotes): 1182
Date: September 14, 2002
Revised: September 19, 2002

War feels close today.

An American president again is poised to destroy a small foreign nation. Only the American people can stop him.

And stop him we must, for the world's sake, and for ours.

Please abandon the conceit that "our" killings are always "war," while "their" killings are always terrorism. Jettison, too, its corollary, that "our" deaths are an affront to humanity, while "theirs" are simply unfortunate accidents.

These conceits distill American exceptionalism--the widespread belief that we are better than others, and that America is not subject to customary international rules--to its bitter, racist essence.[1]

We are all God's children--Americans and Iraqis, Palestinians and Jews--created in God's image, of infinite worth.

Realize the limitless hypocrisy of our government's position. The one nation that has killed with nuclear weapons intends to devastate an already-impoverished country because it might, someday in the future, do something harmful.

This is assuredly a prescription for endless war. If America may assault another nation because of what it might do in the future, so may every other country attack its potential enemies.

Bush says Saddam Hussein must be removed because he used poison gas on Iraqi Kurds in 1988. But Hussein was an American friend at the time, and he acquired much of his technology from us.[2]

Bush says Hussein must go because he invaded Kuwait. But then-U.S. ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie met with Hussein eight days before the invasion and reportedly told Iraq we would not interfere.[3]

And America's condemnation--coming from the country that has intervened literally dozens of times in the affairs of other nations, and supports Israel's 35-year-long occupation of Palestinian lands and dismemberment of the Palestinian people--is wholly bereft of moral stature.

Bush says Hussein must be overthrown because he has violated U.N. resolutions. But our client state Israel has spurned dozens of U.N. resolutions for decades.[4]

While Security Council resolution 242 of 1967, for example, forbids the acquisition of territory by force, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights after the 1967 war--a flagrant violation that has continued for 35 years.[5]

Bush says Hussein must be banished because he expelled U.N. weapons inspectors. But Hussein's claim that the inspectors were spying for the U.S. has been confirmed by Scott Ritter, a former chief U.N. weapons inspector (and former U.S. Marine), who reports that the inspection team "was manipulated" by the U.S.[6]

Crucially, Bush no longer claims that Iraq is linked to the horrific events of September 11, although he cynically invites Americans to make that connection.

In fact, according to Scott Ritter, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are "natural enemies," as Iraq "has for 30 years undertaken its own brutal internal oppression of Islamic fundamentalists."[7]

Despite administration polemics, there is no legal basis for an attack on Iraq.

Only the U.N., not member nations acting unilaterally, may militarily enforce U.N. resolutions.

And, while some--but not all--nations recognize a right to "anticipatory self-defense" (launching a defense before an anticipated attack), the standard for the existence of such a right was established by the U.S. itself in 1842, when Secretary of State Daniel Webster rejected a British claim of self-defense after their raid on the U.S. ship Caroline, which was being used to assist a Canadian insurrection.

Webster declared that the right of anticipatory self-defense was confined to cases in which the "necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation."[8]

After ten months--or is it ten years?--of debating war with Iraq, not even America's captive intellectuals argue that the circumstances leave "no moment for deliberation."

No, an invasion of Iraq would be a "war of aggression"--for which we hung Nazi officials following the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal.[9]

Recall that Chief U.S. Prosecutor (and U.S. Supreme Court Justice) Robert Jackson assured the world at Nuremberg that "if certain acts and violations of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them."[10]

Does America still hold to this commitment?

Examine, in this light, the history of U.S. warfare against civilians, the very actions that today we label terrorism.

We incinerated 130,000 human beings in Hiroshima and 70,000 three days later in Nagasaki. Ninety percent were civilians.[11]

When the Korean War erupted in 1950, the U.S. worked on perfecting warfare against the civilian population. General Douglas MacArthur ordered that every "installation, factory, city, and village" be destroyed in much of the north.[12]

Three million civilians (from a Korean population of 30 million) died in that conflict, a large majority from American bombing.[13]

Later, in Indochina, the U.S. committed a decade-long crime against humanity that took another two to three million civilian lives.[14]

In Iraq, U.S.-inspired sanctions have killed over a million people,[15] half of them children under the age of five.[16]

If you truly think that people around the world hold such hostility toward the American government because they reject American cultural icons, or because they "hate democracy," you need to re-examine the question.[17]

Do not believe what you are told by the American media. It is owned by the same people who have long since purchased Congress and the other fulcrums of power in this country. The very function of the press is to indoctrinate the American people with the perspective of the powerful while maintaining the appearance of freedom. It is constitutionally--and pathologically--unable to tell the truth.[18]

Instead, visit websites by groups committed to peace, such as the Iraq Action Center ( or International ANSWER ( Or read the British press; try the BBC (, the Guardian (, or the Independent ([19]

There is another September 11 that is also a day of mourning. On September 11, 1973, the U.S. unleashed General Augusto Pinochet and his hounds from hell on the Chilean people. Over 3000 were murdered that day, including Chile's democratically elected president, Salvador Allende. Many thousands more died before the nightmare ended years later.[20]

No one in the U.S. lights a candle for the dead in Chile. Few even remember the event, banished from history by the mainstream press.

Nor will you read in your morning newspaper about the mass graves that dot northern Afghanistan, holding the remains of thousands of Pashtuns massacred by our Afghan warlord friends.[21]

I turn 50 this year. I came of age in the late 1960's and early 1970's. I learned that "patriotism" meant white Americans nodding approvingly at images of Vietnamese children being burned alive by American napalm.

America has brought death and destruction to so many lands. I desperately want to stop this devastation, so all Americans can be proud of this country.

Please work for peace.

Copyright Robin Miller 2002. This commentary may be freely distributed--and I encourage that--so long as it remains intact, including the authorship and copyright statement.


1. For some recent book-length treatments of American exceptionalism, see Siobhan McEvoy-Levy, _American Exceptionalism and US Foreign Policy: Public Diplomacy at the End of the Cold War_, Palgrave Global Publishing, 2001; and Deborah L. Madsen, _American Exceptionalism_, University Press of Mississippi, 1998.

2. For recent commentary on the prior U.S.-Iraqi friendship, see:

Robert Fisk, "President Bush Wants War, Not Justice--And He'll Soon Find Another Excuse for It," The Independent, September 18, 2002.

Chris Bury, "A Tortured Relationship: U.S. and Iraq Were not Always Enemies,", September 18, 2002.

Robert Fisk, "Case for War Built on Hypocrisy, Lies," Arab News, September 15, 2002.

Andrew Gumbel, "Fortunes of War Await Bush's Circle after Attacks on Iraq," The Independent, September 15, 2002 ("Mr Rumsfeld was actually in Baghdad on the day the United Nations first reported Iraqi use of chemical weapons, but chose to remain silent, as did the rest of the US establishment.").

Robert Fisk, "The Mantra That Means This Time It's Serious," The Independent, September 13, 2002.

Kenneth Davidson, "America's War Record Is Littered with Lies," The Age, September 12, 2002.

Noam Chomsky, "Drain the Swamp and There Will Be No More Mosquitoes," The Guardian, September 9, 2002.

"Since Baghdad's deployment of chemical arms in war as well as peace was known at the time [1988], the question is: What did the US government do about it then? Nothing. Worse, so strong was the hold of the pro-Iraq lobby on the Republican administration of President Ronald Reagan, it succeeded in getting the White House to frustrate the Senate's attempt to penalize Baghdad for violating the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons, which it had signed." Dilip Hiro, "Iraq and Poison Gas," The Nation, August 28, 2002.

See also For a discussion of the U.S. role in the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-1988, see Stephen Shalom, "The United States and the Iran-Iraq War" ("The United States provided intelligence information, bogus and real, to both sides, provided arms to one side, funded paramilitary exile groups, sought military bases, and sent in the US Navy--and all the while Iranians and Iraqis died.").

3. An alleged transcript of that meeting later surfaced and was published in the New York Times. Glaspie admitted the meeting but claimed that the document was a "deliberate deception on a major scale," although she acknowledged that the transcript contained "a great deal" that was accurate.

4. For resources on the many U.N. resolutions concerning Israel, go here and scroll down to XVI.C.

5. Israel may be in the process of extending its violation by annexing an area of the West Bank known as Rachel's Tomb. See:

Nadav Shragai, "Ben-Eliezer to Ensure `Free, Safe Access' to Rachel's Tomb, But Will Not Annex It," Ha'aretz, September 17, 2002.

Nadav Shragai, "Rachel's Tomb To Be Annexed--De Facto," Ha'aretz, September 12, 2002.

6. "UNSCOM was manipulated by the US, especially under the lead of Richard Butler, the second executive director of UNSCOM. From 1997-1998 Butler stopped being a man objectively carrying out the will of the Security Council and became the head of a US-controlled UNSCOM, carrying out the will of the US and the UK. When you enter that kind of buddy-buddy relationship, when you become such buddies you give your buddy the green light to misuse and abuse the relationship."

Nermin Al-Mufti, "A Semantic Game" (interview with Scott Ritter), Al-Ahram Weekly, 12-18 September 2002.

Veteran British journalist Robert Fisk explains what happened:

"Then Saddam accused the UN inspectors of working for the CIA. And he was right. The United States, it emerged, was using the UN's Baghdad offices to bug Iraq's government communications. And once the inspectors were withdrawn in 1998 and the US and Britain launched "Operation Desert Fox", it turned out that virtually every one of the bombing targets had been visited by UN inspectors over the previous six months. Far from being an inspectorate, the UN lads - though they didn't all know it - had been acting as forward air controllers, drawing up an American hit list rather than monitoring compliance with UN resolutions." Robert Fisk, "President Bush Wants War, Not Justice--And He'll Soon Find Another Excuse for It," The Independent, September 18, 2002.

7. Scott Ritter, "The Bioterror Road Doesn't Lead to Iraq," Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2001.

For other commentary by Ritter, see:

'Even if Iraq Managed to Hide These Weapons, What They Are Now Hiding Is Harmless Goo' (interview with Scott Ritter), The Guardian, September 19, 2002.

Nathan Guttman, Mazal Mualem and Amnon Barzilai. "Former UN Iraq Weapons Chief: War Would Be Disaster for Israel," Ha'aretz, September 18, 2002.

Scott Ritter, "Cheney's Warped Perspective on the Need to Attack Iraq," Chicago Tribune, September 10, 2002.

"Ex-Arms Inspector Defends Iraq," BBC, September 8, 2002.

Scott Ritter, "Send Inspectors First; Is a Domestic Political Agenda Driving War With Iraq?," Baltimore Sun, September 1, 2002.

Scott Ritter, "Blinkered Bush Has Got it All Wrong," The Mirror, March 14, 2002.

Scott Ritter, "Iraq: The Phantom Threat," Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2002.

Ritter is the former chief of the Concealment Investigations Unit for the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq.

8. A thorough description of the Caroline case is available at Yale University's Avalon Project.

The U.S. continues to acknowledge this rule as the standard for permissible anticipatory self-defense, as evidenced by its inclusion in the 2002 edition of the Operational Law Handbook for the Judge Advocate General's School. See Chapter One in the handbook.

According to the American Historians' Petition, which as of mid-September has more than 1,200 signatures, a preemptive attack by the United States would "violate every principle this country has stood for." See Joyce Appleby and Ellen Carol DuBois, "Bush Is Treading on Constitution," Newsday, September 18, 2002.

9. The text of the Nuremberg proceedings is available online at the Avalon Project.

10. According to Noam Chomsky, Jackson's statement is quoted in Judith Coburn and Geoffrey Cowan, "The War Criminals Hedge Their Bets," Village Voice, December 4, 1969.

11. The Committee for the Compilation of Materials on Damage Caused by the Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, _Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical, and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings_, New York: Basic Books, 1981, pp. 345 [Nagasaki], 367 [Hiroshima]. These figures include 20,000 military deaths in Hiroshima and 150 in Nagasaki. According to the same source, an additional 70,000 people later died from each bombing.

12. General Curtis LeMay also boasted that "over a period of three years or so ... we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too." Both quotations are from Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings, _Korea: The Unknown War_, NY: Pantheon Books, 1988, pp. 115-116.

13. Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings, _Korea: The Unknown War_, NY: Pantheon Books, 1988, p. 200 (two million North Korean, and one million South Korean, civilian deaths in country whose population was 30 million; also some 500,000 North Korean, and one million Chinese, soldiers died; Allied deaths were 54,246 U.S. [all deaths; 33,629 battle deaths], 47,000 South Korean battle deaths, and 3,194 battle deaths among other countries' soldiers). See also Gilder Lehrman History Online (2-3 million civilian deaths).

14. Noam Chomsky totals the civilian deaths as two million in Vietnam and 600,000 in Cambodia. See Noam Chomsky, "Memories," Z Magazine, July/August 1995.

15. See July 29, 2002, letter from Ramsey Clark to the U.N. Security Council members.

16. A 1999 UNICEF report states that there were, at that time, 500,000 deaths of children under the age of five probably attributable to the U.N. sanctions. See "Iraq Surveys Show 'Humanitarian Emergency,'" (August 12, 1999).

17. For recent commentary on Americans' unwillingness to consider the causes of 9/11, see:

Robert Fisk, "One Year On: A View from the Middle East," The Independent, September 11, 2002 ("For, as the days and weeks go by, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recognise in the words of Americans--and in their newspapers--the Middle East, the region in which I have lived for 26 years.").

18. For a recent example that is stunning in its prevarication, see Maggie Farley, "Annan Urges U.S. Not to Go It Alone Against Iraq," Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2002, in which the reporter--with no apparent legal credentials--assures readers that "The U.S. doesn't need the Security Council's blessing to attack Iraq." This is presented in a news story as fact.

Compare a recent story in the Guardian newspaper from London: Simon Tisdall, "Reasons to Be Fearful," The Guardian, September 12, 2002. This article states:

"In terms of international law, an attack on Iraq would be illegal unless the US could convincingly show that it acted in self-defence or unless a new UN resolution were passed authorising specific action. Despite what US officials say, there is no authority for the overthrow of the Iraqi government contained in existing UN resolutions.

Legally, and morally, an attack that lacked such authority by one sovereign state against another would set an alarming, potentially disastrous precedent. It would in fact inevitably be compared to another notorious act of unprovoked aggression - the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that set in train all the problems described above."

Or consider David Usborne, "UN to Upset Bush's War Plans with One-Year Deadline for Iraq," The Independent, September 19, 2002, a news story stating that "Failure to do so [pass a new U.N. resolution] would leave President Saddam with greater leeway to manipulate the process and increase the likelihood of US aggression." When's the last time the U.S. media reported on "U.S. aggression"? Was there ever a first time?

See also Raymond Whitaker, "Saddam's Iraq Is the Ideal Enemy," The Independent, September 15, 2002, which states the reality of the situation in a way that the U.S. media never would.

For some analyses of the U.S. media's mendacity in its reporting on the Iraq situation, see:

Linda McQuaig, "Media Frenzy Feeds US Delusions Over Attack," Toronto Star, September 15, 2002.

Antonia Zerbisias, "CNN's Hatchet Job on Scott Ritter: Media Smear Ex-Marine for Seeking Answers on Iraq," Toronto Star, September 12, 2002.

Mark Hertsgaard, "Why We Still Don't Get It, One Year On; Americans Are Badly Served by Semi-Official Media Propaganda," the Guardian, September 11, 2002.

19. The direct links to their Iraq news sections are:


The Guardian

The Independent

20. Books specifically on Pinochet's coup include James Petras and Morris Morley, _The United States and Chile: Imperialism and the Overthrow of the Allende Government_, NY: Monthly Review Press, 1975; Robinson Rojas Sandford, _The Murder of Allende and the End of the Chilean Way to Socialism_, NY: Harper & Row, 1976; and Samuel Chavkin, _The Murder of Chile_, NY: Everest House, 1982.

September 2002 is also the 20th anniversary of the massacre of some 2000-3000 Palestinians and Lebanese at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps outside Beirut by Israel's Phalangist militia allies. See:

Ali Abunimah, "How the US Media Forget and Remember an Anniversary," The Electronic Intifada, September 18, 2002.

Martin Asser, "Eyewitness: Sabra and Shatila 20 Years on," BBC. September 14, 2002.

Claude Salhani, "The Other Sept. Remembrance," United Press International, September 12, 2002.

21. "Far more disturbing are persistent reports from northern Afghanistan of the massacre of thousands of Pashtuns after the slaughter at General Dostum's Qal-i-Jangi fort last November These mass murders, according to a humanitarian worker I have known for two decades--he played a brave role in preventing killings in Lebanon in 1982--went on into December with the full knowledge of the Americans. But the US did nothing about it, any more than they did about the 600 Pakistani prisoners at Shirbagan, some of whom are still dying of starvation and ill-treatment at the hands of their Northern Alliance captors.

'There are mass graves all across the north, and the Americans, who know about this, have said nothing,' my old friend said. 'The British intelligence people knew this, too. And the British have said nothing.'"

Robert Fisk, "Afghanistan Is on the Brink of Another Disaster; The Americans Now Leave the Beatings to Afghan Allies, but the CIA Are There during the Beatings," The Independent, August 14, 2002.

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