Life During Wartime
August 28, 2002

Maria Tomchick

Life during wartime is a funny thing. I don't realize we're still at war until I open the newspaper and read that Henry Kissinger is the dove leading the opposition against a war with Iraq.

I also read in the paper that newly declassified documents from the State Department show Henry Kissinger and other Ford Administration officials to be responsible for state terror in Argentina.

From 1975-1984, a group of generals ran the government of Argentina. This military junta was responsible for setting up and running death squads--usually called "paramilitary" groups, in order to confuse us about their real mission, which is to murder labor activists, human rights workers, social justice organizers, and politicians from opposition parties. In Argentina, some of those murdered activists and organizers were US citizens.

In the summer and fall of 1976, just as these Argentine death squads were at the height of their depredations, the US Ambassador to Argentina, a man named Robert Hill, was scolding the Argentine government about its human rights record. His pleas fell on deaf ears, because Argentine officials had already been to Washington DC and met with Henry Kissinger and other members of the Ford administration, who had encouraged them to get their "terrorist problem under control as quickly as possible." Kissinger wasn't referring to the death squads as terrorists. No, he was referring to the activists and opposition groups who were fighting for democracy and for social and economic justice in Argentina.

Hhhmm. I also read in the newspaper about a covert program to aid Iraq during its war with Iran in the 1980s--when Iraq was using chemical weapons against its Kurdish population. The Reagan administration voiced protests in the press and at the UN, but didn't withdraw its covert support to Saddam Hussein, which included 60 US Defense Intelligence Agency officers who "provided detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical battle planning, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for the Iraqi general staff." They also provided satellite photographs of the Iranian troop deployments. The Iraqis freely shared their battle plans with DIA officers, "without admitting the use of chemical weapons," but it became obvious to the world--and to the DIA--what was going on. Nevertheless, "Reagan, Vice President George Bush--father of the current president--and senior national-security aides never withdrew their support for the highly classified program."

More importantly, they never even threatened to withdraw support. As retired Colonel Walter Lang, who was the senior DIA officer at the time, has said: "The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern." Another, anonymous veteran of the DIA program also said that the administration "wasn't so horrified by Iraq's use of gas. It was just another way of killing people."

Just another way of killing people. Flying an airplane into a building is just another way of killing people, too, but it's one we object to because we, Americans, are the target. When Kurds and Iranians are the targets of Sarin, mustard gas, VX, and other chemical agents, then there's no moral quandary. It's just another way of killing people--one that elder statesmen like George Bush Sr. or Henry Kissinger don't find objectionable at all.

We can assume George W. Bush, our current president, doesn't find it particularly objectionable, either--in spite of his public comments condemning it. He still maintains a close relationship with his father, who never condemned the gassing in public, as others did at the time. Secretary of State George Schultz, Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, and National Security Advisor Colin Powell all spoke out against Iraq's use of chemical weapons. But not George Bush Sr.

We could shrug our shoulders and say "well, that was all in the past. Things are different now." However, that past is not so far away, nor so distant that our government isn't still using the same justifications for supporting dictators today.

For example, George W. Bush is supporting a dictator in Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who just unilaterally rewrote his country's constitution to give himself veto power over all branches of the Pakistani government, including Parliament and the Supreme Court. Musharraf's military trained and armed the Taliban, and helped hundreds of them escape Afghanistan eight months ago. The Pakistani military also trained and armed Kashmiri militants who are attacking and killing women and children in India. If we must remove someone as head of state of an "evil" dictatorship, why not Musharraf?

Repression, killing, ethnic fighting, murder of human rights workers--these are all signs of "stability" to men like Kissinger and George W. Bush. Women and children, labor unionists, poets, songwriters, and activists are a "terrorist problem."

And Musharraf is our strongman with his finger on the nuclear button and an arsenal of chemical weapons at his side. One day, a decade from now, we might debate removing him from office to boost our own president's sagging approval rating. We'll trot out the evidence we've known all along: support for the Taliban, for Kashmiri militants, torture and repression, no democratic elections, etc. Musharraf might even use chemical or nuclear weapons with our government's silent, secret blessing.

Meanwhile, the only criminal court our government supports is a parade of US Defense Department spokesmen aired on CNN.

Life during wartime is more than strange. It's hypocritical.


Sources for this article include: "Argentina regime had US support," James Dao, The New York Times reprinted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 8/22/02, A9; "Officers say US ignored Iraq's use of gas against Iran," Patrick E. Tyler, The NY Times reprinted in The Seattle Times, 8/18/02, A1; and "Constitution amended in Pakistan, US stays mum as Musharraf seeks to expand executive power," David Rohde, The NY Times reprinted in the Seattle P-I, 8/22/02, A4.

Ed note: Among Reagan administration officials who knew of, but failed to condemn, Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons of mass destruction was its Ambassador for Middle Eastern Affairs. He was in Baghdad literally on the day the use of these weapons was revealed, and, according to New York Times and Washington Post accounts of his meetings with Iraqi officials, did not speak of the weapons' use. His name was Donald Rumsfeld.