70 years ago today, thousands of Allied men crossed the English Channel to land on the beaches of Normandy to help defeat European fascism.
Anyone with a passing general knowledge of history knows about D-Day and its significance – the war was over less than a year later. This montage of then-and-now images published by the Guardian is simply incredible.
Less well-known in the US is the fate of the French town of Oradour-sur-Glane. On June 10, 1944, the town was under the control of Vichy France. That day, a German Panzer division massacred 642 men, women, and children – most of them shot and then burned alive in the town church – for no known reason. It’s suspected that the massacre was in retaliation for the killing of some German soldiers in the area (possibly in another town also named “Oradour”) by the French resistance.
The French government left the town as it stood on that day. It is a monument to the relentlessly brutal German occupation, and to the innocent victims of Naziism.
A Peugeot allegedly belonging to the town doctor stands where it was parked as the doctor arrived back to town from a house call just as the round-up of villagers began.
Here, two visitors walk through the ruins of the village, where time stood still.
License plates are little, mundane slabs of metal or plastic that generally serve two purposes – to identify vehicles, and to promote a culture. I find them fascinating.
We just returned from a phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime 3-generational tour of the former Yugoslavia, from where my parents emigrated in the 60s. Since breaking up in 1991, these countries have gone from waging war against each other to varying degrees of recovery. Slovenia is in the EU, and Croatia will join this July. Bosnia and Hercegovina is almost perpetually in political / ethnic crisis, while Serbia and Montenegro have just recently gone their separate ways, having dissolved their confederation. Macedonia is plugging away, nestled between the Serbia-Kosovo conflict and the Greek economic crisis.
The title of this post is the slogan of the former League of Communists of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – Tito and his successors promoted “Brotherhood and Unity” among the Southern Slavic peoples, who were united after World War I under Serbian rule and then fought each other mercilessly during the second World War. Perhaps it was always doomed to fail, as the Yugoslav nations had distinctly dissimilar backgrounds – Slovenes and Croats were under the Austrians and/or Hungarians for centuries. The Serbs, Macedonians, Kosovars, and Bosnians under Ottoman rule. Serbs and Croats essentially share a language, but the Serbian Orthodox Christian heritage didn’t always mesh with Croatian Catholicism, and while the former writes in Cyrillic, the latter uses the Latin alphabet. Small differences that, with the right spark, can result in inexplicable cruelty and violence.
I have a similar fascination with international frontiers. It seems astonishing to me sometimes to think how an arbitrary, imaginary line on a mountaintop or the middle of a creek can so starkly separate two distinct languages, histories, religions, and cultures.
During our trip, I cataloged the plates I saw that represented a once-united country. The only ones I didn’t see were Kosovo’s (although I saw several new and old-style Albanian plates, which were unheard-of when I was a kid and Albania was Europe’s North Korea.)
Only Slovenia can display the blue Euroband with the gold stars of the EU. All the rest, except Croatia, have a blue area for the Euroband without the stars, but with the country’s international vehicle registration code. (Slovenia = SLO, Croatia = HR, Bosnia and Herzegovina = BIH, Montenegro = MNE, Serbia = SRB, Macedonia = MK, Kosovo = RKS – note that Kosovo used to be a province of Yugoslavia and then Serbia, and the two countries have not yet resolved their dispute over Kosovo’s independence). Croatia has no Euroband, but left room for it to the left of the regional code that precedes the Croatian coat of arms (shown here is PU for Pula).
A lot of blood was shed to get to this point, where there now exist seven independent and sovereign republics where once there was one federal entity. The irony, it seems, is that they all seek to enter a troubled European confederation where the movement of people and goods would once again be completely without frontier or limit.
Back in 2002, America was still reeling from 9/11, and Iraq was subjected to myriad UN sanctions, inspection schemes, no-fly zones, and other restrictions stemming from its invasion of Kuwait and subsequent defeat a decade before. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a brutal dictator whose Ba’athist Arabic-unity, socialist ideology had been perverted into nothing more than an Arabic construct of fascism. His rule was corrupt and murderous, and he had started two expansionist wars during his reign, neither of which worked out well for his country. He, on the other hand, lived like a king.
But there are lots of bad actors running horribly brutal dictatorships around the world. We can’t invade them all. Nor, if you ask most Republicans when they’re being honest, should we. Just ask most Republican commentators when President Clinton got NATO militarily involved in Bosnia and Serbia.
Turning back to 2002, the UN had implemented a new set of sanctions based on what turned out to be incorrect intelligence that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. The UN – never one to rush into war – sent neutral inspectors into Iraq to look for these WMDs. Hans Blix’s team of inspectors went everywhere the US government told them to look. Spy satellites, after all, don’t lie.
UNMOVIC inspectors under Hans Blix were in Iraq for 111 days, and they didn’t find the WMDs they were looking for.
United States troops were in Iraq for 2,724 days, and they didn’t find them either, instead merely stockpiles of old WMDs that the Saddam regime had in its possession, and which it had used against Iran, Kuwait, and the Kurds. The US did not find any evidence of any new production or ramp-ups towards same. We know Saddam had used gas in Kuwait and on Kurds. But that’s not what we were sold in 2003 when Powell addressed the Security Council.
…the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction…
…A second source, an Iraqi civil engineer in a position to know the details of the program, confirmed the existence of transportable facilities moving on trailers.
A third source, also in a position to know, reported in summer 2002 that Iraq had manufactured mobile production systems mounted on road trailer units and on rail cars.
Finally, a fourth source, an Iraqi major, who defected, confirmed that Iraq has mobile biological research laboratories, in addition to the production facilities I mentioned earlier….
The war was based on either poor information or lies. Neither one will resurrect a fallen American or innocent Iraqi civilian.
And the neoconservatives’ follow-up “rationales”? Hamas and Israel continue to murder each other. What a fundamental waste of lives, money, and dignity.
That was the legal basis on which we invaded Iraq – that they had deliberately violated UN sanctions regarding WMDs. There was no other legal rationale. What the Bush Administration’s neoconservative hawks did was just shift the objective to eliminating Ba’athism, regime change, stopping Iraq’s support for terror, help Israel in its efforts against terrorism, etc. After 7 years of battles, death, destruction, we gave Iraq its democracy, but the other regional goals have never been met. Instead, Iraq became flypaper for every disaffected, pimpled Arab teen who wanted to kill Americans. Once Saddam was gone, we had Zarqawi to deal with. Thousands of American men and women died.
So, to my mind, it’s not time to navel-gaze about whether the surge worked and whether Obama was wrong about it, and whether he is sufficiently remorseful or introspective about how wrong he was. Instead, we should re-evaluate why we invaded Iraq in the first place, further destabilizing an already unstable region; subjecting an oppressed people to 7+ years of war, terrorism, and occupation.
To my mind, it’s time to re-examine the so-called “Powell Doctrine”, which was completely disregarded in March 2003 by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and his bosses.
- Is a vital national security interest threatened?
- Do we have a clear attainable objective?
- Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
- Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
- Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
- Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
- Is the action supported by the American people?
- Do we have genuine broad international support?
Now? This same band is trying to get payback through words such as “Benghazi” and “drones”. Payback for being wrong?
2. If you haven’t yet, please do read this report from the Economist, which explains that the Nordic countries that are usually – ignorantly and anachronistically – so derided as socialist hellholes, are economically outperforming the US and the rest of Europe. There is a remarkably high public trust in government institutions, and these countries have done much to reform without damaging the social safety net for which they’re known. If you deride the Democrats or Obama for wanting to turn the US into Sweden, it beats the Republicans’ efforts to turn the country into the Sudan.
Today is a big day for my friend and former WNYMedia.net colleague, Brian Castner. A book he wrote about his experiences in Iraq as a bomb disposal unit commander, and about his readjustment to civilian life, is released today. He led a group that would find and destroy IEDs, investigate the aftermath of their detonation, and conduct house-to-house searches for the perpetrators. Almost more chilling is what that sort of experience does to a person when they return Stateside.
Brian is a gifted and intelligent writer and he offers a unique perspective on a conflict we who weren’t there understand only in the abstract. Congratulations to him – I hope the book is a hit, and I thank him for sharing his experience with a wider audience.
Brian appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, and you can listen to his interview here. He has also talked with Nick Mendola, Artvoice, Publisher’s Weekly, and maintains his own blog here.
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