- I am happy to be able to publish here– with his permission– the text of the presentation that Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr., made at a conference on the Middle East held at Tufts University, October 14-15. Freeman’s book America’s Misadventures in the Middle East is, of course, the first title to be published by my new publishing company, Just World Books.
Two days before the Tufts event, Freeman launched the book at a swanky lunch organized by the international affairs committee of the Cosmos Club, in Washington, DC. I have audio of the book launch that I am about to put up onto the JWB website. Not surprisingly, he made many of the same points at the two events. (So you will have the choice of either reading them here, or listening to him delivering them in his wonderful, gravelly voice, over there.)
They were very important points to make. He invited his American audiences to engage some serious empathy, and to imagine how they (we) would feel if our country had been subjected to the kinds and scales of wounding that our government’s policies have inflicted on Iraq and Afghanistan– and have helped to bring about in the Israeli-Palestinian theater, especially among Palestinians– over the past decade.
He also made some very important arguments about the damage that the policies pursued by Washington in the Middle East over the past decade has inflicted on our country: the huge losses inflicted in terms of human lives, money– and the assault on so many of our key values that Washington’s endless warmongering has caused.
The very last argument he makes in the text below is central, I think.
But let me let him speak for himself.
Remarks to the Fares Center Conference,
Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts,
October 15, 2010
by Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
As an American, I look at the results of U.S. policies in the Middle East and they remind me of the T-shirt someone once gave me. It said: “Sinatra is dead. Elvis is dead. And me, I don’t feel so good.”
The Middle East is a constant reminder that a clear conscience is usually a sign of either a faulty memory or a severe case of arrogant amorality. It is not a badge of innocence. These days, we meticulously tally our own battlefield dead; we do not count the numbers of foreigners who perish at our hands or those of our allies. Yet each death is a tragedy that extinguishes one soul and wounds others. This deserves our grief. If we cannot feel it, we may justly be charged with inhumanity.
All that is required to be hated is to do hateful things. Apparent indifference to the pain and humiliation one has inflicted further outrages its victims, their families, and their friends. As the Golden Rule, common – in one form or another – to all religions, implicitly warns, moral blindness is contagious. That is why warring parties engaged in tit for tat come in time to resemble each other rather than to sharpen their differences.
War is in fact not the spectator sport that the fans who watch it on television or on big screens in theaters imagine. Nor is it the “cakewalk” that its armchair advocates sometimes suggest it might be. War is traumatic for all its participants. Recent experience suggests that 30 percent of troops develop serious mental health problems that dog them after they leave the battlefield. But what of the peoples soldiers seek to punish or pacify? To understand the hatreds war unleashes and its lasting psychological and political consequences, one has only to translate foreign casualty figures into terms we Americans can relate to. You can do this by imagining that the same percentages of Americans might die or suffer injury as foreigners have. Then think about the impact that level of physical and moral insult would have on us.
Consider, for example, the two sides of the Israel-Palestine struggle. So far in this century – since September 29, 2000, when Ariel Sharon marched into the Al Aqsa mosque and ignited the Intifada of that name, about 850 Israeli Jews have died at the hands of Palestinians, 125 or so of them children. That’s equivalent to 45,000 dead Americans, including about 6,800 children. It’s a level of mayhem we Americans cannot begin to understand. But, over the same period, Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed 6,600 or so Palestinians, at least 1,315 of whom were children. In American terms, that’s equivalent to 460,000 U.S. dead, including 95,000 children. Meanwhile, the American equivalent of almost 500,000 Israelis and 2.9 million Palestinians have been injured. To put it mildly, the human experiences these figures enumerate are not conducive to peace or goodwill among men and women in the Holy Land or anywhere with emotional ties to them.
We all know that events in the Holy Land have an impact far beyond it. American sympathy for Israel and kinship with Jewish settlers assure that Jewish deaths there arouse anti-Arab and anti-Muslim passions here, even as the toll on Palestinians is seldom, if ever, mentioned. But, among the world’s 340 million Arabs and 1.6 billion Muslims, all eyes are on the resistance of Palestinians to continuing ethnic cleansing and the American subsidies and political support for Israel that facilitates their suffering. The chief planner of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, testified under oath that a primary purpose of that criminal assault on the United States was to focus “the American people . . . on the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel against the Palestinian people . . . .” The occupation and attempted pacification of other Muslim lands like Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the shocking hate speech about Islam that now pervades American politics lend credence to widening Muslim belief in a U.S. crusade against Islam and its believers.