Orchards and American Integrity

Some Arabs in the Middle East, and their business partners, benefit from oil and natural gas. For the vast remainder, local economies, lives and traditions are intertwined with the earth and the weather, growing grain and fruit, making wine and raising sheep and goats.

Americans understand what this means, even if most of us don’t live that life. We mythologize our small farms, and our major political parties stampede to publicly worship that holy ground. Great twentieth century American novels from Steinbeck to Jane Smiley to David Guterson use themes of farming, of trying to create living order from wasted chaos, of old orchards. In the midst of the dust, dirt, frustration, hard times, debt, bad weather, and accidents that is farming in any country, we find something mystical and spiritual, and beloved.

This perspective is shared by many Americans here and by American soldiers deployed overseas. When U.S. forces recently bulldozed an orchard in Dhuluaya, Iraq, about fifty miles north of Baghdad, in collective retribution for U.S. inability to find terrorists in the farms, "one American soldier broke down and cried."

Make that two.

Orchard bulldozing is part of "a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking U.S. troops." Is it really a U.S. policy? I might credit this designation as "U.S. policy" to the reporting style of the Independent, but other punishments doled out by U.S. troops in Iraq are on theme and indicate a policy of sorts. These include humiliation of Iraqis and crushing antique cars. Not long ago, I saw on television American soldiers repeatedly running a tank over a Baghdad resident’s vehicle, crushing it flat. The Iraqi had taken wood from somewhere in the city, to burn, and now that the United States was cracking down on looting, the punishment was swift and sincere. The car was the Iraqi’s taxicab, and the "punishment" represented the total destruction of the only legitimate source of income for him and his extended family. Our soldiers said that punishment like this would send a message to others.

Indeed it will. It also helps engender hatred and frustration and futility among the occupied citizenry. It impoverishes families, reverses their rebuilding, and sows prolific and long-lived seeds of resistance and revenge. We Americans should know this from our own history. In another autumn, about 140 years ago, Sherman’s march from Atlanta to the sea began. A long time ago for us — but its description may sound alarmingly familiar to those who have more recently lost a war and live in occupied territories.

"The march began in November, after the crops had been gathered. The u2018bummers’ found the barns bursting with grain, fodder, and peas, the outhouses full of cotton, the yards crowded with hogs, chickens, and turkeys…. Sherman was not content simply to use what food and supplies he needed, but boasted that he would u2018smash things to the sea’ and make Georgia howl. His men entered dwellings, taking everything of value that could be moved, such as silver plate and jewelry; and killed and left dead in the pens thousands of hogs, sheep and poultry. Many dwellings were burned without any justification."

It is noted that "No other campaign in the entire war has contributed more to keeping alive sectional feeling than Sherman’s march through Georgia and South Carolina."

General Abizaid in Iraq may be far more civilized than General Sherman, and perhaps he has better control of his soldiers. We don’t know. We are, however, witnessing in Washington today an ugly reincarnation of Lincoln’s own political dependency on influential un-elected policy and business groups. We may also be sure that the State, when it becomes angry and arrogant, is always able to find loyal and dependable servants in the senior military ranks.

Americans may now take for granted the past year of propaganda by Bush and Cheney. They may have accepted those “few points… repeat[ed] over and over” Goebbels-like by the "crazies," as illustrated in John Pilger’s new documentary "Breaking the Silence." But the idea that America’s interests are identical to those of the tightly knit group of neoconservatives, who advocate a U.S. led-and-funded assault and forcible transformation of the entire Middle East, is — so far — not taken as an American truth.

Observers of the evolution of American foreign policy see an interesting conundrum. As neoconservatives clamor and push for holding misbegotten ground and continued forced transformations of sovereign states, the White House’s proud unilateral and independent foreign policy appears, more and more, to be bilateral and co-dependent.

We do share some interests, Israel and America. Apparently, we are adding to the list the objective of turning American soldiers into thugs and toughs who will administer our own version of the West Bank and Gaza for the "hajjis" in Iraq and parts of Afghanistan. Crushing vehicles with tanks, humiliating Islamic men, women and children, destroying homes and razing 70-year old orchards is certainly not something we currently train our sons and daughters to do in American boot camps.

And if that doesn’t work, we can always bring in the Turks.