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Fighting Laws of Human NatureBy Ron Kraybill
So American forces drew a bad hand with unprecedented sandstorms in a critical stage of the war. Bad weather will eventually yield to good. But unfortunately for those with their lives on the line in the deserts and swamps of Iraq, the U.S. forces are up against more than the weather. They have been directed into high-tech battle against two fundamental laws of human nature.
Law number one: External attack creates internal unity. Remember the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915? Pearl Harbor in 1941? Americans were sharply divided prior to both world wars. But from the moment of attack, opponents cast aside their differences in defense of the homeland. Remember how September 11 united us? The greater the threat from the outside, the more those under attack are prepared to ignore previous differences among themselves.
Law number two: Identity trumps freedom when it comes to loyalties. The need to be recognized and respected as a people is even stronger than the longing to be free. The Nazis lost World War II for ignoring this law. After decades of Stalinist terror, Hitler calculated that Soviet citizens would rise up against their dictator the moment German troops invaded. Instead, Soviets fell in behind the brute who had already murdered millions of his own citizens. Rallying to Stalin's call to protect their motherland, Soviets fought sacrificially against the Germans, turning with American help the tide of the war.
Americans see our forces as liberators and assumed most Iraqis would as well. Somehow we missed the fact that Iraq is a country with a long tradition of casting off outside intervention. Their resentments of Saddam Hussein notwithstanding, ordinary Iraqis have for months been telling anyone who will listen there is something they resent even more: an invasion of foreigners wielding weapons. "We don't want Saddam, but please don't start a war to get rid of him," pled an Iraqi woman to a visitor a few weeks ago.
This week an Iraqi businessman spoke with a British reporter. "We Arabs care about dignity," he said. "Half of Lawrence's 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' is about Arab dignity. In our lands, populism won over democracy for historical reasons. Saddam has provided societal safety. I am safe providing I do not confront the regime. Saddam may be very severe against political dissidents but he is also very severe on criminals or anyone who is aggressive with us. That includes the Americans."
Even many ancient victims of Saddam whom Americans counted on most to assist them have their backs up. Citing "total lack of Iraqi involvement" in plans for the war and its aftermath, members of the Iraqi opposition this week distanced themselves from the American-led war effort, some calling it a "war of conquest." On Tuesday the leader of the Shia Muslims who rose up against Saddam in 1991 said, "We are not in favor of this war because it places the future of Iraq in foreign hands."
"Irregulars", US commentators call the combatants of uncertain origins unexpectedly tying American convoys in knots from Kuwait right up to Baghdad. The polite name hides a tragic and alarming reality: Iraqi patriots, fathers and sons with no love for Saddam in their hearts are sallying forth to die in what they see as a battle for their homeland. Wouldn't we do the same in their shoes? Who and how much are we prepared to sacrifice to "liberate" a nation that would rather live miserably under the rule of its own despot than under the thumb of a foreign democracy?
By Ron Kraybill. Used by permission. To contact the author, write . For info about the author, or the Conflict Transformation Program where he teaches, see http://www.emu.edu/ctp