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Carolyn Eisenberg: What History Will Say About the Iraq War

Roundup: Historians' Take




[Carolyn Eisenberg is a Steering Committee member of Historians Against the War. She is also a professor of U.S. foreign policy at Hofstra University. The following speech was written to be delivered at the recent anti-war rally in Washington on September 24. It was not actually delivered because of scheduling delays.]

Donald Rumsfeld encouraged the Pentagon press corps this week to forget the short term and start thinking like historians. In looking at the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, “We should ask what history will say.”

Let us follow that advice and ask Rumsfeld’s question: “What will history say?”

History will say that a reckless President and a coterie of cynical advisors tricked a frightened nation into an unnecessary war.

History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors dissipated the good will of countries around the world and turned compassion into fury.

History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors multiplied 3000 deaths in the World Trade Center into tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths.

History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors turned volunteer soldiers and National Guardsmen into national hostages, and sent them as conquerors into a place they had no right to be, without a reason, without a plan, without adequate equipment, without proper training and without international support.

History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors ignored the environment, ignored the poor, ignored the health care system, ignored the cities and then one day they ignored the weather.
And in their arrogance and indifference brought the devastation and suffering of the Iraqi town of Fallujah to the American city of New Orleans.

History will also say that this reckless President and his cynical advisors had a great many helpers. That when it mattered, the American media did not do its job, that journalists asked too few questions and repeated too many lies.

History will say that when it mattered America’s opposition party – the cowardly Democrats – changed the subject and voted for war, knowing all the time and in advance that going to Iraq was a fool’s errand and a disastrous mistake. Knowing they would never send their own children to such a place. But not sufficiently ashamed of putting Cindy Sheehan’s son and the children of other people in harm’s way.

We could also tell Donald Rumsfeld that history is a work in progress and that we are gathered here today to write a new chapter, transforming sorrow and anger into hope. As we look around us, we feel our potential strength and we know what history might say if we act on our convictions.

History might say that in 2005 the people of America regained their wits and found their voice, recognizing that you cannot defeat “terrorism” by terrorizing others and that you cannot build democracy by shooting at checkpoints, breaking down doors and bombing towns.

History might say that in 2005 the American people had enough of war, enough of torture, enough of lawlessness, enough of lying, enough of corruption, enough of “Yellow Alerts and Orange Alerts” and hyped announcements of captured “ringleaders” and vanquished enemies, who always seem to multiply.

History might say that in 2005 the American people became weary of politicians, who were evading the war or supporting it. And that they sent a message to all the would-be Presidents – to Hillary Clinton, Kerry, Biden, Bayh, Frist, McCain and anyone else – that nobody goes to the White House, who wants an expanded military or who just want “to get it right,” when the compelling need is to get us out.

History might say that in 2005, the American people fired Donald Rumsfeld and sent him for trial to the International Criminal Court, which the United States finally joined.

History might say that in 2005, the American people closed down Gitmo, shuttered Abu Ghraib, returned the National Guard to the places they were needed, and brought 147,000 of our troops back to the United States, to the homes and families where they belong.

History might say that in 2005, the American people realized that there was no easy path to safety, not from “terrorists” nor from hurricanes.
And that our best hope as a country depends on doing justice, relieving suffering, respecting difference and honoring the rule of law.

Will history actually say these things? That depends on what we do – whether we leave Washington DC today with the energy, the commitment, the belief in our own country, the faith in our fellow citizens to find a new direction and to replace the President’s message of war with a fervent call for peace.

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Lisa Kazmier - 10/29/2005

This one hardly takes a genius to figure out. Maybe you are the one blinded by bias. Ever think of that? Being trained as a historian does provide certain advantages in seeing past-as-present-pattern. When I said I saw how this conflict could easily go back in 2003 and ridiculed the cake-walk, flower-strewn invasion fantasies of the neocons, I was told how "irrelevant" I was in the rah-rah sentiment building up toward invasion. I said I never felt more relevant. I think the past two years has more than amply proven my view to be correct.

People who joined HAW did so early on. I did too. You really think, given the way this conflict has gone (how accurate is that "Mission Accomplished" sign?), that HAW members are fools compared to those neocons in the White House who've killed thousands? Hello, reality check?! Maybe you're the fool.


Steven R Alvarado - 10/26/2005

There is a saying that a physician who treats their own ailments "Has a fool for a patient". I think the same could be said about a historian who attempts to predict how future historians will write history. Especially when that historian is blinded by their own bias.