British journalist, historian, and all-around chronicler of the Middle East Robert Fisk offers his take on “The only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn”.
Much of it attacks the Blair administration for becoming more American-like in having its politics driven by press conferences and TV deadlines. But the heart of the essay, and its title, is touchstoned by a Pat Buchanan quote:
“With our MacArthur Regency in Baghdad, Pax Americana will reach apogee. But then the tide recedes, for the one endeavour at which Islamic people excel is expelling imperial powers by terror or guerrilla war.
“They drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden, the French out of Algeria, the Russians out of Afghanistan, the Americans out of Somalia and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon. We have started up the road to empire and over the next hill we will meet those who went before. The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.”
Fisk then tackles the Blairs, Bushes and others who postured as Churchills, despite not knowing, or listening to, history. He derisively says we should call the former British PM “Anthony Blair — as we should always have called this small town lawyer.”
Then, Fisk offers new looks at the grim statistics of casualties:
The total of US dead in Iraq (3,978) is well over the number of American casualties suffered in the initial D-Day landings at Normandy (3,384 killed and missing) on 6 June, 1944, or more than three times the total British casualties at Arnhem the same year (1,200). …
Iraqi casualties allow an even closer comparison to the Second World War. Even if we accept the lowest of fatality statistics for civilian dead – they range from 350,000 up to a million – these long ago dwarfed the number of British civilian dead in the flying-bomb blitz on London in 1944-45 (6,000) and now far outnumber the total figure for civilians killed in bombing raids across the United Kingdom – 60,595 dead, 86,182 seriously wounded – from 1940 to 1945.
Indeed, the Iraqi civilian death toll since our invasion is now greater than the total number of British military fatalities in the Second World War, which came to an astounding 265,000 dead (some histories give this figure as 300,000) and 277,000 wounded. Minimum estimates for Iraqi dead mean that the civilians of Mesopotamia have suffered six or seven Dresdens or – more terrible still – two Hiroshimas.
And, non-casualty statistics on why we continue to draw Osama bin Laden’s ire;
If there are, as I now calculate, 22 times as many Western troops in the Muslim world as there were at the time of the 11th and 12th century Crusades, we must ask what we are doing. Are we there for oil? For democracy? For Israel? For fear of weapons of mass destruction? Or for fear of Islam?
The problem is, as Fisk has stated, all too few people have asked these questions. And, all too many of those in power have only asked them in a rhetorical sense, having already supplied their own answers.