Please note: You can add or remove addresses to the ZNet Free Update
mailing list via our top page. If you want to get nightly commentaries
from ZNet, however, not just the occasional updates, you need to become
a Z Sustainer. You can do that via the links on the ZNet top page --

Of course there is a steady flow of articles analyzing and proposing
reactions to the U.S. election on the site, linked from the top page,
including pieces by Zinn, Palast, Albert, Richie, Sapir, Jensen, and
many more. Please take a look. Our other coverage is also
proceeding...with new pieces on the Mideast, Latin America, U.S. issues,
etc., from Fisk, Johnson, Ross, Engler, and others. 

But I am sending you, today, two pieces, in particular. The first is
tonight's ZNet Sustainer commentary by Rahul Mahajan. It addresses the
imminent massive assault on Fallujah. Read it and resist. The second
piece is by Howard Zinn and more general. In fact, it was actually first
put online a couple of months ago, but it bears upon our moods and
choices today.

Fallujah and the Reality of War
By Rahul Mahajan

The assault on Fallujah has started. It is being sold as liberation of
the people of Fallujah; it is being sold as a necessary step to
implementing "democracy" in Iraq. These are lies.

I was in Fallujah during the siege in April, and I want to paint for you
a word picture of what such an assault means.

Fallujah is dry and hot; like Southern California, it has been made an
agricultural area only by virtue of extensive irrigation. It has been
known for years as a particularly devout city; people call it the City
of a Thousand Mosques. In the mid-90's, when Saddam wanted his name to
be added to the call to prayer, the imams of Fallujah refused.

U.S. forces bombed the power plant at the beginning of the assault; for
the next several weeks, Fallujah was a blacked-out town, with light
provided by generators only in critical places like mosques and clinics.
The town was placed under siege; the ban on bringing in food, medicine,
and other basic items was broken only when Iraqis en masse challenged
the roadblocks. The atmosphere was one of pervasive fear, from bombing
and the threat of more bombing. Noncombatants and families with sick
people, the elderly, and children were leaving in droves. After initial
instances in which people were prevented from leaving, U.S. forces began
allowing everyone to leave - except for what they called "military age
males," men usually between 15 and 60. Keeping noncombatants from
leaving a place under bombardment is a violation of the laws of war. Of
course, if you assume that every military age male is an enemy, there
can be no better sign that you are in the wrong country, and that, in
fact, your war is on the people, not on their oppressors, not a war of

The main hospital in Fallujah is across the Euphrates from the bulk of
the town. Right at the beginning, the Americans shut down the main
bridge, cutting off the hospital from the town. Doctors who wanted to
treat patients had to leave the hospital, with only the equipment they
could carry, and set up in makeshift clinics all over the city; the one
I stayed at had been a neighborhood clinic with one room that had four
beds, and no operating theater; doctors refrigerated blood in a
soft-drink vending machine. Another clinic, I'm told, had been an auto
repair shop. This hospital closing (not the only such that I documented
in Iraq) also violates the Geneva Convention.

In Fallujah, you were rarely free of the sound of artillery booming in
the background, punctuated by the smaller, higher-pitched note of the
mujaheddin's hand-held mortars. After even a few minutes of it, you have
to stop paying attention to it - and yet, of course, you never quite
stop. Even today, when I hear the roar of thunder, I'm often transported
instantly to April 10 and the dusty streets of Fallujah.

In addition to the artillery and the warplanes dropping 500, 1000, and
2000-pound bombs, and the murderous AC-130 Spectre gunships that can
demolish a whole city block in less than a minute, the Marines had
snipers criss-crossing the whole town. For weeks, Fallujah was a series
of sometimes mutually inaccessible pockets, divided by the
no-man's-lands of sniper fire paths. Snipers fired indiscriminately,
usually at whatever moved. Of 20 people I saw come into the clinic I
observed in a few hours, only five were "military-age males." I saw old
women, old men, a child of 10 shot through the head; terminal, the
doctors told me, although in Baghdad they might have been able to save

One thing that snipers were very discriminating about - every single
ambulance I saw had bullet holes in it. Two that I inspected bore clear
evidence of specific, deliberate sniping. Friends of mine who went out
to gather in wounded people were shot at. When we first reported this
fact, we came in for near-universal execration. Many just refused to
believe it. Some asked me how I knew that it wasn't the mujaheddin.
Interesting question. Had, say, Brownsville, Texas, been encircled by
the Vietnamese and bombarded (which, of course, Mr. Bush courageously
protected us from during the Vietnam war era) and Brownsville ambulances
been shot up, the question of whether the residents were shooting at
their own ambulances, I somehow guess, would not have come up. Later,
our reports were confirmed by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and even by
the U.S. military.

The best estimates are that roughly 900-1000 people were killed
directly, blown up, burnt, or shot. Of them, my guess, based on news
reports and personal observation, is that 2/3 to 3/4 were noncombatants.

But the damage goes far beyond that. You can read whenever you like
about the bombing of so-called Zarqawi safe houses in residential areas
in Fallujah, but the reports don't tell you what that means. You read
about precision strikes, and it's true that America's GPS-guided bombs
are very accurate - when they're not malfunctioning, the 80 or 85% of
the time that they work, their targeting radius is 10 meters, i.e., they
hit within 10 meters of the target. Even the smallest of them, however,
the 500-pound bomb, has a blast radius of 400 meters; every single bomb
shakes the whole neighborhood, breaking windows and smashing crockery. A
town under bombardment is a town in constant fear.

You read the reports about X killed and Y wounded. And you should
remember those numbers; those numbers are important. But equally
important is to remember that those numbers lie - in a war zone,
everyone is wounded.

The first assault on Fallujah was a military failure. This time, the
resistance is stronger, better-armed, and better-organized; to "win,"
the U.S. military will have to pull out all the stops. Even within
horror and terror, there are degrees, and we - and the people of
Fallujah - ain't seen nothin' yet. George W. Bush has just claimed a new
mandate - the world has been delivered into his hands.

There will be international condemnation, as there was the first time;
but our government won't listen to it; aside from the resistance, all
the people of Fallujah will be able to depend on to try to mitigate the
horror will be us, the antiwar movement. We have a responsibility, that
we didn't meet in April and we didn't meet in August when Najaf was
similarly attacked; will we meet it this time?

Rahul Mahajan is publisher of the weblog Empire Notes
(http://www.empirenotes.org), with regularly updated commentary on U.S.
foreign policy, the occupation of Iraq, and the state of the American
Empire. He has been to occupied Iraq twice, and was in Fallujah during
the siege in April. His most recent book is Full Spectrum Dominance:
U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond
//www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1583225781/empirenotes-20). He can be
reached at [EMAIL PROTECTED]


The Optimism of Uncertainty      
by Howard Zinn  November 06, 2004   
In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in
comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to
stay involved and seemingly happy?

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we
should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The
metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose
any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a
possibility of changing the world.

There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will
continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden
crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's
thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the
quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter
unpredictability. A revolution to overthrow the czar of Russia, in that
most sluggish of semi-feudal empires, not only startled the most
advanced imperial powers but took Lenin himself by surprise and sent him
rushing by train to Petrograd. Who would have predicted the bizarre
shifts of World War II--the Nazi-Soviet pact (those embarrassing photos
of von Ribbentrop and Molotov shaking hands), and the German Army
rolling through Russia, apparently invincible, causing colossal
casualties, being turned back at the gates of Leningrad, on the western
edge of Moscow, in the streets of Stalingrad, followed by the defeat of
the German army, with Hitler huddled in his Berlin bunker, waiting to

And then the postwar world, taking a shape no one could have drawn in
advance: The Chinese Communist revolution, the tumultuous and violent
Cultural Revolution, and then another turnabout, with post-Mao China
renouncing its most fervently held ideas and institutions, making
overtures to the West, cuddling up to capitalist enterprise, perplexing

No one foresaw the disintegration of the old Western empires happening
so quickly after the war, or the odd array of societies that would be
created in the newly independent nations, from the benign village
socialism of Nyerere's Tanzania to the madness of Idi Amin's adjacent
Uganda. Spain became an astonishment. I recall a veteran of the Abraham
Lincoln Brigade telling me that he could not imagine Spanish Fascism
being overthrown without another bloody war. But after Franco was gone,
a parliamentary democracy came into being, open to Socialists,
Communists, anarchists, everyone.

The end of World War II left two superpowers with their respective
spheres of influence and control, vying for military and political
power. Yet they were unable to control events, even in those parts of
the world considered to be their respective spheres of influence. The
failure of the Soviet Union to have its way in Afghanistan, its decision
to withdraw after almost a decade of ugly intervention, was the most
striking evidence that even the possession of thermonuclear weapons does
not guarantee domination over a determined population. The United States
has faced the same reality. It waged a full-scale war in lndochina,
conducting the most brutal bombardment of a tiny peninsula in world
history, and yet was forced to withdraw. In the headlines every day we
see other instances of the failure of the presumably powerful over the
presumably powerless, as in Brazil, where a grassroots movement of
workers and the poor elected a new president pledged to fight
destructive corporate power.

Looking at this catalogue of huge surprises, it's clear that the
struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent
overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem
invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power
has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less
measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity,
organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience--whether by
blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua
and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the
Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need
deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.

I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world
(is it just my friends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite
of all the evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me
hope. Especially young people, in whom the future rests. Wherever I go,
I find such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem to be
hundreds, thousands, more who are open to unorthodox ideas. But they
tend not to know of one another's existence, and so, while they persist,
they do so with the desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing
that boulder up the mountain. I try to tell each group that it is not
alone, and that the very people who are disheartened by the absence of a
national movement are themselves proof of the potential for such a

Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of
such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag
toward a more decent society. We don't have to engage in grand, heroic
actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when
multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we
don't "win," there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been
involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope.

An optimist isn't necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the
dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly
romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not
only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our
lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do
something. If we remember those times and places--and there are so
many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy
to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a
world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a
way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is
an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human
beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself
a marvelous victory.


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