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The anti-war movement and John Murtha

Published Dec 4, 2005 11:05 PM

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) has pushed the public debate in the media and in Congress about bringing U.S. troops out of Iraq, stating that they should be brought home “immediately,” adding, “within the framework of practicality.” His time frame for “redeployment” is six months.

Various politicians, friend and foe alike, speak of Murtha with the greatest respect because of his personal military record and his closeness to the military brass. While Democratic Party politicians basked in the anti-war glow created by Murtha’s position, they also decisively rejected it as being too precipitous. They are all afraid Bush and the Republicans will tag them with the “cut and run” label.

The double talking of the Democratic Party leadership on the war flows from the fact that they are completely tied to imperialism. It shows how dangerous it is for the movement to become passive and look to any of them for leadership. Instead, the movement should concentrate on the possibility of taking advantage of the present split, represented by war-hawk Murtha’s new-found position, to escalate the anti-war struggle.

Murtha’s stand has made him a hero among the defeatist elements of the ruling class. But sections of the anti-war movement are also erroneously elevating him to the position of spokesperson and leader.

While he did take a strong stand within the imperialist political establishment, an anti-imperialist analysis of Murtha’s role is needed.

What made Murtha’s presentation appealing was that he castigated Vice President Dick Cheney for not listening to veterans “who have been there”—and, by implication, President George W. Bush for his flimsy National Guard service, which enabled him to escape combat during the Vietnam War. Murtha himself was a decorated combat veteran in Vietnam.

Privileged selfishness among war-hawks who dodged service while the workers and the oppressed were dying on the front lines is reprehensible. But consider the reactionary character of the war in which Murtha was decorated.

Another brutal imperialist war

Murtha wears medals won in a brutal colonial, imperialist war against the Vietnamese people, who struggled for national liberation for over a century. In this war the Vietnamese were bombed with napalm and white phosphorus. Their villages, towns and cities were carpet-bombed by B-52s and strafed by fighter planes. More bombs were dropped on Vietnam than on all the targets in World War I and World War II combined.

The Vietnamese were machine-gunned from helicopters and tortured in “tiger cages.” Villagers were rounded up into barbed-wire-surrounded concentration camps called “strategic hamlets.” Whole villages were slaughtered, including defenseless children. The most notorious was the My Lai massacre.

Thousands of political cadre were assassinated in the CIA’s “Operation Phoenix.” To remove cover for Vietnamese fighters, the Pentagon destroyed hundreds of thousands of square miles of foliage, spraying the poisonous, genetically damaging herbicide Agent Orange from the air. Millions of Vietnamese were killed and wounded. Even U.S. troops who had to handle this toxic substance came down with many illnesses and apparent genetic damage.

Murtha parlayed his military record in Vietnam, one of the most brutal colonial wars in history, into gaining a position in Congress. There, as a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, he got even closer to the generals. Murtha was fighting for imperialism and considers this service a point of pride.

From the Vietnamese point of view, or the viewpoint of anti-imperialist solidarity and support, pride-in-service in this near genocidal adventure is hardly qualification to be an “anti-war leader.”

Murtha also was speaking on behalf of rank-and-file U.S. soldiers who have been wounded in Iraq and their families. Indeed, he spoke with deep emotion and apparent sympathy for the troops he visits frequently in Walter Reed Hospital.

Iraq war’s horrors

The wounds U.S. soldiers suffer in Iraq are terrible and evoke sympathy on an individual basis. But U.S. soldiers who are victims of the war are really victims of the war criminals in the White House and the Pentagon who sent them to Iraq on a mission of colonial conquest. For an anti-imperialist, any expression of sympathy must be connected with condemning the invading high command and the Bush administration. Otherwise such unqualified sympathy only reinforces patriotism to the capitalist state.

Murtha, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserves, complained that the army is broken. But by that he meant that the military is so stretched that the mission of conquering the Iraqis can no longer be carried out as he and others in the Pentagon originally conceived of it. His fear is that the U.S. military will run out of soldiers because recruitment has dried up and the pressure on the present force could result in widespread troop resistance.

Murtha wants to act before that resistance materializes on a wide scale. But the anti-war movement must have the opposite view: one of encouraging and assisting the resistance of the soldiers against being forced to kill and be killed to promote the fortunes of U.S. imperialism.

The soldiers have every right to resist brutalizing the Iraqi people. They have the right to resist being sent on a mission to conquer Iraq for the oil companies, the Pentagon and the multinational corporations. It is the right of every soldier to resist an illegal and unjust mission.

Some U.S. soldiers who were in Iraq have returned to testify about the crimes they saw the U.S. military commit against the Iraqis, including the murder of civilians, including Iraqi children, the use of illegal weapons like white phosphorus, and the torture of captured Iraqis. A few, like U.S. Army Sgt. Camilo Mejia, have then refused to return to Iraq, and have become an active part of the anti-war movement. These soldiers, and not the militarists like Murtha, are the heroes whose example thousands of U.S. troops now in Iraq should begin to follow.

Murtha has issued no statements about the mothers and children in Iraq who died or were wounded or who lost loved ones at the hands of the U.S. occupation forces. He has not shed a tear for the Iraqi dead and wounded, for the millions of people whose lives were shattered by the U.S. invasion and occupation.

In addition, Murtha’s demand is to have “Iraqis fight for Iraq.” In simple terms, this means let the puppet forces take over the responsibility of securing Iraq for U.S. imperialism. To bring the troops home, as Murtha demanded, while putting in their place a domestic force to fight against the resistance, backed up by U.S. air support and U.S. troops “over the horizon” to defend the puppet government, is completely at odds with genuine anti-war, anti-imperialist sentiment.

This is the “Iraqization” of the war, just as Richard Nixon was forced to “Viet nam ize” the Vietnam War. That started in 1969, when U.S. casualties were mounting, the military budget was becoming unbearable and the anti-war movement in the U.S. was growing broader, deeper and more militant.

While there are vast differences between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, there is one parallel that is instructive. In a work entitled “The Long Resistance (1858-1975),” written by Nguen Khac Vien and published in Hanoi in 1975 after the U.S. was driven out, a section on “Nixon’s’ War” reads as follows:

“Unable to reinforce the U.S. expedi tion ary corps, [Nixon] was compelled to start bringing the ‘boys’ home. American losses had reached unacceptable proportions. ...

“To carry on and win the war while cutting down American casualties and spending to levels acceptable by American opinion and still seeking to impose American terms upon the Vietnamese people—Nixon wanted to solve this thorny problem through the ‘Vietnamization’ of the war.

“The question was:

“—To provide the puppet army with enough men and material to make it the main force that would liquidate the Vietnamese resistance and constitute the essential prop of the Saigon government fully devoted to Washington’s interests,

“—To gradually withdraw U.S. ground forces.”

Murtha is proposing a “Vietnamization” solution to the problems of the U.S. military in Iraq. He was echoing the generals when he said, “We have become the primary target of the insurgency” and “Some say the army is broken. Some of our troops are on their third deployment.”

The overall anti-imperialist goal of the Iraqis and of the anti-war movement is not just to get U.S. troops out of the country. It is to free Iraq from the stranglehold of the U.S. government, military and corporations. But behind Murtha’s scheme of “redeployment” in the immediate future is the goal of salvaging the situation for Washington by setting up a proxy regime of intermediaries with the title of “Iraqi government.” This regime would give the oil rights to the monopolies. It would collaborate with the Pentagon, privatize the country, destroy all social benefits and open it up for foreign investment.

Finally, it must be said that Murtha puts his criticism of the Iraq occupation on the strategic basis that it threatens “procurement programs that ensure our military dominance.” It is in this sense that he also speaks for the military high command, which is being consumed by the Iraq War and fears that it has lost ground in its goal of building up the military machine for world domination.

Murtha’s remarks should be seen, not as a signal to get behind him, but to escalate the struggle against the war, now that the military leadership and the political establishment of the U.S. ruling class are breaking up into factions and are beset with defeatism.

The probability is that, no matter what the talk-shop Congress does, the Bush group is going to go full steam ahead with its plans to “win” in Iraq. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are ready to fight to the last drop of blood of the U.S. troops and the Iraqi people. They will continue the war—the way the administrations of Nixon and Lyndon Johnson before him did—until they are defeated.

The anti-war movement here should expect nothing else and should take an independent position to get all U.S. troops out immediately, unconditionally and totally. We must say “down with the puppet government,” whoever is elected, and “no” to the training of Iraqi mercenary forces.

There are two fundamental sides in this struggle—the side of U.S. imperialism and the side of the Iraqis fighting to end occupation. Murtha is on the side of U.S. imperialism. If his defeatist position helps to weaken the U.S. military in Iraq, so much the better. But don’t thank Murtha for this. Thank the Iraqi resistance who are fighting for the independence of their country and have brought about the demoralization of sections of the U.S. military and the political establishment.