Tuesday, March 19, 2013

American Hubris

“Hubris” is defined as “excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.” It is a word descriptive of the attitude of many individuals as well as many groups, such as corporations or nations. Last month I happened to see (on MSNCB) a television special titled “Hubris: Selling the Iraq War.” It was a most interesting, and quite disturbing, documentary about the events leading up to the war in Iraq, which started ten years ago today, on March 19, 2003.
The TV program was largely based on the book Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (2006) by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, two top-notch American journalists. They were interviewed in last month’s program, which is also available on six YouTube videos.
On the day of its airing, Corn said that “the documentary goes beyond what Isikoff and I covered in Hubris, presenting new scoops and showing that the complete story of the selling of that war has yet to be told.”
In the documentary itself, Isikoff says, “There is no question the news media didn’t do its job during the run-up to the Iraq War. Far too often, the press simply accepted these sweeping assertions by the highest officials in the government, without looking for the hard evidence to support it.”
Before the Introduction in the book, the authors of Hubris begin with this quote: “How is the world ruled and how do wars start? Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read.” (These words are from Karl Kraus, 1874-1936, an Austrian journalist and press critic.) That kind of chicanery seems to have lurked behind the starting of America’s first “preemptive” war ten years ago in Iraq.
That war officially ended on December 31, 2011. By that time nearly 4,500 U.S. troops had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded. The war cost U.S. taxpayers more than $3,000,000,000,000. Even worse, an estimated 108,000 Iraqi civilians died as a direct result of the war, and some 15,400,000 were displaced.
Those terrible results all seem to have been largely due to the hubris and erroneous judgment of the top U.S. governmental officials. What a shame for America!
Now in 2013 there are different government executives, but American hubris still seems to be “alive and well.” Last month Bill Moyers and Michael Winship wrote a significant article titled “The Hubris of the Drones.” They charge, “Our blind faith in technology combined with a false sense of infallible righteousness continues unabated.”
The authors also quote Reuters correspondent David Rohde, who recently asserted that the U.S. “administration’s covert drone program is on the wrong side of history. With each strike, Washington presents itself as an opponent of the rule of law, not a supporter. Not surprisingly, a foreign power killing people with no public discussion, or review of who died and why, promotes anger among Pakistanis, Yemenis and many others.”
And then an unnamed former senior military official is quoted: “Drone strikes are just a signal of arrogance that will boomerang against America.”
Near the end of their article, Moyers and Winship aver that American “hubris brought us to grief in Vietnam and Iraq and may do so again” with the current President’s “cold-blooded use of drones and his indifference to so-called ‘collateral damage,’ grossly referred to by some in the military as ‘bug splat,’ and otherwise known as innocent bystanders.”
Does not this nation badly need to repent of its hubris in initiating and conducting the war on Iraq and to rethink the way drones are now being used?


  1. Indeed, Leroy, it is in great need of repentance. One can hardly get one's head around the incredible arrogance and cruelty of the Iraq War when many of us at the time, without any insider's knowledge and with just a little sociological horse sense, knew the administration was lying to us about the reasons for war as well as to itself about how the war would turn out. Spanish-American War, Vietnam War, Iraq War, and many other military and covert actions -- we've been at this imperialistic bent for over a hundred years. Add the ethnic cleansing of the Native-American nations, and it goes back farther.

    But, alas, the current presidential administration is from the only party with any elements capable of humility, and it's apparently not going to show it. The only other party has lost all sense of humility whatsoever.

    I fear that, like other imperial powers before it, the U.S. will stop only when it is humbled by weakness and defeat.

    1. Anton, thanks for again contributing significant comments.

      With regard to your last comment: you may be right, but there is freedom in this country to express considerable opposition to the hubris of the government (and elsewhere), and I am hopeful that those voices will become strong enough to bring about more humility and more respect for other cultures.

  2. Thanks Leeoy for a word that needs to be shared more often than the lies its exposes. What we also fail to see are similar results reflected back into the U.S. in excessive secrecy about government matters and our growing prison systems that prove profitable to private enterprise. Need we ever deny that America is not a Christian nation? And of course it never has been.

  3. An interesting read. Yet thinking back on history, it is hard to find presidents who were not arrogant. Seems to come with the territory. Depending on the perspective, I can think of between 2 and 5 who were not. Arrogance and Bitterness are the worst attributes in humanity.

  4. President George H. W. Bush explained the first Iraq war by saying something along the lines of, "We are fighting in Iraq today so our children will not have to tomorrow." (I could not find the exact quote online, so I am quoting from memory.) Well, now we are at the tenth anniversary of the children's war he tried to prevent.

    And what a children's war it was. It went so badly that even retired General Giap of North Vietnam commented on it. (See this link: http://edition.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/asiapcf/05/06/vietnam.giap/index.html) The Pentagon reportedly blocked the State Department from planning post-invasion strategy. It was apparently more important to make the invasion look cheap and easy than to plan for what came next. Mother Jones ran an article Friday, March 8, 2013, titled "Happy 10th Anniversary, Iraq War." Peter Van Buren's article is subtitled "Why the invasion of Iraq was the worst foreign policy decision in American history." In the article he discusses a "Potemkin Chicken Factory" where he worked in 2009. It was built with American money to process chickens American-style in Iraq. Unfortunately, Iraq lacked the infrastructure to support such a factory, so whenever the press came to visit, they had to go market and buy chickens to process. Otherwise, the factory set idle.

    Personally, I think both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were serious mistakes. At least the war in Afghanistan had an actual connection to a recent attack on the United States. If we were going to invade that country, we should have single-mindedly deployed our forces, taken care of Bin Laden's forces, and then quickly left the area with that success. Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11. It also has never been shown to have retained weapons of mass destruction, unlike, say, North Korea. The closest thing to a winner in this whole fiasco has been the regime in Iran. Talk about trillions of dollars worth of irony.

    Now, as for drones, I belong to the the General Sherman school of "War is all hell." What drones are doing is inherently no different than what artillery shells and aerial bombardments are doing. What drones bring is actually more accuracy and fewer civilian casualties. The real question is why is the war in Afghanistan still continuing? Bin Laden is dead. How much is a face-saving exit worth? We should make a generous offer of asylum in the United States for those Afghans who believe in women's education, and nurture that group until Afghanistan is someday ready for the modern world. We finally made peace with Vietnam after we got out. Perhaps we can do the same someday with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  5. Thank you for this, Leroy. If the book or film "Hubris" can effect change in enough minds and hearts to reverse New American Century hypocricy, I couldn't be more pleased.

    Actually, I COULD be more pleased. I agree 120% that "the full story of the selling of that war" needs to be told. The key word is FULL. I would be more pleased with a FULLER telling of the story.

    No post-9/11 story of Iraq can be "full" without a true account of 9/11. I just checked, and none of the five journalists named here have signed the petition of Journalists and Other Media professionals for 9/11 Truth, which calls for FULL, independent investigation of 9/11. (Some similar petitions are Religious Leaders for 9/11 Truth, Political Leaders for 9/11 Truth, Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, Pilots for 9/11 Truth, Firefighters for 9/11 Truth, Veterans for 9/11 Truth, Health Professionals for 9/11 Truth...) I therefore assume the "Hubris" account leaves unchallenged the official 9/11 narrative--which was fed to us by the very same band of liars. (I will test this assumption when I find the time to watch "Hubris" on Youtube.)

    Buddha (supposedly) said, "There are just two mistakes that can be made on the road to truth; not starting, and not going all the way." Benjamin Disraeli (supposedly) said, "Justice is truth in action." Jesus (supposedly) said, "The truth will make you free." Does travelling halfway on the road to truth make us half free, or half just? Will this entitle us to reach halfway to heaven when we die? With respect to Iraq and 9/11 (and Afghanistan and ALL that is justified under the ”War on Terror"), I tend to agree with Benjamin Franklin, who (supposedly) said, "Half a truth is often a great lie."

    Iraq was not a "mistake." Far from it, the FULL truth is it was a well-planned, lie-fueled, corporate takeover... not just of "rogue" foreign lands/resources, but also of the "free" domestic state.

  6. Yesterday, Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson sent an e-mail with these brief comments:

    "Bravo, Leroy! We need to become penitents and stop letting fear rule what we do. Our arrogance (hubris) is born of fear, not self-confidence."

  7. Thinking Friend Kevin Payne also made comments by e-mail:

    "Good article! Unfortunately, there is never a shortage of arrogance with those in power. Power corrupts!

    "I do hope the press in America wakes up to the failings in the current administration – I tire of them 'beating a dead horse' so to speak, by just going on about the failings of past presidents, and giving a pass to the current administration."


  8. Thinking Friend Glen Davis, a Canadian, writes,

    "Thank you Leroy.

    "We pray for our neighbour to the south, and we pray that our Canadian government will stop its march toward the same kind of hubris in other areas , such as the environment, and total lack of transparency and accountability.

    "Perhaps hubris is another word for being "puffed up" as the KJV used to call it! It was a sin in Jesus' day and it is still a sin today."

  9. I think this is all part and parcel to the reaction of the pre-WWII culture of White Male Supremacy - wrapped in God-talk - in all things domestic, and belligerent ugly Americnism in all things foreign.

    That beloved, ego/evil-based status has taken one body blow after another in domestic socio-politics and internationally. Male chauvinism - especially "Bible-based" - isn't quietly accepted anymore. And, so it seems, American poliltical-economic power isn't accepted quietly in the world either. Hence the resort to pre-emptive military action.

    It is well established that real, perceived, loss/fear of loss, of status is a very powerful drive toward rage. And just think of all the apoplectic spluttering rage on the Far Right - religious and secular - and all the while claiming to be the victim. There is a strong parallel in Tolkien's Morgoth (Lucifer-like) and Sauron (demon-like) characters. They both justify their rage/lust for domination with feelings of victimization - by consquences they brought on themselves!

    The Far Right sounds a lot like the union slogan of years ago - "We're mad as hell, and we ain't gonna take it anymore!!"

    Interesting reversal!

    Hope that helps!

  10. Thinking Friend Charlie Broomfield gave me permission to post his email comments here:

    "I will never forget the night that Mr. Bush and Mr. Chaney launched their war of "Shock and Awe!" I was in my motel room in Jefferson City and I watched hour after hour as the bombs and rockets flew into Baghdad killing and maiming anybody and everybody who happened to be under those bombs, and I wondered why? And I wondered about this so-called "born again" Christian President who campaigned on "compassionate conservatism."

    "Of course nobody knew all the circumstances behind the war, but I was suspicious of it from the beginning and I wondered why so few Senators and Congressmen and women from both parties did not stand up against this crazy war.

    "For nearly all my life as a teacher, legislator, citizen and Christian, I had been so proud of my country because we claimed (at least) that we never started a war first.

    "Perhaps it was then that I decided that someday I would try to find out the real reasons for the Iraq War.

    "As you know I went back to school a few years ago and one of my primary reasons for doing so was to try to study and find out what was happening to my country; what had lead the American people to embrace the likes of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush and all the others.

    "What I learned 'was not pretty'!"