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Thread: Liberators and Enemies Can Look a Lot Alike

  1. #1

    Default Liberators and Enemies Can Look a Lot Alike

    April 5, 2003
    Liberators and Enemies Can Look a Lot Alike

    Some administration officials predicted that most Iraqis would immediately rise up against Saddam Hussein and welcome American troops into their country. At this point, the response has ranged from warmth to hostility. Arts & Ideas asked historians to consider their own areas of expertise and explain why citizens often don't embrace outsiders who say they come to liberate them from oppressive regimes. Felicia R. Lee compiled their responses.


    During World War II, the propaganda was that Americans were out to destroy the country. And clearly, it was hard to reconcile the war itself — bombs being dropped on the cities — with the idea of liberation. When a country is under attack, the first reaction is to view the attacker as your enemy, not your liberator. Just as U.S. forces have done in Iraq, American aircraft that flew over Japan dropped leaflets that said "we will not destroy your country, we are just going to bring the war to a speedy end, we're going to destroy your military." But to a country that was as brainwashed as Japan was, how do you get your message across? People were suffering, but they had no sense of an alternative between an oppressive regime and the constant bombing. For the majority of Japanese, it was difficult to believe that the best solution was to stop their fighting and to reform their country through American forces.

    In the end, it is not propaganda but actions that make a difference. To the Japanese who had no direct knowledge of Americans beforehand, the soldiers were pictured as an alien force, out to annihilate their country. But once the war ended and American soldiers began occupying Japan, they impressed upon the Japanese the idea that they were there to help them.

    There were so many reforms in the six months after war — land reform, education reform, all kinds of reform to democratize the country. And when the American occupying forces came, they were different from the negative image. They were human: polite and well-behaved. It caused a basic psychological change. All those reforms turned the Americans into liberators.

    Akira Iriye is chairman of the history department at Harvard University.


    Iraqi tactics in the current war — forcing civilians into harm's way, executing innocents who seek refuge — have confirmed the malevolence of their regime, and so Americans seem puzzled by any Iraqi resistance to their liberation. It may perhaps be typically American to expect others to greet our mighty righteousness with gratitude, but there is a larger contradiction at work: we see dictatorships as simultaneously all-powerful and yet completely brittle.

    Above all, we tend to assume that if a regime uses mass terror, the population must be opposed to it — why else is there a need to terrorize people? We find it difficult to appreciate the coexistence of brutal coercion with broad elements of allegiance — as was the case, for example, in Stalin's Soviet Union. Nor do we understand the social and psychological depth attained by long-lasting dictatorships, how they shape the habits and identities even of their internal enemies.

    Dictatorships create a shadowy world. An adept dictator, rather than wait for the C.I.A. to recruit malcontents within his regime, organizes a phony conspiracy against himself. And then he hangs anyone who dares to respond, in the ministerial corridors for others to see. Those contemplating revolt cannot distinguish between a solicitation to defect that is genuine and one that is a trap.

    Outsiders are suspect. As one captured Soviet official told German interrogators during World War II: "We have badly mistreated our people; in fact so bad that it was almost impossible to treat them worse. You Germans have managed to do that. In the long term, the people will choose between the two tyrants the one who speaks their language. Therefore, we will win the war."

    To me, the Iraqis living under dictatorship and now caught in its violent overthrow appear less puzzling than Americans who talk of building democracies in the Arab world while disparaging government institutions, taxes and public programs at home.

    Steven Kotkin directs the Russian studies program at Princeton University.


    By the spring of 1945, lots of Germans, ordinary Germans, were tired of war and relieved to see the fighting end. Although some people did resist the regime, the overwhelming majority of the population — and the overwhelming majority in the military — supported it. We forget how enthusiastic most people were about the Nazis and their deeply racist ideas.

    In Nazi Germany, all freedom of the press ended in 1933, all freedom of assembly ended in 1933, all freedom of speech ended in 1933. Those who may have been open to persuasion only heard the government line. If you disagreed, you were shipped off to a concentration camp and the camps were widely publicized. There is an aura of fear that can bind people as effectively as enthusiasm. There is a kind of negative social cohesion created. The leaders — Hitler and Goebbels and others — were conscious of this idea that "we have burned our bridges and everyone has a negative incentive to go on fighting."

    Also, many Germans were afraid about what would happen if they lost, in part because of what they had done to other people. If you've been involved in mass murder, you're not enthusiastic about falling into the hands of the friends, relatives and others you have murdered. There was a sad joke in late World War II Germany: "You better enjoy the war. The peace will be awful."

    In the last months of war, German soldiers were much more inclined to surrender, but lots of them still fought. In the military, there is what one scholar called a "pseudo-judicial terror." The German military in World War II executed over 30,000 of their own officers and men, compared to under 200 in World War I. It means, since the death sentences were announced to the troops, that soldiers were motivated to some extent by this terror inside the military.

    Finally, the Germans were strongly nationalistic and did not want Germany ruled by foreigners, despite the beliefs, hopes and philosophy of the outsiders.People prefer to be ruled by their own, even if their own people are not particularly nice. It has only been in retrospect that increasingly Germans realize that it is just as well they lost, that they were liberated, not conquered.

    Gerhard Weinberg is professor of history emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


    Most people, if given a choice between a foreign liberator and a domestic dictator, would choose a domestic dictator. If we're serious about comparing Hussein to Hitler, we have to carry it to the logical conclusion — the Germans defended their regime to the very end, with tremendous suffering, far more than the Iraqi people are going through now. There are few instances in history when a foreign liberation force inspired people to rise up against their leaders, one of the exceptions being Afghanistan last year.

    Now consider North Korea, which is also ruled by a dictator. North Korea would be a much tougher customer than Iraq. There are no ethnic minorities, like the Kurds or Shiites, that could be used against the regime. You have a large ruling party there, you have an extensive police force and surveillance system to keep people in line, and you have a population insulated from outside information all their lives.

    People in Korea have been deeply inculcated with anti-Americanism for two generations, since the Korean War. The psychological element underpinning resistance to any American attack would be very deep. In terms of the military forces, they are much better organized than the Iraqi forces. They are better equipped, they have a larger army than Iraq. This has been a regime prepared to fight the Americans for 50 years — both literally and psychologically. Furthermore, they already had a war with the United States and they believe they won.

    Charles K. Armstrong is director of the Center for Korea Research at Columbia University.


    Wouldn't you protect your home? There's a story of how some well-fed Northern soldiers closed in on this Southerner, malnourished and raggedy. They said, "What are you fighting for?" And he said, "I'm fighting because you're down here." To say it's human nature is putting it mildly. Southerners didn't look at it as all the same country — they looked at it as the Confederate States of America. That someone is right or wrong has nothing to do with it.

    They didn't all think they were fighting in defense of slavery, even though some had a vested economic interest in slavery. Southerners were fighting in defense of the right to do what they wanted to do. For the most part, the Northerners didn't give a damn about slavery, either. They were fighting to preserve the union.

    Shelby Foote is a Civil War historian and author.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default Liberators and Enemies Can Look a Lot Alike

    Last week, some Pakistani newspapers covering the war reported that:
    American soldiers were raping Iraqi women in their tanks.
    US had dropped nuclear bombs on Baghdad, 100,000 killed.

  3. #3

    Default Liberators and Enemies Can Look a Lot Alike

    So, evil and deception is alive and kicking, what else is new? *Human nature will NEVER change.

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