Teaching the Iraq War By John J. Fitzgerald

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Teaching the Iraq War

By John J. Fitzgerald

95 Cedar Road

Longmeadow, MA 01106

413 567 – 6315

A. Introduction – What is war? and Bibliography

B. Glossary of Terms

C. Chronology

D. A Just War?

E. Maps, Lies, Analogy and Five W’s

F. Taking Action

G. Other Topics

A. Introduction

Historians Against the War (HAW) is a national network, founded at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Historical Association to express opposition to the impending war on Iraq and the Bush Administration’s assault on civil liberties.  Since the United States invasion of Iraq, our concerns about U.S. foreign and domestic policy have increased.
In September 2003, we issued a follow-up statement expressing our opposition to the occupation of Iraq, the expansion of United States empire, the doctrine of preemptive war, and the continued encroachment on civil liberties.  More than 1300 historians have signed this statement:
As historians, teachers, and scholars, we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq. We deplore the secrecy, deception, and distortion of history involved in the administration’s conduct of a war that violates international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties, and reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources. Believing that both the Iraqi people and the American people have the right to determine their own political and economic futures (with appropriate outside assistance), we call for the restoration of cherished freedoms in the United States and for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
We have organized a wide range of activities reflecting these priorities:
·         Contingents at major antiwar demonstrations, including the march in New York on February 15, 2003 and the August 29, 2004 the rally at the Republican National Convention.
·         Dozens of teach-ins, debates and forums, first in March 2003 leading up to the war, and again in March 2004, examining the occupation.
·         Successful resolutions in support of academic freedom at the January 2004 American Historical Association meeting and the March 2004 Organization of American Historians meeting.  OAH President James Horton appointed HAW Steering Committee member David Montgomery to head a committee investigating violations of historians’ academic freedom.
·         A growing publication series, including Let History Judge, examining the historical record of the Bush Administration, A Brief Bibliography of English Language Sources and Studies on the Middle East and Muslim South Asia (edited by Marvin Gettleman and Stuart A. Schaar), and WE WON’T GO: Narratives of Resistance to World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the 1990–91 US–Iraq War, and the 2003– US–Iraq War (edited by Staughton Lynd), all available to be downloaded from our website or in bulk orders of 20 or more.
. This guide for teachers is a part of this publication effort.

For further information: http://www.historiansagainstwar.org

And/or fitzgera@comcast.net

Teaching the Iraq War is a challenge for teachers. For one thing, the war is still raging. For another thing, the United States is not winning the war. Another concern is that it is becoming increasingly controversial and at the same time more emotionally numbing. It is taking a rising physical and psychological toll among the people of Iraq and the people of the United States. Increasingly, people in Iraq and in the United States are beginning to question the continued violence, which is claiming more victims with each passing day.
The war, of course, was popular for a few of its earliest days and weeks, but now that we are entering our fifth year of war, public opinion has shifted. A popular President, who won re-election in 2004, now enjoys the support of less than 30% of the voters. Questions of impeachment and censure are in the air and Congress is showing increasing resistance to the demands of the President and the Pentagon.
How does one maintain an “objective” outlook in the midst of an escalating crisis? How does one bring these issues to a classroom with out injecting a political agenda into the classroom? Are teachers who discuss the war with their students, introducing indoctrination into their classroom at the expense of education? Is it possible to discuss controversial issues in a classroom and still maintain an atmosphere of thoughtful inquiry, fairness and rationality?
The following pages seek to offer some help and assistance to college and high school teachers concerned with teaching the Iraq War in their classrooms. Most of these teachers work in the fields of history and social studies, but some are counselors and administrators, who find themselves dealing with the concerns of students who are openly questioning the ideals and practices of their society, as their awareness of the world around them grows. Problems of mass media dictation and mass media communication during wartime are also part of the problem that many educators in all fields are facing.
The Iraq War represents a challenge to all of our citizens, teachers and students alike. It is not a unique, nor an unsolvable problem. The Vietnam War offered similar challenges to teachers and students in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The experiences of teachers from that earlier era have value for those of us working in the present era for peace and justice. It is my hope that we can build on those experiences to promote a better education for our students, and a better future for them and ourselves as we face the challenges of the Iraq War era.

Probably the most important thing to grasp about the Iraq War is that the United States and the United Kingdom, along with their allies, invaded Iraq in March of 2003.

Just as you can not begin to understand the Vietnam War, unless you understand that the United States invaded Vietnam, you can not begin to fathom what we are doing in Iraq without dealing with that basic concept.
The United States of America as an “invader” is a difficult concept for many Americans to understand. Our self image is such that we believe that we are a good nation in a world of evil. We go to war reluctantly, because we love peace so much. The only thing that we love more than peace is freedom. If we can not have freedom, than we will have to resort, no matter how reluctantly, to war. As Patrick Henry, a slave owner from Virginia once said, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
This notion that we are a special kind of nation is very much a part of our identity. The notion that we are the good guys, and have been the good guys throughout our history, is one that is firmly anchored in the American mind. “We are not only good, we are God’s favorite nation,” goes one version of this theology.
In the popular mind, that is, the media manipulated mind, almost all, if not all of our wars have started because of what the other side was trying to do to us. We were just trying to defend ourselves. Innocent America was up against arrogant, murderous monsters.

Is it innocent America, arrogant America, or is it ignorant America? You decide!

Consider the following short list of historical events.
I give it the title of “They Started It!”

  • The American Revolution started with the British march on Lexington and Concord.

  • The War of 1812 started with British impressments of innocent American sailors on the high seas.

  • The Mexican War got started after the Roman Catholic, Mexicans, who do not know how to speak English, slaughtered our freedom loving martyrs at the Alamo.

  • The Civil War began with the slave owning, Confederates firing on the peacefully fortified Fort Sumter.

  • Spain started the Spanish American War by blowing up our peace loving battleship the U.S.S. Maine.

  • Germany sank our freedom loving neutral ships carrying war munitions and supplies on the high seas with cowardly and heinous torpedoes and total disregard for human life.

  • The sneaky Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in a sneak attack on our peaceful Pacific Naval Fleet.

  • The Koreans invaded Korea in 1950 by crossing the 38th parallel.

  • The Vietnamese attacked two of our peaceful destroyers which were on routine peaceful combat patrol in the international waters of Pacific Ocean in 1964.

Any Comments?

For a serious discussion of all of these claims see:

John Nichols, editor. Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire. New York: Nation Books, 2004.

Perhaps we need to explore our attitudes toward war a little bit more closely. For a warm up exercise, try this lesson borrowed from Steve Cohen of Tufts University.
Handout the following sheet (Sheet A) to the class and ask them to choose the quotation with which they most agree and the quotation with which they most disagree.

Allow some time for reading.

Allow some time for discussion.

Ask them if they can identify the person who made the quotation. Does it make a difference to know who made the statement? Why?

Allow some time for general discussion.
Then pass out Sheet B with its additional quotes as you see fit.

Students should realize that there are differing opinions of the value of war.

How does one justify his or her position? Is it arbitrary and capricious? Does rational thought play a role? Should it play a role?

Sheet A

What is War?

1. “War is a continuation of diplomacy by other means.”
2. “In war there is no substitute for victory.”
3. “All is fair in love and war.”
4. “War is to a man, what childbirth is to a woman.”
5. “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” 
6. “The essence of War is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility. Hit first. Hit hard. And hit anywhere.”
7. “War is spitting in the eye of God.”
8. “War is just the way countries do business.”
9. “War is a man’s business, not a woman’s.”
10. “There never was a good war nor a bad peace.”
Sheet B

What is War?

1. “War is a continuation of politics by other means.”

German (Prussia) military leader and strategist Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) has been called the “father of modern warfare.” As a member of the officers’ corps of the mighty Prussian army from an early age, Clausewitz witnessed some of the most decisive European battles of his century and culled his observations into a body of theories that were outlined in his 1832 tract, On War. Its most enduring statement, “War is a continuation of diplomacy by other means,” has been widely misconstrued.

2. “In war there is no substitute for victory.”

General Douglas MacArthur, US WWII general & war hero (1880 - 1964) This comment refers to the Korean Conflict. He was removed from command by President Harry S Truman.
3. “All’s fair in love and war.”—“The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war.” The proverb has been traced back to John Lyly’s ‘Euphues’ (1578). First attested in the United States in ‘Horse-Shoe Robinson’ (1835). The proverb is found in varying forms. The proverb is frequently used to justify cheating.” From “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” by Gregory Y. Titelman ( Random House, N.Y., 1996). (William Shakespeare?)
4. “War is to a man, what childbirth is to a woman.”

Attributed to Adolph Hitler.

5. “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”  Ernest Hemingway
6. “The essence of War is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility. Hit first. Hit hard. And hit anywhere.” John Arbuthnot Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher,

British admiral and first sea lord of the Royal Navy during World War I.

7. “War is spitting in the eye of God.” Professor Paul Atwood, Joiner Center, UMass-Boston.
8. “War is just the way countries do business.” Professor Steve Cohen, Tufts University.
9. “War is a man’s business, not a woman’s.” Scarlett O’Hara, fictional character in Margaret Mitchell’s novel, “Gone With The Wind.”
10. “All wars are follies, very expensive and very mischievous ones.  In my opinion, there never was a good war or a bad peace.  When will mankind be convinced and agree to settle their difficulties by arbitration?”  Benjamin Franklin.

John Stuart Mill

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.  The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.  The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” 

Ernest Hemingway

“They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.  But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying.  You will die like a dog for no good reason.” 
Hermann Goering:

“Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

Dwight Eisenhower:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

April 16, 1953
Barbara Kingsolver:

“There’s a graveyard in northern France where all the dead boys from D-Day are buried. The white crosses reach from one horizon to the other. I remember looking it over and thinking it was a forest of graves. But the rows were like this, dizzying, diagonal, perfectly straight, so after all it wasn’t a forest but an orchard of graves. Nothing to do with nature, unless you count human nature.”

Blaise Pascal:

“Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarrelled with him?”

Omar N. Bradley:

“Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.”

Patrick Henry:

“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

March 23, 1775
Jeanette Rankin:

“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”

John Adams:

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

John F. Kennedy:

“The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.”

John F. Kennedy:

“It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.”

Circa 1980’s:

“If fire fighters fight fires, what do “freedom fighters” fight?”

Sir Winston Churchill:

“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

(1874 - 1965)
General Smedley Butler:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious.”

Simone Weil:

“The great error of nearly all studies of war... has been to consider war as an episode in foreign policies, when it is an act of interior politics...”
Colonel James A. Donovan, Marine Corps:

“The dangerous patriot...is a defender of militarism and its ideals of war and glory.”

Theodore Roosevelt:

“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official...”

Senator Robert M. La Follette:

“Every nation has its war party. It is not the party of democracy. It is the party of autocracy. It seeks to dominate absolutely.”

Some Books on the Iraq War and Related Topics

To understand what is going on with the Iraq War, it might be worthwhile to get a firm grounding on the Vietnam War, which preceded it.

The best single book on the Vietnam War for a beginning student is:
Marvin E. Gettleman; Jane Franklin; Marilyn B. Young and H. Bruce Franklin, editors. Vietnam and America, 2nd edition. New York: Grove Press, 1995.
This is an excellent collection of documents and a basic reference for understanding the war in Vietnam.

A shorter work intended for middle/high school level readers and up is:

Marilyn B. Young, John J. Fitzgerald and A. Tom Grunfeld, editors. TheVietnam War: A History in Documents. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
This book is recommended for use with younger students, community groups and military personnel. It is a brief, but comprehensive examination of the war by way of official documents, photographs, letters, cartoons and maps, with excellent references for further reading.

Books on American Foreign Policy:

William Blum. The CIA: A Forgotten History. London: Zed Books, 1986.

An early path breaking history of the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency around the world.

Stephen Kinzer. Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. New York: Times Books, 2006.
This book provides a fine summary in one volume of the major actions of the United States in overthrowing the governments of various “enemy” nations throughout the 20th Century. Contains excellent source notes and an extensive bibliography.

John Nichols, editor. Against The Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire. New York: Nation Books, 2004.

This book is an excellent collection of speeches, documents, poems, letters to the editor by Americans who opposed the imperial policies of their day. An excellent reminder of the full dimension of patriotism and anti-imperialism drawn from the American past.
Kermit Roosevelt. Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979.
This book is the inside story of how the CIA overthrew the government of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. Kermit Roosevelt, a CIA agent, was the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt. His memoir defends the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran and the re-installation of the Shah and his installation of an authoritarian regime backed by the United States and the United Kingdom. An excellent example of the politics of oil at work.
Books on the Iraq War:
Marvin E. Gettleman and Stuart Schaar, editors. The Middle East and Islamic World Reader. New York: Grove Press, 2003.
Excellent collection of documents that begins with the rise of Islam, Ottoman Empire, European Imperialism, World Wars, Oil , Zionism and the American role in the area since 1945. Maps, Glossary, Bibliography and a fine index.
Micah L. Sifry and Christopher Cerf, editors. The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents and Opinions. New York: Touchstone, 2003.
Excellent collection of documents with a focus on events since the First Gulf War. This collection is valuable in that it locates in one place almost all of the opinions and discussions that led up to the war in 2003.


Andreas, Joel. Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism, 3rd edition. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2004.

A well researched and witty presentation of the history of American militarism. It reads like a comic book, a highly artistic one, but has some very serious and well documented lessons for all citizens and students. Highly recommended as an introduction for soldiers and students of all ages.

Anthony Arnove. Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal. New York: The New Press, 2006.

A well researched and well documented argument for an end to the Bush/Cheney policy of American occupation of Iraq. It calls for an immediate and total withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq. Contains 35 pages of notes to sources.
Peter W. Galbraith. The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Galbraith examines the consequences of the American invasion and the deadly realities of the American occupation of Iraq. It reads like an autopsy of failure. He recommends withdrawal from Iraq.

Christopher Scheer, Robert Scheer, and Lakshmi Chaudry. The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq. New York: Akashic Books

and Seven Stories Press, 2003.
The five biggest lies include: Al Qaeda’s Ties to Iraq, Iraq’s Chemical and Biological Weapons, Iraq’s Nuclear Weapons, The War as a “Cakewalk,”and Iraq as a Democratic Model. An analysis of the lies of the Bush/Cheney administration.

Lesson Plans:

__________. Whose Wars? Teaching About the Iraq War and the War on Terrorism. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, 2006.
Lesson plans, interviews, exercises for teaching students about the realities of modern war and the war in Iraq in particular. Highly recommended.
Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson, editors. Rethinking Globalization. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Rethinking Schools Press, 2002.
Over 300 pages of great ideas, suggestions, essays and lesson plans. Highly recommended.

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