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War as Sacrifice
Richard Koenigsberg writes about leaders willing to sacrifice their people.
Richard Koenigsberg is owner and director of the Library of Social Science in Elmsburg, New York, a book exhibit company which creates, organizes and manages book exhibits for scholarly conferences in psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, etc. He wrote the following message to a Michel Foucault mailing list.
In reviewing my research notes on the First Gulf War, I came across a news report of a rally of August 26, 1990 of men & women in Baghdad. The marchers shouted, "We will give our body and blood to our President."
A news item of Thursday, August 8, 2002 reported that 15,000 persons marched through Baghdad in a 90-minute display of support of the Iraqi President. They carried photographs of Saddam Hussein and placards bearing slogans such as "long live Saddam." An Iraqi man on the streets of the capital, Hadi Abbass, told Reuters's news agency, "We are ready to sacrifice our blood, soul and children for the president."
On August 27, 1990, UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar was bewildered that Saddam would not agree to leave Kuwait, knowing what the fate of the Iraqi people would be in the face of American might. He said, "I cannot imagine that someone wants war for the pleasure of killing his own people."
Why is it so difficult to imagine that a leader provokes war in order to sacrifice his people?
According to Carolyn Marvin, the "totem secret"--that which is required to remain secret--is knowledge that "society depends on the death of its own members at the hands of the group itself." She observes that the "Irrefutable sign of national faith is making one's body an offering, a sacrifice." Jean Elshtain notes that when a young man goes to war he does so, not so much to kill as "to die, to forfeit his particular body for that of the larger body, the body-politic." A willingness to die represents a demonstration of faith in the sacred ideal.
In his Gulf War Anniversary address delivered to the Iraqi people on January 17, 2000, Hussein stated that the value attached to what a man loves "ranks on the same level of the sacrifice he renders" and is "commensurate with that sacrifice."
The pleasure of "killing one's own people" thus is equivalent to a willingness to sacrifice one's people, to allow them to die in the name of the leader and the sacred ideals he presumably represents. As the war on the eastern front progressed in 1942, Goebbels was satisfied to note that "The German soldiers go into battle with devotion, like congregations going into service."
Saddam Hussein said:
We love God as much as we sacrifice for that love and endeavor to win His satisfaction with us. You have sacrificed, noble Iraqis, all that is dear and precious, and have shed your blood seeking the love of God and in hope to win His satisfaction.
P. H. Pearse, founder of the Irish Revolutionary movement, was thrilled in 1916 to observe the carnage of the First World War:
The last sixteen months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth. It is good for the world to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country.
When the ideal for which persons are willing to die is very far from us--not our own--we see the willingness to allow young men (and others) to die as cold, ruthless brutality. When it is our ideal for which dying is proposed, we call it "beautiful sacrifice."
The status of Gulf War (2?) revolves around the question of whether Saddam Hussein will succumb to his narcissistic dream, omnipotent fantasy of sacrificing the Iraqi people. Will he provoke the American people to act as sacrificers--with his own people as sacrificial victims?
Of course, it takes two to tango. The other question is: Why is the President of the United States trying to provoke the President of Iraq to sacrifice his own people? Why is the United States willing to play the role as sacrificer with the Iraqi people as sacrificial victims?
Richard Koenigsberg, Ph. D.
Director, Library of Social Science
Sponsored by the
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