The stories coming out of postwar Iraq are starting to remind me of the news out of inner cities in America in the 1980s and 1990s. I was struck on Sunday by this sentence from a front-page New York Times story:
As some of soldiers from the Army's Third Infantry Division tried to provide medical assistance immediately after the explosions, they were fired on by angry residents, officials said.
This is awfully similar to one of the things urban American firefighters, in particular, complained about in the '80s and '90s -- having to duck rocks and even bullets when rushing to fires.
Of course, this is what can happen when people are poor, hopeless, desperate, and angry, when they don't see any hope for a turnaround, and when they're surrounded by what seems to be an occupying force more concerned with containing them than helping them, a force largely made up of young armed men who don't always have enough patience, maturity, skill, or experience to know when to hold fire -- if the civilians have weapons at their disposal, even just rocks, they lash out. (It should be noted that the incident mentioned above happened after civilians were killed at a blast a Baghdad arms dump that was being guarded by American troops -- it's not hard to understand the anger.)
And now we have the deaths of 12 civilians in Fallujah. U.S. news reports emphasize that U.S. soldiers say people in the crowd fired first. The Guardian, by contrast, says:
US central command in Qatar said troops had shot at armed Iraqis who had fired on the soldiers. Witnesses said that the demonstrators, who had been protesting at a local school, had not been armed. They said that the protest had been peaceful.
Back in the '80s and '90s, stories of inner-city violence between the police and residents were invariably like that -- the cops insisted they'd responded to violent provocation and the residents insisted there'd been no provoking violence.
After Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, and others made front pages, America's police offers learned more restraint. A rising economic tide that briefly lifted most economic boats in the Clinton years reduced tensions as well. I wonder if anything similar could possibly happen in Iraq during our occupation.
This, of course, poses a problem for the American pro-war right. It was easy for rightists to dismiss the concerns of inner-city nonwhites in the '80s and '90s -- either they said (or implied via code words) that nonwhites were inherently uncivilized or they blamed Democrats and "the welfare state" for urban problems. But the rightists are in charge in Iraq now -- no New Dealers or Great Society types or Eurosocialists need apply. And this war was fought to liberate the Iraqi people, so rightists can't blame the Iraqis themselves.
Or can they? I wonder when right-wingers will drop the "noble Iraqi people" line and start saying that those damn ingrates are just, you know, like that, that they're just culturally predisposed to insolence toward even the most virtuous Westerners.