Ira Chernus  


A War to Save the Dollar: But Where are the Real People?

The Pentagon plans to win a lightning fast war in Iraq by raining Cruise missiles down on Baghdad, about 15 every hour, for 48 hours. Strategist Harlan Ullman, who created the plan, says that "shock and awe" worked in Hiroshima, so why not Baghdad too?

How could my own country knowingly perpetrate such a horrific slaughter? There are many motives driving the Bush administration. For this war, as for every war, no one explanation can suffice.

One piece of the puzzle, which may be crucial, has been largely overlooked. The OPEC countries sell their oil for dollars, as do most other countries. The oil trade is crucial for keeping up the value of the dollar. In November 2000, Iraq began selling its oil for euros, not dollars. As the value of the euro has climbed against the dollar, Iraq has reaped a substantial profit from its wise decision. Iran and North Korea, the other links in the so-called "axis of evil," are also moving toward trading in euros rather than dollars.

But the Bush administration’s real fear, according to one theory, is that OPEC will switch to euros. Oil importing countries would have to dump dollars and acquire euros. That could dramatically raise the euro’s value against the dollar.

This theory sees the Bush administration making war to acquire Iraq’s oil fields, but not simply to give U.S. corporations more oil revenues. The main goal is to pump oil like crazy out of Iraq, flooding the world market. That would drive prices down, which might hurt corporate revenues in the short run. In the long run, though, it would break the power of OPEC, which depends on a tightly controlled oil flow to keep prices up.

With the U.S. firmly in charge of the world oil economy, we could rest assured that the dollar would be the standard currency for the global oil trade. That would save the dollar from U.S. capitalism’s worst fear: the euro replacing the dollar as the world’s pre-eminent and most desirable currency.

How many Iraqis must die to save the dollar? How many must bury their children, or their parents? How many must suffer the ravages of radiation poisoning from depleted uranium? How many must flee their homes, perhaps never to return? Do they have all this calculus figured out, in the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon? Can they be callous enough to estimate a ratio of Iraqi lives per point of increase in the dollar’s value on the global market?

As I glanced through The New York Times website the other day, I realized that they are probably even more callous than that. They probably don’t bother with such calculations, because to them it just doesn’t matter.

A small Times’ headline offered a warning from Amnesty International about the thousands who would die in this war and the millions who would be made homeless. A much bigger headline said not to worry: the U.S. military plans to bring in humanitarian aid right away.

But several other stories had to make you wonder. They talked about how little aid the U.S. has given to Afghanistan or to Palestine (where the U.N. food agency says it will soon have no money at all to feed hungry people). They talked about how vague the Bush administration's plans are for post-war Iraq, how little planning has been done to care for the wounded and the starving. They talked about how badly the administration wants to line up allies to pay the postwar costs, so that the U.S. can pay as little as possible.

The picture was clear. We pay plenty to kill ‘em. Let someone else pay to take care of the survivors. Human life is not our department.

But the story in the Times that explained it best seemed to have nothing to do with war at all. Arkansas wants to execute a convicted murderer, but he has become insane. The Supreme Court has ruled that you can’t execute an insane man. So Arkansas wants to force him to take antipyschotic medications. His lawyer says that is illegal, because you can give involuntary medication only if it will give the patient medical benefit. If the meds work and this guy is no longer psychotic, he gets put to death. Hardly a medical benefit, you would think.

Not so, the Federal Appeals court ruled, in a narrow 6-5 decision. There are many benefits of giving him a drug that will cure his psychosis, the majority ruled. "Eligibility for execution is the only unwanted consequence of the medication." With so many benefits and just one drawback, the court told the state to drug him and kill him.

There is no anger or cruelty here, no desire to harm another human being. There is only a world in which no real human beings exist. Goals are set and plans devised, with no concern about the real effects on real people, because there are no real people. Actual humanity has simply disappeared.

Before we point a self-righteous finger at the president, the judges, and the currency traders, take a look around. Don’t we all live in the same depersonalized, dehumanized, corporatized, sanitized, mediatized, computerized world? The only difference is that some of us have been lucky enough to realize it. Occasionally, we remember that we are here to change it. That is when, and why, we protest: to create a world where real people can matter far more than dollars, because real people really exist.