Blix and You’ll Miss It: The Iraq War Remembered, Part II

No One Ever Claims That Peace Is A Tragedy That Could Have Been Averted

Blix and You’ll Miss It: The Iraq War Remembered, Part II

There’s no better time to deploy our AU critical thinking skills than when public opinion seems to be kneaded into a consensus by the media.  After all, if education can’t teach us to see a broad picture of current events, then we might as well just go around wearing a T-Shirt that reads: “I have opinions, about Things!” Twenty years ago the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq served as a litmus test for public policy in the new millennium and to this day it’s an opportunity to dig past the superficial nature by which authority presents current events.

Leading up to the invasion, emotions were triggered to produce a relatively compliant population who were at once fearful and angered about a dictator in a distant country.  Served on a platter of inevitability and menace, uncritical TV coverage created an environment where word of mouth dissent seemed unreasonable because it wasn’t being echoed by experts on television.  It didn’t take long, though, for everyone to see that things were unravelling faster than a demon mummy in some Indiana Jones remake.  Tragedy met comedy and emerged as farce as innocent civilians were slaughtered and a nation was mutilated based on false pretexts of an imminent threat from nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.  The New York Times even suggested the royal we to falsely and retroactively imply that we had all been wrong, even while claiming that they personally were misled.  They admitted that they’d taken authority’s word for too many statements and these were “allowed to stand unchallenged” (Cozens, online).

So there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq and invading Anglo-American troops weren’t treated like liberators.  Jubilant crowds tossing flowers was the ultimate fantasy that the powers that be had propagated, either cunningly or foolishly or both.  Instead, an insurgency threatened to create the worst nightmare imaginable: a long quagmire of a war that drained resources and prestige from the free world while further emboldening Islamic Fundamentalist terrorism.

Unpleasant realities during the years of the Iraq War made even the staunchest hawk quiver in his well-feathered, middle-class nest.  We Canadians were relieved to have not entered the fray.  Many a Canadian politician thanked their lucky night owl that Jean Chretien had, as a lame duck Prime Minister in his final years, kept our troops out of Iraq.  Not so lame after all!  Many other countries had joined the so-called Coalition of the Willing including, famously, Morocco, who helpfully sent some trained monkeys to remove land mines.

Smug Canadian opposition to unnecessary wars was by no means universal.  The Kootenay town of Nelson, B.C.  became embroiled in a huge controversy that drew media from across the continent into the fray: a proposed statue commemorating Vietnam war resistors was too much for those who believed that not suiting up for war after being drafted against one’s will was a criminal act to be punished accordingly (CBC News, online).  In fact, American Iraq war resistors (though they had enlisted without a draft) were deported from Canada during this time and immediately arrested by US authorities (CTV News, online).  History was on trial, it seemed, and even in the greenest of smoky green regions of British Columbia, the town of Nelson caved into pressure and refused to allow the statue to be erected.  Instead, nearby Doukhobours (famous for anti-war protests earlier in the 20th Century where they presented themselves naked in a manner that would make many a hippie blush) allowed it to be presented on their property.

War is a paradox in that each one is presented by its perpetrator as simultaneously a wise choice and an absolute necessity.  Like dodging a rock falling from a mountainside, war’s propagandists lend an air of inevitability to the proceedings.  Despite all efforts, wars come to appear as bugs on the windshield of a nation as it hurtles forward in time and space.  Yet few of us have lived in a country truly devastated by war, and this is partly why the UN had sought to avoid war in Iraq by deploying weapons inspectors to search for those legendary weapons of mass destruction.  Chief among them was a Swede named Hans Blix: he checked Iraq and was continuing to do so when he realized that media pretexts for the invasion meant that “it was a puppet show” (online).  In a recent interview he claimed that “Analysts and policy makers fell victim to mirror imaging because they tended to focus on what was most important to us – the hunt for WMD – and less on what would be most important for a paranoid dictatorship to protect”; that is, the regime keeping its grip on power within a crumbling country.  At the time, countries like France and Germany opposed the invasion, the former’s President even claiming that “the intelligence agencies all intoxicate each other.” in the scramble to corroborate their theories by manufacturing facts (Chirac in Neroth, online).  This view drew heavy American ire; symbolically french fries were in President George W.  Bush’s White House kitchen renamed freedom fries.

Flash Forward Twenty Years…

Probably Putin wanted to invade resource-rich Ukraine and needed a scary pretext, not unlike Bush with resource-rich Iraq.  We can imagine how Russia’s media would have presented partial truths to incite support for Putin’s atrocity of a war.  One can be sure that the Russian people are told fractured versions of reality about Zelensky and his regime; they’ll be reminded of historical facts such as the “holocaust by bullets” where 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews were shot by NAZI-collaborators in the Ukraine and they’ll be prodded to recall how many Ukrainians in power collaborated with invading Germans during that war (National WWII Museum, online).  Finally, they’ll be reminded how Ukrainian NAZI collaborators (in Canada this includes the Grandfather of Trudeau’s cabinet member Chrystia Freeland) morphed through history into Zelensky’s pro-US government (Puglieth, online).  Combining all this with the larger reality of World War II where NAZIs nearly destroyed Russia before, 80 years ago, being heroically defeated by the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (like TMNT, resistance fighters and civilians alike took to the Stalingrad sewers to exact their revenge) and you have a picture of how a perceived threat comes to appear as a clear and present danger (National WWII Museum, online).  If everyone has open access to more facts, people’s fears would have a different tone.  Not that those living under a regime like Putin’s have an equal say to we in full democracies, but the parallels remain.  After all, virtually every US politician voted for the war in Iraq despite polls showing a degree of opposition.

Even a cursory inquiry into the last fifteen years of politics (war is, as the saying goes, politics by other means) in Ukraine show a gathering storm of aggression between major powers akin to what happened in Vietnam between China and America.  And just like didn’t happen in Iraq, where a pariah of a regime did not have a great power backer, a longer and larger war is threatened now that the US supports its client regime in Ukraine.  History can seem like a series of little puppets in search of big puppet masters even as ordinary people suffer.

As students, our critical thinking allows us to gain some historical perspective on current events.  Simply recounting daily occurrences, suitably hoisted onto a backdrop of moral righteousness, does not an in-depth analysis make.  Likewise, our essays must quote sources and show that we’ve researched a topic enough to say something new for ourselves.  The struggle to assert our identity amidst a sea of information allows us to evolve into a better person and student; crucially, this process functions to allow us to speak to and about current events from a place of education.  Ours may be opinions but, as AU students, they are opinions hopefully formed by studying how to study a topic.  It’s this final rejoinder that, regardless of social context, we can at least quietly give to ourselves if and when we disagree with others on whatever hot topics of the day arise.

One certainty from the Iraq War is that the media played a role in reporting what authorities stated without adequately questioning the company line.  Group-think had set in and no one wanted to seem unpatriotic or to potentially be giving comfort to terrorists and tyrants.  From our viewpoint, the war in Ukraine likewise appears as another unnecessary and avoidable conflict caused in part by a powerful country using fear and falsehoods to convince itself that war was the only option.  When it comes to a Commander in Chief ordering an invasion, democracy is secondary to power aided and abetted by the media.

In the end, though, war is about death and suffering, and that is something that no media portrays with such zeal as the way in which they cover murder trials and celebrity muckraking.  History shows that before and after a war, leaders and their stooges in the media deploy fear and ideals to justify wars and repression, yet during war those involved are subject to unimaginably awful conditions.  Twenty years ago was a dark time in history, especially for the people of Iraq, and we today live with the consequences as neighbouring Syria and other countries are still unsettled and sending refugees.

As AU students, our learned critical faculties can be well displayed by considering the causes and consequences of conflicts, rather than seeing history as a series of reactions in real time to events as they unfold.  Likewise, if we keep our eyes on the academic prize (our peaceful rise to scholastic success) we won’t allow distractions and setbacks to mire us in crisis after crisis.  Our studies depend on a tranquil setting, and we’re all privileged to live in such a peaceful country.  Yet we do have a responsibility to think cogently about events in our times that we may better lead others to avoid the pitfalls and calamities of history.  Perhaps some wars are unavoidable but hey, no one ever says peace is a tragedy that ought to have been averted.

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Kottosova, I.  & Nechyporenko, K.  (2023).  ‘Zelensky Shakes Up Ukraininan Government Amid Growing Corruption Scandal’.  Retrieved from
National WWII Museum: New Orleans.  (2022).  ‘The Holocaust by Bullets in Urkaine’.  National WWII Museum.  Retrieved from
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Pitt, B.  (2023).  ‘Did Zelensky Name a Ukrainian Army Brigade After a NAZI Military Unit’?  Retrieved from
Pugliese, D.  (2017).  ‘Chrystia Freeland’s Grandad Was Indeed a NAZI Collaborator – So Much For Russian Disinformation’.  Ottawa Citizen.  Retrieved from
Ripp, A.  (2022).  ‘Ukraine’s NAZI Problem is Real, Even if Putin’s Denazification Claim Isn’t’.  NBC News.  Retrieved from