the benefit of the doubt.
'Cognitive dissonance' is a phrase sometimes used to refer to facts and ideas that fail to add up, that seem to contradict each other in some way. A good example is the cognitive dissonance created by comparing Western claims of humanitarian concern in Kosovo - in response to the death of an estimated 2,000 people on all sides in the 12 months leading up to the NATO air assault - with the actuality of Western actions in Iraq.
In August 1997, UNICEF-Iraqi statistics recorded that the West's sanctions had so far killed some 878,856 children. These figures supported previous estimates in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet (December 1995) that, since 1990, some 567,000 children had been killed by "an international community intent on maintaining sanctions", for reasons which may well have more to do with US efforts to keep Iraqi oil off world markets than with any worry about 'weapons of mass destruction'.
The figures continue to rise. Ramsey Clarke, a former US Attorney-General, has recently issued a "Criminal Complaint Against the United States of America .. . for Causing The Deaths of More Than 1,500,000 People including 750,000 Children Under Five By Genocidal Sanctions." In August this year, a new UNICEF report highlighted the deaths of Iraqi children once again, and called for the lifting of the sanctions.
Total siege of this kind, Geoff Simons notes, is nothing new; indeed it is sometimes considered "the oldest form of warfare". Josephus, outside the walls of the besieged city of Jerusalem in AD72, described how the ensuing famine "consumed whole households and families; and the houses were full of dead women and infants; and the streets were filled with the dead bodies of old men . . ."
It seems the effect on the emotions was remarkable. There was no crying or lamentation, "for famine overcame all affections." The dying beheld the dead without tears - the city died silently. Beyond the city walls there was also a marked absence of emotion, notably remorse. Josephus recorded that Titus, commander of the Jerusalem siege, raised his hands to heaven and called God to witness that "it was not his doing."
Fast-forward to Madeleine Albright, May 1996, with hands raised to her prime-time viewing audience, insisting that the regime in Baghdad, not Washington, was to blame for the deaths of
500,000 Iraqi children - one every six minutes - and anyway, "we think the price is worth it."
Simons uses history to illuminate a present shrouded in self-denial and the deceptions of power. To be horrified by a medieval siege is important i f we then grasp that the "technique of total siege was not abandoned in the Middle Ages but has had genocidal manifestations involving vast cities and entire countries - in modern times". Indeed the complexities of the modern inter linked global economy mean that the contemporary version of total siege - all-encompassing economic sanctions - truly dwarfs any mere city siege.
In addition to a chapter devoted to the destruction of Iraq, Simons examines the strangulation of the Cuban economy through the amusingly titled 'HelmsBurton Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act'. Bill Clinton explains the goal:
" I will do everything I can to help the tide of democracy that has swept our entire hemisphere finally reach the shores of Cuba."
Senator Jesse Helms reveals the true meaning of both 'democracy' as used here, and 'Liberty' as used in his own 'Liberty and Solidarity Act':
"Let this be the year Cubans say farewell to Fidel. I don't care whether Fidel leaves horizontally or vertically, but he's leaving."
As ever, then, liberty and democracy mean the freedom to be ruled by individuals and governments acceptable to the powerful. Or perhaps the libertarian dreams of ordinary Cubans really do converge with those of Clinton and Helms. An independent 1994 Gallup Poll reported that 88 per cent of Cubans said they were "proud of being Cuban"; 58 per cent considered that "the revolution's successes outstrip its failures"; 69 per cent identified themselves as "revolutionaries" (but only 21 per cent as "communist" or "socialist"); 76 per cent said they were "satisfied with their personal life", and 3 per cent said that "political problems" were the key problems facing the country. This after decades of economic, military and terrorist warfare waged by their superpower neighbour.
Undeterred, US crusaders continue to work to ensure that the same 'tide of democracy' that has left 40 per cent of Latin Americans in the hemisphere languishing below the poverty line reaches Havana. In 1997, The Guardian reported that "the United States trade embargo has led to needless deaths, left hospi
talised children lying in agony as essential drugs are denied them . . ." Simons quotes some of the detail from the American Association for World Health:
"Child cancer sufferers are some of the most distressing victims of the embargo, which bans Cuba from buying nearly half of the world-class drugs in a market dominated by US manufacturers. This team visited a paediatric ward which had been without the nausea-preventing drug, metoclopramide HCI, for 22 days. It found that 22 children undergoing chemotherapy were vomiting on average 28 to 30 times a day. Another girl, aged five, in a cancer ward lacking Implantofix for chemotherapy, was being treated through her jugular vein because all her other veins had collapsed. She was in excruciating pain."
Strangely, for a country in such urgent need of 'democracy', "only the preexisting excellence of the [health! system and the extraordinary dedication of the Cuban medical community have prevented infinitely greater loss of life and suffering", in the words of a report by a team of American doctors and research scientists after a year-long study of the country.
The legality, let alone the morality, of these economic sanctions are, Simons makes clear, very much open to debate. In 1992, one national government wrote bravely of how it "condemns all violations of humanitarian law, including . . . the deliberate impeding of the delivery of food and medical supplies to the civilian population . . ."
The same government also recorded that it "defines 'international terrorism' as acts dangerous to human life . . . that appear intended to coerce a civilian population or to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion." Acts and policies intended, for example, to ensure that a leader "leaves horizontally, or vertically", just so long as he leaves. What rogue government might be the source of these dangerous views - views which could surely be taken to imply that the US and other Western governments are guilty of gross violations of 'humanitarian law' in regard to Cuba, Iraq and others, and even responsible for major acts of 'international terrorism'?
The answer, of course, in this, the Age of Cognitive Dissonance: the US government. - David Edwards
David Edwards is a researcher/writer for the International Society for Ecology and Culture. His latest book The Compassionate Revolution is published by Green Books.
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999