Surely the German minister of justice is wrong in comparing George Bush to Adolf Hitler alone. For Bush in his Iraq policy also draws from Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco and the warmongers of Imperial Japan. To fully understand what I am trying to get at, I urge you to read the masterly panorama of the Thirties which I have just finished reading — The Dark Valley, by Piers Brendon, a historian from Churchill College, Cambridge. It is an excellent introduction to the dark valley into which George Bush is readying to take the 21st century.
Bush has raised “regime change” into American imperialism’s Doctrine of Lapse. Saddam must go. Arafat must go. The US will decide who is a Good ’Un and who, a Bad Boy. And if they will not do as told, the entire population will be bombed to smithereens, so that, as in the case of Osama bin Laden and the innocent oppressed people of Afghanistan, they pay the price of not yielding up the hostage on demand. Never mind that Osama is still at large. Or that Mullah Omar and virtually the entire taliban and al Qaida leadership got clean away. Or that ten thousand blameless Afghan men, women and children have had death rained on them from the skies with not one American dead in Bush’s War on One Man. Or that the Gulf War led not to the ouster of the Iraqi president but of the US president. Or that it is the son the latter spawned who now occupies the White House by dint of the most dicey election in American history. What Bobo wants, Bobo gets. And so Bush must have his Saddam.
We have been here before. It was exactly the line Adolf Hitler took in the Thirties. “Regime change” is what Hitler insisted on when he ordered the Austrian chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, to quit in favour of the Nazi quisling, Artur Seyss-Inquart, when the chancellor committed the outrage, in Hitler’s eyes, of ordering a plebiscite to ascertain whether the Austrian people wished to be absorbed into the German Reich. Schuschnigg obliged — and for his pains spent the next eight years in a concentration camp (while Seyss-Inquart got on with his ethnic cleansing of the Jews).
“Regime change” is what Hitler then demanded in Prague. The president, Edouard Benes, held out in the hope of his allies — France, Britain and the Soviet Union — coming to his rescue. The Soviet Union was willing, but France refused unless Britain obliged. Instead of mobilizing, the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, flew (twice) to Hitler’s feet. Waving a piece of paper, he landed back in London proclaiming “peace for our time”. Germany then marched into Czechoslovakia without a shot being fired (an example Bush would wish to emulate by threatening Saddam into submission). Hitler then personally supervised the regime change in the Hradacny palace.
Next was Poland’s turn. Hitler demanded that Colonel Josef Beck go and Berlin decide who will rule in Warsaw. Beck demurred. The Brits suddenly discovered their resolve. And World War II began. Some 50 million died in the cause of “regime change”.
What Bush is threatening Iraq with if Saddam does not go the Benes way is what Mussolini did to Abyssinia (as Ethiopia was then called) when Emperor Haile Selassie refused to yield up his nation as an Italian colony. Listen to Brendon on the terrible consequences which followed from the technology of the Western war machine unleashed on a lesser breed: “[The Ethiopians] swarmed like a feudal host, some with spears and swords, others with antique rifles and colourful bandoliers. They lacked almost everything a modern army needs. They had no supplies save what they and their camp followers could carry — mainly bags of millets. They had no medical services apart from a few Red Cross volunteers in tents which the Italians eventually bombed. They had no war-planes, hardly any artillery and little mechanized ground support. They had no proper communications and since their code was never changed the Italians could decipher the few wireless messages that were sent. The Ethiopians had no coherent strategy and no fixed chain of command. All they had was a common purpose and boundless courage.”
Change but a word here and there, and you have a matchless description of the regime which Bush wants to change. What followed might well follow in Iraq: “though generally ill-led these warriors showed Spartan contempt for danger, throwing themselves bodily at machine guns, fighting tanks as though they were wild animals. ‘It was an incredible spectacle,’ said Haile Selassie, ‘men in cotton shammas attacking these steel monsters with their bare hands.’ ”
When tanks and machine guns failed, Italy resorted to poison gas and saturation-bombing from the air. The poison gas left its victims looking as if “someone had tried to skin them, their sores caked with brown scabs, men and women alike, all horribly disfigured, and little children too”. As for the attack from the air, Vittorio Mussolini, the son, like George Bush, of the man who started it all, had this to say of a bombing raid he personally led: “A little group of Ethiopian cavalry was blooming like a rose when my fragmentation bombs fell in their midst. It was great fun and you could hit them easily.”
The Italians finally broke through in the mountain fastness of Amba Aradam where they defeated the Ethiopian war minister himself, Ras Mulugueta, who “knew nothing of modern warfare and whose certainties were his rhino-hide shield and his silver-tipped spear.” After routing the Ethiopian host, the Italians “then burned some 8000 Ethiopian corpses, turning the mountain into a gigantic crematorium and polluting the air all around for many weeks afterwards with the stench of charred flesh”. No, that is not Bush in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, but Mussolini in Abyssinia. You see the resemblance. If Saddam and his regime have conceded the essence of the Bush demand with regard to the return of United Nations inspectors to Iraq, it is because they know that if they were to refuse, Bush will do to Baghdad what Franco and his Nazi allies did to Guernica.
Listen again to Piers Brendon: “Waves of aircraft flew abreast to carry out the first European exercise in carpet bombing.” The first flight dropped six bombs containing a ton and a half of explosives in the centre of Guernica. It “caused havoc among passengers waiting for the Bilbao train, gashed open the front of the Hotel Julian and left the station plaza strewn with smashed bodies and smoking debris. A cloud of dust mushroomed skywards and witnesses heard the ‘wild shrieking of a terrified people.’ Every fifteen minutes the raiders returned. They pulverised the town, creating a miniature fire-storm in its ruins. They destroyed three-quarters of the buildings”. Priests in the Santa Maria church tried to extinguish an incendiary bomb “with communion wine. Whether the inhabitants prayed or screamed, fled or cowered, they were pursued by flights of fighters which, ‘like flashing dancing waves on shingle’, machine-gunned them from as low as 200 feet”.
You see what Bush is preparing for Baghdad'
Finally, what Japan did to Wuhan in China, which dared resist the Japanese: “The forces of Nippon advanced remorselessly by road, rail and river, using poison gas as they came. Air raids grew more frequent. An eye witness described ‘millions of white and green and red tracer bullets exploding in bunches, unfolding like magnificent, pre-historic flowers’. When the Japanese entered Wuhan on 25 October 1938, they found a ruined shell.”
Perhaps Guernica and Wuhan would have survived if the Spanish Republicans and Chiang Kai-shek had been as accommodating as Saddam has been on Bush’s assault on his country’s sovereignty. But Bush, like Hitler, uses one concession only to extract another. He has torn up collective security as comprehensively as Hitler after his recapture of the Rhineland, as Mussolini over Abyssinia, as Japan over Manchuria, as Stalin after the Nazi-Soviet pact. Will Saddam surrender without a fight like Benes in Czechoslovakia — or fight to a terrible end like Beck in Poland' I don’t know. But as, with exquisite irony, the Germans have emerged as the first to say no to a Hitlerite Bush, the trial chambers at Nuremberg need to be refurbished and the International Criminal Court in The Hague alerted that Bush, if he bombs Iraq, must be the next war criminal to be arraigned before the bar of history.