May 2003  

After U.S. Destruction of Baghdad...

Left: Baghdad family in anguish after U.S. troops killed their father and brother. Right: Man stands in neighborhood of Iraqi capital bombed by U.S. planes.  (Photos: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

After U.S. planes bombed the center of Baghdad to smithereens, killing dozens in marketplaces, destroying residential neighborhoods. After American tanks arrived in the Iraqi capital, leaving a trail of corpses and smouldering ruins along the road from Karbala...

After U.S. soldiers opened the gates for looting, standing by as the National Museum, the National Library and virtually every hospital in the country were sacked. As the colonial invaders shot down dozens of demonstrators in Mosul and Fallujah, firing point-blank into the crowds...

George Bush, the commander in chief of U.S. imperialism, decided to hold a victory party.

...Bush’s Obscene Victory Party
     Bush speaking to sailors
Plane carrying U.S. commander George Bush in tailhook landing on the 
USS Lincoln on May 1 (left). Bush gives speech to assembled sailors (right).
(Photos: Gabriel Piper and Larry Downing/Reuters)

New York Post front page 02.05.03

The stage was set. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was positioned off San Diego to provide the best camera shots for TV coverage of the president’s arrival and speech. On deck were hundreds of officers in dress whites and sailors in blue dungarees, lined up like so many tin soldiers.

On the horizon two small S-3B Viking aircraft appear. They buzz the carrier in a double fly-by, and then come in for a wrenching 150 mph landing. Out steps George W. Bush, dressed up in a flight suit, helmet under his arm. The U.S. president swaggers across the flight deck. The uniformed audience cheers.

Soon Bush reappears topside to give a speech before a mammoth banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” He declares the “battle of Iraq” a “victory” in a “war on terror” that “still goes on.” Speaking the next day in California at United Defense Industries (partly owned by Halliburton), with a Bradley fighting vehicle as a backdrop, the president demands Congress pass a tax cut for the rich and superrich. 

The message from the USS Lincoln was plain: the 2003 battle for Baghdad is over, let the 2004 battle for the White House begin. The “warrior president” has sounded the charge. The media got their orders, and dutifully saluted. Every daily paper in the country, it seemed, ran a front page featuring Bush in his flyboy suit with a headline including “Top Gun.” TV news ran the scenes from the Lincoln over and over. 

Bourgeois opinion makers opined that Bush’s tailhook landing would be a defining image of his presidency and re-election campaign. The New York Times (3 May) reported, “Republicans noted that whoever came up with the idea of having Mr. Bush jet onto the carrier in a flight suit, looking rugged and windblown while surrounded by sailors and fighter pilots, had earned the day's pay.”

But wait a minute, haven’t you seen this somewhere before? Yes indeed, you may have – but not from Robert Duvall who directed the Reaganite action movie Top Gun (1986) starring Tom Cruise. The royalties for this production ought to go to Leni Riefenstahl, who staged the same entry for her propaganda film about the 1934 Nazi Parteitag (party congress) in Nuremberg, Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), starring Adolf Hitler.


Plane carrying German dictator Adolph Hitler flying over Nuremberg 
(left).  Cheering Nazis greet the Führer at airport (right).

Triumph des Willens Plakat    Riefenstahl’s movie opens with Wagnerian music, and then mountains of clouds. As they disperse, a Junker 52 aircraft can be seen. At the Nuremberg airport tens of thousands of Nazis eagerly await the approach of Hitler’s plane. The airplane pulls up, two SS men rush out to secure it. The door opens and Nazi dignitaries file out, Goebbels and then Der Führer himself. The crowd chants, Sieg heil! over and over as the musical score builds to a crescendo.

You can bet your 52-card Saddam poker deck that whoever staged the spectacle aboard the USS Lincoln was brazenly copying Riefenstahl’s opening of Triumph of the Will. It’s only the most famous (or infamous) fascist propaganda film ever made. A biography of the director wrote of the “Führer’s famous approach from the skies,” recalling the ancient Aryan deity Odin. A recent biographer wrote: 

“Like a god, the ‘Führer’ seems to waft down from the skies, with Goebbels’ 1932 election campaign slogan ‘Hitler over Germany’ filling the screen.” 
–Lutz Kinkel, Die Scheinwerferin: Leni Riefenstahl und das “Dritte Reich” (Europa Verlag, 2002)
It can hardly be an accident that the image makers in the White House bunker are picking up Nazi propaganda themes and techniques. As we have noted, U.S. military strategy in its recent colonial invasion of Iraq was explicitly taken from the Nazi generals’ plans for Blitzkrieg (lightning war) at the outset of World War II. The Pentagon’s bombing strategy of “Shock and Awe” was copied from the Luftwaffe’s doctrine of “Schrecklichkeit” which aimed at terrorizing the population into surrender. 

Bush’s pretext for the war – the supposed “threat” to the U.S. of Iraq’s hypothetical arsenal of “weapons of mass destruction” – recalls Hitler’s claim that Poland was a “threat” to the Reich. Lacking any proof, the Nazi leader staged a 1 September 1939 “attack” on Danzig by concentration camp inmates dressed in Polish uniforms. Sooner or later, you can expect the CIA/DIA/NSA et al. to come up with a canister of something or other as a post-facto justification for the orgy of destruction the U.S. empire has unleashed on Iraq and its continuing colonial occupation.

The reality of an imperialist war of aggression is matched by the atmospherics. Democrats like Senator Robert Byrd are complaining that Bush’s “‘Top Gun’-style entrance” had turned the aircraft carrier into a “campaign prop,” and timidly asking how much it cost. They will drop that as soon as Bush fires back. Perceptive liberals like Paul Krugman worry about the appearance of a “man on horseback” theme in U.S. politics (New York Times, 6 May). 

If Hitler vowed to establish a Neue Ordnung in Europe, Bush father and Bush son vow to clamp a New World Order on the entire globe. In this they are seconded by the Democratic Party of U.S. imperialism, whose Congressional representatives and presidential candidates backed this war, as they did the war on Afghanistan before it, and promise to do again as they beat the drums for war on North Korea. Not to mention the fact that the Democratic Clinton administration twice waged war on the former Yugoslavia and twice wantonly bombed the Iraqi capital.

The U.S.-dominated New World Order abroad is combined with a push toward police-state measures at home. George Orwell’s Big Brother in his novel 1984 is a piker compared to what John Ashcroft at the “Justice” Department and Donald Rumsfeld at the “Defense” Department have begun carrying out. And the imperialist war – which is also a war on working people, oppressed minorities and immigrants “at home” – is “still going on,” as Bush reminds us.

The goose-stepping media has its role to play in all this, from embedded correspondents in bed with the Pentagon to the elaborately staged spectacle on the Lincoln – definitely a made-for-TV moment. The White House first claimed that the president had to make his dramatic jet entrance because the ship would be hundreds of miles out to sea, too far to be reached by helicopter. When the Navy admitted the carrier was only 30 miles offshore, and according to the Associated Press, “acknowledged positioning the massive ship to provide the best TV angle for Bush's speech, with the sea as his background instead of the San Diego coastline,” presidential mouthpiece Ari Fleischer changed tack and said his boss wanted to experience a carrier landing “as realistically as possible.” 

Like the ultimate in reality TV. What next? Maybe the former Air National Guard pilot who conveniently dropped from sight for a year to avoid getting sent to Vietnam will ask to go along for a joy ride on one of the planes from the Lincoln that mowed down thousands of Iraqis so that he can feel what it’s like to get in some “good kills.” 

Meanwhile, the epigones of Leni Riefenstahl are shooting the footage for Triumph of the Will 2. Of course, there are some things in the Nazi original that will have to go. In the American remake, perhaps the Wagnerian soundtrack and Horst-Wessel-Lied (the Nazi marching song) will be replaced by Hail to the Chief – Heil to the Führer, as it were. 

But the dramatic scenes of the party congress itself will have to wait until the Republican Parteitag in September 2004, to be held at Ground Zero in New York. Maybe Rudolph Giuliani can have his reconstruction corporation build a new stadium by then, with big ramps for the men on horseback. n

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