With massive, bitter servings of pro-war propaganda rammed daily down the American throat, oppositional flavors of dissent are easily missed, dwarfed undertones picked out by only the most astute observers.
Large-scale anti-war demonstrations are in and out of the mainstream media in a day while archetypal demonizations of Iraq are rolled out constantly in newspaper banners, television news and, fittingly, letter by letter machine-gun style along the bottom of every CNN, Fox News and MSNBC broadcast.
With pro-war saturation reaching stunning levels, its remains a testament to American intelligence that nearly half the population remains opposed to a possible war, intent on slowing the wheels of Dubya's war chariot. Still, little credible information on Iraq, its history, situation and long-evolving relationship with the United States and the world is available to the average American.
Mainstream media is addicted to fear and divisiveness, hoping that terrified citizens won't be able to tear their eyes from shows with titles like "Showdown Iraq" and remain in such a petrified state through the commercial interruptions that they might become convinced that "Bounty" and "Ford" are the answer to our international ills.
The music industry has offered little alternative, with rumors of numerous anti-war Grammy speeches boiling down to a lone, lame Fred Durst reference to the war "going away" and a illegible anti-war message on Sheryl Crow's guitar strap.
Millions of Americans are now perched on the fence, mediating between their gut instinct to avoid war and the Bush administration's well oiled psychological offensive. Many citizens are looking for accurate information, but are duped into accepting the spin of hawks with vested interests in the resources of the region, among other things.
Grant Wakefield, however, has crafted a stunning alternative.
Compiling narrative, audio news clippings, and dense, thorough research, Wakefield lays bare the artifice of Washington's Iraq in his ambitious album The Fire this Time. His spoken word narrative laced over a driving electronic background woven together by such premier acts such as Aphex Twin, Soma, Orbital and the Higher Intelligence Agency, provides a stunningly coherent, comprehensive look at U.S. complicity, hypocrisy and terrorism in the Middle East. Wakefield's thesis is clear, but unlike many hollow anti-war rants, his argument rests on solid pillars of evidence, which he has painstakingly assembled for the listener.
Wakefield begins by artfully and methodically deconstructing the image of Iraq as a backwards, primitive culture who rose out of nowhere to become a dominant, aggressive regional power ruled by a vicious dictator that seized power and is now looking to develop and deploy weapons of mass destruction.
Carefully tracing Iraq's history, Wakefield reminds us that the country upon whose borders we now perch ironically provided us with the base for the science that may engineer its destruction.
"Rhymed poetry, geometry, our number system: all came from Baghdad. Here, in Europe's Dark Age, Arab Scholars calculated the circumference of the earth. Six centuries later, the Church conceded it was not flat," Wakefield relays in the album's first track.
Wakefield moves on to catalog the carving up of the Middle East following World War I. Iraq landed in British hands, and according to Wakefield, "Resistance was discouraged with bombs and mustard gas."
He chronicles the U.S. led installation of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party in 1958, and the intentional destabilization of the region engineered by the U.S. to keep any one nation from gaining control over the oil fields. Wakefield reveals U.S. involvement with Iran under the Sha and the subsequent falling out after the Islamic revolution and the ascension to power by the Ayatollah Khomeni. The Ayatollah levied threats against Iraq, and after several border skirmishes, the two neighboring powers went to war.
Wakefield takes us through that war, opening up the neatly packaged propaganda to expose simultaneous U.S. and Western involvement on both sides. The U.S. under Reagan overtly supplied Iraq in the battle, while covertly funneling arms to Iran in the famed Iran-Contra scandal. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia bankrolled Iraq's war effort, as the country slid from a $30 billion surplus to an $80 billion deficit over the course of the war.
The Fire this Time demonstrates how the Iran-Iraq war set the stage for Iraq's later invasion of Kuwait, as the Kuwaitis demanded repayment of Iraq's debts while simultaneously ratcheting up oil production in violation of OPEC quotas, predictably bankrupting the Iraqis. Faced with economic collapse, Iraq invaded.
Wakefield's narrative ends at this point, replaced for the remainder of the album with a steady stream of news, governmental and off the record quotes from military leaders. The album chronicles the horror of a war that saw U.S. and allied troops fly 114,000 sorties and drop 88,000 tons of bombs on the country. The veil of illusion that military personnel were the sole target of the campaign is terrifyingly ripped away as official after official is caught in lies and statistics regarding the civilian toll are paraded past our ears.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing trends the album uncovers was the often subtle but sometimes overt censorship of media in the region. Journalists were not allowed near sites of civilian casualties and anyone venturing out on their own was warned that they might "accidentally" come under fire from allied troops.
Unsatisfied with closing his scathing and perspicacious lens at war's end, Wakefield uses the final tracks of the album to highlight the grisly and deeply depressing failure of postwar sanctions. Reduced to a prehistoric era, Iraqi civilians, especially children, suffered massive starvation with little or no medical treatment. Food shipments were ridiculously inadequate and medicines and equipment was deemed illegal as "dual use." Aluminum wheelchairs, the West argued, could be refashioned into weapons and nitroglycerin mined from heart medication.
In all, Wakefield places the number of dead Iraqis at 1.5 million from the war's start to the ongoing punishment of sanctions.
The United States lost less than 150 soldiers, nearly all from friendly fire.
As we stand at the brink of war again, the administrative hawks point to the first Gulf War as a blueprint, painting it as a quick, relatively painless and wildly successful venture whose only failing was that it didn't roll all the way into Baghdad.
In one of the most important albums to address these issues, Wakefield shows us another perspective entirely. Hauntingly, the album ends with the repetition of a phrase by Madeline Albright in regards to the first Gulf War. "We think the price was worth it," she says.
In a time when the media is once again playing the bullhorn to that argument, Wakefield is calling upon us to reread the past. He is asking us to look back through a different lens, with different information, and consider whether the price was and will be worth it; or will we soon have two bathtubs of blood in which to frolic, content to believe they're full of clean, sterile, chlorinated water.
Since The Fire This Time is scantly stocked in American record stores, you can visit the official website (www.firethistime.org) to buy the CD on-line, read a huge archive of Iraq related material, and for full reviews and mp3 downloads.
By Patrick Joy