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"Fast Food Nation" at War with Iraq

Horse Fly
Published Tuesday, April 15, 2003

In his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser’s description of the dissociation of workers in fast-food chains like McDonald’s from the end product of their work could apply to the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Schlosser points out that it is not a chef who cooks the hamburger; instead one employee readies the bun, another lays on a patty of meat, another applies a dollop of catsup, and so forth. The employees who assemble a hamburger are expendable because their work requires no special talent. No one is responsible for the whole hamburger.

Let’s keep the question of responsibility in mind as we read the following excerpt of what happened in Baghdad on Thursday, March 27, 2003, as reported by British peace activist Jo Wilding, who went to Iraq as a witness:

"In Al Shaab market Mohammed Al Zubaidi told us he had a shop where he made and sold cushions for car seats. It was the second one from the left as you look at the remains of the building which the bomb hit. It’s burnt out but you can see the small compartment which was his. His assistant, Faris El Bawi, was crushed in the blast and his body incinerated in the fire that followed, along with his 11-year-old son, Saif, who was helping him because his school was closed for the war....

"Mohammed said five people died in the restaurant near his shop. Abu Hassan, a 45-year-old father of five, 17-year-old Malik Hamoud and Sabah Nouri, 28, were all working in the restaurant. Two customers also died, but no one knew their names.... Safa Isam and his brother Marwan, 17 and 12 respectively, were injured in a car driven by their father, who died....

"No one saw a plane or heard anything till the explosion: they speculate that... (the missile) might have been fired from the sea....."

Captain Chuck Dixon of the USS COWPENS, a guided missile cruiser built at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, was interviewed by Renee Montaigne on National Public Radio not long after Captain Dixon had overseen his first launch of ten Tomahawk cruise missiles into Iraq, a task that took all of two minutes. The Tomahawks are manufactured in Tucson, Arizona, by Raytheon.

The Pentagon reports that the U.S. fired 600 of these Tomahawk cruise missiles in just the first six days of the second U.S.-led war on Iraq, a figure twice as many as all the Tomahawk cruise missiles fired in the entire forty-four days of the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, when they were first tried out. Tomahawks travel low to the ground at about 550 miles per hour to destinations as far away as 1,000 miles, carrying a 1,000 pound warhead with its bomblets.

Williams International in Ogden, Utah, manufactures the miniature turbo fan engines that keep the missiles on their paths. Captain Dixon’s job is to insure that the missiles are correctly aimed.

Montaigne asked Captain Dixon if he ever thinks about where the missiles will be landing. No, the Captain explained, the landing part of the operation belonged to the planners who determine the targets.

No worker at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine (readying the bun), nor at the Raytheon factory in Tucson, Arizona (laying on the patty of meat), nor at the Williams International production facility in Ogden, Utah (applying a dollop of catsup), is responsible for the injury to and death of these Iraqis, are they? They are too far away and just doing their jobs.

The historian Howard Zinn’s opposition to war comes from his having experienced this very dissociation personally when he served as a bombardier in a B-17 "Flying Fortress" during World War II. In the last days of the war, his crew was sent on a mission with 1,200 B-17s to destroy several thousand German forces waiting for the war to end in the little French resort town of Royen. He dropped thirty 100-pound canisters of something new called napalm.

Zinn says that "at our bombing altitudes--twenty-five or thirty thousand feet--we saw no people, heard no screams, saw no blood, no torn limbs. I remember only seeing the canisters light up like matches flaring one by one on the ground below. Up there in the sky, I was just ’doing my job,’" which Zinn says is "the explanation throughout history of warriors committing atrocities."

Workers at fast-food outlets have a part in assembling a hamburger, but can we say who is responsible for the whole hamburger?

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