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November 04, 2007

Greeted With Flowers

(Read this even if you've already seen the similar post yesterday.)

As everyone remembers, Dick Cheney said just before we invaded Iraq that we'd be "greeted as liberators." According to Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack, Bush and Cheney's thinking had been influenced by a meeting with exiled Iraqis, in which one said "People will greet troops with flowers and sweets."

Cheney was still standing by this view last year. And Christopher Hitchens says he witnessed it himself:

The welcome that I've seen American and British forces get in parts of Iraq...I want to mention first because there are people who say that that never happened. It is commonly said by political philosophers like Maureen Dowd say that the--where were the sweets and where were the flowers. Well I saw it happen with my own eyes and no one's going to tell me that I didn't...I will not allow it not to be said that that did not happen.

I assume Hitchens is telling the truth. But here's an important follow up question, one we should have been asking at the time in April, 2003: who cares?

The strange-but-true reality is that throughout history, whenever one country has invaded another, there have always been some people within the invaded country who've welcomed the invaders. Sometimes it's because they've been oppressed by their own government, are similar ethnically or religiously to the invader, or just know what side their bread is buttered on.

At the same time, those within the invading country who support the invasion have always seized on tales of the welcome they've received and declared it demonstrates the justice of their cause. And this is rarely pure cynicism. Human beings—even (or especially) the worst of them—need to believe they're moral.

Don't believe it? Take a look at these 1941 pictures of Lithuanian women greeting invading Nazi troops with flowers. (They're from the BBC documentary The Nazis: A Warning From History.) Similar scenes occurred during the Nazi invasions of Poland—see here—and the Ukraine.

I don't know who took this footage, but I'd bet a lot of money it was the Nazis themselves, and that they rushed it back home to bolster support for the war. I'd also bet they had a writer with them who returned to Berlin to boast about how he "saw it happen with my own eyes."

Of course, this doesn't mean the United States is Nazi Germany. People also greet troops as liberators when the troops are actually liberating them. It just means having someone greet your army as liberators has no significance whatsoever.

But what about the pictures of the Saddam statue being pulled down? Surely that demonstrated the righteousness of our cause, right?


That's also from The Nazis: A Warning from History, and from the invasion of Lithuania. It's probably a statue of Lenin.

A Warning from History was produced in 1998. Part of me wonders if someone from the Bush administration saw it and was inspired. But I'm sure the odd parallels are simply due to the fact there are only so many ways to stage propaganda.

EARLIER: Shaving prisoner beards through history.

(Thanks to Arthur Silber for recommending A Warning from History.)

Posted at November 4, 2007 10:51 PM | TrackBack

Stalin positively tortured the Ukranians.

Posted by: Mark at November 4, 2007 11:10 PM

Leading me to say, before I prematurely pressed "post", that Ukranian enthusiasm was almost certainly more widespread and sincere than that felt by Iraqis. Of course, as to which occupying power laid greater waste to their respective conquests--the Wehrmarcht or the U.S. Military--I couldn't say.

Posted by: Mark at November 4, 2007 11:17 PM

can't flowers also signify the sentiment, "o.k., o.k. you won-- here are your damn flowers, now go home."

(At any rate, I doubt they signify, "you ARE going to stay for decades and mistreat us, right?")

Posted by: jonathan versen at November 4, 2007 11:18 PM

I would also add that there are those that genuinely can read the BEST intentions into an invasion. Or the most SAVAGE ones into a Peace movement. Violent Hindus also felt that they followed Gandhi and read into Gandhi's statements calls to arms against the British, FYI. Look up Chauri Chaura.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at November 4, 2007 11:50 PM

Actually I have discovered that the Nazis were actually violently allergic to those particular types of flowers, it was a devilish scheme to defeat them asymmetrically.

When McKinley had the marines invade the Philippines at the turn of the last century the Americans thought that they would be welcomed as liberators, only it did not work out that way. I guess Cheney and Hitchens forgot about that, or never knew.

Posted by: rob payne at November 5, 2007 01:37 AM
...political philosophers like Maureen Dowd say...

I can't help but think there's just a tad of sarcasm there directed at Dowd and her ilk for having the temerity to overstep into Hitchens' field.

Posted by: Ted at November 5, 2007 08:12 AM

Of course we aren't the Nazis.We haven't subdued the natives on horseback since the 19th century.

Posted by: BobS. at November 5, 2007 08:19 AM

Robert Fisk wrote somewhere that every invader of Lebanon was greeted with flowers too (the Syrians & the Israelis).

The beard-shaving reminds me of another practice, the practice of religius humiliation like flushing the Korans of Guantanamo inmates. This also has a historical parallell:

"Wagner's ruthless behavior toward the Jews is mentioned in some other testimonies of Sobibor survivors. Ada Lichtman writes that on the fast day of Yom Kippur, Wagner appeared at the roll call, took out some prisoners, gave them bread and ordered them to eat. As the prisoners ate the bread, he laughed loudly; he enjoyed his joke because he knew the Jews he had forced to eat were pious."


Gustav Wagner was a Nazi officer in the Sobibor concentration camp during WWII.

Posted by: Non Nato at November 5, 2007 09:03 AM

A shame Hitchens didn't have a camera and no one with him had a camera, heh?

Posted by: Terrible at November 5, 2007 09:18 AM

"Here is a lovely bouquet for you. The people who live in that house are Jews."

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at November 5, 2007 10:01 AM

Sometimes it's because they've been oppressed by their own government, are similar ethnically or religiously to the invader, or just know what side their bread is buttered on.

Not to mention the whole looking at the barrel of a gun thing.

Posted by: lame man at November 5, 2007 11:58 AM

The whole "greet us with flowers" thing is wierd. Did hawks feel the need to invoke this particular image when Reagan invaded Grenada, or Bush I invaded Panama, etc?

So why this time? The neocons have this deep, deep, psychological need to feel like they are fighting WWII all over again, and the flower thing makes them feel like they are riding on tanks into Paris with Patton.

See also: neocons' deep deep need for this war to NOT be Vietnam, except that this time they get to be victorious over the liberal media and stupid crazy hippies who are trying to slow the spread of righteous freedom.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at November 5, 2007 01:31 PM

Aye, that's the rub---NOT Vietnam.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 5, 2007 03:25 PM

And I for one greet our alien ant overlords. . .

(Simpson's reference--probably not an exact quote)

Posted by: rubberband at November 5, 2007 09:39 PM

Yeah, it seems to me that when you've got a technologically sophisticated invading army barrelling down Main Street, the smart thing to do is at least act like you're pleased. Even (in fact, especially) if you're carrying a bomb.

Posted by: Dunc at November 6, 2007 07:27 AM

Perhaps the 'parts of Iraq' where Christopher Hitchens saw soldiers welcomed with flowers were Kurdish parts. Most Iraqi Kurds are pro-American, thanking the US for creating the northern no-fly zone after the 1991 Gulf War that made Kurdish self-rule possible.

Posted by: Gag Halfrunt at November 6, 2007 05:36 PM

A lot of commenters here seem to be in denial about the fact that quite a lot of people thought the Nazis were great, even outside their own country, who were not slavering monsters.

That it's the case doesn't make the Nazis any less evil.

I wonder if they forget that the holocaust and the ghettos were intended to be and to remain a secret. Perhaps merely obscure and marginal in the case of ghettos. People told themselves, and the Nazis encouraged them to think via their media, that the Jews were just being relocated or moved to specially allocated regions.

It's the same kind of denial discussed in Amanda's post over at Pandagon. It's an apparently mild form of evil-- wilful ignorance, the neglect of truth. But even then, in the US hours culture people have little time for reflection. There are also factors of poor education and social norms.

How much is it a matter of personal responsibility? And how much corporate responsibility? It is rare to see blame attributed to both in practice. It's easier to dismiss people as stupid and/or lazy, as purely selfish, or to present them as tragic dupes. I guess this is somewhat relevant:

Posted by: me at November 6, 2007 09:27 PM

What was that classic line -- something like "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!"

I've heard that the Afghans welcomed the Taliban as liberators, too, at first, because the Northern Alliance were so brutal.

As far as the Philippines, the US were welcomed as liberators at first. Then we made it clear that we wanted the Philippines from ourselves, and we became less welcome.

Iraq really wasn't that different, y'know. I saw plenty of quotations from Iraqis who said they were glad the US had overthrown Saddam, but that didn't mean they wanted an everlasting US occupation.

Posted by: Duncan at November 7, 2007 12:04 AM

"Say it with flowers"... Carrying flowers is also a sign that one is NOT carrying weapons. The reason Europeans and Latin Americans generally greet visiting VIPS with a child carrying flowers is that children -- and flowers -- or children with flowers are a way of assuring a potential enemy that you aren't about to open fire on him, or let loose with a volley of arrow.

Posted by: Richard Grabman at November 7, 2007 03:22 PM

If I recall what I have read correctly, many Ukranians found out soon enough that the Nazis thought they were Untermenschen (they were Slavs, after all). [Some more historically minded Nazis might have known that some Ukranians were descended from the Vikings, and so were therefore ``Aryans''.]

Posted by: Feeder of Felines at November 8, 2007 04:17 AM