President Bush, son of great wealth and privilege that you are: Before you begin raining bombs down on Iraq, would you answer this question: have you ever in your life, with your own hands, performed the small and homely labor of replacing even a single broken window pane?
My wife and I did that on a recent cold, gray Saturday morning in February, at the Blinking Light Gallery in Plainfield, Vermont. The gallery is a poor, struggling cooperative whose supporters volunteer their time and labor. My wife and I volunteered to replace a large pane in the gallery’s front window, that a witless teen-ager had broken with a snowball, and run away from.
That job took about five of our joint, amateur, man-woman hours to perform, from assembling our tools to purchasing the replacement glass, removing, cleaning, and returning the objects on display in the window, and cleaning up the mess of glass and other debris that we generated as we worked. The window was a large one, as I say. The original putty framing the window must have been fifty years old. It had married itself to the wood underneath, and it took prodigious pains to clear it out and produce a clear, clean surface on which to set the new glass and a bead of fresh putty. How many window panes do you suppose there are in Iraq? For that matter, how many hands and fingers might there be there?
I raise this question about hands and fingers because I haven’t forgotten the case, years ago, of the young woman in New York, a flute player of remarkable promise, who was shoved down onto the tracks in a subway station by a pathological stranger. One of the woman’s hands was mangled by a train. A team of surgeons worked for 22 hours, non- stop, in a heroic effort to save and restore the butchered hand. They were able to put together something like a hand, but it could never again be the hand of an aspiring master flutist.
George Bush (I’m your senior by a couple of decades so I make free to address you this way, and to lecture you …), I really don’t think you’re fit to inflict on Iraq such a monumental ordeal as the “shock-and-awe” campaign you’re contemplating. You need a lot more experience of life, such as replacing, with your own hands, on a cold February morning, one of the half-billion window panes that you today contemplate breaking in Iraq. I would propose to you another experience that could benefit you profoundly: to hold in your hand — and for at least six uninterrupted hours, I would suggest, and if she would allow you — the broken hand of that New York woman, palm up, while you try to imagine her palm filling with all the tears that she and her family together may have shed in the six hours following the disastrous minute that smashed what could have been the glory of the rest of her life.
Hands, heads, windows, teapots: And what if I fear that you don’t have either the capacity or the inclination to consider what you will be wreaking, on a population of millions, if you commence in Iraq what your dogs of war have prettily named the days of “shock and awe?”
JULES RABIN lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: email@example.com.