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Pounding the Life Out of a City

I have just witnessed the Reuters video feed of the bombing of Baghdad. What I have seen is a night sky lit by a sea of fire. An eerie illumination that is punctuated only by bursts of flame and brilliant flashes of light followed by mushroom clouds and plumes of smoke as missile after missile pounds the life from this city of 6 million people.

As as I reflect on what these images do not show, human beings being incinerated, bodies blown apart in what some will no doubt regard as a triumphant display of American force, I recall that more than 3 million of Baghdad’s citizens are under the age of 15 years old. I recall the story of a christian missionary in Iraq, an American, now dead, probably, who only this morning mentioned that life and normalcy were beginning to return to the streets of Baghdad.

I think of the images and stories that I have seen and heard of Iraq’s citizens: A bowling champion who gave one of his prized medals to a missionary that I recently met; People selling trinkets on the streets; children standing in food lines; I realize that what I am witnessing is a holocaust. This is my generation’s Dresden. What some people wish that we had done to Hanoi in America’s last unjust war.

And yet some people will hold America blameless for what is happening today in Baghdad. Cognitive dissonance will kick in and some will believe it when they hear that the people who are dying today are not dying at the hands American weapons. They are dying at the hands of Saddam Hussein, who may or may not already be dead himself.

These people will suggest that “everything we could do to avert war has been done”. That these are merely “surgical” strikes. That we are liberating the people of Iraq.

I will remind those people that the first action of this war was to attempt to destroy the leadership of Iraq. To cut Iraqi leaders off from their military.

At the time, I remember thinking that perhaps it was a humanitarian move. I remember thinking that maybe if we just kill Hussein, we will not have to firebomb Baghdad. But now it has dawned on me that one of the consequences of cutting off Iraq’s leadership from its military is that the leadership cannot order a general surrender. By cutting off communications in Baghdad, our leaders have assured its annhilation.

Mass murder masquerading as liberation.

I wonder what I could have done to avert this holocaust. I turn that question over in my head. If only I had been more persuasive in writing to my representatives; If only I had worked harder in the last election; If only I had persuaded more people to advocate Peace; then maybe things would be different.

I am kidding myself, of course. President Bush was never going to be deterred from this war once he had chosen his course of action. Nevertheless, I, like every adult American man and woman, hold a measure of blame for what is happening today in Baghdad. Our tax dollars are financing this slaughter. In the end, all I am left with is a great sense of shame, burden, and sorrow at the suffering and loss of life that I have helped to finance.

SALVADOR PERALTA works at the Mark O. Hatfield Library at Willamette University. He can be reached at: speralta@willamette.edu

 

 

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