“I wish Wolfowitz had been killed. I wish all the Americans here would be killed,” said Ali Hussein a grocer in downtown Baghdad. “The Americans are not human beings. They are monsters. They lied to the Iraqi people.”
New York Times October 26, 2003
I do not wish Wolfowitz had been killed, though I consider him a war criminal, a reckless belligerent and an evil actor in the US war on Iraq. He was in the hotel Rashid when a bold attack rocked the luxury hotel with the tightest security in Baghdad. Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, commander of the First Armored Division, told the Deputy Secretary not to take it personally, but later before cameras an unshaven, rumpled, wavering Wolfowitz tried to talk tough but looked trembling and vulnerable. Hard not to gloat that the armchair warrior got a slight breath of the brutal whirlwind he kindled.
But killing isn’t the answer. Everyone dies. We can glut our death wishes on the deep inevitable truth that no one escapes death-not the mighty, not the miserable, not the Deputy Secretary of Defense. The preacher of Ecclesiastes says that this is what makes men mad and puts evil in their minds-that their only future is to die. Religion wrestles with that very demon.
We wish death because we see the monster coming up on us.
When Ali Hussein the Baghdad grocer says Americans are not human beings, they are monsters and liars he’s not just retaliating for devastation labeled liberation. He’s echoing traditional figures for evil. The devil is a monster who eats us, hell is terrible maw, Satan is the great deceiver, the liar. Maybe the grocer just wants to feed people and make a decent life; maybe he’s related to Saddam. He feels entitled to wish death on Paul Wolfowitz and all the Americans.
Paul Wolfowitz returns the wish-promising to destroy all who would attack us.
Wishing death is the problem. Resisting the monster is the cure.
DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org