Child Abuse as Public Policy


My youngest brother called me this past Tuesday with the news that his wife had just delivered their first child the night before. Like most parents everywhere, they were tired and joyful. So, after a bit of catching up on each other’s lives since the last time we spoke, I wished his family good health and a happy holiday season. Then I hung up the phone.

When I turned on my computer at work the next morning, I was greeted with CNN headlines telling me of the death of six more Afghani children by the US military. Of course, these killings were presented as “accidental.” Now, I can understand how a child can be conceived accidentally (indeed, many of us probably fall into this category), but how the hell do you accidentally kill one, much less six or nine at a time? Apparent-ly, quite easily, if you are the US government and part of your foreign policy is one that dismisses the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to sanctions as (in the words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright) “worth the risk.”

The American SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) of the 1960s used to sell a poster with a picture of a ditch full of dead Vietnamese babies. The photo was from the infamous massacre of Vietnamese by US soldiers in MyLai, Vietnam. The words at the top of the poster were from congressional testimony given by Gis who were involved in the massacre. They read: “Q: And babies?, A: And babies.” While current military regulations forbid the media from publishing similar photos from today’s wars, these deaths (and those of thousands of other children at the hands of US policy) are no less bloody or tragic. Nor, as I pointed out earlier, are they accidental, since the rules of engagement that the US military acts under assume civilian deaths, even going so far as to create contingencies for dealing with such “collateral damage” in its public relations training.

In addition to US-precipitated child killings that occur because of the Empire’s wars and police actions, there are the daily deaths through hunger and disease-deaths that occur because of negligence and greed. After all, how else does one explain the epidemic of obesity among US children and the death by hunger of an estimated 50,000 children every day? Of course, US children are not culpable for their eating habits or their consumption in other areas. They are merely being good consumers and keeping the machinery of corporate capitalism moving. That is, they are living the current American fantasy of the good life.

But, even in the mother country, things are not as rosy as they once were. According to recent news reports, 1.7 million Americans fell below the poverty line in 2002, bringing the total to 34.6 million. On top of this, 31 million Americans are “food insecure” – and are experiencing serious hunger. Some of this hunger and poverty can be traced directly to the cutbacks in poverty programs that help children. Where did the monies saved from those cutbacks go? Well, according to the US General Accounting Office, to the Pentagon and its corporate benefactors to help fight their so-called war on terror.

If we expand our viewfinder outward, we find statistics even more depressing than those delineating the poor in the United States. According to the United Nations food agency-the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)-world hunger, which fell steadily throughout the first half of the 1990s, is on the rise again. The grim statistics state that an estimated 842 million people are currently undernourished with an additional 5 million hungry people every year.

In the theatre of war and in the family kitchen, the world’s children are being abused. Getting blown to bits by US weaponry because you live in a village in Afghanistan or Iraq (or any other place that the US is fighting its war) is no different than getting blown to bits by a suicide bomb because you are shopping with your mother at a mall in New York City, Tel Aviv or Riyadh.

Dying by starvation because your parents can’t afford or find enough food because there farm has been destroyed by war or global capitalism is not much different than sticking your kid in a closet and feeding her/him only bread crusts.

To those who plan on the deaths of children as part of the cost of their war, there are no excuses for their actions. To those who plan on the starvation of children as part of their economic planning, there should be no mercy. The time for platitudes about the world’s future is well past. In case we forget, there is no future without children and a future that is ruled by children who have known only abuse is not likely to be a rosy one.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground.

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: