Nightline’s All-American Morgue

Call me sentimental, but as I look back at this invasion and pick and choose photos for my own Book of the Dead, I get most depressed about the slaughtered children. Whether by cluster bomb or checkpoint machine gun, the young have suffered and died like there is no God, except maybe an Old Testament divinity like that radical disciplinarian and plague-giver Yahweh. Could this be Bush’s own model for retributive and collective justice? It seems so. That stern God’s heaviest season in epochs, he’s been busy dividing the sodomy from the torture at America’s Gothic reconstruction effort, the blood-spattered Abu Ghraib prison. Unfortunately, old Yahweh hasn’t been able to keep his eye on all the children for all the adult mayhem going on. A little more justice on the ground is in order, but the wielders of twenty-first century might are still ruling there recklessly, and the children, our and theirs, are still dying.

Bush’s army (and ours) has brought obituary-making justice to nearly a thousand inhabitants of Fallujah–some of them armed combatants but many of them helpless children. None of these fallen appeared on Nightline’s bittersweet photographic elegy. However, the retributive justice now at work in Fallujah and elsewhere makes the pseudo-ethical guarantee that more violence is certainly just around the corner. In particular, the chaotic urban “justice” now in play is saying yes to volumes more confused violence. “Let no fountain be dry!” in the midst of their own intractable droughts, those old Gods said. But then why does it keep raining pictures of the dead? “Bring ’em on!” and “Stay the course!” some moral Simpleton says.

When old Yahweh said Abraham give me your son, he was really only kidding. It was a loyalty contest and false-gods ratings war that only an Old Testament divinity could appreciate. But when Bush says give me your sons and daughters, he keeps the knife in his hands-­and theirs. As has been made clear (to the point of moral clarity?), this administration’s own version of a loyalty contest is also a “for us or against us” proposition. Cluster bombs, civilian-flooded hospitals and morgues and all. I guess even the Iraqi children are against us?

Call me ecumenical, but the current rules for photo memorials on illegal wars should be neo-liberalized. For once, let’s take all the time and all the space we need to grasp what’s really happening to all of humanity in Iraq. Thus, persons of any nationality or any age may qualify (with exceptions that follow). To win you simply have to be killed. To place you must either kill others, be wounded yourself, or wound others. Thus the harmed and the harmful are represented as the fundamentally inseparable elements of war, which is the case. As in old Yahweh’s version, there’s a place for children like Abraham’s son, the sacrificial altar, but more truthfully urbanized into the cities-wide shambles Iraq has become. Lest the cynical conclude Bush’s new version of endless justice is just godless war and carnage, kindly refer to his own musing that in these trials he “was chosen by God.” As in all contests of this sort, friends and family members of the chosen won’t be participating. Federal office holders and all their sons and daughters are exempt. Finally, minorities are encouraged to apply. As even a cursory look at Nightline’s sorrowful pantheon shows, their participation has been outrageously disproportionate to the public acknowledgment their deaths have so far been given. Wolfowitz himself is several hundred sympathy cards behind.

Nightline announced only the first seven hundred adult American winners Friday night. But, if we finally face the detestable facts, the international version of this contest has involved so many first place winners (hundreds of young and once-tender children included) that thousands of the foreign-born dead, the traumatized and the maimed were unable even to be mentioned on Nightline’s funereal special. Amazingly, not one child was represented except by the misled young men and women who killed them as they themselves were killed. Isn’t it time to correct the record and stop this horrifying circle of violence? As amazingly, some think not.

Breaking a few eggs in making come true the modest proposal for a New Iraq as an oil-pumping, democratic, Christian-leaning New Jerusalem New Mecca has had minor setbacks for its American neoliberal chefs and their keep-it clean media helpers. For one thing, there’s just not been enough space on the cake to credit all the posthumous contributors, many of whom never lived long enough for their names to be entered in the Book of the Living or a photograph of them to be taken, except in death. But as we light the candle on the New Iraq’s first birthday cake, a future pregnant with opportunities to make up for past missed ones is revealing itself: John Kerry, The New York Times, John McCain, Ted Kennedy, and even two minor prophets, Thomas Friedman and David Kay, demand that the killing contest be expanded. Britain says so, too, and plans to send another four thousand soldiers into the whirlwind. The old gods must be smiling.

Nightline’s all-American photo morgue was a grim and patriotic start, but the current decimation of our best soldiers and of hapless civilians in Fallujah, including innocent young ones, begs the question: Isn’t it about time we started thinking about the children? Ours, most just old enough to fight, and theirs, just old enough to die?

Larry Magnuson still barely believes in justice. He can be reached at lawrence [at]