FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why the Children in Iraq Make No Sound When They Fall

No one said that dying had to be dull. “Screaming with fear, paralyzed children at a shelter for the physically disabled and mentally ill in Galle, Sri Lanka, lay helplessly in their beds as seawater surged around them.” The CNN report read like the screenplay of a horror film. A crippled girl grows up destitute in a home for the deaf, the blind, the insane, and, for good measure, the disabled elderly (what more could a kid wish for?) At the end of a short life spent wondering why no one ever looked out for her, the child reaches the final punctuation mark of her blessed existence and drowns glued to a wheelchair.

Tragedy should not be too clever. Mourning embraces the solemnity of death but recoils at an overzealous script. When fate appears to cross the thin line between cruelty and sadism, grief turns to anger. We expect the church organist at the funeral mass to interrupt Bach in mid-measure, look up to the sky, and shout “Come on!”

Voltaire had his “come on” moment in the wake of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, suggesting that God’s supreme goodness perhaps was not all it was cracked up to be. Religious irreverence is not much in fashion these days. But piety was not always so docile. History has been improbably kind to all sorts of figures who’ve had cross words with the Almighty. Think of Job, Jonah, Jeremiah, and Jesus on the cross-and that’s only for the J’s. Once or twice, the dispute even got out of hand: Nietzsche killed God; and Richard Rubenstein saw in Auschwitz confirmation of his death. Admittedly, to reconcile the Holocaust with a just and omnipotent god is an interesting variation on squaring the circle-or, since Miklós Laczkovich actually succeeded in doing just that [1], let us say, merely a reminder that gods may die but theological debates just never do.

My own reaction to the CNN report was not nearly as elevated. “Why would God behave like Don Rumsfeld?” I wondered. As the crippled child writhed in agony, I pictured God murmuring “Stuff happens.”

Woe unto me. To compare God to Rummy is worse than blasphemous: It’s unfair. After all, God did not cow the media into decorating our TV screens with the beatific smiles of preening peacocks reassuring us that smart waves drowned the terrorists, spared the innocent, amused the children, and provided much needed water to drought-prone regions. God gets accused of many things, including being dead, but lying is rarely one of them.

Mendacity, on the other hand, is the reserve currency of this administration. Its marketing hook: “You give us your votes; we give you our lies.” From the fictitious Saddam-al Qaeda axis to the rosy updates on the Switzerlandization of Iraq, from the bogus tales of WMD to the assurance that democracy is the future of the region (and always will be, would add the cynics), the giving has been, shall we say, generous.

The taking has been no less effusive. Although the hysterical rantings of prowar voices rarely exceeded, in dignity, the yapping of a chihuahua attacking a meatball, they met only the meekest resistance from an oleaginous mainstream media. The war hawks found powerful enablers in The New York Times, which was more than happy to echo the delusory yarn spun by the White House and pimp for Judith Miller’s Best Little Whorehouse in Babylon (where bling bling spells WMD).

Pimping being the fickle business that it is, it won’t be long before the In-Bush-We-Trust media gets in touch with its inner peacenik and points an accusing finger at the posse of visionary mediocrities who gave us a nasty case of Iraq syndrome. No doubt some of the neocons will balk at going to their graves with the word “loser” carved on a brass coffin plate; so watch for them to pull a McNamara on us and humbly beg for forgiveness. Being good souls, ie, suckers for smarmy group hugs, naturally we’ll oblige.

Were it so simple.

The abject surrender of the media fed a slew of illusions to the public, none more craven than the belief that he whom we kill must be killed. Yeah, yeah, we occasionally obliterate the wrong house and incinerate its occupants, but that’s just “friendly fire.” (A lovely phrase if there’s one: Let’s hear the surgeon who amputates the wrong leg inform his patient of his “friendly amputation.”) Minus the friendliness, however, our whiz-bang weapon wizardry never fails to separate the wheat from the chaff, the nursing mother from the crazed beheader. So goes the creed, anyway.

The Lancet-that well-known freedom hating rag-begs to differ. It estimates that our high-IQ, mensa-schmensa bombs have killed 100,000 civilians [2]. Iraq Body Count, which plays the lowballing game by shunning projections, reports the deaths of 600 non-combatants during our latest goodwill tour of Fallujah (by now primed to be renamed Grozny on the Euphrates) [3].

And then there is the Iraqi girl, hands soaked in her dead father’s blood, whose little brother does not yet understand that his childhood has just come to an end.

 

Fearing for their lives, US soldiers killed the parents in the front seat of the family car. Demons will likely haunt their nights. Stuff happens. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, bless their souls, will sleep well tonight.

Wars never fail to produce their share of pithy lines. Tommy Franks made sure this one would be no exception. “We don’t do body counts,” crowed the general, who really meant to say that he does not do “dark-skinned body counts” (he counts the others just fine). Lucky for us that he doesn’t run a Swedish newspaper, or it would have splashed the headline: “Tsunami kills 2,000 Swedes-and a few locals.” To be fair, Franks remembered the last time he did body counts, Vietnam, and how well that ended. But today’s tactical thinking packs a wallop of self-righteous denial. We don’t tally the children we kill for the same reason monsters don’t buy mirrors: That’s how they go through life thinking they’re angels.

We’ve snuffed out innocent lives in numbers that insurgents and terrorists could only dream of. But we avert our eyes. We bury our heads in the sand and turn a blind eye to our moral cowardice, thus pulling off the amazing feat of being ostriches and chickens all at once. We owe this marvel of ornithology to the inexorable fragility of human illusions. To quote James Carroll, “we avert our eyes because the war is a moral abyss. If we dare to look, as Nietzsche said, the abyss stares back.” George Bush, the philosopher, has updated Berkeley’s riddle: Do Iraqi children scream when the bombs fall if there is no one in the White House to hear them?

The celebrity of the month, the tsunami victim, has hogged newspaper headlines nationwide with stomach-churning photo spreads of wailing mothers and floating cadavers. Like his unsung Iraqi brethren, the victim has reminded us that calamity always strikes the poor, the sick, and the helpless first. It’s invariably those with the least to lose who lose the most. At the great banquet of cataclysms, rich Westerners get served last. Bush would have us believe that we’ve suffered so much from terrorism the world owes us undying compassion. In truth, our induction into the Misery Hall of Fame is still a long way off. With our sustained assistance, however (coddling Saddam while he was gassing Iranians, slapping sanctions that killed half a million children, and fighting two wars in twelve years), Iraq made it on the first ballot. Who ever said that we didn’t have a big heart?

Not Condoleezza Rice: “I do agree that the tsunami was a wonderful opportunity to show not just the US government, but the heart of the American people, and I think it has paid great dividends for us” [4]. And I just can’t wait for the next one, our top diplomat might have added.

While watching Colin Powell, pocket calculator in hand, add up the geopolitical benefits of our generosity and tell us how shocked, shocked he was by the tsunami’s devastation, I could almost hear the Beatitudes from The Gospel According to Dubya: “Blessed are the children whom the sea swallows, for they shall tug at our heartstrings. / Cursed are the children whom our bombs blow up, for they shall roam the dark alleys of our indifference.” We’ve been Iraq’s tsunami. But expect no charity drive, no minute of silence, no flag at half-staff: nothing that would allow shame to rear its ugly face.

With Bush’s reelection, America now has the president it deserves. And should you find that Lady Liberty, all dolled up with the latest in fashion from Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, looks a bit like a used up hooker, you won’t need to ask who hired her pimp: We did.

The liberation of Iraq began with smart flying bombs crashing over Baghdad. We should have known better. Liberations that start with a reenactment of 9/11 rarely end well.

BERNARD CHAZELLE is a professor of computer science at Princeton University and author of The Discrepancy Method: Randomness and Complexity. He can be reached at: chazelle@CS.Princeton.EDU

This article and others are available on Professor Chazelle’s website.

Notes

[1] Laczkovich, M. Equidecomposability and discrepancy; a solution of Tarski’s circle-squaring problem, J. Reine Angew. Math. 404 (1990), 77-117.

[2] 100,000 Civilian Deaths Estimated in Iraq, by Rob Stein, Washington Post, October 29, 2004.

[3] Iraq Body Count Falluja Archive, www.iraqbodycount.org, 2004. http://www.iraqbodycount.net/resources/falluja/

[4] Dr. Rice’s senate confirmation hearing, Agence France Presse, Tuesday, January 18, 2005. http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0118-08.htm

More articles by:

January 23, 2019
Ted Rall
Jury Trial? You Have No Right!
Michael Doliner
The Pros and Cons of Near Term Human Extinction
Lee Ballinger
Musical Unity
Elliot Sperber
The Ark Builders
January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Glenn Sacks
Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail