Children of War

My senses are soaked still with last weekend’s red, white, and blue after having attended a party at the home of a lovely couple intro’d to me recently by a friend. Their fireworks display, colors bursting in the night sky, was as impressive as any I’ve seen produced and directed by local government via taxpayer dollars. I’m sure the hosts’ guest list covered the political spectrum. I’m also sure that my politics are the most radical of anyone who watched the bombs bursting in air. I sat there, thinking about bombs bursting in air, exploding the lives of people in the growing number of countries where we’ve exported U.S. imperialism.

More sensory overload is the story that’s captured the attention of Americans: Casey Anthony’s murder trial. I didn’t follow, but when I opened Google News, it usually was the lead. After Anthony’s acquittal, I scanned the article titles and saw: “See all 6,083 sources.”

One of my sons told me that Facebook pages are devoted to Caylee Anthony. Light a candle for Caylee, honoring a child whose murderer is free.

With this, I consider discontinuity?the huge gulf between the OTHER and us.

Caylee became America’s little girl.

The children of foreign wars are not ours.

Caylee was unlike children who die in countries we invade and occupy when soldiers are sent into combat by deciders in a criminal command chain.

Children of war are collateral damage.

I think of candles for Caylee and segue to the candlelight vigils in which I’ve participated to honor the dead, not just for our own servicemen and women but also civilians. Then I transition to another acknowledgment, a graveyard of empty boots and shoes, representing troops who’ve died and civilians killed. This exhibit is fall-to-the-ground painful?especially the small pieces of canvas or leather, the children’s shoes.

I remember former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s frigid response when questioned about the deaths of 576,000 Iraqi children (from sanctions in Iraq): “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.” Yes, 576,000 children. Really, five hundred and seventy-six thousand Caylee Anthonys.

Formal research shows a link between U.S. armed service members deployed six months or more in Iraq and Afghanistan and increased mental illness in their children?problems significant enough to require hospitalization. No surprise. But extend this further, to the places our military personnel deploy, and imagine the psychic damage inflicted on children who endure war’s savagery.

A site, Iraq: the Human Costs provides a glimpse into what is neglected in mainstream political discourse, war’s effect on those who live in the countries we invade. Read it, weep, and understand that Iraq is also Afghanistan, Pakistan, or any country ours chooses to devastate.

Just this week, our government alerted airlines that terrorists might board planes with explosives implanted surgically into their bodies, information that could lead to additional screening measures. In other words, be afraid, because fear is necessary for nationalism and the support of endless war, including the killing of children.

If only each of us could embrace all children as our own. If only we could ignore borders, ethnicity, religion, otherness. If only we were citizens of the world rather than supporters of American exceptionalism.

Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore. Commiserate with her at missybeat@gmail.com.






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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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