Dead 15 Year Olds And A 15 Year Old War

Photo by Shelby L. Bell | CC BY 2.0

This past week two events occurred simultaneously with seemingly no awareness of each other. The Iraq War marked its 15th anniversary. And millions of people joined in the “March For Our Lives” protests on gun violence. USA Today counted 800,000 marching in Washington D.C. alone. This would be the largest number of people to march in the capital of the United States. If we take into account that many other cities were hosting huge marches, the total number of Americans protesting might even approach the 2.4 million Iraqi deaths since the 2003 war began. One grim truth that may connect the two events: many of the kids who died this year from gun violence have never lived in a time when the United States wasn’t at war with Iraq.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated the great Malcolm X said “the chickens have come home to roost.” This need not apply here obviously but the shock and horror the ruling class about this violence is amiss. What do you expect when you cut schools as well as just about every other social program. You are going to get chaos. And if all this hurt the ruling class maybe it would be the chickens coming home to roost. Unfortunately, we are more scared of each other now. And unless the wrong person gets hit by a stray bullet, gun violence surely is in the interests of the ruling class.

Violence in Iraq is safer for the ruling class and the middle class here in America. Barack Obama would never really drop a drone on a Jonas Brother, even if he makes jokes about it. Segregated neighborhoods operate in the same way. As long as the police continue to occupy them we assume we are safe from any stray bullets.

The contradictory media coverage goes something like this: When kids die in the United States it is senseless. When kids die in Iraq it is necessary. When kids die in the United States they have lost a future. When kids die in Iraq they have lost a present. When kids die in the United States their parents are heartbroken. When kids die in Iraq their parents are terrorists. When kids die in the United States it is tragic. When kids die in Iraq it is just another day.

Children themselves are too wise to buy into such distinctions. I remember the Letters For Peace program started by the honorable Tim Carlson at my middle school. I don’t know how he did it but kids from Iraq and kids from the United States became pen pals. I think leaders of the U.S. and Saddam Hussein were pen pals for awhile too, but they were more the “adult” kind of pen pals. You know the kind one where one guy supplies the funds for the other guy to create a terrorist organization and then kills him for a completely different reason, all the awhile looting him of his oil reserves. Growing up stinks.

Time can be the most useful way to make anything seem normal. This is one thing that the U.S. leaders understand, as dim as they may seem at times. They get that if a war goes on long enough, it starts to make sense, even if it never made any sense to begin with. For a child, no wars make sense. But live through one (or several) your whole life, then it becomes, how do they say it, well, it is what it is.

The March For Our Lives protest was largely student organized. I will just say it: Kids Rule, Adults Drool. This was a heck of an organizing job. Let’s reward the kids by lowering the voting age. I have always been of the mindset that kids as young as 5 should be able to vote. You can call kids dumb but let’s be honest so are most Americans, especially the rich ones. All credit to the kids here. The adults in our political system are cruel, useless, conservative and cynical.

My only quibble though with this whole situation is that children continue to be used as political props. I am reminded of one of our most demented adults, Donald Trump. Just about a year ago he was “moved” to action in Syria by photos of ‘beautiful’ blond babies in peril. Action, in this context, means murder. The President sputtered: “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was…No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” By child of God he means that White Christian American Settler God. Still no proof of this attack by the way, no matter how we feel about Assad.

In our increasingly illiterate culture, it is once again images that are manipulating the public. Images of beautiful and innocent white children. And yes, of course they are beautiful. But it only takes a week for these kids to get on the cover of Time. We can’t say the same thing about all those “noisy” Black Lives Matter kids. And of course, semi-automatics have no place in our streets or in our schools. And we should start by getting rid of the cop’s weapons of this variety. I really am for common sense gun control. It isn’t taking away much after all. These proposed bans would only take away the most outrageous killing machines. If anything, they aren’t going far enough.

On the other hand though the parallels to Trump here is lost on everyone. Even if we assume that gun control saves lives, what else is going on? Our move to “action” seems far more benign than bombing Syria. But let’s tread lightly. Because now a lot of people are asking why we aren’t calling these shooters terrorists. Which is a great point when we look at how Muslims are treated in this country. We don’t want everyone to be treated how Muslims are treated though (not that the police would ever treat all suspicious people the same anyways). What liberals want is that more people be considered terrorists, not less. They see the race and religion markings, which is great. But they are all a little naive about how cops would see it. Calling more people terrorists is only going to hurt the black, the brown and the poor. Giving police more power will hurt these communities. The shooter who goes to school with rich white kids isn’t going to be caught anyways. The Parkland shooter was known well by the FBI and it didn’t matter.

The question is for those of us in the all too innocent American Empire is whose death gives us tears? Clearly it isn’t the death of Iraqis. This shit has been going on for 15 years. 8 of those years under a Democrat President. It is a good thing that deaths by gun violence haven’t been normalized yet, but the same cannot be said for death for the Iraqis. The NRA sure has a lot of enemies nowadays but the same cannot be said for the military-industrial complex. This is because the NRA mostly funds the Republicans. And this is because the NRA’s weapons kill our kids, not theirs. Them over there, those Iraqis who live in what Donald Trump would call a shithole and what liberals would politely call a cavity of defecation, those kids don’t matter.

Children are always used as a political prop. It is refreshing to see a story where they are showing their political agency. Children are always marked as innocent—the rich white ones I mean. Women too are marked in the same way often. And it is always the patriarchal authority that comes in to save the day. Military intervention, police intervention. And yes, gun control too. Remember Trump saying “the Mexicans are raping our women”? This is why wackos see abortion as the greatest murder. Children, even ones who don’t exist yet, are innocent and must be protected. Agency for women and children aren’t taken seriously. Rights for women and children are stripped in the name of protection. All modern wars come with some image of helpless women and children, begging to be saved by the white man.

The hysteria around the death of rich white children is a different sort of reaction than the occasional pity we feel for Iraqi children. As necessary as such a hysteria may be what is this about? When, in recent history, have our elected officials on either side of the aisle cared about children? Funding for schooling on all levels is being cut. Standardized testing not only ruins how schools are taught, it dictates which schools get funding. The death of after school programs leaves kids without communities and without these communities, they turn to the streets. The juvenile justice system is a costly racket. Schools themselves are being modeled after prisons. The number of police officers in schools is way too high. Trump now wants to further the punishing state by arming teachers. Older generations failed to deal with climate change and now children will pay the cost. The weird thing is here, and I think it shows our society’s lack of empathy, is that the way kids are treated never really gets brought up when we are talking about these shooters. Yes we can mourn for the innocent dead kids but we don’t even try to understand the guilty ones.

When it comes to gun violence and its sheer randomness and horror, we have a different problem. What happens when our predatory capitalism system starts killing our own beautiful babies that are destined to run Fortune 500 companies one day? Awkward, right? Of course I don’t mean to trivialize any of this, everyone is dying from gun violence, especially, mostly, the poor, and coverage of them is quite underrepresented too. But that’s the point actually. The problem now is big enough for everyone to worry.

Why care about the dead rich children when we don’t care about the rest of them? Ultimately, it’s all about the reproduction of the nation state too if we are being honest. It’s about reproducing lots of babies, lots of white babies, with women as vessels for this reproduction. That is, ultimately, how children are seen by the political officials who mark them as innocent and beautiful and full of future and potential. Remember Paul Ryan saying that he “did his part” by making three babies. He said America needed to make more babies to grow. Grow where exactly? 800 military bases not enough? Has Paul heard of climate change? The world can’t afford more rich kids with Iphones. Paul Ryan states plainly the the sick logic that the Lords of the American Empire have. We are all just tools for world domination. Men are soldiers and women child bearers.

This is what Lee Edelman calls ‘reproductive futurism’. It is the sort of logic that makes queer people (especially transgender people), old people and disabled people, anyone who can’t or won’t reproduce, disposable. Women’s reproductive rights are a form of violence for the masterminds of the Empire. Of course for poor people, for uneducated people, for undocumented people, for people in other countries, and for people of color, the way of thinking is totally different. The children aren’t innocent, they are “super-predators”. The women aren’t just vessels for reproduction, they are “welfare queens” when they try to take care of their children. Win, lose, or draw, HRC still delivers relevant quotes to nearly any left article 🙂

I mean just check out this CNN profile on the victims of the Parkland shooting. It is hard not to get teary eyed when reading through it. We hear about the accomplishments of all of these kids. And they seem like amazing kids. Far too young to die. They surely had a beautiful future, as everyone notes. But this isn’t how we talk about the victims of police shootings, Empire bombings, or gang killings. We always ask how was the victim guilty? We ask what did they do? Even if it was just shoplifting. It has to be put in the story. I want all stories about murder to be celebrating the life of the person killed. Even on death row. These people lived lives too.

It’s great these Parkland kids were in the band, played sports, or wanted to go to prom. But what makes a life matter? Do people who can’t afford these things have no lives? I don’t know what kind of prom the kids in war zones have but do their lives matter? The same coded language is used when protecting DACA kids too. They are good Americans we hear. Which is fine, but it is really an unnecessary statement. A life is a life. A life of a beautiful blonde with rich parents is no better than any other life.

I won’t be asking why this mass protest happened, because that has an easy answer. People are being killed at a sickening rate and we need gun control (among many other things) to stop it. Kids are leading the way and we all shouldn’t be so surprised about it.

The more troubling question is: why is such a protest embraced by the mainstream media? And what are their intentions? What lengths are they willing to go to protect our beautiful blonde babies of Empire? How many Iraqi children will die while we wonder?

Give the kids credit for refusing the label of victims and marching for our lives. If anyone is going to march for their lives, it will be these same children who did more to help their classmates than any of our pathetic elected officials ever have. The media may be right about one thing: these kids have a bright and beautiful future. That is, assuming they don’t get shot by a semi-automatic rifle.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at