Too Damned Easy to Kill
March 28, 2003
I made the mistake of taking the bait of a forum troll who
made a seemingly rational, but utterly meaningless, appeal
for war, on the basis of what Saddam Hussein had done to his
people, but couched that argument in terms of "human" dangers.
Exploring further as to what group he meant by "human," he
said he meant our soldiers. Despite the fact that I'd offered
up two or three hundred words in refutation of war, his return
message said, in essence, "I'm tired of having to provide
an essay every day to people who challenge me with a 5-word
He went on to suggest that the people acting as human shields,
trying to put themselves between bullets and children in Iraq,
were misguided and deluded. They simply protected a tyrant,
Saddam Hussein, and put our soldiers in danger. No explanation
of how this actually worked was given.
I ended my first message with a suggestion that, because
I'd been a soldier in earlier times, I might have some insight
about the nature of war. No matter. I was told, because of
that, I should know better.
I could have spent a good many more words about the moral
considerations that Americans had not made in this rush to
war, but I didn't. The time and effort would have been wasted
on this person of few intellectual or moral gifts.
What I didn't say, and should have, was that my interests
about war were less political than personal.
Contemporary Americans, blessed generally by health care,
good diet, vitamins, freedom from the vagaries of war, rarely
experience the death of a child. Fortunately, that unfortunate
event is a relative rarity in our society. The combination
of sensitive genes and an environment loaded with chlorinated
synthetic organic compounds causes some children to experience
the horrors of various cancers at a young age. Some die, despite
the best efforts of American medicine, such as it is.
Fifteen or so years ago, I spent a couple of hours walking
through a graveyard in Newton, Massachusetts. It was an old
place, with headstones recording the deaths of inhabitants
of the town for almost two hundred years. The number of children
buried there was remarkable. Their ages, too, were remarkable.
Amanda, three years, Abigail, one year, Jonah, seven years,
Benjamin, four years. Disease, diet, cold, all took their
toll of the young in that place for decades. The closer one
came to contemporary times, the fewer were the graves of children.
When a child now dies in our midst, it is cause for considerable
grief. We have come so far from those desperate times in this
country when the ravages of the environment took half the
children of many families.
The one societal ravage of our young children from which
we have been spared, however, is that of war. This has not
been the case with families around the world, some of whom
have been subject to our brand of democracy through weaponry,
or our support for dictators, such as Hussein, who chose to
do our work for us. Young independent men in El Salvador,
full of testosterone and a need for justice, were taken by
people our government supported, and were killed and buried.
Old men, women and children were killed by the millions in
Viet Nam by bombs dropped from the same B-52s which now empty
their payloads on Iraq. In one hellacious night in Dresden
in WWII, thousands of families were destroyed. On two sunny
mornings in Japan in August, 1945, almost two hundred thousand
people were killed, just to make a point to the rest of the
world about America's strength.
Now, most recently, a small and thoroughly insane group
of men in this country wish to make another example of America's
strength by invading a country whose leader we encouraged,
supported and to which we supplied the very weapons we now
excoriate him for having. Our leaders repeat a mantra: "we
only want the best for the people of Iraq, we want to get
humanitarian aid to them quickly, we want democracy for the
people of Iraq." Our soldiers, daily, repeat these phrases,
and I think, for the most part, they genuinely believe those
palliatives. After all, those words give them justification
for the killing in which they engage, provide them with moral
sustenance for their actions. And, to excuse them from the
bestiality of killing children. Failing that, there is the
Orwellian phrase, "collateral damage," with which they may
use, defensively, as a shield against condemnation by the
world outside their own country.
Yesterday, I looked at a picture taken in Iraq of a boy,
perhaps twelve, who had been killed in an American attack.
His forehead had been ripped open by a shell fragment. A portion
of his brain protruded from the wound. He was quite dead.
Against my will, because of that photograph, I was forced
to remember how I felt at the death of my daughter. When she
died, she was seven-and-a-half. Tall, gangly, her permanent
front teeth just coming in. Bright, ambitious, competitive
in her way, a world-beater in the making. Memories of a picture
she'd done in the first grade, elementary-school tempera on
butcher paper, of a house with a chimney perpendicular to
its slanted roof, a fruit tree in the yard, the pet cat she
desperately wanted laying under that tree, clouds. Unlike
many of her classmates, she added a caption to her drawing:
"Clouds are so beautiful I can bite my toes." Pure Wordsworth,
filtered through the eyes and senses of a seven-year-old.
Childish delight at the beauty of the world.
For nearly ten years, I mourned her. I hated all the forces
which caused her death. I railed against a world which could
take a child from that world, a child which could have done
so much good for that world.
It doesn't matter what pilot drops the bomb on the child
who is the Iraqi analogue of my child; it doesn't matter if
there are words to make that strong, adult military man feel
better about what he's done on order of his commander-in-chief.
The child is still dead. The brothers and sisters remember
who dropped that bomb. The mother and father wail and remember.
The aunts and uncles mourn and curse the people who took that
child from them, prevented that child from taking its rightful
place in the world.
To be pro-war is to sacrifice children for political aims.
America could be above such, but it is not. It is now dominated
by men who do not think of those consequences, who appeal
to the basest instincts of their constituency. In doing so,
they perpetuate the most primal of hatreds, which then are
returned, not to them, but, rather, to their people and the
children of their people.