The Indelible Evil of this War
December 8, 2004
By Ernest Partridge, The
Shakespeare's Brutus, "I am sick of many griefs."
An incurious, narcissistic psychopath sits in the Oval Office
– an office he did not legitimately win four years ago – an office
that he may have seized last month through massive, many-faceted
electoral manipulation and fraud.
Forty million of our citizens are without health insurance, one
out of six American children live in poverty, uncounted millions
are out of work as still more jobs are exported overseas. The median
family income declines as the nation's wealth continues to "percolate
up" from the pockets of the needy and the productive middle
class to the wealthy.
The list of horrors continues: the environment ravished, our natural
heritage sold off, education starved of funding, our civil liberties
casually violated as if the Bill of Rights had never been ratified,
scientific expertise and research set aside in favor of dogma, both
religious and secular.
Meanwhile, the voice of dissent is banished from the mainstream
media and retreats to the universities and the Internet. And how
long dissent will be tolerated in these refuges of unfettered thought
is anyone's guess.
Throughout all this, the American public sits misinformed, stunned,
bewildered, and passive.
And yet, in this winter of my discontent, all this is secondary
in my heart and soul.
Above all else, I grieve for the devastation that we have brought
upon an unthreatening sovereign country, Iraq. I grieve for the
innocent lives lost, the innocent bodies mutilated, the devastating
losses visited upon the survivors.
Not a day goes by that I am not haunted by the lamentations of
the Baghdad bloggers, "River" and "Salam Pax,"
and the images of the humiliated prisoners at Abu Ghraib. And above
all, I am haunted by the faces of the beautiful dark-eyed children
of Iraq – those vibrantly alive, and those broken in brutal death.
All this provokes in me a grief and a despair beyond words.
Why has my government brought this devastation upon the people
of Iraq? Not to disarm weapons of mass destruction, for we now know
that there were none. Not to break up an alliance with terrorists,
for it was known all along that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden
were sworn enemies. The entire justification for war that Colin
Powell presented to the United Nations in February, 2003, we have
now learned, was a tissue of lies.
And yet the slaughter continues.
One hundred thousand innocent dead. Can one comprehend that multitude?
Think of the Rose Bowl, filled to its capacity of 90,000. Then think
of everyone therein, killed, one by one, for no justifiable reason.
But to imagine a sea of faces is to imagine an abstraction. Reflect,
if you can bear it, upon the particular victims.
In a remote village near the Syrian border, a wedding feast had
just finished, as the new bride and groom were led to their marriage
tent for the night.
"The bombing started at 3am," [said a sister-in-law of the
groom] from her bed in the emergency ward at Ramadi general hospital,
60 miles west of Baghdad. "We went out of the house and the American
soldiers started to shoot us. They were shooting low on the ground
and targeting us one by one," she said. She ran with her youngest
child in her arms and her two young boys, Ali and Hamza, close
behind. As she crossed the fields a shell exploded close to her,
fracturing her legs and knocking her to the ground.
She lay there and a second round hit her on the right arm. By
then her two boys lay dead. "I left them because they were dead,"
she said. One, she saw, had been decapitated by a shell...
By the time the sun rose on Wednesday over the Rakat family house,
the raid had claimed 42 lives...
Among the dead were 27 members of the extended Rakat family,
their wedding guests and even the band of musicians hired to play
at the ceremony... 11 of the dead were women and 14 were children.
The words of Walt Whitman resound in my mind and torture my conscience:
Beat! beat! drums! - blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows - through doors - burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet -
no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace,
ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums - so shrill you bugles blow.
A Baghdad family encounters an American checkpoint:
The family of 17 had packed into its 1974 Land Rover wearing
their best clothes for the trip through the American lines "to
look American". But at the next checkpoint, the American soldiers
[The father] said 11 members of his family were killed - his
daughters aged two and five, his son aged three, his parents,
two older brothers, their wives and two nieces aged 12 and 15.
His wife Lamea, who is nine months pregnant, said she saw her
children die. "I saw the heads of my two little girls come off,"
36-year-old Lamea said. "My girls, I watched their heads come
off their bodies. My son is dead." (Ananova)
At a house in Baghdad. The father laments the loss of his daughter:
"A shell came down into the room as she was standing by
the dressing-table," Najem says. "My daughter had just completed
her PhD in Psychology and was waiting for her first job. She was
born in 1970. She was 33. She was very clever.
"Everyone said I have a fabulous daughter. She spent all her
time studying. Her head buried in books. She didn't have a care
about going out enjoying herself. My other daughter [Alia] is
the same. She has a Master's degree in English and teaches at
the university. Me? I'm just a lorry driver. A simple man." ...
"I don't know what humanity Bush is calling for," [Alia] says
in English, "Is this the humanity which lost my sister?” (Antonowicz)
Beat! beat! drums! - blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities - over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses?
no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers` bargains by day -
no brokers or speculators-would they continue?
Would the talkers be taking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums - you bugles wilder blow.
In his new book, The Fall of Baghdad, Jon Lee Anderson
recalls the time he visited a hospital, and looked upon the body
of a child, the victim of American bombing.
Before the cloth covered her, I saw that the girl was covered
in blood. Her brother looked as though he were sleeping. But they
both were dead. Their mother was there, beside herself with grief.
She was the woman I had heard wailing and hitting the walls. Then
almost all the onlookers around the mother, including the doctors
and nurses, broke down and cried. I was overcome and went outside
and sat down. I wept. The children's father was sitting a few
feet away from me, disconsolately sobbing into his arms. (Hedges)
Beat! beat! drums! - blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley - stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid - mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child`s voice be heard, nor the mother`s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead
where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums - so loud you bugles blow.
Pause for a moment and contemplate the inconsolable grief caused
by the needless death of one of these innocents. Now multiply that
grief by one hundred thousand.
One hundred thousand dead, two thousand more in Falluja, "the
city of mosques." One-hundred and fifty thousand American soldiers
wrenched from their families and their careers, ordered to become
instruments of this atrocity. 1,272
dead, returning in "transfer tubes," unmourned by their
Commander-in-Chief. 18,000 more horribly mutilated. An uncounted
more, emotionally crippled for life with post-traumatic stress disorders.
And for what? Not to find and disarm WMDs. Not to combat terrorism.
Do we cause this mayhem to impose upon the Iraqis our particular
brand of democracy, even though the Iraqis emphatically tell us,
and with bullets, they do not want it?
By what mandate of heaven, earth, "the invisible hand of
the market," or whatever else, do we claim the privilege of
wasting these precious lives – lives, if we affirm our founding
Declaration, that are created equal to our own?
What pluperfect arrogance leads us to proclaim that our way of
life is, for all peoples at all times, the best and the only way
– that we know, better than the Iraqis themselves, the economic
system and the political structure that is best for Iraq? How dare
we impose this politico-economy order upon them "for their
own good," whether they want it or not, and then call it democracy?
Why must we resolve to fight for this imposition of an alien ideology
to the last drop of Iraqi blood?
This war was a horrible mistake. What American soldier, what innocent
Iraqi citizen, will be the last to die for this mistake?
The voices of the quick and the dead cry out: Stop! In the name
of all that is holy, humane and compassionate – stop immediately!
Let there be no more dead and crippled children. Let there be no
more grieving parents. Let not another person's blood be spilled
on behalf of a fool's errand.
Yet we do not stop. We seem to be locked into a course leading
to straight to disaster for Iraq and for the United States as well.
Once admired, we are now despised throughout the world, as we are
led by a man-child who is unmoved by reason and evidence, deaf to
the advice of others, incapable both of considering alternative
courses of action or of admitting error on his part.
Meanwhile, silently, gradually, but inexorably, the civilized
world quarantines this madness as it forms alliances to counteract
it. We alienate our foreign creditors and the suppliers of our essential
resources – nations which could, in alliance, bring
ruin upon our rogue country without firing a shot.
Many wise and capable Americans are fully aware of the perils
before us. But they are denied public office, or a voice in our
Where is our Mohandas Gandhi, our Nelson Mandela, our Andrei Sakharov,
our Martin Luther King, who will lead us out of this moral quagmire?
Who are the citizens who will follow?
The honor of the American republic has been besmirched by the
usurpers and empire builders in Washington. And now, only the American
people can restore the honor of the United States of America.
We can embrace that awesome responsibility with courage and resolve,
or else we can lament, wait, and hope that someone else will somehow
set things straight. As we wait and hope, the oligarchs and theocrats
will solidify their control, and the light of American liberty will
flicker and die. Government of the people, by the people, and for
the people truly "shall not perish from the earth." However,
it will thrive elsewhere, as we relinquish it here forever.
Unless we act, now.
So write letters to Washington, your state capitol, and your local
newspapers. Boycott the mainstream media and its sponsors, run for
office, contribute to MoveOn and ACT. Meet with friends, make your
views known, organize, demonstrate, raise Hell. At first it will
all seem random, pointless, and unavailing. But be patient and be
alert. Today, dissent is scattered and inchoate. But soon a movement
will congeal and leaders will emerge with an agenda and a coordinated
plan of resistance.
A generation ago, the American people put an end to an immoral
war, and forced the resignation of another unworthy president.
We can do it again.
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in
the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He publishes
the website, The
Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website, The
"Survivors Describe Horror and Disbelief at US Checkpoint Shooting."
Antonowicz: "The Saddest Story of All."
Hedges: "On War," New York Review of Books.
McCarthy: "Wedding massacre survivors: 'US soldiers started
to shoot us, one by one.'"