November 12, 2003
By The Plaid Adder
Take out your calendar and circle November 5, 2003 in red. Let it stand as a day of marvel and wonder, one of those rare cosmic events that happen once in a century. Tell the legend to your children, and your children's children: how one day long ago, in November of 2003, you heard George W. Bush, for the first and perhaps the last time in his political career, say something that was actually true.
That's the day that President Bush, with much fanfare and admiring applause, signed into law the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. This law makes it illegal for any doctor, under any circumstances, to perform a particular procedure known as partial-birth abortion. And as he made it the law of the land, President Bush expatiated on the sanctity of human life:
"Every person, however frail or vulnerable, has a place and a purpose in this world. Every person has a special dignity. This right to life cannot be granted or denied by government, because it does not come from government, it comes from the Creator of life."
And I stood amazed. Here Bush had actually said the very thing that I had been trying to drive home over and over again since September 11, 2001: that all human lives are equally valuable, whether or not they are American, and that nobody has the right to take them. Sure, I may be a little less certain than he is that I know who the Creator is and what he or she wants; but I am right there on the sanctity of human life, and I absolutely agree that our government, which certainly does not have the power to give life, ought not to assume the right to take it.
So from my point of view, all of those words I just quoted are true, even beautiful. Unfortunately, coming from President Bush, they are also utterly obscene. And that's because if there is one man on this planet who has conclusively demonstrated an intense, all-encompassing, and lethal contempt for human life over the past several years, that man is George W. Bush.
Even before he became President, Bush was already noteworthy for the, well, satisfaction he appeared to be taking in overseeing the executions of convicted criminals as governor of Texas. There was, for instance, the infamous interview with Talk Magazine in 1999 during which Bush imagined, wearing that smirk we have all come to know so well, death row inmate Karla Faye Tucker begging him not to kill her. While not actually flipping the switch himself, Bush signed off on the executions of 152 people during his term as governor. That's a hundred and fifty-two people who, according to those beautiful words from his bill-signing speech, had "a place and a purpose in this world" and "a special dignity." That's 152 people who had their lives "denied" by the government, and 152 instances in which Bush felt it incumbent upon himself to usurp the powers that he admitted, on November 5, 2003, rightfully belong only to "the Creator of life."
At the time, it was a record.
But President Bush had out-killed Governor Bush before the end of his first year in office. On October 7, 2001, American planes began dropping bombs on people in Afghanistan. Our objective - at least, our stated objective - was to bring to justice those responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, including and especially Osama Bin Laden. Well, we never did end up bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice; but even using the most conservative estimates in the Western press, by January of 2002 a lot more people had been killed during the war in Afghanistan than were executed in Texas during Bush's term.
We will never know exactly how many civilians were killed by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, in large part because our government and our military did not bother keeping track. I spent half an hour this morning trying to find reliable civilian casualty figures for the Afghanistan campaign, and I couldn't do it. Among people who cared enough to make an estimate there is still considerable disagreement, though the most conservative one I found put the toll at over 1000.
There's one thing we do know, though, and that is the dollar value that the American military assigned to the life of an individual Afghan. After coming to the conclusion that a raid carried out in the village of Oruzgan in January 2002, in which 18 people were killed, was in fact a mistake, the Army gave the families of the victims $1000 in compensation for the life of each victim. That's how much the life of an Afghan was worth to us during that war.
How much does one of those bunker-busting bombs cost again?
But of course no matter how much we shelled out for each of our victims, it would never be enough; and that's the point, isn't it, that every human life is priceless. Because each of those people had a place and a purpose in this world. Each had a special dignity. Each had a life given by the Creator, which no government on earth - including ours - had the right to take away.
Not content with starting one destructive and pointless war that would leave civilians dead and maimed on every side as we attempted to assassinate a single man who ultimately evaded us anyway, President Bush was trying to drum up support for an invasion of Iraq by the summer of 2002. Well, after lying, cheating, and defying the U.N. security council, Bush finally got his war; and once again, as the Pentagon admitted in an April 2003 press conference, the U.S. government has "no plans to determine how many Iraqi civilians may have been killed or injured or suffered property damage as a result of U.S. military operations in Iraq."
After Afghanistan, we have to expect that; but what's more startling is that the U.S. military also doesn't seem to want anyone to know how many American soldiers have been killed or injured as a result of U.S. military operations in Iraq. From blacking out media coverage of returning coffins to playing games with the numbers of "combat-related" versus "accidental" deaths, this administration has done everything it can to prevent the average American from knowing how many American soldiers have really died as a result of Bush's war.
Why doesn't he want us to know? After all, each of these people, Iraqi and American, had a place and a purpose in this world. Each of them had a special dignity. The loss of each of these lives is a tragedy that ought to be marked by repentance, respect, and a sincere attempt to find ways of ensuring that such a tragedy never happens again. And yet President Bush, after going to extravagant lengths in order to start the war that killed them all, seems to be hoping that these deaths will go unnoticed, and that nobody will miss or mourn the passage from this world of thousands of people who would still be in it if President Bush hadn't decided to appropriate for himself powers that should only belong to the Creator of life.
The massive, disproportionate, and indiscriminate violence that has marked our conduct both of these wars - neither of which has yet accomplished its stated objectives - indicates the depth of the contempt that President Bush's government has for the lives of non-Americans, just as our government's attempt to sweep the bodies of its own fallen soldiers under the rug indicates a deplorable lack of respect for the sacrifices those soldiers and their families have made.
Meanwhile, Bush's positively gleeful promotion of assassination as a legitimate tool of foreign policy stands out there for the world to see as a particularly sickening symbol of the way Bush's own policies have drastically devalued human life. After Bush chortled in his State of the Union address about how successful his goons had been at whacking America's "enemies" abroad - "Oh, those guys in Yemen? You won't see THEM no more" - Bush's military advisors decided that it would be a good idea to take the mangled corpses of Uday and Qusay Hussein, restore their shattered faces to make them recognizable, and then release several hours' worth of videotape of the bodies for broadcast on international television.
Did they each have a special place and purpose in the world, President Bush? Did they each have a special dignity? Did you really mean it when you said that every life is sacred, and that if the Creator of life sees fit to animate even such a nasty piece of work as one of the Hussein brothers, you - as someone who cannot give life - do not have the right and should not have the power to take that life?
Of course not. I forgot; you were only talking about innocent life:
"America stands for liberty, for the pursuit of happiness and for the unalienable right of life. And the most basic duty of government is to defend the life of the innocent. Every person, however frail or vulnerable..."
Yada yada yada. You know what, President Bush, I have to wonder about a man who seems to believe that the only human beings who are "innocent" are those who are still in the womb. I have a hard time understanding why you should be so concerned about protecting the American unborn when your policy of "preventive war" has in effect made it open season on any and all of the world's born.
But then the word "innocent," like so many words, has become so slippery under your administration that it is now nearly meaningless. All of the Iraqis buried in those mass graves that our armies keep uncovering are, apparently, "innocent," since we felt ourselves bound to defend them (twenty years after we supported the dictator who had them killed, but still) by invading Iraq. The Iraqis buried in the graves that once were their homes, hospitals, and schools before we shocked and awed them into rubble were, evidently, not innocent. Or at least so I assume, since you don't seem too concerned about the fact that their special dignity was obliterated by the military strategies that your Pentagon big shots promoted so cheerfully.
And I guess the civilians who have been killed at checkpoints or during raids or by random bursts of sudden panic-inspired American gunfire in the streets were not innocent either, because a body that has been decapitated or splattered in pieces along a street is not in any kind of a shape to be retaining its special dignity. And I guess all the men and women in the American military that you sent over to Iraq are not innocent either, because you certainly don't seem to be doing a very good job of defending their lives.
I guess once a person is born, that person is liable to grow up to do things that might interfere with your plans for the world, and at that point that person can no longer be considered innocent. After all, according to the gospel of preventive war, even a babe in arms could be construed into a potential threat that requires massive military intervention.
And according to that law you just signed, an unborn child is an innocent life that our government needs to defend, but the mother of that unborn child is not - or so I assume from the fact that the Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003 makes it illegal to perform this procedure even if a doctor has determined that it is necessary in order to save the life of the mother. I guess of those mothers were innocent, the authors of this bill might not have so blithely dismissed the possibility that a situation might ever arise in which a doctor might refuse to perform a lifesaving procedure on one of these mothers out of fear of being arrested.
So if we look at your history, President Bush, I guess it comes down to this. Life is only precious to you when it becomes an excuse to invade something - whether it's Afghanistan, Iraq, or the womb.
And if we look at your history, then I guess those beautiful words about life that you spoke as you signed that bill into law are actually just a foul, stinking, cynical lie that just becomes more vile the longer you contemplate it.
If you want to make that lie true - if you want to have any honest title to the words you used - then you had better forget about the unborn for right now, President Bush. You've got a lot of work to do with the born before you can say the word 'life' without soiling it.
And if the Creator of Life, whoever she may be, ever comes among us looking to hunt down the people who have blasphemed against her, my money says she will head straight for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the same can be found at The Adder's Lair.