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
"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
"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
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
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
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting
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