Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Tuesday, April 08, 2003  

Price of War

The overwhelming might of the US military is looking decisive as the war approaches the end of week three. The US is beginning to secure Baghdad, and the residents there--civilians, conscriptees, and military--are shifting allegiances (they know something about gauging the shifting winds of power).

When the war concludes, as it surely will, the emotion will shift from shock toward hope. Media stories will focus largely on the signs that things are about to change for the better. Even within Iraq, people will embrace hope rather than dwelling on sadness and loss—because hope will be available. With the immediate horror of war complete, the world will look forward. (Time will tell whether the hope was well-placed.)

But other realities are attached to the hope like shadows to a body: the young boy whose parents were killed when a bomb hit his house. He lost both arms (graphic picture) and will spend a lifetime bearing the weight of the war. In Baghdad, reporters send conflicted messages of success and failure—Rumsfeld’s bombs are indeed the most accurate in history, but that doesn’t mean the deaths of civilians weigh more lightly on the minds of those who survive them.

Americans are distant from the action of the bombs, and we prize freedom so highly that for many of us, the war seems a fair trade: a few lives in exchange for the freedom of a nation. Maybe so. Some Iraqis will agree, some won’t. But it’s a question that can’t be answered by polling.

One thing is sure, though: those who decided the price was fair are not those who are paying it. The Americans who support this war don’t have to climb out of the rubble in the morning to assess the destruction, take inventory of the dead, and decide if the promise of a better tomorrow is a decent gamble. They’ll hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, because at this point it’s all that’s left to them.

In the April 7 New Yorker, reporter John Lee Anderson, who’s in Baghdad, quotes a doctor who treated him for a back injury.

“The sandstorm is coming back. You can smell it; it smells like the earth. Whenever I smell this, it reminds me of dead people. Think about it. Think of Iraq’s history. What is that history but thousands of years of wars and killing? This is something we have always done rather well, and a lot of, right back to Sumerian and Babylonian times. Millions of people have died in this earth and become part of it. Their bodies are part of the land, the earth we are breathing.”

This is part of that shadow reality Americans don’t experience. For us, democracy is available at the ballot box rather than the at end of a gun. Our rhetoric is heated because our democracy—ten generations since anyone died for it—is cheap and bloodless. When we fight our wars, the dead rot on foreign soil, become part of the dust of foreign countries. Our air is clean and dustless.

Will the war have been worth it? There will be many answers. We Americans should pay close attention to the answers of those who actually paid the price.

posted by Jeff | 10:19 AM |
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