war, loss and humanity

I’ve been updating a few of my links and articles here today. I hope some of you will check out the two links to interesting commentaries under “Important!” to the right. Migra Matters is a progressive immigration policy blog, and the Walls and Fences article expresses the reason I feel that building a wall with Mexico is so tragic. I never really thought about the distinction between walls and fences before, but this article provokes thought and makes some good points.

I’d never heard of Eduardo Galeano before a few weeks ago, when I listened to my weekly installment of Latino USA, where host Maria Hinojosa was interviewing the renowned South American writer and thinker. Something about the way he spoke has stayed in my mind, cutting through the millions of media-produced words that pass in front of my eyes or dance through my ears each day. Galeano cannot be described a liberal, much less a concervative, neither a progressive, nor any other conventional political label. Hinojosa described him as someone whose thinking can turn your own upside down and around, jumbling what we accept as true and revealing openings in the mind that we didn’t know existed.

When I listened to the interview-turned-intimate-conversation between Galeano and Hinojosa last week, I planned to copy down pieces, but I’m never going to get around to that; hence, a few paraphrases. As the conversation shifted to the war in Iraq, Galeano challenged us to think about how often we hear of the number of American soldiers who have died in Iraq, compared to the hundred thousand or more of Iraqi civilians, mostly women and children, that have been killed there. If Iraqis had invaded the U.S., killed one hundred thousand women and children, bombed our largest cities, destroyed endless historical artifacts, devastated thousands and thousands of families, Galeano said, it would take us centuries to get over. Let this sink in for a moment. Can we imagine that level of outrage that would overtake our country if this situation was for some reason switched around? So why, oh why, do we expect anything else from Iraqis?

He suggested the reason for the lack of outrage in the world, among Americans, but anyone really, is that Iraqis are in some ways second-class citizens, at least in the eyes of Westerners and especially compared to Americans. Granted, September 11th was a horrible, terrible act, but how many tens of thousands of people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since that day? Why are we so outraged over the deaths of 3,000 Americans but so much less concerned about those tens of thousands of Iraqis? Is it just because we are powerful? Is American life more valuable than Iraqi? Are we simply that selfish and sel-concerned that all that matters is our national interest? If that is true, then it would at least be preferable to leave the verbiage about taking freedom to the world out of the picture.

I’ve always been a bit disturbed by the amount of emphasis that is put on the deaths of Americans. This is going to sound really horrible, which is exactly why I’ve never expressed it before, but life is life and people die. Not so long ago more than 100,000 Indonesians, Thais, Indians and Africans died in a freak Tsunami. Sure, people were upset, it was a natural disaster, but how many people have died in violent uprisings and ethnic battles in Africa? Is the average American outraged? Are we filled with anger and rage? In 2001, more than 3,000 people died in New York City, terrible, an attack on America, but let’s be real about it, 3,000 people die regularly in Africa in equally violent crimes. But are these people unreal and not meaningful to us because we are that self-centered?

This is a bigger question than why we are in Iraq, but it’s completely devastating nonetheless. When we step outside our ideas of national security and just look at humanity, what are we doing? How many people had to die for our national security, and what about theirs?

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3 Responses to war, loss and humanity

  1. lois bruss says:

    Granted, September 11th was a horrible, terrible act, but how many tens of thousands of people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since that day? Why are we so outraged over the deaths of 3,000 Americans but so much less concerned about those tens of thousands of Iraqis? Is it just because we are powerful?
    YES

    Is American life more valuable than Iraqi?
    MANY AMERICANS THINK THE ANSWER IS YES

    Are we simply that selfish and self-concerned that all that matters is our national interest? YES

    In 2001, more than 3,000 people died in New York City, terrible, an attack on America, but let’s be real about it, 3,000 people die regularly in Africa in equally violent crimes. But are these people unreal and not meaningful to us because we are that self-centered? YES

    When we step outside our ideas of national security and just look at humanity, what are we doing? FURTHERING OUR OWN INTEREST & TRYING TO COVER IT UP BY DOING SOME GOOD THINGS ALONG THE WAY

    How many people had to die for our national security, and what about theirs?
    OURS IS MORE IMPORTANT TO MANY AMERICANS

    Thanks for asking these questions. It would be good in my opinion if more Americans would start to ask these questions.

  2. Jack says:

    I disagree a couple of your thoughts here.

    First I would suggest that if it is true that 100,000 Iraqi civilian women and children have been killed in this war, and I doubt it is true, but whatever the number, the vast majority of them have been killed by terrorist murderers, or as the media likes to call them, insurgents. These are the ones planting bombs in places designed to kill civilians.

    On the larger point of the cost of war, any war, it must be measured in terms of it’s objectives. If you argue that this war is wrong because civilians are killed, then you can argue that any war is wrong, because civilians are killed in all wars. By that reasoning Hitler would still be in power, and you and I would be speaking German today. Or maybe Japanese. If good people won’t go to war because the cost is too high, then bad people will rule everyone.

    Ones view of the Iraq war rests on ones view of the objectives of this war. If the objective of the war was to get even with Al Queda for killing 3000 Americans, then I would agree with you that we were wrong to start the war in Iraq. I wouldn’t accept the killing of even one innocent person for that objective. But that is not the objective.

    George Bush has been very clear about what the US objectives have been in this war, the most important of which is to introduce stability and democracy to this very volatile and dangerous region of the world. If that objective is achieved, then I believe it will be worth the cost. Not because of the 3000 lives lost on 9/11/01 but because of the potential to prevent the loss of many more lives, perhaps millions of lives, at the hands of muslim jihadists in the future.

  3. laurafern says:

    Dad, you mentioned that we have to weigh the cost of war by the success of our objectives, perhaps true, but do you believe our presence in Iraq has really provided any stability and democracy in the region?

    If anything, the profile of terrorists has been raised significantly in the past five years. Now we are finding what seem like Al-Qaeda immitators in places like Canada. There have been plenty of terrorist attacks on Western countries since 9-11 and the more the war goes on, the more reports there are of Middle Eastern countries hostile toward us. If our intrusion is intended to make the Middle East feel better about us, or if we are aiming for stability and democracy in the region, it seems we are failing miserably.

    I don’t think those are really the objectives however, and I suppose if we were seeking economic growth through the selling of tanks, trucks, construction and the like, we have probably succeeded. Perhaps, even, a powerful son has avenged the failings of his powerful father.

    As far as the death toll, numbers range between 35,000 up to more than 100,000. It’s obviously hard to know, and while there have certainly been a lot of deaths due to suicide bombers and insurgents, it’s ridiculous to assert that our presence there has not killed a lot of civilians.

    Below are some random links accumulated from a google search of “how many civilians killed in Iraq?”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7967-2004Oct28.html

    http://www.iraqbodycount.net/

    http://www.unknownnews.net/casualties.html

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