Thursday, January 23, 2003

Horrifying photographs of the 'mile of death' from the Gulf War

From Rant of the Week...originally from metafilter

That War

I remember going out with my friend Chaka over Christmas break before he was called up...Two of my childhood friends were in the reserves. We were afraid for him and went out for beers...just like grade school (he was a grade school friend). He'd just come back from some kind of training camp before shipping out. He and my friend Brian were nurses. After his training camp, he wasn't afraid. As he explained it, the U.S. had amazing weapons that would demolish the Iraqis but protect almost all American combatants.

Strangely enough, the Army wasn't lying. At the time, I didn't believe it. (In some visceral or primitive way I suppose I 'value' an American life more than an Iraqi one...but I don't think it matters more if an American dies than an Iraqi. If I saw their families on TV it would affect me the same way.)

The Army told the truth that time.

I went to the march on Washington. I didn't know much...I was young. I had this sense that it would not 'work.' I was a weary pessimist, passive rather than a pacifist. People like me don't save the world. So seeing it through my gimlet eyes of youth it all seemed futile--almost a performance rather than an activity that could have any effect. I feel guilty that my approach to dissent is so vapid, but there it is. Although this is my approach to dissent, I desperately, desperately prayed there would be no war.

I remember the ride back from D.C. in the van more than the actual march. Perhaps because I had some kind of peculiar romantic triangle occuring at the time which ended up blowing up in my face. (It was a triangle uncreated by least, mostly.) I had never lived anywhere where it snowed and we had to drive back in the snow. I was terrified by this and even more terrified when we passed a van upside down. The people had been wearing their seatbelts and they were OK. The love triangle distracted me from the important cause and made me nervous. I cringe when I remember its results and my stupidity although it taught me a valuable lesson that perhaps facilitated these many years of unbroken monogamy.

I watched CNN constantly. I had the sense I didn't know what was going on. It made me sick--they presented it as a giant video game. Those 'smart bombs.' Occasionally you would be told that some bunch of Bagdad residents had been bombed accidentally, or a baby formula factory or what have you. I envisioned a carnage I could not see.

I now hate television news and can't watch it.

Then...when it was all over, I heard from somewhere that 100,000 Iraqis had been killed. This number is hotly disputed. The local public access station had a black picture posted with yellow words that said "For the I00,000 Iraqi dead." I sat there thinking: I don't want to live in this world. I cried but not only because I was sad for the dead and all the suffering that was caused but out of frustration and helplessness and shock.

When I spoke to Chaka again he told me it was horrible. He spent the whole time caring for Iraqis. Iraqis were surrendering everywhere. They ran out of water and drank the water in thier radiators and then began to get kidney failure. Some were starving, dying of dehydration, desperate.

He's not a sensitive guy. He is a man's man. He went to so many 'titty bars' in his job as a medical equipment salesman he told me, he got tired of titties.

But even he was disturbed by it.

You might think: How very unrealistic. Won't there be 'necessary' wars? What's 100,000 people anyway? (Or however many it was--we'll never know...Isn't that strange? Etc. Why so shaken over the Persian Gulf War with all the other atrocities that occur, etc.?

Does it seem soft? Sentimental claptrap? Self-indulgent sentimentality? Liberal bleeding heart...whatever, whatever, whatever.

Does that make any sense though? When someone on your street is run over by a car, when a friend or family member dies, when something tragic happens (even if 'necessary') don't we mourn? Aren't we sickened by the idea of tourists shot in Miami or stabbed to death on the stairs in the New York subway? Doesn't everyone go crazy when some teenage girl drowns her baby in a toilet? When some pre-teen shoots down a schoolmate everyone calls for blood.

But a war? When those bombs go awry and hit a bridge with a train on it as it they did in Serbia? Then, we're not supposed to go out into the street raging like madmen at the terror and horror about to be inflicted on others. In fact, this would be dangerous for you personally. Go to crazy over tragedy, injustice, horror or suffering and you could get fired. Lose all your friends. Frighten your acquaitances. Suppose we break down sobbing at work when we find out some school in Bagdad has been bombed 'by accident'? Suppose we rend our clothing and sit in ashes? Or worse yet: Go on a hunger strike?

Don't do that...No, any reaction other than quiet resignation or occasional futile complaint will be socially unacceptable.

I don't see the point of accepting things even if they are unavoidable. It's a good thing I don't need to join AA because I refuse to accept that which I cannot change. I can't forget any of these nightmares that have happened all around us and are still happening. One is supposed to engage in some kind of battle and fight and dissent and so forth...Sure, OK. Still, I can't seem to let that persuade me completely that I am doing anything...or that there is anything, truly, that I can do.


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