Children of Iraq
Michael W. Stowell
(Swans - February 2, 2004) A number of years ago, a dear friend, Edilith Eckart, traveled to Baghdad, Iraq with former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark. (1) They smuggled medical supplies in and later returned on behalf of Veterans For Peace to help rebuild water purification facilities. The videotape they brought out was shocking, heartbreaking, and unforgettable. To this day, I am haunted by the images: A young mother, herself only barely alive, clutching a swaddled infant of little more than feverish skeletal remains, the mother's eyes beseeching, her face disfigured by desperation; images of a father holding his dead child to his heart, rage and terror burning in his eyes. And the children, those conscious, reflected the stark reality of certain death by all the innocents of the ages, those wrongfully condemned, this for no other reason than that they were Iraqi.
And I was the executioner, an American. Me. I stood before them, guilty as charged, the American who did little or nothing, could do nothing, could not imagine any real means to stop the torture and murder committed in my name.
More than half a million of them tortured, then killed, by horrifying, excruciating means; struggling all the while with the hope and strength and purpose of young, unfulfilled lives, the promise of being in vigorous youth.
Edilith broke down and cried, many times, relating what her own eyes had seen, her own arms had held, her own hands had touched. We cried together, we shared our despair, our helplessness. In those infants, those innocents of Iraq, we saw the desperate children of all the ages, all those tortured souls who have died at the hands of people like me, people like you, people who witness the injustice and do little or nothing to stop it.
Now, years later, the weight of my American guilt increased one hundred fold, I cast about for relief. What can I do; what reparations can I pay; how may I atone for the crimes committed in my name? Yet I still have no answer, while the depravity continues, in every corner of the world.
I could go out in the streets and hold up a sign, but to what avail? I've marched with hundreds of thousands and we stopped nothing. I wrote commentaries and letters to newspapers and notes to my government representatives, yet the course has not changed. I produced public access television programs, phoned radio programs and acquired books and magazines for the public libraries, yet nothing has changed. Those innocent children still die to this day, around the world, in my name.
For it is not only the children who live and die in Iraq who are the children of Iraq, to my mind. Those children everywhere, in every time, who suffer at the hands of the oppressor, at my hands and your hands, those hands of the privileged, they are all the "children of Iraq" and we of the "First World" are still their oppressors. We are, by way of the lifestyles we live, the exploitive, capitalist system in which we dwell, the slave masters of old, of our heritage.
And what of those children infected with the AIDS virus? What have they done to deserve their suffering, their agonizing, and their death? Those orphans of disease who live out their tragic lives in another world, the African world of abject poverty, the "Third World" of unimaginable desperation...who shall speak for them? What of those left limbless by American landmines, those cancerous by depleted uranium, those starving by our mutual neglect?
It's nothing new, I tell myself; it has always been so, remember? Small pox-infected blankets for the starving, freezing Indians; life-long enslavement for those of the 'dark race;' slaughter for the pagans to make way for Christianity; death camps and ovens for the 'subhuman' Jews; nuclear incineration as an example of our supremacy; we of privilege write the headlines to suit our fancy, the history books to justify our greed, and so we cover our tracks, our bloody footprints and our shame.
All those are the "children of Iraq," all less fortunate than we, all worth nothing more than the price of our privilege...they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, we believe, living on the ground above all that oil, all that gold, all that wealth.
Don't call us prejudiced, either. We have people of all races in our privileged class now. Anyone can share in our heritage; the price is but the essence of our humanity; of what value is a conscience in this world of sport and competition? Trade your conscience for entertainment; chase it with a few shots and a joint. Buy a new car or a new dress or a plasma TV. Get real, get a better job, and be responsible.
In all, we have no choice, in that, in one way or another, sooner or later, we who are part of this hierarchal order, this imperialist, capitalist system, will all be held responsible. It is the way of Nature, you see, to correct injustice and recycle action and inaction. Our only real choice is in how we express our responsibility, not of how much and of what we accept.
So the "children of Iraq" beckon us all to make our decision, to express responsibility for the actions of our governments, our institutions, and our businesses, for the impact of our lifestyles. Think of it as a balance sheet, if you will; how much do you own? What is the weight of your consumption? How much do you contribute, in monetary terms, to the mechanisms through which injustice is implemented?
Whose side are you on?
For the nearer we approach the 'bottom line,' the point of no return for humanity and its environs, the clearer our choices become. As we say, the only way to not play the game is to not play the game; don't participate, lighten your load, accept your responsibility and choose your alignment, your allegiance. And do not qualify your choice; either in, or out; and make no excuses -- in the end there are none.
Now is the time, the "revolution" is upon us, to express responsibility for all the actions and inactions of the ages, those committed in our name and those of our heritage.
Count me as a child of Iraq.
© Michael W. Stowell 2004. All rights reserved. Please DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web. See our reprint policy.
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Other Essays in this Special Issue
Or jump to any one author (in alphabetical order): Tanweer Akram || Justin Alexander || Anthony Arnove || Naseer Aruri || Jan Baughman || George Capaccio || Milo Clark || Gregory Elich || Sara Flounders & John Catalinotto || Manuel García || Denis J. Halliday || Edward S. Herman || Rania Masri || Thomas J. Nagy, et al. || Michael Parenti || Louis Proyect || John Sloboda || Gerard Donnelly Smith || Michael W. Stowell
Iraq on Swans (all articles regarding Iraq published on Swans)
Outside Resources on Iraq (Web sites of interest)
Additional Resources (compiled by Tanweer Akram)