Co-Editor, "The Crisis Papers."
December 7, 2005
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity...
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
W. B. Yeats
Like Shakespeare’s Brutus, I am sick of many griefs.
An incurious, narcissistic psychopath sits in the Oval Office – an office he did not legitimately win four years ago – an office that he may have seized last month through massive, many-faceted electoral manipulation and fraud.
Forty million of our citizens are without health insurance, one out of six American children live in poverty, uncounted millions are out of work as still more jobs are exported overseas. The median family income declines as the nation’s wealth continues to “percolate up” from the pockets of the needy and the productive middle class to the wealthy.
The list of horrors continues: the environment ravished, our natural heritage sold off, education starved of funding, our civil liberties casually violated as if the Bill of Rights had never been ratified, scientific expertise and research set aside in favor of dogma, both religious and secular.
Meanwhile, the voice of dissent is banished from the mainstream media and retreats to the universities and the internet. And how long dissent will be tolerated in these refuges of unfettered thought is anyone’s guess.
Throughout all this, the American public sits misinformed, stunned, bewildered, and passive.
And yet, in this winter of my discontent, all this is secondary in my heart and soul.
Above all else, I grieve for the devastation that we have brought upon an unthreatening sovereign country, Iraq. I grieve for the innocent lives lost, the innocent bodies mutilated, the devastating losses visited upon the survivors.
Not a day goes by that I am not haunted by the lamentations of the Baghdad bloggers, “River” and “Salam Pax,.” and the images of the humiliated prisoners at Abu Ghraib. And above all, I am haunted by the faces of the beautiful dark-eyed children of Iraq – those vibrantly alive, and those broken in brutal death. All this provokes in me a grief and a despair beyond words.
Why has my government brought this devastation upon the people of Iraq? Not to disarm the weapons of mass destruction, for we now know that there were none. Not to break up an alliance with terrorists, for it was known all along that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were sworn enemies. The entire justification for war that Colin Powell presented to the United Nations in February, 2003, we have now learned, was a tissue of lies.
And yet the slaughter continues.
One Hundred Thousand innocent dead. Can one comprehend that multitude? Think of the Rose Bowl, filled to its capacity of 90,000. Then think of everyone therein, killed, one by one, for no justifiable reason.
But to imagine a sea of faces is to imagine an abstraction. Reflect, if you can bear it, upon the particular victims.
In a remote village near the Syrian border, a wedding feast had just finished, as the new bride and groom were led to their marriage tent for the night.
"The bombing started at 3am," [said a sister-in-law of the groom] from her bed in the emergency ward at Ramadi general hospital, 60 miles west of Baghdad. "We went out of the house and the American soldiers started to shoot us. They were shooting low on the ground and targeting us one by one," she said. She ran with her youngest child in her arms and her two young boys, Ali and Hamza, close behind. As she crossed the fields a shell exploded close to her, fracturing her legs and knocking her to the ground.
She lay there and a second round hit her on the right arm. By then her two boys lay dead. "I left them because they were dead," she said. One, she saw, had been decapitated by a shell...
By the time the sun rose on Wednesday over the Rakat family house, the raid had claimed 42 lives...
Among the dead were 27 members of the extended Rakat family, their wedding guests and even the band of musicians hired to play at the ceremony... 11 of the dead were women and 14 were children. (McCarthy)
The words of Walt Whitman resound in my mind and torture my conscience:
Beat! beat! drums! - blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows - through doors - burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet -
no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace,
ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums - so shrill you bugles blow.
A Baghdad family encounters an American checkpoint:
The family of 17 had packed into its 1974 Land Rover wearing their best clothes for the trip through the American lines "to look American". But at the next checkpoint, the American soldiers opened fire....
[The father] said 11 members of his family were killed - his daughters aged two and five, his son aged three, his parents, two older brothers, their wives and two nieces aged 12 and 15.
His wife Lamea, who is nine months pregnant, said she saw her children die. "I saw the heads of my two little girls come off," 36-year-old Lamea said. "My girls, I watched their heads come off their bodies. My son is dead." (Ananova)
At a house in Baghdad. The father laments the loss of his daughter:
"A shell came down into the room as she was standing by the dressing-table," Najem says. "My daughter had just completed her PhD in Psychology and was waiting for her first job. She was born in 1970. She was 33. She was very clever.
"Everyone said I have a fabulous daughter. She spent all her time studying. Her head buried in books. She didn't have a care about going out enjoying herself. My other daughter [Alia] is the same. She has a Master's degree in English and teaches at the university. Me? I'm just a lorry driver. A simple man." ...
"I don't know what humanity Bush is calling for," [Alia] says in English, "Is this the humanity which lost my sister?” (Antonowicz)
Beat! beat! drums! - blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities - over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses?
no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers` bargains by day -
no brokers or speculators-would they continue?
Would the talkers be taking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums - you bugles wilder blow.
In his new book, The Fall of Baghdad, Jon Lee Anderson recalls the time he visited a hospital, and looked upon the body of a child, the victim of American bombing.
Before the cloth covered her, I saw that the girl was covered in blood. Her brother looked as though he were sleeping. But they both were dead. Their mother was there, beside herself with grief. She was the woman I had heard wailing and hitting the walls. Then almost all the onlookers around the mother, including the doctors and nurses, broke down and cried. I was overcome and went outside and sat down. I wept. The children's father was sitting a few feet away from me, disconsolately sobbing into his arms. (Hedges)
Beat! beat! drums! - blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley - stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid - mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child`s voice be heard, nor the mother`s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead
where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums - so loud you bugles blow.
Pause for a moment and contemplate the inconsolable grief caused by the needless death of one of these innocents. Now multiply that grief by one hundred thousand.
One hundred thousand dead, two thousand more in Falluja, “the city of mosques.” One-hundred and fifty thousand American soldiers wrenched from their families and their careers, ordered to become instruments of this atrocity. 1,272 dead, returning in “transfer tubes,” unmourned by their “Commander in Chief.” 18,000 more horribly mutilated. An uncounted more, emotionally crippled for life with post-traumatic stress disorders.
And for what? Not to find and disarm WMDs. Not to combat “terrorism.” Do we cause this mayhem to impose upon the Iraqis our brand of “democracy,” even though the Iraqis emphatically tell us, with polls and with bullets, they do not want our kind of “democracy”?
By what mandate of heaven, earth, “the invisible hand of the market,” or whatever else, do we claim the privilege of wasting these precious lives – lives, if we affirm our founding Declaration, that are created equal to our own?
What pluperfect arrogance leads us to proclaim that our “way of life” is, for all peoples at all times, the best and the only way – that we know, better than the Iraqis themselves, the economic system and the political structure that is best for Iraq? How dare we impose this politico-economy order upon them “for their own good,” whether they want it or not, and then call it “democracy”? Why must we resolve to fight for this imposition of an alien ideology to the last drop of Iraqi blood?
This war was a horrible mistake. What American soldier, what innocent Iraqi citizen, will be the last to die for this mistake?
The voices of the quick and the dead cry out: Stop! In the name of all that is holy, humane and compassionate – stop immediately! Let there be no more dead and crippled children. Let there be no more grieving parents. Let not another soldier’s blood be spilled in behalf of a fool’s errand. Let not another patriot’s blood be spilled defending his country against the invader.
Yet we do not stop. We seem to be locked into a course leading to straight to disaster for Iraq and for the United States as well. Once admired, we are now despised throughout the world, as we are led by a man-child who is unmoved by reason and evidence, deaf to the advice of others, incapable both of considering alternative courses of action or of admitting error on his part.
Meanwhile, silently, gradually, but inexorably, the civilized world quarantines this madness as it forms alliances to counteract it. We alienate our foreign creditors and the suppliers of our essential resources – nations which could, in alliance, bring ruin upon our rogue country without firing a shot.
Many wise and capable Americans are fully aware of the perils before us. But they are denied public office, or a voice in our media.
Where is our Mohandas Gandhi, our Nelson Mandella, our Andrei Sakharov, our Martin Luther King, who will lead us out of this moral quagmire? Who are the citizens who will follow?
The honor of the American republic has been besmirched by the usurpers and empire builders in Washington. And now, only the American people can restore the honor of the United States of America.
We can embrace that awesome responsibility with courage and resolve, or else we can lament, wait, and hope that “someone else” will somehow set things straight. As we wait and hope, the oligarchs and theocrats will solidify their control, and the light of American liberty will flicker and die. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people truly “shall not perish from the earth.” However, it will thrive elsewhere, as we relinquish it here forever.
Unless we act, now.
So write letters to Washington, your state capitol, and your local newspapers. Boycott the mainstream media and its sponsors, run for office, contribute to MoveOn and ACT. Meet with friends, make your views known, organize, demonstrate, raise Hell. At first it will all seem random, pointless, and unavailing. But be patient and be alert. Today, dissent is scattered and inchoate. But soon a movement will congeal and leaders will emerge with an agenda and a coordinated plan of resistance.
A generation ago, the American people put an end to an immoral war, and forced the resignation of another unworthy president.
We can do it again.
Ananova: "Survivors Describe Horror and Disbelief at US Checkpoint Shooting."
Anton Antonowicz: "The Saddest Story of All."
Chris Hedges: "On War," New York Review of Books. www.nybooks.com/articles/17630
Rory McCarthy: “Wedding massacre survivors: 'US soldiers started to shoot us, one by one',”
The Guardian, www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1221658,00.html
Copyright 2004, by Ernest Partridge