Perspective: When Compassion Becomes Dissent
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WHEN COMPASSION BECOMES DISSENT
By David James Duncan
on the post-9/11 struggle to teach creative writing
while awaiting the further annihilation of Iraq
1. I HAVE BEEN SERVING MY COUNTRY, this deceptively serene Rocky
Mountain autumn, as a visiting instructor of creative writing at the
University of Montana. I lead two classes, each three hours long,
with twenty students all told. My students are not "aspiring writers"
exactly: they're the real thing, and in two months time their
collective intensity, wit, and talent have lifted our joint
undertaking into the realm of arduous but steady pleasure. Yet as the
semester unfolds and we listen to President Bush and his various
goaders and backers wage a rhetorical war on Iraq and prepare an
increasingly vague national "we" to lay waste to Saddam Hussein, the
mere teaching of creative writing has come to feel, for the first
time in my life, like a positively dissident line of work.
Creative writing requires a dual love of language and of life, human
and otherwise. The storyteller then sculpts these raw loves with
acute observation, reflection, creative struggle, allegiance to
truth, merciless awareness of the foibles of human beings, and
unstinting empathy toward human beings even so. Not only have these
strategies foundered in the post-9/11 rhetoric of the Bush
administration, they look to me to have been outlawed by two recent
federal documents: the "2002 National Security Strategy for the
United States" and the 107th Congress's "Patriot Act."
Had I been invited to proofread these puffed-up rhetorical works with
the same critical eye I am paid to apply to student rough drafts, I'd
have been forced to tell their authors that they had composed two
half-truth-telling, hypocrisy-laden pieces of sociopathic cant and
that they should throw them away and start over. Both works redefine
Earth as a heavenly body whose countries and cultures the Bush
administration and Congress were appointed to judge and police. Both
are based on the belief that opposing Bush rhetoric is traitorous,
that spying on neighbors and friends is patriotic, that fighting for
our personal freedom "obstructs enhanced surveillance procedures,"
that manufacturing and exporting weapons of destruction are our
greatest protection against weapons of destruction, that terrorizing
the citizens of other nations is the greatest safeguard against
terrorist acts against our own nation, that biological health, a
sustainable natural economy, and the conservation of ecosystems are
beneath consideration in this time of red-white-and-blue crisis, and
that a daily life of compassion and self-examination is the naïve
position of sentimentalists and weaklings.
In such an America the teaching of creative writing is one of
countless professions that has been inadvertently redefined as
dissident. This puts me in an odd position. Having signed a contract
to teach before Bush/Cheney/Powell's "New America" existed, and
knowing only the former America's literary methods, I'm left no
choice but to instruct my students in how to become what the new
national lexicon might call "better unAmericans."
2. ANOTHER EXAMPLE of how the New America forces literature into a
dissident position is Bush's presumption (stated in the National
Security Strategy, page 5) that it is the New America's "clear
responsibility to history" to "rid the world of evil." As a lifelong
student of the world's wisdom literature, it is my duty to inform
students that "ridding the world of evil" is a goal very different
from any recommended by Jesus, Buddha, or Muhammad, though not so
different from some recommended by the Josephs Stalin and McCarthy
and by Mao Tse Tung. In wisdom literature the principal evil to be
attacked by the person of faith is the evil in oneself, and a
secondary evil to be opposed is the power of anyone who victimizes
the weak. The National Security Strategy, on the other hand, is a
call for unquestioning obedience to and financial support of the Bush
administration's desire to commit our bodies, minds, ravaged
ecosystems, work force, and soldiers to an unspecified series of
international bullying actions. Regardless of what we think of this
as "patriots," those of us who maintain a politically unfashionable
love for the world's scriptures can't help but notice that this
document is a hell of a step down in the canon of literature by which
people of faith direct their lives.
Another bone I must pick with Bush's aim to "rid the world of evil"
is with its authorship. As a novelist, I daily concoct speeches
destined to emerge from the mouths of fictitious characters. This
practice compels me to point out that, every time he speaks formally
(which is to say, reads), the president is less himself than a
fictitious construct pretending to think thoughts placed in his mouth
by others. Thus we see, for example, Bush confusing the words
"region" and "regime" as he stands before the U.N. pretending to
think thoughts that necessitate war. I'm not making fun of these
stumbles. It must be hard to enunciate or understand a daily stream
of words you have not written, creatively struggled with, or
reflected upon prior to pretending, with all the world watching, to
think them. The good thing about this lack of authenticity is that
Bush may not be such as fool as to believe he can "rid the world of
evil"; the horrific thing about it is that our military might and
foreign policy are being deployed as if he can. This massive pretense
does not imply that Bush is a liar. It implies, far more seriously,
that the U.S. presidency itself has become a pretense, hence a lie.
This brings me back to the impossibility of teaching creative writing
under the pretentious new National Security Strategy without seeming
dissident. As a voluntary professional fiction writer and involuntary
amateur liar, I'm here to tell you that fiction-making and lying are
two different things. To write War and Peace required imaginative
effort. To embezzle money from a bank does, too. It should not be
necessary to explain even to Jesse Helms that this does not make
Tolstoy a bank robber. War and Peace is an imaginative invention but
also, from beginning to end, a truth-telling and a gift-giving. We
know before reading a sentence that Tolstoy "made it all up," but
this making is as altruistic and disciplined as the engineering of a
cathedral. It uses mastery of language, spectacular acts of empathy,
and meticulous insight into a web of individuals and a world to
present a man's vast, haunted love for his Russian people. And we as
readers get to recreate this love in ourselves. We get to reenter the
A lie is also an imaginative invention, but only on the part of the
liar. In hearing a lie we can't share in its creativity. Only the
liar knows he's lying. The only "gift" a lie therefore gives anyone
is belief in something that doesn't exist. This is the cruelty of all
lies. There is no corresponding cruelty in fiction. To lie is to
place upon the tongue, page, or television screen words designed to
suppress or distort the truth, usually for the sake of some
I fear that the Bush administration's claim that Iraq must be
attacked, defeated, and occupied for America's domestic safety is
just such a distortion, and that its chief aim is the embezzlement
not of cash but of Iraq's oil reserves -- the third largest on Earth.
I hope to heaven I'm wrong, but the $73 million Dick Cheney's cohorts
at Halliburton have in recent years invested in oil infrastructure in
Iraq despite the presence of Saddam casts a hell of a shadow over my
hope, as do the words of Senator Richard Lugar (R., Indiana) of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who during the July/August 2002
hearings on Iraq said, "We are going to run the oil business, we are
going to run it well, we are going to make money, and it's going to
help pay for the rehabilitation of Iraq because there is money there!"
3. THE BUSH/CHENEY/POWELL SECURITY STRATEGY and Congressional Patriot
Act present us with a daily choice between "unpatriotically" serving
living beings, the Earth, and international goodwill or
"patriotically" serving the corporate nation-state as it transforms
our military into a global police force, the world into a police
state, and Iraq into an oil-producing colony for "us" and an
internment camp for its own people. Post-9/11 anti-Saddam talk has
usurped thought, annihilated international trust, and polarized our
populace. It has endangered Americans abroad and at home. It has led
us further and further from reason, history, and physical reality.
Iraq is not Saddam Hussein. It is the cradle of civilization between
the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, home of the Sumerians and ancient
Babylonia, of The Epic of Gilgamesh, of Bedouin tribes. Iraq is
Mesopotamia, for Christ's sake, and the 944,000 cigar-sized
depleted-uranium(DU)-coated bullets we fired and abandoned there
during the Gulf War will remain radioactive roughly a million times
longer than all the time since ancient Mesopotamia was born. Leukemia
and other cancers have mushroomed since DU arrived. Military
spokespersons scoff the coincidence, claiming that DU radiation can
be blocked by a sheet of paper. I know of no man, woman, or child
with a protective sheet of paper located between their mouth and
stomach, or between their nostrils and lungs.
Iraq is not Saddam. It is twenty-two million egregiously sanctioned
people, fifty-five percent of whom now live in abject poverty, with a
majority of children now unschooled because of societal breakdown.
According to every humanitarian study I've seen, millions of Iraqis
are chronically malnourished -- a condition permanently damaging to
children. U.S. pundits who've never seen Iraq praise the U.N. Oil for
Food program as the solution to this problem and blame the ever-handy
Saddam for the program's failures. But two successive Oil for Food
head coordinators, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, resigned in
protest over the program's insufficiencies and now travel the world
preaching that malnutrition remains rampant, and that U.S. political
manipulation of the sanctions is the single greatest cause of the
humanitarian crisis in Iraq. A word from that old moralist, Leo
Tolstoy, seems in order: "I sit on a man's back, choking him and
making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very
sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means --
except by getting off his back."
4. THERE IS A SUPERSTITION -- fed most savagely these days by
politicians and news media -- holding that what we hear firsthand is
"true" or "real" and that what we merely imagine is "untrue" or
"unreal." News reports, for instance, are real, while the works of
Tolstoy are not. This is nonsense. Insofar as literature enlivens
imaginations, firms our grasp of reality, or strengthens our regard
for fellow humans, it serves the world. And insofar as the
president-character speaks scripts that deny life-threatening facts
or erode the careful distinctions that sustain civil discourse and
international goodwill, the "real" news report merely disseminates
Reportage can, and daily does, lie. Even first-hand experience can
lie. And "mere" imaginary experience can open us to truths that would
remain inaccessible forever if we had to wait for reportage or
experience to teach us the same truth. One of the greatest of human
traits, for example, is compassion, which means, literally, "to
suffer with another." But this high art is seldom born in an instant
thanks to "news" or to first-hand experiences. More often its seed is
sown via a preliminary magic known as empathy. And empathy begins
with a fictive act::
What would it be like to be that black girl four rows in front of me?
a little white girl wonders in school one morning. Her imagination
sets to work, creating unwritten fiction. In her mind she becomes the
black girl, dons her clothes, accent, skin, joins her friends after
school, goes home to her family, lives that life. No first-hand
experience is taking place. Nothing newsworthy is happening. Yet a
white-girl-turned-fictitiously-black is linking skin hue to life,
skin hue to choice of friends and neighborhood, skin hue to
opportunity and history. Words she used without thinking -- African,
color, white -- feel suddenly different. And when her imaginary game
is over they'll still sound different. Via sheer fiction, empathy
enters a human heart.
To be a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, is to immerse oneself daily
in unstinting fiction-making. Christ's words "Love thy neighbor as
thyself," to cite a famously ignored example, demand an arduous
imaginative act. This deceptively simple line orders me, as I look at
you, to imagine that I am not seeing you, but me, and then to treat
this imaginative you as if you are me. And for how long? Till the day
I die! Christ orders anyone who's serious about him to commit this
"Neighbor = Me" fiction until they forget for good which of the two
of themselves to cheat in a business deal or abandon in a crisis or
smart-bomb in a war -- at which point their imaginative act, their
fiction-making, will have turned his words into reality and they'll
be saying with Mother Teresa, "I see Christ in every woman and man."
Mahatma Gandhi insisted that he was a Christian and a Hindu and a
Muslim and a Jew. He also blessed, while dying, the Hindu fanatic who
murdered him. In the Middle East, the Balkans, Pakistan, India, New
York, Bali, we begin to see why. True, the ability to love neighbor
as self is beyond the reach of most people. But the attempt to
imagine thy neighbor as thyself is the daily work of every literary
writer and reader I know. Literature's sometimes troubling, sometimes
hilarious depictions of those annoying buffoons, our neighbors, may
be the greatest gift we writers give the world when they become
warm-up exercises for the leap toward actually loving them. Ernest
Hemingway made a wonderful statement about this. "Make it up so
truly," he advised, "that later it will happen that way." This is, I
dare say, Christ-like advice, not just to those practicing an art
form known as fiction writing, but to anyone trying to live a faith,
defend the weak, or love a neighbor.
5. IT IS MY BEST GUESS, this fifteenth day of November 2002, that the
civic grief I'm feeling and words I'm setting down will change
nothing in the visible world. Americans in power, through a torrent
of anti-literature, have turned twenty-two million of our Iraqi
neighbors into a single psychopathic monster. Though I pray I'm
wrong, and thank the international community for opposing the will of
Bush/Cheney/Powell, I still fear that the U.S. may go to war soon,
that this war will be brief but devastating, that many more children
and civilians will die, that we will never be told their numbers,
just as we were not told the numbers killed in Afghanistan or in the
Gulf War, and that many Americans for this reason will pretend that
no such dead exist. I fear that weapons of mass destruction will be
discovered in Iraq, that the discovery will be hailed as the greatest
victory yet in the war against terror, and that the U.S. will use
this victory to justify occupying Iraq with a military force whose
job it will be to cultivate international goodwill and protect us
here at home by brandishing weapons of destruction all day every day
at Muslims forbidden to brandish their own. I fear that as we shed
more red liquid to ensure a flow of black liquid back to the United
States, we will go on fighting for "homeland security," as we have
for three years, by cutting funding to Superfund sites, prying open
protected lands to industry, hamstringing laws created to protect
vanishing species, reducing safeguards against pollutants, defying
the Kyoto Accord, assisting in the corporate copyrighting of Earth's
plant and animal species and America's fresh water, curtailing civil
liberties, diverting money from education and human resources,
excluding biologists, ecologists, humanitarians, and other voices of
compassion and science from policy-making groups ruled by private
business and greed, stonewalling clean energy legislation, and
ignoring sustainable energy technologies that could prevent future
oil wars. I fear these courses of action will lead to ever greater
addiction to oil, ever more vicious foreign policy, ever more
military actions, hence an ever-more-burning desire on the part of
the world's disenfranchised to commit acts of violence against us. I
pray no such acts occur, though they already have. I pray the next
such act will not involve biochemical or nuclear weapons, though we
lead the world in the ownership and production of both. I pray, I
pray, I pray. But the only way I know to pluck from the hearts of
enemies their desire to destroy us is to remove from their lives the
sense that, for their own physical and spiritual survival, they must.
This work will require tens of thousands of acts of atonement.
Attempting one such act myself, I last year published two essays
expressing my incredulity and grief over the U.S. destruction of
Iraq's 1,400 water supply and sewage treatment plants. This
destruction took place in defiance of the Geneva Convention after the
Gulf War ended. Worse still, our Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
predicted, in 1991 documents declassified in 2001, that the
destruction of these systems would probably not harm Saddam and his
armies but would lead to epidemic disease, especially among children.
The documents go into surprising detail: they note that Iraq's rivers
contain biota and pollutants which, unless treated with chlorine,
cause cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, and other diseases. They note that
chlorine was embargoed by the sanctions, as were medicines that treat
such diseases. Knowing all this, the first Bush administration
destroyed Iraq's clean water anyway. Safe drinking water vanished.
Three hundred thousand tons of raw sewage began to flow daily into
Iraq's rivers. The sanctions on chlorine and medicine remained in
The DIA documents continued: they mentioned epidemic outbreaks of
acute diarrhea, dysentery, respiratory ailments, measles, diphtheria,
meningitis, and hepatitis B causing problems -- most notably death --
in children. They describe a refugee camp in which four fifths of the
population came down with such diseases: eighty percent of the
resulting dead were children. When a team of Harvard doctors
witnessed the epidemics in the mid-1990s and urged that sanctions
barring medicine be lifted, the DIA said the Iraqi regime was
exaggerating the incidence of disease and death for political
This argument against mercy remains in place to this day. A
now-world-famous UNICEF study estimates that 500,000 Iraqi children
age five and under have died as a result of the combination of
sanctions and purposefully fouled water.
6. BY THE TIME I FOUND and cited the UNICEF study, I knew that many
Americans had written it off as "flawed." With the help of an
Internet-deft, altruistic (and Republican) scholar, I have researched
the pros and cons of the study. I learned that the debate over the
"500,000" number is the result of understandable confusion: the same
number comes from two different sources. The first was a five-day,
Iraq-controlled 1995 study of 693 households in Baghdad alone -- a
study so shoddy that its conclusions were later withdrawn by its own
authors. Its estimate of half a million "excess child deaths" due to
U.N. sanctions became famous anyway, thanks to a 1996 Leslie Stahl
Sixty Minutes interview with then-Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright. When Stahl mentioned the flawed study's "500,000 dead,"
then asked Albright if the sanctions were still worth it, Albright
made the double mistake of responding as if the number were fact, and
of answering yes. The 500,000 number was pounced upon and often
exaggerated by humanitarians, inspiring what one might call
"counter-humanitarians" to claim in magazines as diverse as
Commonweal, The New Republic, and National Review that the number is
"in dispute" and "leftist whining" and that all blame for the deaths,
whatever the number, should be placed not on sanctions but on Saddam.
There are two problems with the counterclaims. One is that,
regardless of the number, it was the first Bush administration, not
Saddam's regime, that blew up Iraq's water treatment facilities --
and not as an act of war but as a carefully researched, postwar act
that predicted the ravaging of children. The other problem is the
findings of the 1999 child mortality study done by UNICEF.
Based on interviews conducted in no less than 40,000 Iraqi households
-- with local assistance but conducted with UNICEF involvement at
every stage and technical support from the World Health Organization
and independent analysts -- this study too concludes that roughly
500,000 more Iraqi children than would have otherwise died in the
1990s, died before reaching the age of five. To greet this finding
with politically motivated denial requires an ostrich-length neck and
a lot of deep soft sand. The report has been dissected endlessly. The
best such analysis I've found, done by Richard Garfield in 1999,
pares away numbers arrived at by shaky data but still concludes that
between 1991 and 1998 there was a "likely sum" of 350,000 excess
five-and-under child deaths in Iraq, that these deaths are "the tip
of the iceberg among damages" yet to occur, that this disaster far
exceeds any level of "acceptable damages according to the
principles...used in warfare," and that "sanctions and regulations
should be modified immediately."
When I first read the UNICEF study my wife and I happened to be
nursing our daughters through illnesses that without antibiotics
could have killed them both. The number 500,000 destroyed me. The
number 350,000 has not brought relief. When I am deeply troubled I
fall back on a few trusted mentors. An Indian mentor named Eruch once
said, "If you don't know how to take something, take it on the
physical level." The closest I can come to following this advice,
with regard to Iraq's children, is to rely on the physical senses,
eyes, and heart of a woman named Gerri Haynes.
7. GERRI IS A WOODINVILLE, Washington, nurse who heads a group called
Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. She had already been
on three missions of mercy to Iraq when, after reading my OrionOnline
essay, "A Prayer for Water and Children," she invited me to join her
on a fourth in May of 2002. She was not good at selling her proposal.
"It will be sad," she promised. I was unable to join her in part out
of fear, and in part due to other commitments. But in September 2002
I telephoned Gerri, and we talked for two hours about her four
The first thing that struck me about Gerri Haynes is how respectful
she is toward those who've not been hearing about the kinds of things
she has seen. "The psyche wants balance," she told me. "It doesn't
want a sudden shocking awareness of things that would compel us to
change our lives... In Iraq, children we saw everywhere had the
distended bellies of the chronically malnourished. Twelve-year-olds
looked like eight-year-olds... An already burdened person can hardly
bear (such) news. Most Americans are kind-hearted. The plain sight of
suffering and dying children would inspire almost any of them to
realign their lives, change their work, their habits, their thinking,
anything, if they saw they were contributing to thousands of
children's demise. It's very, very hard to hear this kind of thing."
I told Gerri that in the face of such nightmares I try to console
myself with the fact that I am not the "We" who commits military and
foreign policy atrocities. Very quietly, Gerri replied, "But we pay
taxes. So we fund these disasters. And it's a bipartisan effort. The
Clinton administration was terrible about this. It's not a
party-specific problem. This is a government run, in both parties, by
greed and multinational interests, a government that wants nothing to
do with true humanitarian aims... Human beings are all made of the
same delicate fabric. That's where my 'We' comes from."
My small consolation vanished.
We spoke of the 1999 UNICEF child mortality studies. Gerri's take:
"The numbers vary widely, from somewhere around 300,000 to a high of
maybe two million. Physicians in Baghdad, when I was there in '99,
estimated that 100 to 150 kids were dying just there, every day. But
it's a number that's impossible to prove for several reasons. One is
that the mechanisms Iraqis had for gathering statistics have not been
put back together since the Gulf War. Another is that, after it
became apparent that there were limited drugs in the hospitals, many
Iraqis stopped bringing their very sick children in. This was
particularly true in Basra, where there's a large Bedouin population.
These people just keep their kids home, and bury them at home.
Gathering exact statistics is impossible.
"We do know that the level of leukemia is greatly increased. We know
that congenital malformation has greatly increased. In May 2002 we
talked with a woman scientist, Souad Al Azzawi, who said that if the
rise in leukemia had been due, as some U.S. politicians claim, to
burning oil fires, the pollutants that have since cleared from the
environment would have caused the number of leukemia cases to come
down. Instead, leukemia levels began to rise five to seven years
after 1991 -- the expected time-frame following radiation exposure --
and have remained inordinately high. Many believe the answer is DU."
I was impressed that Gerri did not accuse. She just said "many believe."
"But this doesn't say anything," she added, "to the experience of
going to hospital after hospital and seeing every bed with a child in
it, sometimes two children per bed -- children that look to my eye as
though they are very close to death. It doesn't speak to the
experience of watching mothers and fathers feel hopeless and helpless
to save their children. We live on hope. How can we not tell other
Americans about what we have participated in creating?"
In 2000, shortly before a planned fourth trip to Iraq, Gerri Haynes
was diagnosed with breast cancer. When she mentioned this during our
interview I was already so undone by all she'd been saying that I
lacked the good grace to ask what she'd been through, or what her
prognosis was. I only know that, whatever she endured that year, in
September 2001 she was prepared to lead another humanitarian group to
Iraq. Then 9/11 happened.
She said, "The delegation had to wait for travel to again become
possible. Then they had to try to reorganize. It was difficult. It's
very expensive to go there. And time-consuming for people who have
full-time jobs -- people who are using their vacation time to do this
arduous, upsetting work."
But in May 2002, Gerri returned to Iraq yet again.
Before this recent trip -- amid all the flag-waving and war-rumblings
-- Gerri's oldest daughter tried to persuade her to stay home. Gerri
didn't describe their discussion, but she did say that, after finally
accepting Gerri's sense of mission, daughter offered mother an
old-souled piece of advice. "If you do go," she said, "be completely
present, wherever you go."
These words returned to Gerri in an Iraqi hospital virtually bereft
of medicine and hope. While her group moved from bed to bed, Gerri
approached a woman sitting next to her dying child. Gerri speaks no
Arabic. The woman spoke no English. Trying to be "present" anyway,
Gerri looked at the child, then at the woman, and placed her right
hand over her own heart.
The Iraqi mother immediately placed her right hand over her own heart.
Gerri's eyes and the mother's eyes simultaneously filled with tears.
The hospital was crowded. Gerri's visitation time was short. She
started to move to the next bed, but then remembered her daughter's
words: "Completely present..." She and the mother were already
crying, their hands over their hearts. There was nothing Gerri could
do, despite all her medical training, for the child. "How much more
present," she wondered, "is it possible to be?"
She stepped forward anyway. With no plan but vague allegiance to the
commandment, "Completely present," the nurse without medicine stepped
toward the bed of the dying child and inconsolable mother. She then
put both of her hands out, palms up.
The Iraqi mother fell into her arms.
"If only this experience were unique!" Gerri told me. "But I can't
tell you, any longer, how many mothers I"ve now held in this same
Her voice grew faint over the phone. I heard: "...diseases that
children would almost never die from in the U.S..."
I heard: "Medicine so basic..."
Then her voice faded, or maybe I drowned it out. I've never taken
interview notes while sobbing before.
8. IN 1967, during the Vietnam War, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have
felt like a minority of one when he spoke up, at the Riverside Church
in New York City, against the flag-wavers and public opinion polls of
the day. He still had the courage to say, "A time comes when silence
is betrayal. Men do not easily assume the task of opposing their
government's policy, especially in time of war. We must speak with
all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we
must speak. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the
darkness so close around us... We are called upon to speak for the
weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it
calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans
any less our brothers."
To abandon the words of Dr. King is to let the bullet kill him a
second time. I believe, based on his call, that no matter what
happens in the next war with Iraq, we lose. We lose because we have
already lost. We lost when we flew 110,000 sorties over Iraq in
forty-two days in 1991, dropping 88,500 tons of ordnance on an
unsortable tangle of military installations, palaces, power plants,
communications sites, mosques, schools, homes, civilians, soldiers in
arms, soldiers in retreat, soldiers in postures of surrender,
soldiers too shell-shocked to do anything but stand in the road and
accept annihilation. We lost when we characterized our slaughter of
the retreating Iraqi army as a "turkey shoot" and the incinerated
bodies of fathers and sons as "crispy critters." We lost when Colin
Powell, asked for the number of Iraqi dead produced by this
blitzkrieg, responded, "Frankly that's a number that doesn't interest
me very much." We lost when the first Bush administration researched
the destruction of water systems, read predictions of death to
children, and destroyed the systems anyway. We lost when we urged the
U.N. to ban chlorine and medicines, witnessed the ensuing epidemics,
and refused to ease the sanctions. We lost when we scattered tons of
depleted uranium dust over Iraq that will go on fighting all life
forms for eons. We lost when we were apprised of studies showing such
cancer increases as lymphoma (four-fold), lung (five-fold), breast
(six-fold), uterine (nearly ten-fold), skin (eleven-fold), liver
(eleven-fold), ovarian (sixteen-fold), but still denied the
connection, still make and deploy DU, and recently nixed, by
pressuring the U.N., a World Health Organization study of DU in Iraq.
We lost when, in the week following the November elections, we
allocated $355 billion toward more such global "defense" activities
in 2003. We will go on losing as long as we go on pretending to be
preventing evil by inflicting these abysmal "strategies."
There is no man or woman, no nation, no mortal power on Earth capable
of "ridding the world of evil" as George W. Bush has vowed to do. The
desire is preposterous. To act upon preposterousness with vast
military might is evil. To acquiesce in such evil is somnolence.
One and a quarter billion Muslims share this world with us. The Bush
administration seems to be seeking their mass conversion and
surrender to the values of corporate Texas. I seek to remember
Gandhi's declaration that he was a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a
Jew. I seek Dr. King's sense of brotherhood with people who surrender
five times a day "to the Merciful, the Compassionate." I seek, in the
face of my own or anyone's failure to live by the Gospels, the Koran,
the sutras, to "make it up so truly that later it will happen that
To define compassion as dissident does not alter the Compassionate.
To define mercy as unpatriotic does not change the eternally
Merciful. Gerri Haynes placing her palms out to the mother of a dying
child, that mother falling into her arms, their joined tears -- this
is a victory over evil.
The child died even so.
Jesus. Muhammad. Allah. God. Help our "strategists" and "patriots"
make up our neighbors more truly.
This essay has been abridged for the web. If you would like to read
the full article, go to <https://ssl.crocker.com/orionsoc/freeom.cfm>
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