August 2003 #3

Who Cries for the Nobodies?

[Tuesday's events in Iraq were shocking.] I felt anger and disgust at the demons who do such things to innocent men and women. Anyone who was around the aftermath of an IRA bombing in the Seventies would feel the same outrage, whether the innocent lives lost were taken in Belfast or Jerusalem, Beirut or New York City.

But the same kind of anger and disgust, I believe, must be directed at the man ultimately responsible for the madness in Baghdad these days. And yes, the buck stops there.

No one put a gun to George W. Bush's head and made him decide that a preemptive war in Iraq was in America's - and the world's - best interests. No one but the Bush cabal (ok, yes, Tony Blair went along for the ride, as did the cowardly Congress) believed that war was inevitable in Iraq. No one but the Bushies believed that, as Lt. Calley might say, we had to destroy Iraq in order to save it. The buck stops there.

These anti-American words are meant to stir up outrage. They are meant to point to the real cause of the death and suffering in the Middle East over the last two days. However, I didn't pen them. Rather, they came from the desk of Kenneth Neill of the Memphis Flyer. You know Memphis, in Tennessee, the Mid-Eastern, redneck state that is a bulwark of conservatism in the US. That's right, in the US there are people who hold views that parallel those of many Australians and who, in many instances, go further than any letter writers to the Age, Sydney Morning Herald or Weekend Oz.

Neill goes on to write, "the Pentagon . was quick to blame [Tuesdays] horrific crime on Al Quaeda "infiltrators." Perhaps the military is correct. But I can't help but wonder just how many "terrorists" we ourselves created with our now-famous "shock and awe" bombing campaign last March." So while world leaders and 'notables' are joined by our own Macklin, Howard, Downer, Cosgrove, Crean and I'm sure a swath of letters to the editor writers, who will or did shed tears over the death of one man (a human being of great character and resolve I'm sure), isn't it funny how when US bombers blow up a wedding party in Afghanistan or coalition soldiers shoot an innocent cameraperson like Mazen Dana, these same people don't bat an eyelid or dismiss them as unfortunate "collateral damage". The halls of power remain silent over the deaths of those who are just 'ordinary' or 'average' - like us.

You see the difference between the thousands of civilian deaths and Sergio de Mello's is that, in the main, the deaths perpetrated by our troops (that is coalition troops of which ours are a part) are carried out on people whose skin colour is not white. The value put on the life of a person with dark, swarthy, brown or yellow skin is obviously far less than that placed on one with white skin - if the public outpouring of sympathy from our elites is to be believed. de Mello, it must also be remembered did walk with the rich and powerful and he did keep the company of those in the ruling classes. Most of the civilians killed in the Middle East are barely scraping a living together and few, if any ever get to sit at the table with those who shape their life chances.

"Few among us . got to see what really happened to the folks at that Baghdad restaurant on the night of March 24th, where, we were told (at first), we'd nailed Saddam Hussein. We hadn't, of course, but the news reports diligently added that a dozen civilians were killed. Remember?" asks Neill. "Pity we couldn't see what was really happening to those real live human beings back then, just like we can see what happened Tuesday in that CBS News video. Pity we ouldn't have heard the wounded moan; pity we couldn't have seen, yes, the blood and the gore..."

The media puts a lot of emphasis on what happens to 'us' but very little effort is expended in trying to find out what we are doing to 'them'. This situation creates a normality that allows our leaders to argue that 'they' are "terrorists", "barbarians" and "uncivilised" and that 'they' perpetrate "inhuman" acts designed to "disrupt" our lives. Notice how these terms normalise the "accidents" our military has that have killed innocent civilians. 'Our' military has "accidents" 'their' response is an act of barbarism.

Neill poses the question "Perhaps today's murderous culprit was just as angry at the terror that came lashing out of the sky into his or her personal life last March, as the families in New York City were who suffered parallel catastrophes on September 11th, 2001. Perhaps he too will never forgive those who so changed his life, those who did so much to destroy his world."

Who knows what this person was before his country was invaded. Maybe, like Michael Douglas' character in Falling Down (who remains unnamed but is identified by his number plate as 'D-Fens' - he was a laid off engineer at a weapons plant), he had one distressing event too many and lost it. Maybe he was sitting on his porch one evening and a plane flew overhead and dropped a big grey canister that burst open in mid air and a huge number of small yellow tins dropped to the ground. Maybe his kids, his friends, his nieces and nephews were in the street when the cluster bomblets hit the ground, bounced up and exploded at shoulder height, decapitating some, blowing arms and legs off others.

I can't recall tears in the Houses of Parliament or other halls of power over events like this that occurred on an almost daily basis in both Afghanistan and Iraq. No tributes were offered for the women and little children killed at road blocks by trigger happy teenagers, given a gun, a uniform and orders to do what they're told while their mates were picked off by snipers. While Sergio de Mello is described as an "un-replaceable man", obviously the innocent lives taken by our troops were, by omission of tributes, totally expendable.

"How ironic that today's dose of human suffering was delivered to neither Iraqis nor Americans, but to citizens of the entire world, people whose only crime was to work for the one organization that most sentient beings realize is the only real hope for our planet's long-term future. How tragic that today's victims were the very people who have sought, through their own courageous actions, to demonstrate that the kind of unilateral sabre-rattling practiced by the Rumsfelds and Cheneys of this world is hopelessly outdated, and has no place in twenty-first century civilization, if indeed that civilization is to survive another century." So writes Neill.

You see, 'they' terrorise 'us' and 'we' defend ourselves against 'them' by killing them in order to 'liberate' them from an 'evil' oppressor. While de Mello deserves to be remembered for his good works and we get to see pictures of dying or injured UN workers, there were no cameras there to capture the deaths of the car load of women and children who were gunned down by US troops at a check point. While there were and continue to be tributes, and no doubt high level delegations will be sent to de Mello's funeral, there have been no offers of support to the widows of Palestinian men killed by Israeli troops simply because they looked 'dangerous'. There will be no wreaths sent to the mothers in Yugoslavia whose sons were killed by US warplanes while they ploughed their fields. I ask, where were the tears for the 200,000 people killed in East Timor during the Australian and US backed 25 year Indonesian occupation of that nation?

So while our media continues to offer up the 'us' and 'them' dichotomy and we continue to sit mute and lap it up, the Bushes ("bring 'em on"), the Blairs and the Howards of the world will continue to get away with murder - in our name. And we and other innocent civilians will continue to pay with our blood.

Coming from Bible belt country Kenneth Neill offers today's final words. Knowing the background and declared Christian 'faith' of the leaders of the coalition of the willing, he writes, "none of us should be surprised at the disastrous consequences that have come from Gulf War Two. This, after all, was a war launched by "leaders" who were at best misguided and ill-informed, and at worst, liars and scoundrels. You reap what you sow, as the Bible says. You reap what you sow."