A Tragic Picture of Death

AP Photo / Karim KadimI stumbled across a heartrending picture of an 18 month old Iraqi boy who had been killed after being fired upon by US forces during a street battle in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood in June 2004. This picture, attached to an article in TruthDig, really hit home for me, as I have a young boy myself. It really put into perspective for me how I would feel if one of my loved ones was hurt or killed in such a manner. I debated on including the picture with this article, but finally decided to include it as it is a powerful testament to what happens in war. The picture is not nice, but it provides a jolt to those that feel disconnected from a conflict occurring far from home.

While I would like to think that I would have the moral strength to turn the other cheek and to try for a peaceful resolution with those that I felt were responsible, I know that my initial response would be one of anger and seeking revenge. It’s tough not to feel that way with something as permanent as death, especially of the young and innocent among us.

That being said, anger and revenge just continue to feed the violence and hatred that have spiraled out of control during the US-led “war on terror”. What needs to change in order to turn things around? It’s difficult to say, but the current climate of violence must end sooner rather than later.

I’m sure I’ll be hearing from the hawks out there that say, “Well, what about our dead?” and you’re right. All sides have suffered in recent years through numerous tragic events that have been inflicted from all sides. Nobody is innocent in the current world makeup. Freedom fighters, terrorists, secret agencies, spies, guerillas, armed insurgents and legitimately identified armies all have been vying for top spot in political games of domination ever since the dawn of recorded history. What differentiates the good from the bad, the right from the wrong or the morally acceptable from unacceptable?

All sides could easily justify their actions for their contributions to the current climate of violence in the world. Just War is just that… it’s justified. The question becomes: Justified by whom? The picture that I referred to above brought it to me in stark clarity: I could understand why any parent would feel the need for revenge against the US forces for what they saw was the reckless death of their young child. It doesn’t matter if the gunfight was only a small event in a much larger war on terror. The fact remained that it was a US bullet that killed their child. Numerous other examples of this abound.

And to be fair, the US has plenty to be angry about. 9/11 is only one example of terrorism at its worst. There are numerous examples of the US being targets in other countries from embassy bombings to targeting killings of US citizens overseas. None of this should justify the killing of innocents though. Unfortunately, war is a blunt instrument that doesn’t always hit with precision clarity. And that is a shame indeed.

For war is supposed to be the last resort in a politically charged game of cat and mouse. But in this case, in the Middle East, there are too many unanswered questions pertaining to the justification and causes of this conflict with no positive end in sight. In fact, there are few tangible facts to substantiate all of this loss of life. Looking back, the history books have been clouded with bad judgment, poor intelligence and hidden agendas. Conspiracy theorists are able to thrive in this market as there is no final answer or explanation for the cause of this war.

The greater problem is the implications. For the parents that have lost loved ones, there is no easy way to put aside that hatred. There is no easy way to overlook the recent past and to move towards reconciliation. There is no easy way to recover what has been lost. That’s the problem with war: the finality of its actions. Not only does it leave terrible scars in its wake, but it also leaves no easy method of recovery.

For war to be effective, there must be a way of measuring its results. In this, the US has failed miserably. There is no method of measuring success at this point. The US has provided few timelines and poor indicators of accomplishment. It would appear that the US is playing a game of whack-a-mole with no end-target with which to measure their progress.

If only the responsible world governments would approach this in a more systematic way. There are numerous causes at play here, many of which are just as vicious and harmful as the “war on terror”, only they are more subtle. Economic sanctions in particular cripple nations and lead to massive suffering among the general population. While this and other methods are important tools in controlling despotic regimes, they do little to help public opinion in these regions in the long term.

What are the solutions then? The October 2006 issue of Harpers contained an excellent article entitled “The Way Out of War” by George S. (George Stanley) McGovern and William Roe Polk that provided a detailed plan for leaving Iraq, along with some associated financial costs and benefits. It was an interesting read, as it provided some of the much needed answers to “what else can we do but fight?” The article defends strong investment in internal infrastructure as the US-led forces are phased out. The money currently spent on military intervention in Iraq would easily build a substantial infrastructure for further stability as the US pulls out. There are numerous other strategies suggested in the article, many of which mirror suggestions offered by Human Rights Watch and others.

The bottom line here is that there are numerous peaceful approaches that will help build bridges between differing cultures. The current method of blunt force trauma inflicted through war is doing little to build relationships. The current US-led actions in the Middle East is further fracturing relationships, and this is likely to impact an entire generation of people, thus delaying peace for the foreseeable future. I know that I, for one, would have a very difficult time extending an olive branch if I were in the shoes of a parent who has lost a loved one in the current fighting. It is the right thing to do, but when the impersonal nature of war becomes personal, it makes it much more difficult to be emotionally fit to resist revenge.

The way ahead must be one of peace and reconciliation. War has no place in settling disputes, regardless of the perceived benefits. Machismo and stubbornness will only continue to lead us down the path that the current US administration has been leading us down. Make a difference: Research the contributing factors into this conflict, identify workarounds or fixes to those problems that don’t rely on force, and help put them into action.

Todd Dow

Supporting links:
Truthdig article: A Culture of Atrocity
Wall Street Journal: Iraqi Death Toll Exceeds 600,000, Study Estimates
The Lancet: Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Human Rights Watch

By Todd Dow

Author, Geek, CF fundraiser & Cancer Survivor. My family, baseball, infosec, privacy & devops are a few of my favorite things.

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