Our son was a colicky baby. I spent countless nights walking him, singing,
soothing him, holding him close.
I remember well holding Martin and hearing the drumbeat of the Persian Gulf
War on the radio news during the fall of 1990 as it grew ever louder and closer.
I remember morning headlines about the first President Bush's call for war
and reservists having to leave small children to go fight.
I shuddered then in incomprehension at world leaders who knowingly proposed
to kill other people's children and wondered whether there would ever come
a time when I felt less protective as a parent. I wondered if parents of rebellious
teenagers or young adults or full-grown adults felt less tender or conscious of
the sacredness of their child's life.
Unfortunately, 12 years later another President Bush is retracing his father's
steps, giving me the unwelcome opportunity to test my feelings and re-ask the
questions I asked in 1990.
What does innocence mean? Is a child more innocent than an adult? Is it more
outrageous to kill women and children in war than it is to kill soldiers? When
reporters draw distinctions between the deaths of civilians and soldiers, it seems
to imply that civilians' deaths are more unjust because they didn't
choose to be part of the conflict. Do soldiers always choose to be part of the
Whose death matters? Reporters tell us about "American casualties."
Is there a reason to care more about the death of the middle-class Army reservist
who left preschool children than the death of an elderly man in Iraq whose name
wasn't known by the journalist who endangered himself to even know he died?
Should I care less because she had a gun and he didn't? More because she's
an American and the man lives in the country we're fighting?
What does it mean to be vulnerable? If it means fearful and unable to protect
oneself, then who isn't vulnerable? Civilians are vulnerable. In war, soldiers
are vulnerable, too.
Who doesn't merit society's protection? Much of our culture treats
adults as being no longer innocent, vulnerable or sacred. It's as if we are
cherished as needing protection until adulthood. Do we then become less vulnerable,
less worthy of protection?
Martin is passing through the adolescent stages that give rise to caustic jokes
from parents and moments of exasperation among all parties. But I find I perceive
no less the sacredness of his life now than I did 12 years ago. While my husband
and I give our son increasing freedom to explore his world, I'm just as conscious
of what a bullet means to flesh, what land mines do to arms and legs and brains.
I'm certain that in 10 years, when Martin is an independent adult, I will
celebrate his independence. At the same time, I can't imagine that translating
into less love, less appreciation for his and all people's essential and
My job right now is to oppose war in Iraq, and I do. My job during the seemingly
inevitable conflict to come will be doing what I least like: listening for heartbreak.
In a country with as much power as ours, we must carefully translate the sanitized
reporting we receive and remind ourselves of the heartbeats, songs, wails, and
right to live of those who die from our nation's war.
War is said to be a beast. It isn't a beast, really. It's a human
creation. One where populations allow a few people in positions of power to erect
circumstances where many people, each of whom is sacred, innocent and vulnerable,
are killed as if they were not.
Margaret Krome is a columnist for The Capital Times.
Copyright 2002 The Capital Times