If war could bring peace, the definitive battle would have been fought millennia ago, on a wide-open field, with sticks and stones and possibly spit.
Instead, today’s armies fight on with hard drives and software, with white noise and satellites, with specks on monitors erupting in flames. And smart weapons create the same images of disfigured women holding expressionless children — head too small for the hospital pillow, body too short for the bed.
War has never fit children.
I’ve been reading old newspapers lately, clippings with torn edges, dates marked in ink at the top. In the 1991 Gulf War, more than 59,000 tons of bombs were dropped monthly on Iraq. In Vietnam, 34,000 tons were dropped monthly. Vietnam doesn’t need a date to define it. Vietnam was the sixties. Iraq was the nineties. Everything else fell in between.
Modern weapons create the same heartrending images of heartbroken men digging through rubble, searching for home, for family. If Iraq really does have nuclear facilities, why is the U.S. planning to bomb them? The UN has a ban against attacks on nuclear sites. Cruise missiles, once en-route, cannot be recalled. (In 1991, the U.S. bombed Iraqi reactors, exposing the civilian population to radioactive iodine.)
During the six-week assault on Iraq, 84,000 tons of bombs were dropped, the equivalent of five Hiroshimas. I need to repeat that: 84,000 tons of bombs rained down, the equivalent of five Hiroshimas — and children were the largest group of casualties. Many died of hunger and cold. At the Cukurca refugee camp, eighty-six died in three days.
In Iraq, U.S. forces introduced ammunition made with depleted uranium, a radioactive waste. At least 940,000 of those toxic, armour-piercing rounds were fired. Dr. Eric Hoskins, a medical doctor with fifteen years of experience working in war zones, surveyed Iraq two years after the war as part of a Harvard Study Team. He estimates that 50,000 children died in the first eight months of 1991, many from the effects of spent rounds littering the ground. UN aid workers saw Iraqi children playing with empty radioactive shells. In Basra, a child was seen using them as hand puppets.
Today, the U.S. possesses almost three-quarters of a million metric tons of depleted uranium — even though a 1996 UN subcommittee defined arms containing it as weapons of mass destruction.
The mass destruction of Iraq’s water purification facilities hastened the spread of cholera and typhoid, and hastened the deaths of thousands of children. Protocol I of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 54 prohibits the destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of a civilian population, including food and drinking water. Near Baghdad, 12-million gallons of raw sewage spewed into the Tigris River hourly. Without access to television, radio or newspapers, families continued to rely on the Tigris for their drinking water.
As many as a quarter of a million Iraqi civilians died as a result of the Gulf War.
Dr. Hoskins recently returned to Canada after another assessment mission to Iraq. His team found that 500,000 Iraqi children are malnourished and the country has only three months of medicine left. Now, with war looming once again, the children are more vulnerable than ever:
“While it is impossible to predict both the nature of any war and the number of expected deaths and injuries, casualties among children will be in the thousands, probably in the tens of thousands and possibly in the hundreds of thousands ... Iraq’s 13-million children are at grave risk of starvation, disease, death and psychological trauma.”
In 1991, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney — then Secretary of Defence — directed one of the largest and deadliest military campaigns in history. The Washington victory parade alone cost more than $12-million. The attack began late on a clear moonless night, while children were sleeping. Laser bombs work best when it’s clear; they become confused in the clouds.
If any soldier can hear me, if any soldier can read this, in the name of God, realize why you have been called there. You have been called there to kill the children. What century are we living in? What have we become?
Magie Dominic is author of The Queen of Peace Room, a personal exploration of violence in the second half of the twentieth century.