At first it seemed ludicrous to take a people, bombed into oblivion in 1991, starved and deprived by U.S.-led sanctions since then, and now bombed and shot further into oblivion in 2003, and give their attackers orders to shoot them for looting. Patrick Tyler's article in the May 13 NY Times made it clear that America's new administrator, L. Paul Bremer, means business. "Shooting a few looters so that word gets around," the words of a U.S. official, seemed a rather harsh approach for people who have suffered under Saddam Hussein for decades and under the United States for thirteen years. Shoot, police aren't even supposed to shoot looters on sight in the United States.
But after some in-depth consideration, such a policy, especially if we could import it home, might make great sense. Iraqi looters, by and large, are poor, desperate individuals, trying to get some food, building materials, furniture or an occasional small appliance. They live in a war zone, and probably wonder why foreigners can drop thousands of tons of explosives on them with no repercussions, but they will be shot, by these same foreigners, if they steal a couple of two-by-fours, a toaster oven, or a loaf of bread. Still, we can't advocate stealing-both Christianity and Islam prohibit it.
So, let's shoot those looters, but with three provisions. First, let's not ask some 19 or 20-year-old marine to do it. Let's put the gun in the hands of Mr. Bremer, or better yet, fly in George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz, et al., and let them put those red laser dots on some looters' backs and pull the trigger. We could even let them dress up as Mr. Bush did for his performance on the Abraham Lincoln.
The second provision, of course, would be to import the policy, and what better place to start shooting looters than within the ranks of corporate America. The third provision requires that the destructive power of the weapon used be in direct proportion to the value of what was stolen. If, we're going to eliminate those pesky, desperate, impoverished Iraqis with M-16s, the executives at the likes of Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth, Adelphia, Tyco, and other companies, who have looted their employees and investors of billions upon billions of dollars, need something more substantial-capitalism requires this.
Perhaps we could develop some simple formula, working with the actual value of the theft, the level of intentionally misleading information disseminated or essential information withheld, the number of innocent victims, and the values of their respective losses. For example, an executive who simply used inside knowledge for profit might be asked to face the barrel of a mortar or rocket-propelled-grenade launcher-at close range. Someone else, who profited, not only from inside knowledge, but also from a deliberate misrepresentation and/or withholding of facts, should be asked to face the cannon of a tank, or, in the most severe cases, get a close look at an air-to-surface missile under the wing of a fighter jet awaiting take-off.
Of course, we've only addressed the theft of goods and money thus far-mere material transgressions. What, pray tell, should we do with those who steal trust, hope, or even life from others? If petty theft and grand larceny buy you a bullet in the back, and corporate fraud gets you up close and personal with mortar rounds, RPGs and small missiles, what do the experts suggest for liars and murderers?
We have a split decision here. When leaders lie to further a particular agenda, when they betray the public trust, whether in a Saddam-like dictatorship, or a Bush-like plutocracy; or when they kill, or order killing, whether in an act of terror perpetrated by a small group of determined individuals or in a pre-emptive attack by a highly trained military from the wealthiest nation in history, the experts disagree.
The modernists insist that we continue up the technological evolutionary chart of weaponry-have those who attack others tied face down over the silo of a WMD of choice, and face their end in involuntary Strangelovian style, with the foreknowledge that they won't really ride that steel steer as the good Doctor did, but only briefly embrace it.
Traditionalists, however, argue that such an end would be too quick, and by its very nature not allow for public witness. Instead, they clamor for a return to the days of naked convicts hanging by their thumbs from scaffolds in the town square, hot summer sun, honey-coated genitals, a contingent of hungry red ants, and an endless supply of rotten eggs and tomatoes for passers by to throw.
Please write to your U.S. Senator and voice your opinion on this.
Of course, the uproar created by the Bush administration's plan to shoot Iraqi looters has already produced a military response, that no, they're not going to start shooting looters. Donald Rumsfeld, on the other hand, has promised a "full court press" in dealing with the current disorder in Iraq, perhaps suggesting that the police will be wearing NBA-licensed shorts and tank tops and have orders to double team anyone carrying stolen goods. Instead of "shoot to kill," the more lenient policy asserts, "no harm, no foul," which, of course, is open to interpretation, which of course, means that anything goes.
Reggie Marra is an educator, poet and author living in Connecticut. He is the founder of Integral Journeys for Pilgrims, Poets, Fools and Saints. His books include nonfiction: The Quality of Effort: Integrity in Sport and Life for Student-Athletes, Parents and Coaches (1991); and
poetry: Who Lives Better Than We Do? (2001). Visit www.integraljourneys.com to find out more