In his initial reaction yesterday to the London transit bombings, President Bush decried ''people killing innocent people." He said: ''The contrast couldn't be clearer between the intentions and the hearts of those of us who care deeply about human rights and human liberty and those who kill -- those who have got such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks."
This came a week and a half after Bush invoked the innocent in his Fort Bragg, N.C., speech in an attempt to shore up sagging American support for his invasion and occupation of Iraq. Doggedly tying 9/11 to Saddam Hussein even though no tie existed, Bush said of global terrorists: ''There is no limit to the innocent lives they are willing to take. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who exploded car bombs along a busy shopping street in Baghdad, including one outside a mosque. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who sent a suicide bomber to a teaching hospital in Mosul. We see the nature of the enemy in terrorists who behead civilian hostages and broadcast their atrocities for the world to see."
Bush also said the enemy will fail. ''The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom," he said. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair said the ''slaughter of innocent people" will fail to cower the British people, and Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin called the attack an ''unspeakable attack on the innocent."
It was all appropriate in the moment. In a greater context, there is a tragic hollowness. The world, of course, shares the sympathies of Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, who said the London bombings were a ''despicable, cowardly act." Yet every invoking of the innocents also reminds us of our despicable, cowardly killing of innocent Iraqi civilians.
Or perhaps you forgot about them. That was by design. We have rightfully mourned the loss of nearly 3,000 people on 9/11. We have begun mourning the loss of about 40 people in London. We have mourned the loss of 1,751 US soldiers, who, bless them, were following orders of their commander in chief. But to this day, there has been no major acknowledgement, let alone apology, by Bush or Blair for the massive amounts of carnage we created in a war waged over what turned out to be a lie, the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
These innocents never existed, either in Iraq or Afghanistan. ''We don't do body counts," said both General Tommy Franks, former Iraqi commander, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. When Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt was asked about the images of American soldiers killing innocent civilians on Arab television, Kimmitt said: ''My solution is quite simple: Change the channel. Change the channel to a legitimate, authoritative, honest news station. The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda. And that is lies."
The United States waged its own war of propaganda by refusing to conduct a legitimate, authoritative, honest accounting of the deaths of innocent civilians. As it urged people to change the channel, the Bush administration cut off all channels to finding out what we did to women, men, and children who were shopping, working, or leaving their mosques. In an invasion based on falsehoods, the truth of the civilian carnage might have been too hard for Americans to take, and support for the war might have ended in the first few weeks.
The propaganda of an invasion with invisible innocents surely allowed Bush to seamlessly switch his stated reason from the unique horrors of WMD to liberating an oppressed people. It is a lot easier to tell the world you are their great liberator if you do not have to own up to the thousands of dead people who will never get the chance to vote in that free election. It sounds a little bit like people who say African-Americans should be thankful for slavery because they are no longer in Africa.
Worse, this denial of death, in a war that did not have to happen, is sure to fuel the very terrorism we say we will defeat. The innocents in the so-called war on terror are always ''our" citizens or the citizens of our allies. The only innocent Iraqis are those killed by ''insurgents." Our soldiers clearly did not intend to kill innocents. But this posturing of America as the great innocent, when everyone knows we kill innocents ourselves, is likely only to make us look more like the devil in the eyes of a suicide bomber.
© 2005 Boston Globe