What is the worth of a single Iraqi life?
The New York Times reported that during recent months a hundred Iraqis die violently every day, 3,000 every month. In terms of size of population, that is the equivalent of 300,000 Americans a month, 10,000 every day. Yet the typical television clip on the evening news -- an explosion, automatic weapon fire, dead bodies on the streets -- has become as much a cliche as the weather report or another loss by the Cubs. The dead Iraqis are of no more value to us than artificial humans in video games. The Iraqis seem less than human, pajama-wearing people with dark skin, hate in their eyes, and a weird religion, screaming in pain over their losses. Weep with them, weep for them?
Rarely do Americans tell themselves that the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, is responsible for this slaughter. In a spasm of arrogance and power, we destroyed their political and social structure and are now unable to protect them from one another. Their blood is on the hands of our leaders who launched a war on false premises, without adequate forces, without plans for the time after the war and then sent in inept administrators who could not provide even a hint of adequate public services.
As Colin Powell, who knows something about war, unlike the president and his top thinkers, told President Bush, "If you break it, you own it." If you shatter a society, it is yours, and you're responsible for it. The United States shattered Iraq and we are responsible for the ensuing chaos that we are unable to control. So a hundred human beings are killed every day, and the most powerful military in the world (as Messrs. Rumsfeld and Cheney insist) is unable to stop the killing.
On most of the standards for a just war, the invasion of Iraq was criminally unjust. Messrs. Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to invade Iraq the day after the World Trade Center attack. They tried to persuade the people that Iraq was somehow involved in the attack. They insisted that the Iraqis possessed weapons of mass destruction. Their arguments for the war, we all know now, were not true.
There was, therefore, no just cause, no attempt to exhaust all possible alternatives short of war, no real hope for victory, no postwar plan, and no ability to prevent the postwar butchery that was easily predictable to those who understood Iraq. The war leaped from slogan to slogan -- weapons of mass destruction, the critical front in the global war on terror, stay the course, freedom and democracy in Iraq. All these slogans are false.
Were America's leaders deliberately lying? Did they really believe that the Shiites and the Sunnis would not murder one another, or did they know better? One must leave the state of their consciences to God. However, they should have known, and in the objective order, they are criminally responsible for the hundred deaths every day. They should be tried for their crimes, not that such trials are possible in our country.
The hundred who die every day are not merely numbers, they are real human beings. Their deaths are personal disasters for the dead person and also for all those who love them: parents, children, wives, husbands. Most Americans are not outraged. Iraqis are a little less than human. If a hundred people were dying every day in our neighborhoods, we would scream in outrage and horror. Not many of us are lamenting these daily tragedies. Quite the contrary, we wish the newscast would go on to the weather for the next weekend.
Is blood on the hands of those Americans who support the war? Again, one must leave them to heaven. But in the objective order it is difficult to see why they are not responsible for the mass murders. They permitted their leaders to deceive them about the war, often enthusiastically. How can they watch the continuing murders in Iraq and not feel guilty?
How would you feel if the street were drenched with the blood of your son or daughter, if your father was in the hospital with his legs blown off?
We cannot permit ourselves to grieve for Iraqi pain because then we would weep bitter and guilty tears every day.