Thursday, April 3, 2008

Four thousand plus.

Most of the text you're about to read has appeared once before in a long-ago, far-away blog. I was cleaning out some electronic files and ran across materials I wrote during that era - much earlier in this interminable Iraq war. Probably over 3000 American lives ago.

It’s not always easy to digest war. People tend to get defensive over three things: politics, religion and children. Yet wars are usually waged (or staged) in defense of at least one of the three. This war is about all three in some way. Sure, it’s hard to really put into perspective what it's all about, what our motive is, whether or not we're comfortable with invasion and occupation under the guise of spreading democracy.

But, you say, surely our occupation of Iraq is not about children? Well, directly, no. But think about the implications it will have for this generation of Iraqi and American youth, and what a vastly different experience it has been for each. Many American kids are seeing war for the first time as it unfurls noncommittally on their TV screens every evening. Well, it used to be every evening. War coverage can be pretty spotty these days with so many corporate scandals, school shootings, ball games and storm warnings. Does a kid know what an RPG or an IED is? Can she wrap her head around the motives of a suicide bomber in the same newscast as the latest exploits of Paris Hilton? Many kids no doubt think of the Sunni Triangle as a board game.

Who plays board games anymore?

Perhaps the most revealing detail in our consideration of how war affects America’s youth is the manner in which our culture has desensitized kids to not only violence, but also its antithesis: peace. When is the last time you saw a news program, magazine or paper go out of its way to celebrate peace? With the popularity and ubiquity of video games, many of them violent first-person shooters, kids have a hard time grasping the meaning behind even these electronic assaults, explosions, decapitations and raids. Is it too much, then, to expect that they might give pause to more of it, all of it real, on the news at night? Can we realistically expect that children in our culture even see the news or understand its purpose? If I had kids, it would be impossible for me to explain to them how so many people they don’t know in a place they've never heard of have been ravaged by the political and capital ministrations of so few.

As I consider how Iraqi children might view the very same war, I feel a pang of guilt. Simply put, they don’t share our luxury of being removed from the war by a pane of glass.

Not all American children are shielded from or ignorant to what’s going on, nor are all Iraqi children so innocent. It breaks my heart to hear the stories of soldiers who return hostile fire while passing through dangerous insurgent strongholds only to find out that a couple of brainwashed ten-year-olds were pulling the trigger. In what way does this parallel our own country’s militia families and extremist parents who foment hatred and distrust in their own offspring, who teach them to shoot first and ask questions later?

No matter where young people in America live, someone from their area has been killed serving this country. Someone whose name is read out loud at 6 and 10 by local news anchors with every attempt at steeping their voices in understanding and empathy despite comparative detachment. Most of us will never have the kind of empathy that would give comfort to a member of a soldier’s family, yet we pass judgments. We pay taxes. We eat cheeseburgers. We make art out of the lives of others and expect people to give a shit. Worse – pay to give a shit.

Still, people everywhere close their newspapers, shut down their computers, turn off their televisions and tuck their kids in to warm beds, sighing deeply about the tragedy of it all.

1 comment:

cweston said...

This is so well put, I don't even know how to articulate it. Can I just say, you have, dear friend, spelled out what is in my heart and mind without me knowing it. A mark of a true wordsmith. Keep on writing and I will keep reading.