AS INFORMING AS CHLOROFORM: DESCRIPTIONS OF THE COST OF IRAQ (AND WHAT SHOULD BE DONE)
Declamations of the immorality of the war against Iraq, so common (and so justifiable) from the Left these days, don't seem to me to capture the experience of living in the midst of the actual horror that is going on. The morally objectionable part of the war is of course the casualties, as implied both on the "mainstream" news media (as informing as chloroform), and on those hidden Web documents (which I still haven't found -- if anyone can tell me where they are, please e-mail me
) where the actual casualties are photographed.
Estimated death totals in the media, both mainstream and alternative, have so far been far too low, only in the dozens, to shatter any illusion that what we have here in Iraq is a picnic. Shattering this illusion is of course essential to shattering the faith of the pro-war crowd. I've seen and talked with pro-war counter-demonstrators at the protests I've attended -- they seem to be under the illusion that the US government will just take out Saddam Hussein, and then all Iraq, having been spared the war experience, will cheer us as liberators. One wonders if they will all claim that "it was worth it" when the total cost to humanity is summed up, as Madeleine Albright did when defending the sanctions to reporters during the Clinton era. Terms like "genocide," , regardless of their applicability (or not) to the current situation, destract the reader because of their shock value. What really informs us about the current war, like anything else, is the notion of "ethnography," so dear to an anthropological depiction of the truth. What we need, then, is a multiple ethnographic study of the lives of the dying, their experiences of death, their lives before they died. If we really want to understand it, we cannot declaim war as an isolated event to be abstracted from the lives of those affected. European Jews have done the sort of documentation I propose, in their investigations of what happened at Auschwitz -- it is time for the Left to get moving in much the same direction.
My own imagination would consider the possibility that the experience of living in Iraq today is just another horrible trauma to be added to the general pain of life under Saddam Hussein and US sanctions. Mass death, should it come in the weeks to follow, will be a rather gruesome form of mercy killing, of relieving the masses of the misery imposed by years of Saddam and sanctions. Perhaps the rest of the world will also recognize that, under global capitalism today, life will decline, through lousy dictators, so-called "elected" governments, and debilitating "structural adjustment" programs, until the people hate the act of living itself, at which point the repressive measures that finally put them out of their misery will be greeted as a form of euthanasia.
The living in Iraq, of course, can take solace in the promises of the US government to rebuild Iraq, promises which could be true -- or which could be false as they were all the previous times the US has promised to rebuild a country it has ruined. Promises as informing as chloroform. We can do better: we can wake people up, through information.