Friday, June 02, 2006

Killing children in war and other ordinary evils

The recent concern about the Haditha...what are we calling it?...massacre?... alleged killings? murder(s)?...affair?...over-reaction? grates on our sensibilities even to think about it. Some are depicting what happened as another case of a few bad apples. Like Abu Ghraib, you know, but different. Not typical, of course.

Others admit -- and this includes me -- that whether or not such events rare or commonplace, it represents a level of retrograde behavior that can happen to any group of people under the "right" circumstances.

I came across a description of children used by Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq war. I link to this source not to minimize the impact of what happened at Haditha but to illustrate that in the context of hostilities in that part of the world the death and sacrifice of children, though tragic, is not without precedent. In this case children were used by Iran to clear mine fields.

“In the past,” wrote the semi-official Iranian daily Ettelaat as the war raged on, “we had child-volunteers: 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds. They went into the minefields. Their eyes saw nothing. Their ears heard nothing. And then, a few moments later, one saw clouds of dust. When the dust had settled again, there was nothing more to be seen of them. Somewhere, widely scattered in the landscape, there lay scraps of burnt flesh and pieces of bone.” Such scenes would henceforth be avoided, Ettelaat assured its readers. “Before entering the minefields, the children [now] wrap themselves in blankets and they roll on the ground, so that their body parts stay together after the explosion of the mines and one can carry them to the graves.”

This is from an article in New Republic by Matthias K√ľntzel, whose site I have been tracking for about a year. Posts in English are not frequent, but the site offers an angle to international relations somewhat different from what is found in the English-only media.

This piece is fairly sensationalistic, but so is that misbegotten character the Iranians have put in charge. Less extreme leaders are definitely at work behind the scenes, but given the savage nature of Ahmedinejad anything they do will have to be done in complete secrecy. There is a saying that if you draw a knife on a king you had better kill him. Anything less kills the one drawing the knife. Let us hope that his own people get to him before our own hotheads do. I am sure there are ways to advance that possibility, but I am not sure the notion has any traction in Washington.

One of the peacenik banners of the Sixties proclaimed "War is not healthy for children and other living things." It was usually displayed with the image of a flower or two which appeared to be the work of a child, cut-out pieces of construction paper pasted into a collage. It may have provoked a thought or two, but like the famous peace symbol it was more an irritant than an inspiration. When the juggernaut is rolling, trying to stop it is not what most people want.

The Council on Foreign Relations has a roundup of links about Haditha, Hamandiya (yes, another one) and reactions here and there. It concludes with a reference to My Lai, noting that the effect will not be the same today as My Lai had as the Vietnam war came to an end.
...unlike past military embarrassments, such as My Lai in Vietnam, which were instrumental in tipping the public against the war, Haditha will have "more of a solidifying impact than a shifting effect," predicts CFR Military Fellow Colonel Peter R. Mansoor.

However, Colonel Mansoor adds that the events at Haditha may further damage the U.S. image abroad, particularly in the Muslim world. Incidents like these, which are used by Muslim extremists for propaganda purposes and replayed endlessly on Arabic television, make refurbishing the American image in the Middle East a tough task, as
Karen Hughes, Washington's top public diplomacy official, told CFR in May.

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