By Damon Krane
March 11, 2003
Unpublished letter, submitted to The Post (Athens, Ohio)
James Yerian, the writer of Monday’s “Iraqi Children Do Not Support Saddam,” is irate at The Post for publishing an anti-war cartoon by Mike Lukovich, which depicted two children in a bullseye accompanied by the caption: “Small reasons against a war with Iraq.”
“That kind of slander,” the letter writer admonishes The Post, “that Bush would intentionally kill children, is hypocritical and beneath contempt.”
But if anything is beneath contempt, it is the contempt for democracy wrapped in a bundle of logical fallacies that marks a new low for this prolific and misguided local writer.
First of all, why is it “hypocritical,” much less “slanderous,” to point out that a US invasion of Iraq would result in the deaths of Iraqi children? Much evidence points in that direction, while none points to the contrary. An internal document produced by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, leaked to the press last month, estimates a US invasion of Iraq would initially result in 500,000 Iraqi casualties. But the loss of life wouldn’t end there. According to the report, “the effects of over twelve years of sanctions, preceded by war, have considerably increased the vulnerability of the population… [I]n the event of a crisis, 30 percent of children under five” –that’s 1.26 million children– “would be at risk of death from malnutrition.”
If the letter-writer wishes to question the validity of these numbers, I invite him to put forward his own estimates. Maybe instead of over 1 million, we’re only talking about a few thousand children being bombed and starved to death. Maybe instead of 500,000 casualties, we’re only talking about 50,000 — a loss of human life that’s only equivalent to thirteen September 11 terrorist attacks instead of 130. But whatever the specific numbers, it is undeniable that the planned “shock and awe” bombing campaign and subsequent ground invasion would result in lots of casualties, many of them civilian, many of them children.
Lukovich sees this as a reason to oppose a US attack on Iraq, but it is not inherently that. It is simply the acknowledgment of a certain consequence of this war, which, after taking other factors into account, may or may not prove justified. (Of course, let me go on record as saying that only someone as depraved as Yerian could see this war as justified.)
But by committing the “slanderous” act of pointing out an obvious truth, does Lukovich really suggest “Bush would intentionally kill children”? I would like to know what exactly Yearian means by “intentionally” and, more importantly, why he thinks it matters. Does it really make any difference to those children and their families (and anyone with a conscience that has developed past infancy) whether or not their lives are deliberately targeted or simply written off as acceptable losses?
Suppose the September 11 hijackers had left behind a note explaining they had not really “intentionally” killed thousands of noncombatants in the US. After all, if the hijackers had just wanted to kill as many Americans as possible, rather than demolishing symbols of American economic and military power, they could have picked better targets. Perhaps the WTC towers would still be on their list, but the Pentagon? So suppose the hijacker’s victims were not “intentional victims,” just some acceptable “collateral damage” (to put it in the US military’s vernacular) that happened to be in the way. Would that make a damn bit of difference to us?
Ultimately, I don’t care whether deep down George W. Bush thinks this war will advance democracy, national security, the profits of US oil corporations, or the satisfaction of his secret lust for cheese puffs. The task for us, as citizens of a supposed democracy and morally responsible human beings, is not, first and foremost, to speculate on the president’s possible intentions but to decide for ourselves whether the consequences of the actions his administration plans to pursue are justified.
Yerian uses a litany of red herrings to throw us off the trail of this real issue. For example, he claims that the anti-war movement is “funded by communist organizations.” Indeed, it is partially funded by communist organizations, along with liberal and pro-capitalist organizations. The same can be said of the Civil Rights, Anti-Apartheid, Labor, and feminist movements (not to mention the Allied powers in World War II) — all of whose opponents tried to use this to discredit them. It’s called “red-baiting,” and it’s completely irrelevant. The issue is not who opposes the war for what reasons, but whether you support or oppose it for your own reasons.
Next, Yerian claims, “The anti-war crowd is less anti-war and more anti-Bush.” If this is supposed to mean a blindly anti-Republican disposition, it’s odd that a good number of the half of Americans who oppose this war are Republicans. It’s also strange that you won’t find many in the movement who support the sanctions against Iraq responsible for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children’s deaths during Clinton’s administration — to which Madeleine Albright curtly responded, “We think the price is worth it,” six months before she became Clinton’s Secretary of State (60 Minutes, 5/12/96).
But the letter-writer suggests something much worse than simple Democratic partisanship.
“Bush is the only one actually caring about the Iraqi children,” he insists, warning us: “To say otherwise” means we “support an anti-democratic, brutal, murderous, insane dictator instead of our president”– something which “displays a mass of thought that is starkly at odds with reality.”
So let’s get this straight. Speaking the truth about the very real consequences of war puts one “starkly at odds with reality”? And to think for ones self — that is, to consider the possibility that the president is not telling us the truth, or simply a fallible human being — is not to behave as a responsible citizen of a democracy, but to “support an anti-democratic, brutal, murderous, insane dictator”?
“Hypocritical” and “slanderous” are strong words. Yerian should consult a dictionary if he intends to use them, or “reality,” in anything other than an Orwellian sense. Perhaps instead of comparing feminists to Nazis, local right-wing groups should take note of a certain fascist goofball within their own ranks.