Sunday, January 30, 2005

"the moral heroism of his befrienders cancels out the moral turpitude of our government"

Belinda e-mailed The Nation article by Katha Pollitt that I mentioned last night. She e-mailed today to say it was fine to cite her by name and to quote this: "Why is it that we're so refusing to see what we're doing in Iraq?"

Here's an excerpt of Pollitt's column "Bittersweet Bomblets" and it's available online to everyone (not just subscribers of the print edition of The Nation):

I was listening to Morning Edition on December 30, and up came one of those end-of-the-year heart-warmers that's supposed to make you feel there's hope for this old world yet. It seems that a 9-year-old Iraqi boy, Saleh Khalaf, came across a cluster bomb and "because it was round and smooth" he picked it up and it blew off all of one hand and most of another, opened up his abdomen, took out his left eye and horribly scarred his face. His 16-year-old brother was killed. Fortunately, and this is the point of the story, he was treated "against protocol" in a US Army hospital and flown with his father for further treatment in Oakland, where he was showered with help by a generous local couple and is now learning English and American expressions like "hold your horses." Recently his mother and sisters were permitted to join him in California. "I'm happy now," says Saleh.
Spunky child, loving family, wonderful doctors, heroically kind and generous benefactors. No wonder the reporter, Luke Burbank, got a bit emotional ("the moment you meet [Saleh] you have the overwhelming urge to protect him"). But wait a minute. What was that bit about a cluster bomb? Time was, cluster bombs got at least a sentence to themselves, even in a heart-warmer--a definition, a mini-history of their infamous usage against civilian populations, maybe even a quote from one of the many organizations that have tried to ban them under the Geneva Conventions. You know, cluster bombs. Remember how during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan we read about village children blown apart by Soviet bomblets said to be brightly colored and to look like toys? Those were cluster bombs. It wasn't the Soviets, though, who dropped that "round and smooth" mini-bomb alongside the road where Saleh found it. It was the United States.
So this is what we've come to: We celebrate the rescue of one child and gloss over the inconvenient fact that it was our weapons that maimed him for life. The boy who lives cancels out the brother who died, the moral heroism of his befrienders cancels out the moral turpitude of our government, excuses ourselves, and lets us bask in poignant uplift. Over at NPR, it's a driveway moment.

The column appeared in the January 24th edition of The Nation. Click on the link before the excerpt to continue reading. It's an important point Pollitt's making. (Thank you, Belinda, for sending it in.)