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What the Rest of the World Watched on Inauguration Day
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Published on Friday, January 28, 2005 by the National Catholic Reporter
What the Rest of the World Watched on Inauguration Day
by Joan Chittister
Dublin, on U.S. Inauguration Day, didn't seem to notice. Oh, they
played a few clips that night of the American president saying, "The
survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of
liberty in other lands."
But that was not their lead story.
The picture on the front page of The Irish Times was a large four-color
picture of a small Iraqi girl. Her little body was a coil of steel. She
sat knees up, cowering, screaming madly into the dark night. Her white
clothes and spread hands and small tight face were blood-spattered. The
blood was the blood of her father and mother, shot through the car
window in Tal Afar by American soldiers while she sat beside her
parents in the car, her four brothers and sisters in the back seat.
A series of pictures of the incident played on the inside page, as
well. A 12-year-old brother, wounded in the fray, falls face down out
of the car when the car door opens, the pictures show. In another, a
soldier decked out in battle gear, holds a large automatic weapon on
the four children, all potential enemies, all possible suicide bombers,
apparently, as they cling traumatized to one another in the back seat
and the child on the ground goes on screaming in her parent's blood.
No promise of "freedom" rings in the cutline on this picture. No joy of
liberty underlies the terror on these faces here.
I found myself closing my eyes over and over again as I stared at the
story, maybe to crush the tears forming there, maybe in the hope that
the whole scene would simply disappear.
But no, like the photo of a naked little girl bathed in napalm and
running down a road in Vietnam served to crystallize the situation
there for the rest of the world, I knew that this picture of a
screaming, angry, helpless, orphaned child could do the same.
The soldiers standing in the dusk had called "halt," the story said,
but no one did. Maybe the soldiers' accents were bad. Maybe the car
motor was unduly noisy. Maybe the children were laughing loudly -- the
way children do on family trips. Whatever the case, the car did not
stop, the soldiers shot with deadly accuracy, seven lives changed in an
instant: two died in body, five died in soul.
BBC news announced that the picture was spreading across Europe like a
brushfire that morning, featured from one major newspaper to another,
served with coffee and Danish from kitchen table to kitchen table in
one country after another. I watched, while Inauguration Day dawned
across the Atlantic, as the Irish up and down the aisle on the train
from Killarney to Dublin, narrowed their eyes at the picture, shook
their heads silently and slowly over it, and then sat back heavily in
their seats, too stunned into reality to go back to business as usual
-- the real estate section, the sports section, the life-style section
of the paper.
Here was the other side of the inauguration story. No military bands
played for this one. No bulletproof viewing stands could stop the
impact of this insight into the glory of force. Here was an America
they could no longer understand. The contrast rang cruelly everywhere.
I sat back and looked out the train window myself. Would anybody in the
United States be seeing this picture today? Would the United States
ever see it, in fact? And if it is printed in the United States, will
it also cross the country like wildfire and would people hear the
unwritten story under it?
There are 54 million people in Iraq. Over half of them are under the
age of 15. Of the over 100,000 civilians dead in this war, then, over
half of them are children. We are killing children. The children are
our enemy. And we are defeating them.
"I'll tell you why I voted for George Bush," a friend of mine said. "I
voted for George Bush because he had the courage to do what Al Gore and
John Kerry would never have done."
I've been thinking about that one.
Osama Bin Laden is still alive. Sadam Hussein is still alive. Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi is still alive. Baghdad, Mosul and Fallujah are burning. But
my government has the courage to kill children or their parents. And
I'm supposed to be impressed.
That's an unfair assessment, of course. A lot of young soldiers have
died, too. A lot of weekend soldiers are maimed for life. A lot of our
kids went into the military only to get a college education and are now
shattered in soul by what they had to do to other bodies.
A lot of adult civilians have been blasted out of their homes and their
neighborhoods and their cars. More and more every day. According to
U.N. Development Fund for Women, 15 percent of wartime casualties in
World War I were civilians. In World War II, 65 percent were civilians.
By the mid '90s, over 75 percent of wartime casualties were civilians.
In Iraq, for every dead U.S. soldier, there are 14 other deaths, 93
percent of them are civilian. But those things happen in war, the story
says. It's all for a greater good, we have to remember. It's all to
free them. It's all being done to spread "liberty."
From where I stand, the only question now is who or what will free us
from the 21st century's new definition of bravery. Who will free us
from the notion that killing children or their civilian parents takes
A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Sister Joan is a best-selling author and
well-known international lecturer. She is founder and executive
director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for
Contemporary Spirituality, and past president of the Conference of
American Benedictine Prioresses and the Leadership Conference of Women
Religious. Sister Joan has been recognized by universities and national
organizations for her work for justice, peace and equality for women in
the Church and society. She is an active member of the International
© 2005 The National Catholic Reporter
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