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Big-Hearted or Small-Minded? Americans' Selective Sense of Compassion

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By Dave Lindorff

About that outpouring of heartfelt sympathy and aid for the poor people of Haiti following their earthquake.

Where is the same outpouring of sympathy and aid for the poor people of Afghanistan or Iraq?

Did you see the photos of the city of Fallujah, after the US Marines were through with the place in late 2004?

Fallujah after the US Marine assault in 2004

Building in Fallujah destroyed by US bombs

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The whirlwind: US Marines march into Fallujah

Have you seen the photos of the US-caused devastation in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan: The Americans were here

Afghans bury civilians killed in a US airstrike

Afghan refugee camp, 2008

Fallujah, a city of 300,000 before the US Marine assault in November, 2004, was bombed, shelled, and eventually bulldozed until much of the city was simply levelled by US forces. There was never an accurate tally of the number of civilians killed, with estimates ranging from thousands to tens of thousands. Hospitals were bombed, ambulances were shelled and destroyed, fleeing civilians were mowed down as they tried to swim to safety across the river, captured Iraqi fighters were executed by Marines. Worse yet, US forces strewed toxic weapons, including depleted uranium shells, all over the city, which is now, according to British reports, experiencing a huge rise in birth defects and infant mortality.

More broadly, it is estimated by credible medical experts that over 800,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed or died directly because of the US invasion of Iraq--a number greater than the dictator Saddam Hussein, whose overthrow was the purported justification for the invasion, killed during his decades in power. Another 1.5 million have been seriously injured. The infrastructure of the country remains largely destroyed seven years after the invasion. And as many as four million Iraqis are refugees, many of them living in camps in Syria and Jordan.

In Afghanistan, where the war is winding up, not down, nearly 10,000 Afghani civilians have been killed and another 15,000 seriously injured.

These are disasters that defy the imagination, but you don't see Americans lining up to help. Instead, we organize campaigns to send cookies, phone cards and children's letters to our "heroes" over there--the very ones who are the proximate cause of all the slaughter and the devastation.

Somehow, Americans' hearts can go out to the victims of a natural disaster, and we'll rush to our cell phones to make donations to charities that we think will provide aid and succor to the survivors. But when the disaster is of our own making, when the death and misery are the result of weapons financed by our own taxes, and the killing is being done not by politically indifferent heavy winds, torrential rains or shifting tectonic plates, but by men and women in uniform who are sometimes our own neighbors or relatives, under the orders of politicians we put in office, we aren't so quick to provide assistance.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the (more...)

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RE Iraqi civilian deaths in Fallujah: Red Cross E... by Chris Mihal on Wednesday, Feb 3, 2010 at 1:49:33 AM
I'm talking about the response of individual Ameri... by Dave Lindorff on Wednesday, Feb 3, 2010 at 6:36:42 AM
I would really appreciate if someone understands... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Feb 3, 2010 at 9:52:18 AM
While I agree that we have a lot to account for in... by Ilene Flannery Wells on Wednesday, Feb 3, 2010 at 1:58:27 PM