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Seeing the Pathos in the Middle East

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Message Edward P. Morgan
See this page for links to articles on OpEdNEws that articulate both sides on the issues in the middle east. It is the goal of OpEdNews to air opinions from both sides to stretch the envelope of discussion and communication. Hate statements are not accepted. Discussions of issues and new ideas for solutions are encouraged. .
Seeing the Pathos in the Middle East

I opened today's newspaper to find an AP photo of an Iraqi father standing over the crumpled body of his little girl lying in an open body bag. The caption read, "A father mourns the death of his child killed in a U.S. airstrike during a raid on Friday in Baqouba, Iraq."

Like so many pictures coming from the region these days, this photograph speaks volumes. The question is: are the American people and, especially, are our elected Representatives in Congress, able to take off the blinders of war-justifying rhetoric to understand what this photo represents?

Both the United States and Israel use massive technological and military superiority to "track down" and "eliminate" groups that use terrorism to advance their interests -the "insurgents" in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hezbollah in Lebanon. We repeatedly hear of air strikes that have successfully targeted terrorist cells.

Notice how those words, by themselves, convey the U.S. and Israeli "responses" as legitimate and effective. That's how the rhetoric works. But attach today's photograph to the words, and then imagine thousands of graphic photographs that could be taken of the civilians who have lost their lives in these same military actions. Then, if you can, respond empathically to the human beings grieving for the shattered lives of their children and loved ones.

Now, what does the photograph reveal? Clearly, it reveals the horrible pathos of war. American officials openly recognize and "regret" that civilian lives are sometimes the "collateral damage" of modern warfare. But that's as far as they will ever go. Regret seems enough when the rhetoric is all about getting rid of venomous terrorists who threaten us, when the public sees only the occasional photograph like this one.

But let's track this one a little further. How do human beings react when a missile launched by an invisible and distant power screams through the air and then in a deafening explosion shatters a block of houses, leaving anywhere from a few to dozens of crumpled bodies like that of the little girl? Answer: the same way human beings react when a bomb hidden in the clothing of a terrorist blows up a bus full of civilians along with a couple of soldiers -with grief, anger, and rage.

Both events spread terror among everyday civilians who are utterly helpless in the face of such attacks. If the word has any universal meaning, both are forms of terrorism. However, officials in the states that launch these attacks cannot acknowledge this reality, for it strips their actions of their most fundamental justification.

Instead, their formula of war-justifying propaganda and a cheer-leading mass media works for a while, at least until a sufficient number of these photographs are seen and the campaign gets bogged down. Thus, we need to ask further, what does the cumulative rage left behind by these attacks produce?
Well, especially in a number of younger Muslim men living in anarchic hopelessness, it eventually produces the urge to sign up with one of the outlawed groups to fight back against the outside power -to proclaim one's manhood, one's devotion to one's people, or to Allah. American should remember the anger they felt in the wake of 9/11.

Back in the nightmare days of the Vietnam war, our officials spoke of a "cross-over point," when the U.S. assault would begin to kill the enemy faster than the enemy could be replenished by new recruits. That point, of course, never materialized, but this didn't prevent officials from carrying out a slaughter that killed over 3 million Indochinese civilians while assuring us it would succeed. As more and more Americans, including soldiers themselves began to realize, the American assault created enemy recruits.

So imagine such a calculation for today's Middle East carnage. What if, hypothetically, each air attack that killed two insurgents created three new terrorist recruits among the witnesses to the attack? Or sometimes four or five such recruits? Where does this end?

Military strategists must try to estimate this war's cross-over point in order to gauge its effectiveness. Can they do this accurately? Does it even matter to decision-makers at the top-level of government? The significant dissent about the Iraq war among military personnel suggests that some have reached the same conclusion that many did in Vietnam. There is no cross-over point.

In fact, the U.S. and Israeli policies of using massive military superiority to wipe out terrorism cannot succeed. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said of the war in Vietnam, there could be "no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know the people who have been living under the curse of war" and to hear "their broken cries."

The same is true today in a struggle that may determine the world's future. As Dr. King suggested, only one path can truly succeed. We must respond to our fellow human beings -like the father in today's photograph- and join with them in insisting that political leaders -ours and theirs- respect human life and begin to chip away at the oppression that creates violence in the first place.
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Ted Morgan is Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University.
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