On the day when most of us wondered if we actually were going to start bombing Syria, someone sent me a link to a video. It features a young teen singer who was competing on the X Factor television program in Australia. Few people can watch this video without becoming pretty emotional. You see, this 17-year old boy is one of two brothers from Iraq who were adopted when they were babies by an Australian couple. Both were missing part, or all of their arms and parts of their legs, with severe wounds all over their bodies. As tragic as this may sound, both of them virtually glowed with smiles that would light up a building. You could have said the same for their adoptive mother.
When Emanuel Kelly started to sing Imagine, by John Lennon, the audience went crazy. He indeed has a beautiful voice. (See the video here) How strange it seemed to hear this gorgeous voice coming out of an otherwise broken and tortured body. I do not know how they were wounded as babies, but there is a pretty good chance it was caused by bombs our military dropped. This was paid for by our taxes. Even more likely, it went on our national credit card as we have still not paid for that so-called war.
Over the last couple of years, I have watched this video at least six times. I have never been able to get through it without a few tears. But on this day, as I waited to hear how Congress was going to vote on the limited bombing of Syria, as I pondered what President Obama was really going to do, I literally broke down. How could we do this again? Did we not learn from Vietnam? Did we not learn from Iraq? Are we not learning from Afghanistan?
Just a few days earlier I was in a coffee shop trying to catch up on some email. I overheard two men talking, one rather loudly. He was making the case that we won the war in Iraq. I would guess both of these men were in their early forties. Although I could not tell if either of them had served in the war, they clearly did not agree. I could not help but wonder how anyone could believe we won anything but a lot of heartache and a lot of debt.
Apparently their differences reflect those of the rest of our nation. As we all watch Iraq evolve into more and more of a police state, an increasing number of people are openly questioning if we improved anything with the trillions of dollars we invested. The majority of the country has felt this war was wrong from the beginning. Now, as we look at the wreckage of lives and the economy because of our country’s hegemony, the number of people who are dissatisfied continues to grow.
But it does not end there. According to a Pew Research Center poll less than one-third of Americans who participated in combat there, believe the reasons for going to war justified the loss in blood and treasure. We lost nearly 4,500 young lives in Iraq alone and that does not begin to count the physically and mentally wounded young people who will never have the opportunity to lead a normal life.
Admittedly, in the past, I have been able to live with this because I could tell myself these young people volunteered. I would try and convince myself these soldiers were like the nearly 1,500 contractors who lost their lives. They volunteered to go to Iraq and Afghanistan because of the financial gains they could make. It was their decision.
I know this was too simplistic and in some ways unfair. Some of these young soldiers did not have a choice if they wanted to eat and/or support their families. It should also be noted that the same Pew study reported 74 percent of the vets feel their military experience helped them get ahead when they returned to civilian life. Further, 96 percent said their service had helped them mature and be better citizens.
As I looked at the statistics, I realized the numbers we like to ignore have to do with what we so casually refer to as collateral damage. You see, this is where Emanuel Kelly and his brother come into the often untold story. These beautiful babies, now with damaged bodies, are just two of what was likely hundreds of thousands children wounded and orphaned in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Only because of a beautiful woman from Australia with a huge heart, could these two be considered the lucky ones. There are still tens of thousands of young people with torn bodies lying in dirty beds in most parts of Iraq.
The UN reports that somewhere around 870,000 Iraqis lost their lives during the invasion and ensuing war. It is difficult to accurately count the number of orphans in Iraq now, but in 2007 the UN reported there were over 40,000 children in orphanages. Roughly 40 percent of them were physically wounded. Like Emanuel and his brother, many of these children were severely wounded and unwanted by their extended families.
The quote below is from a presentation given in the Dialogue sessions of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, in May of 2012. It was reported by Chris Floyd.
“…Line up the bodies of the children, the thousands of children—the infants, the toddlers, the school kids—whose bodies were torn to pieces, burned alive or riddled with bullets during the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Line them up in the desert sand, walk past them, mile after mile, all those twisted corpses, those scraps of torn flesh and seeping viscera, those blank faces, those staring eyes fixed forever on nothingness. This is the reality of what happened in Iraq; there is no other reality….”
We call this collateral damage when it is not our child, our mother, our wife or husband. But we call it a catastrophe and evil if it is our loved ones, like in New York. This is what I cried about on the eve of a potential attack on Syria as I listened to Emanuel sing, Imagine.
I do not believe there is such a thing as a just war anymore, if there ever was one. Our weapons are too destructive and wars are seldom about territory or borders. They cannot be decisively won. Today wars are mostly about ideology and religion. They are about culture. Certainly we have not been winners in the last three wars which we have initiated and participated in. There are far more meaningful and sophisticated ways to deal with conflict today. We could do better if we developed different attitudes and skills at conflict resolution. It would also help if our leaders knew a little more about the history and cultures of the areas in which we get involved.
But first we have to admit war is big business. It makes some very powerful people in our beloved country a lot of money. Former Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, warned us of the threat of the military-industrial complex in his final speech as President in 1961. His message has become more powerful and relevant than ever. We also must deal with the policies that allow members of Congress, generals and even the vice president, to influence bills that shift billions of dollars to companies that benefit from war. We must also remove their right to join those companies offering extravagant salaries and stock incentives.
I cannot help but think we would be in a lot better position today if we had used the trillions of dollars we wasted on the last three wars differently. What if we had rebuilt our schools and universities, modernized our infrastructure, invested in research and development and trained new scientists? Think how much we could have done helping other countries rebuild and redirect their economies. Just imagine what it would be like to be part of a country with a reputation for making peace rather than war. Imagine what a different world we would live in. Maybe that is what Emanuel Kelly was thinking when he sang the John Lennon song so beautifully.