By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Voices in the news speak in clipped abstracts: getting Saddam, destroying weapons threats, democratizing the Middle East—as if these things exist apart from the carnage we'd unleash in achieving them. Do you have a daughter or a sister? Picture her with an a leg torn off, the other trapped under the rubble of your bombed-out home, her intestines bursting out of a jagged wound in her belly, in such agony that she can't recognize you as you clutch her hand.
With the exception of some younger brothers, that is not a thought any of us wants to entertain. Yet that is the essence of war. Maybe you get Saddam, maybe you don't, maybe you do or don't find weapons caches. But you do it amidst the bodies of tens of thousands of people who woke up as innocent and who died far more innocent.
They live lives like ours, only harder, and like us, they try to make it through the day sharing some love and laughter. By everything we stand for as country, they have as much right to live as we do.
So the question is: What right do we have to say they should die so that we might perhaps sleep a bit sounder? Is it something you could explain to the Baghdad dad as he held his daughter?
Is it their fault they have a crazy fuckhead of a leader? We're the ones who supported Hussein when it suited us, who armed him and informed his secret police, who continued our support after he gassed Iranians and Kurds, and who then vetoed a UN resolution condemning his actions. Whatever presumed-but-not-proven threat he might pose is one of our own making, and now we want to rub out our mistake, along with a whole lot of innocent people you'd probably enjoy having for neighbors? Sure, they'd be better off without Hussein and might be willing to shed some blood to achieve it. But if it's their blood, it should be their decision, not one we rain down on them with godlike impunity.
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Military planners talk about their Shock and Awe battle plan causing the "psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight," like it's just a particularly gnarly fireworks show. No, it's two straight days of firing 300 to 400 cruise missiles into Baghdad, twice what we expended in the entire Gulf War, causing the sort of shock and awe you experience when you realize, "Well, fuck me, I'm dead! What's up with that?"
Freedom is wasted on you if you don't use it to be the best you can. You work on your talents so as to best share them with others. You strive to be truthful, fair and just—as you would have others treat you. When the other driver flips you off, you strive not to shoot him and his passengers. Struggling with our baser emotions—not letting fear and hatred rule you—makes you a better person.
Being a better person out loud makes you a citizen. That's what freedom requires: citizens, not just consumers. Don't get pissed off at Sean Penn or the French. They're just acting like citizens, and if you don't, too—if you don't turn off your super-sized Fear Factor episode and pay attention to the perilous things being done in our names, weigh them in your conscience and speak out on what you find there—then you don't deserve to call yourself an American.