Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Post #88 - Taking Out Natanz

Dave Robinson, in his report he made to the membership of Pax Christi, the Catholic peace organization he leads, wrote this sobering personal note about Natanz and a home for young women that is located there:

"Noora is seventeen years old. She wants to be an engineer. A victim of parental abuse by her drug addicted parents, Noora lives at Alame Majlesi…She and the other two dozen teenagers that live [there] are like teenagers anywhere. They share the same hopes, fears, dreams and aspirations that all young people have.
Noora (center)
"These young women…are anonymous participants in this unfolding fiasco. Few people have ever heard of Alame Majlesi. But everyone has heard of Natanz. In a patch of desert just 10 miles outside town lies the Uranium Enrichment Facility (UEF) that has become the fulcrum point in the standoff with Iran over the future of its nuclear energy program. It is also ground zero in the U.S. plans to wage another preventive war.
"Physicians for Social Responsibility modeled an attack on these facilities, concluding that 2.6 million people would die within the first 48 hours... "

These projections, as sobering as they are, are only statistics. It is so hard to get a real sense of the human costs, even of conventional explosives. One can read accounts like that given by journalist/author Asne Seierstad of her time in Baghdad during the “shock and awe” bombardment:

"It is nearly midday. Zahra will be home soon. She and her family have decided to move back to the house in...Baghdad. In order to escape the bombs they have been living with relatives in a Baghdad suburb for a week. Now that the ground war is drawing near they feel it would be safer to live closer to the town centre.
"Zahra sits at the back of the minibus holding the baby in her arms. With her are her husband, sisters, mother and three children. The bus stops and they get out.
A tanker is parked nearby. The driver wants to have his lunch in Restaurant Ristafa, one of the few [in Baghdad] to stay open...A bunch of children play in the dust that covers the ground after the last days' sandstorms.
"Before the driver has made it across the street...a missile hits the pavement close to the lorry. Flames shoot up. The driver and those standing close by are killed instantly. The air pressure causes Zahra's entire family to fall to the ground.

Baghdad Street after a bombing attack
"Out of a house close by Muhammad comes running. He heard the noise and wants to see what happened. A further missile zips past, hits the ground and radiates deadly fragments in every direction. The twenty-two-year-old falls, screaming. One leg is a bloody pulp, the other peppered with metal. Around the square, bodies fall to the ground from the air pressure, the shards, the shock. The tanker is blazing and twenty other cars catch fire. Anyone who was passing by when the missile hit perishes in their burning cars. The market shops lie in ruins and ten or so apartments are a total loss. Ristafa is crushed; those partaking of lunch are killed.
"Screams rend the air. Blood runs into the sand on the street and pavements. Those who can, get up. Zahra and her family lie still; they are all unconscious. Muhammed is on the ground bellowing with pain. By his side lies a man whose artery has been severed; blood pumps from his body. They are both conscious when the ambulance arrives.
"About thirty wounded are brought to al-Zahrawi Hospital close by. The man with the severed artery dies on the way...Torn off body parts are removed from the street. After a few hours only the blood in the sand remains...
"Angry, frightened and soaked to the skin, people remain standing there. Their neighborhood has been attacked. “Bush said he would only attack military targets, but what is this?,” Someone screams. “They want to destroy us,” someone else calls out. “This is no military target... He should be ashamed of himself!”
"Zahra wakes up. She has shards of shrapnel all over her body and four broken ribs. Her daughter Aisha stands by her bed. Aisha's hair is matted with mud but she is unhurt. She pats mother's shoulder, caresses her arm.
"Zahra gives her daughter a faint smile. Her husband lies in the bed next to hers; he has wounds all over his body...Grandmother lies by the wall. Her ear was ripped off and she wears a bloody bandage round her head.
"'Three babies have been seriously wounded; one has deep cuts in his head, the other was hit by shrapnel. A tiny baby whose mother lost hold of it in the blast was thrown against a wall and is seriously wounded,' Doctor Sermed al-Gainlani says. He is treating the first patients following the missile attack.
"'Awful,' the doctor sighs. 'These are innocent people and did not deserve this. But such is war. More will be killed, more will be wounded. To believe anything else would be to deceive oneself. This will be far worse than anything we have previously seen,' he says quietly."

The missiles and bombs had merely done what bombs – whether crude or high-tech -- are designed to do: destroy. As our last president might have said, “Mission accomplished.” In the last century, 62 million civilians were killed in wars, versus only 43 million military personnel; that imbalance seems to be a characteristic feature of “modern” warfare, and it's getting worse. So it is today in Iraq, with the number of civilian casualties – Iraqis and others -- mounting with each month that goes by, far beyond the uniformed dead and wounded. Iran, if that country is subject to nuclear attack, will be still worse.

But this was not just a tragedy for those on the receiving end of the masses of metal and explosives flung through the air. It was a tragedy, only now fully unfolding, for the troops who dutifully carried out their instructions, who had to make hard choices with insufficient information, who did things of which they hadn't thought themselves capable. Who were, in short, sent to war. Here again is Seierstad, reporting a phone conversation between her, in the besieged Iraqi capital, and a French journalist embedded with U.S. troops who were approaching Baghdad: “We are standing by a bridge outside Baghdad, but as I don't have a proper map I don't know which one."  Her colleague, named Laurent, has been accompanying a unit from Kuwait.  Now, three weeks on, he has some gruesome stories to tell:

“They are petrified and shoot before they think. One day they killed two little boys who were walking on the roadside. Suddenly they were lying on the ground. One time an old man was crossing the road. The Americans shot a warning shot but he did not react. They shot again but he continued to walk on. Then they picked him off and just left him lying in the road....American logic runs along these lines: 'If we shoot and they run, they are civilians.' So if they don't hide they are soldiers. Hence they shot and killed a woman in a field on the outskirts of the village. Everyone ran for cover. In other words: They were civilians. The Americans claim that fewer people are killed in this way. It is better to kill someone at once, in order to make people understand that they must stay inside, than to drive through an unknown village where someone might be a suicide bomber...
"The American battle thesis is: 1. Protect yourselves. 2. Win the war. Their fear makes them dangerous. Today they shot at a father who was leading his son and daughter by the hand. The father was not hit but both children were mortally wounded. The Americans just wanted to drive on, but I couldn't take it any longer. I screamed at the driver, 'What the hell! You can't just drive on and let them bleed to death. I was so angry he had to stop. I got one of the cars to turn around and we drove them to a field hospital. I don't know any more – we had to leave. I'm quite sure the little girl died, she had lost so much blood, was nearly unconscious when we got there.
"Laurent sighs...'They cry at night.'
Girl whose family was killed accidentally
"'The soldiers. I'm sure lots of them will have problems. Only a few do the actual shooting. As though they enjoy it. No one is punished. I have never seen such trigger-happy soldiers,' Laurent says. He has covered wars all over the world for the last twenty years. A bullet smashed his knee in Gaza a few years back and has left him with a limp. His trip to Iraq is the first one since the accident."

Is this account accurate? Who knows for sure; you are now getting it third-hand. But we all know that such things do happen in war; more and more disturbing stories from returned Iraq vets are coming out every day: post-traumatic stress syndrome, nightmares, personality changes.

If there is a war with Iran, there will be American casualties. Deaths, painful injuries, long-term disabilities, and emotional devastation. And eventually – inevitably – moral decay. Every war has Johnny marching home a different person than he was when he left. And so, our society changes a little each time. Sodom and Gomorah did not become libertine, or Rome decadent, overnight. But societies do change. We hold our future in our hands in every present moment.

I remember sitting with a fellow school teacher on the carpet in the house we shared in Firuzkuh, Iran, attempting to translate a love-song then popular in Iran called “Aineh Shekasteh” (“The Broken Mirror”). Despite his weak English and my fledgling Persian, we managed to some up with a passable rendering of the wise, wistful and melancholy lyrics. I thought of him one spring morning not long ago. After reading Seierstad’s account of war in Baghdad at a Starbuck's, I passed a Washington row-house whose residents had left a full-length bedroom mirror to be picked up a trash truck. It was obvious why it had to be discarded; it had taken a bad hit and broken into several hundred pieces. The shards were still in their original places, encased in the mirror frame, but it was difficult to see one’s image for all lines in its crazed surface. A little more shattering and my image would disappear entirely, the cracks themselves having become the image, rather than what was reflected by the mirror.

It occurred to me that there are only so many “hits” – like complicity in the “inadvertent” death of innocents from bombs that our taxes buy -- that we can inflect on our moral selves before the mirror will show a self that we can no longer recognize. Then the glass will be only a picture of brokenness, no longer one of humanity.

(To be continued...)

No comments:

Post a Comment