|What the Rest of the World Watched
on (Bush's) Inauguration Day
Published on Friday, January 28, 2005 by the National
by Joan Chittister
Dublin, on U.S. Inauguration Day, didn't seem to notice. Oh, they played
a few clips that night of the American president saying, "The
survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of
liberty in other lands."
But that was not their lead story.
The picture on the front page of The Irish Times was a
large four-color picture of a small Iraqi girl. Her little body was a
coil of steel. She sat knees up, cowering, screaming madly into the dark
night. Her white clothes and spread hands and small tight face were
blood-spattered. The blood was the blood of her father and mother, shot
through the car window in Tal Afar by American soldiers while she sat
beside her parents in the car, her four brothers and sisters in the back
seat. A series of pictures of the incident played on the inside
page, as well. A 12-year-old brother, wounded in the fray, falls face
down out of the car when the car door opens, the pictures show. In
another, a soldier decked out in battle gear, holds a large automatic
weapon on the four children, all potential enemies, all possible suicide
bombers, apparently, as they cling traumatized to one another in the
back seat and the child on the ground goes on screaming in her parent's
No promise of "freedom" rings in the cutline
on this picture. No joy of liberty underlies the terror on these faces
I found myself closing my eyes over and over again as
I stared at the story, maybe to crush the tears forming there, maybe in
the hope that the whole scene would simply disappear.
But no, like the photo of a naked little girl bathed
in napalm and running down a road in Vietnam served to crystallize the
situation there for the rest of the world, I knew that this picture of a
screaming, angry, helpless, orphaned child could do the same.
The soldiers standing in the dusk had called
"halt," the story said, but no one did. Maybe the soldiers'
accents were bad. Maybe the car motor was unduly noisy. Maybe the
children were laughing loudly -- the way children do on family trips.
Whatever the case, the car did not stop, the soldiers shot with deadly
accuracy, seven lives changed in an instant: two died in body, five died
BBC news announced that the picture was spreading
across Europe like a brushfire that morning, featured from one major
newspaper to another, served with coffee and Danish from kitchen table
to kitchen table in one country after another. I watched, while
Inauguration Day dawned across the Atlantic, as the Irish up and down
the aisle on the train from Killarney to Dublin, narrowed their eyes at
the picture, shook their heads silently and slowly over it, and then sat
back heavily in their seats, too stunned into reality to go back to
business as usual -- the real estate section, the sports section, the
life-style section of the paper.
Here was the other side of the inauguration story. No
military bands played for this one. No bulletproof viewing stands could
stop the impact of this insight into the glory of force. Here was an
America they could no longer understand. The contrast rang cruelly
I sat back and looked out the train window myself.
Would anybody in the United States be seeing this picture today? Would
the United States ever see it, in fact? And if it is printed in the
United States, will it also cross the country like wildfire and would
people hear the unwritten story under it?
There are 54 million people in Iraq. Over half of them
are under the age of 15. Of the over 100,000 civilians dead in this war,
then, over half of them are children. We are killing children. The
children are our enemy. And we are defeating them.
"I'll tell you why I voted for George Bush,"
a friend of mine said. "I voted for George Bush because he had the
courage to do what Al Gore and John Kerry would never have done."
I've been thinking about that one.
Osama Bin Laden is still alive. Sadam Hussein is still
alive. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is still alive. Baghdad, Mosul and Fallujah
are burning. But my government has the courage to kill children or their
parents. And I'm supposed to be impressed.
That's an unfair assessment, of course. A lot of young
soldiers have died, too. A lot of weekend soldiers are maimed for life.
A lot of our kids went into the military only to get a college education
and are now shattered in soul by what they had to do to other bodies.
A lot of adult civilians have been blasted out of
their homes and their neighborhoods and their cars. More and more every
day. According to U.N. Development Fund for Women, 15 percent of wartime
casualties in World War I were civilians. In World War II, 65 percent
were civilians. By the mid '90s, over 75 percent of wartime casualties
In Iraq, for every dead U.S. soldier, there are 14
other deaths, 93 percent of them are civilian. But those things happen
in war, the story says. It's all for a greater good, we have to
remember. It's all to free them. It's all being done to spread
From where I stand, the only question now is who or
what will free us from the 21st century's new definition of bravery. Who
will free us from the notion that killing children or their civilian
parents takes courage?
A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Sister Joan is a
best-selling author and well-known international lecturer. She is
founder and executive director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research
Center for Contemporary Spirituality, and past president of the
Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and the Leadership
Conference of Women Religious. Sister Joan has been recognized by
universities and national organizations for her work for justice, peace
and equality for women in the Church and society. She is an active
member of the International Peace Council.
2005 The National Catholic Reporter
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