And So This is Christmas
Context might not be everything, but it is very important -- and since many voices in the media are already speaking of the capture of Saddam Hussein in terms of a "Christmas present" for George W. Bush, it might be worthwhile to think about recent events in the "war on terrorism" in the light of the "holiday season".
Within the last month, the media has gone all-out to reassure the American public, secure in the warm fuzziness of their holiday rituals, that everything is hunky-dory in the Middle East. There was our impetuous Commander-in-Chief, bravely following his conscience, surprising even his Mom and Dad, flying to Baghdad to spend Thanksgiving with the troops. There he was in every newspaper the next morning, grinning with that big platter of turkey.
Bush spent twenty-seven hours in the air in order to visit the Baghdad airport for two and a half hours. He met with Ahmed Chalabi and three other members of the US-installed "Governing Council" -- the only semblance of any form of "Iraqi government" that was willing to meet with him -- but he did not leave the heavily-fortified airport, and no news of the visit was released until Air Force One, with its fighter entourage, was safely back in the air.
A couple of weeks later, in an event that received far less coverage in the media, nine children were killed in a village called Hutala in Afghanistan, when a US warplane sprayed a field with 30mm high-explosive rounds. US troops claimed to have also killed someone named Mullah Wazir, a suspected terrorist, in the raid -- but local people in the village denied that, saying that the young man who was killed was an innocent laborer.
Some blamed the attack on US forces having been fed bogus intelligence. In any case, the "collateral damage" was a drop in the bucket, really. After terrorists, possibly connected with Al-Qaeda, killed nearly 3,000 innocent people in the United States in September of 2001, the United States proceeded to kill over 3,700 innocent civilians in Afghanistan, seeking to root out the Taliban -- who are now, incidentally, regrouping.
Then, on December 5th, another US attack, this time on a "farm complex" in Afghanistan's Paktia province, killed six more children, ranging in ages from one to twelve years. Intelligence indicated a large stockpile of arms and ammunition at the site, but did not, apparently, note the presence of the children. Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Brian Hilferty showed no inclination to find deeper meaning in the event, declaring "if noncombatants surround themselves with thousands of weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and howitzers and mortars in a compound known to be used by a terrorist, we are not completely responsible for the consequences."
This attack on the "farm compound" in Paktia province should have been as splashily presented as the Thanksgiving visit, and it should have been as endlessly analyzed as the Saddam capture. It should have been something we cared about. But I see very little evidence that we do. I see little enough evidence of it in my own behavior, as I scurry about to make sure my Christmas list is duly checked off with acceptably thoughtful objects. Ah, yes, a co-worker remarked to me, as grownups we can get cynical about the holiday hoopla, but when you're sharing the season with children, you get caught up in the magic. And indeed, our three-year old daughter is discovering the story of Santa Claus this year, asking all the right questions about the reindeer, and where to leave the cookies and milk, and is it the elves who wrap the presents? Or is it Mrs. Santa? I want my children to be joyful this Christmas! It would dampen my holiday spirit to have them be killed in a bombing raid.
Christmas, it seems to me, is the holiday of children, both in the popular sense, and the theological. The baby who was born in the manger may, perhaps, have had a special relationship with animals because of the odd circumstances of his birth -- but that was only because there was no room in the inn for his actively laboring mother. That kid was the Son of God all right: he was any kid, and every kid. Let us not dare to pretend that we can take part in the delights of this holiday season without remembering those children of God that were bombed to death in our name in Paktia Province.
Lindy Davies is the Program Director of the Henry George Institute.
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