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When hope died: The lesson of Ishaqi

Richard Marsden, The Business of Emotions


June 7, 2006

It's not often we get to witness the death of an emotion. But it happens. It happened this weekend, another casualty of Ishaqi.

Was it only last Thursday that the BBC broadcast new video evidence of the U.S. attack on a house there which killed five children, four women and two men by American forces?

The video corroborated other, photographic, autopsy, and eye-witness, evidence. Together they contradicted the Pentagon's version of events.

Coming hard on the heels of the Haditha scandal, there was every reason to be hopeful about holding to account those responsible for these atrocities.

The mounting global moral outrage was palpable.

And then, the very next day, just in time for the lazy weekend, the Pentagon released a video of Major General William Caldwell reading a statement from a teleprompter, somewhere in Iraq.

The statement exonerated American forces of any wrongdoing, on the grounds that they were pursuing an al-Qaeda terrorist and followed rules of engagement.

The statement was issued as a press release and spun by anonymous Pentagon "sources" speaking "on condition of anonymity".

The Pentagon simply exonerated itself, ignored incriminating evidence and dismissed allegations, supported by this evidence, that its troops had executed these civilians.

It then waited for the story to go away (as often happens to Friday's news).

And, guess what?

It did.

I published a challenge to this self-exoneration on Monday—Getting away with murder at Ishaqi: The American’s "rational" defence—and looked around for company.

There was none. The story died over the weekend.

Yesterday, The "girl blogger from Iraq’ concluded her post in Baghdad Burning with a lament on the flight of hope in Iraq. "Emily Dickinson wrote, 'hope is a thing with feathers'. If what she wrote is true, then hope has flown far- very far- from Iraq…"

This is Dickinson's poem in full:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Hope in Iraq didn't fly off. It died of moral indifference in the United States.

Marshall Berman, in the Preface to his book All that is Solid Melts into Air (1982), writes most movingly of the death of his 5-year old son, Marc:

His life and death bring so many of its ideas and themes close to home: the idea that those who are most happily at home in the modern world, as he was, may be most vulnerable to the demons that haunt it; the idea that the daily routine of playgrounds and bicycles, of shopping and eating and cleaning up, of ordinary hugs and kisses, may not only be infinitely joyous and beautiful but also infinitely precarious and fragile; that it may take desperate and heroic struggles to sustain this life, and sometimes we lose.

There are "desperate and heroic struggles" aplenty in Iraq, and they have lost children in their thousands, but let us keep our mind on those five children who were killed in the middle of the night in their home in Ishaqi, last March 15.

It is the death of children, more than anything else, that makes one want to give back one’s ticket to the universe. Anyone who has lost a child knows this, but it is the sentiment of Ivan Karamazov, in Dostoyevsky’s 1880 novel The Brothers Karamazov.

But, Berman reminds us, Ivan does not give it back. "He keeps on fighting and loving; he keeps on keeping on".

When the Pentagon is allowed to exonerate itself of wrong doing in the face of a prima facie case that a war crime was committed, all hope of a civilised resolution of these atrocities is extinguished.

From now on, there will be a very different form of "fighting and loving", of keeping on keeping on.

Image: Chris Floyd's Empire Burlesque.

:: Article nr. 23790 sent on 08-jun-2006 00:46 ECT


Link: businessofemotions.typepad.com/drrm/2006/06/when_hope_died_.html

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