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A Response to Andrew Greeley's article: "Who grieves for dead Iraqis?":
July 30, 2006
By Clay Edwards
What was the worth of a single Iraqi life prior to the coalition invasion of Iraq? What is the worth of a single Iraqi life now: A response to Andrew Greeley's article: Who grieves for dead Iraqis?
Andrew Greeley focuses on the coalition decision to go to war itself as a criminal enterprise directly engineering postwar violence and killing in Iraq. He further complains that the decision to go to war is evidence of American failure to respect the value of Iraqi lives. Because the Bush Administration was not called to account for its actions in misleading the American people, the American people have displayed a lack of conscience, shame, and guilt about assessing the conflict concurring with a policy that Mr. Greeley does not agree with.
If Mr. Greeley had attempted to address the problem of killing prior to the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, perhaps his comments would resonate as a true moral proposition. Instead, they come about in the context of a policy disagreement with the Bush Administration and demolish the beginnings of what could have been a most promising argument against programmed and choreographed killing.
Instead of assessing the war and its aftermath in the context of Iraqi internal politics and the interaction of Iraq with the international community, he seeks to accuse and condemn a party to the conflict as remorseless criminals, aided and abetted by an uncaring American society. In this, Mr. Greeley provides nothing new to the arguments against programmed killing in war in general or the Iraqi regime change war of 2003 in particular - reducing the effectiveness of his arguments to just another incident of finger-pointing.
It is unfortunate that anti-war activists and writers focus on "just war", as though we can pick and choose who we kill as part of an ideology we might refer to as "legitimate killing" as opposed to "illegitimate killing". Those who in Andrew Greeley's view should bear shame for the post-war violence have no shame - in Greeley's lights. They just don't care - and the American people JUST DON'T CARE.
It is important that we do not mislead ourselves into linking the value of a human life to a given policy decision whether or not we approve of the decision. "Just War" standards of programmed, choreographed human killing imply human life - the essence of being itself, is something which has no enduring, uncompromised value.
By linking killing to behavior we disapprove of, we imply that human life has no value while behavior and products of human behavior mean everything. Such a belief system is morally and logically bankrupt because without human beings, there can be no human behavior and no products of human behavior, whatever the value - or lack of value we deign to assign to those behaviors and products.
The journey of life is a journey of mission, of ministry, if you will. Human behavior and human created products, whatever they are, are works of creation, of whatever value we human beings assign them. Human life, on the other hand, is the agent of creation itself. Human beings are made in the image of God, as creators. Morality refers to life itself, regardless of the behaviors and products of life. Morality refers to the protection and nurturing of human life, often in very difficult circumstances, and sometimes in contexts in which killing occurs - in the course of attempts to protect certain life from destruction. It is in such contexts that human beings argue over whether killing is just or unjust, lawful or criminal, moral or immoral.
It is indeed arguable that the United States and its coalition allies emphasized overly narrow and selfish aims in going to war with the Saddam regime in 2003. Such a position may be buttressed by the notion that the human rights angle - i.e., relieving Iraqis of a murderous regime - did not receive the same play as WMDs. Indeed, the regime was permitted to exist over a period of nearly a quarter century. How important were the Kurds and Shiites and others slaughtered, imprisoned and tortured by the regime? Where was the world when Iran was invaded and suffered for most of the 1980s? Iran, another "enemy" of Washington probably shed no tears over the departure from power of Saddam Hussein.
Think of the sanctions regime imposed on Iraq after the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Saddam Hussein and others complained vociferously that the sanctions were injuring and killing "innocent Iraqis". Bin Laden complained in 1998 that the United States was responsible for the deaths of a million Iraqis and made this a critical basis of his "jihad" against the United States BEFORE THE REGIME CHANGE WAR. What was the value of the lives Bin Laden claimed were taken before the invasion?
The human beings who died under Saddam are no less important than those human beings who have been killed in the post-war power vacuum. We should never forget that human lives are linked, the living and those no longer living. We share a commonality - life, regardless of the time or place we live in.
Greeley does point to a real problem outside of the issue of whether the US and coalition fought a just war. That is the human difficulty in properly reflecting on our own actions and their impact on other people and ourselves. The death of an Iraqi is more than just a personal disaster for the dead person and those who loved that person. Mr. Greeley's remarks should be extended to the fact that the killing of Iraqis is a concern of every Iraqi, every American, every human being on the planet Earth. I wish that Greeley had gone further in his analysis to show other than by condemnation, how important the life of every human being is to every other human being. I wish he would have argued that killing, post-war and pre-war, was equally immoral.
Greeley mistakes lack of outrage and grief and feelings of guilt over the loss of Iraqi lives in post war violence as a further indictment of the American people in a final message of biting sarcasm and bitterness that his position on the war was not adopted after the rationales (WMD) etc., were exposed as groundless.
Yet, the anti-war movement was nowhere to be found when the killing incidents for which Saddam Hussein may be condemned to death for were occurring? This observation is not an attempt to defend the Bush Administration decision to go to war, but only to point up a long-standing problem of violence and killing accepting, aiding and abetting, and ignoring behavior. That Bush may have referenced this issue as a part of the rationale for going to war seems lost in the arguments over the war and the justness of engaging in it. In such sense, Greeley's article is unfairly biased to the point of making a kind of "I told you so" political statement over the bodies of the dead and those who are going to die in this postwar phase of Iraqi history in this long tormented country.
On the other hand, the Bush Administration, like its predecessors, Clinton, Bush, Sr., Reagan and Carter knew or should have known what Saddam and his henchmen were doing to Iraqis. Both the pro-war and anti-war forces need to revise their understanding of the importance of the protection of all human life as the ultimate moral, regardless of right and wrong behavior, proper or improper products of human beings.
Often the world recoils at the "innocent" being killed in warfare, as though soldiers and fighters should be fair game for killing and being killed. Such an attitude is symptomatic of the moral dilemma facing society as it grapples with the tiger of killing, a dangerous wild animal upon which we humans rely to "protect ourselves". We see this in the efforts to procure an immediate cease-fire in the Lebanon - Israel - Hezbollah conflict. We expect and perhaps even approve of soldiers and fighters dying but the plight of "innocent" Lebanese civilians leaves people shocked and horrified - as though a war killing warriors only should be able to keep our consciences clean and sanitary.
There is a failure across society to recognize and appreciate the problems arising from the idea that we human beings can and should engage in programmed and choreographed human killing. So long as programmed and choreographed human killing by human beings is incorporated into our notions of justice, we will continue to see human life- including our own, as unimportant, while behavior and products of human behavior drive us to kill ourselves and each other.
Justice is the function of fairness, sound and good reason. Is it fair and reasonable to kill people because we think they are good or bad? What gives us the right to make that call? It is one thing for people to kill and be killed because they or others behave dangerously. It is entirely another thing for people to be killed because WE DON'T LIKE THEM for what they do or have done - or what we think they have done.
What gives the function of fairness, sound and good reason to the cultivation of killing as a cultural lifestyle, a practice, a form of art, for revenge or other calculated purpose? What is "just" about killing someone because we think we can judge them fit or unfit to live or die?
Just War is a horrendous joke on mankind. The doctrine protects no one and endangers everyone because it permits human killing as a calculated, cold- blooded exercise. Anyone can argue that he or she is just in killing and accuse someone else of being unjust. So long as there is an element of subjectivity in the activity, we embrace danger instead of controlling or eliminating danger - to ourselves and to others.
The Iraqi and Palestinian- Lebanese - Israeli conflicts are intimately linked by a culture of killing, driven by product and belief
No more killing- innocent or guilty!
Anis's comment on Clay:
I read both articles and think that the one by Greeley is closer to the situation. The following quote seems to form Clay's main thesis: "Yet, the anti-war movement was nowhere to be found when the killing incidents for which Saddam Hussein may be condemned to death for were occurring? This observation is not an attempt to defend the Bush Administration decision to go to war, but only to point up a long-standing problem of violence and killing accepting, aiding and abetting, and ignoring behavior." - It is certainly true that all killing is to be condemned, yet I don't see the necessity to mention ALL killings equally when talking about a case. Certainly Saddam is a criminal. But what have the USA to do with that? There are legions of criminals in the world, what has the US to do with them? Greeley criticizes his own country, because he feels a responsibility. It is an authentic call. Clay's point: "No more killing - innocent or guilty!" is correct as long as it does not lead to a relativisation of guilt. The argument: "Not only the US (or Israel, resp.) commits war crimes, look at other countries!" is, in fact, regularly used by war-defenders. It belongs to the standard topoi in the discourse. In this context, it is often forgotten that the West is so proud of its democracy and human rights. The case of the USA is special, because it is the world's military superpower. At the same time it attacks other countries for dubious reasons.