Thursday, February 28, 2008

500,000 Iraqi Children

With three other professors and a member of the staff, I'm helping to facilitate an Iraq War Discussion Group where I teach. It's an official course, but it's worth only 1/4 of the academic credit usually earned in a course, it's graded on a pass/fail basis, and it meets only once a week. We try to talk about our various responses the war but also to present information about the history of the region (going back to antiquity), the British involvement during and after World War I, and the U.S. involvement in Iraq for decades. Of course we also talk about events, issues, and controversies related to the war as they arise, including those connected to the presidential primaries in the U.S.

Today we talked a bit about the first Gulf War. One of the professors, a political scientist, mentioned that he is reading a book in which a CBS "60 Minutes" interview with then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright is mentioned. The interviewer, Leslie Stahl, first notes that by most estimates, the international sactions against Iraq in the 1990s had directly or indirectly caused the death of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children. She then asked Madeline Albright if this loss of life was worth what the sanctions were aiming to achieve. The Secretary of State answered, "Yes."

My colleague also mentioned that the U.S. had not only supported Iraq's regime during Iraq's war with Iran but that it had also, essentially, looked the other way while Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds. He suggested that the U.S.'s "looking the other way" (my term, not his) might have contributed to Saddam Hussein's sense that the U.S. would not react to his invading Kuwait--an invasion that led, of course, to the first Gulf War, and later to the sanctions--and ultimately, I suppose, to the current war, for it seems the second president Bush believed he had to finish the war begun by the first presdient Bush. Precisely why the U.S. invaded Iraq the second time, I still don't know. Plausible reasons range from oil to Bush II's need to prove something to trying to introduce American-style capitalistic democracy to the region. Implausible reasons now include the weapons of mass destruction, which did not exist. A reason invented after the fact is that Saddam Hussein was a terrible, murderous dictator. The facts suggest he was indeed that, but Bush, et al., did not at first use that as a reason to start the war. Only after the weapons of mass destruction proved illusory (or always were illusory, as Colin Powell's "testimony" to the U.N. suggested, from the first) did this reason form part of a retroactive argument. There was also an assertion about Iraq's connection to terrorists who attacked the U.S., but that connection proved to be flimsy, at best. A reason to perpetuate the war now advanced (by McCain and others) is that to leave would embolden terrorists who are now in Iraq, but a counter-argument is that the terrorists would not be there if the U.S. hadn't invaded in the first place.

There's no good way to create a transition from these topics to a poetic one, so I will simply and abruptly mention that the site and project, Poets Against the War, is in its 7th year and has accumulated roughly 22,000 poems from around the world, as well as publishing an anthology, supporting politically oppressed writers worldwide, and continuing to express a variety of views against the war in Iraq. The site's main page also points to selected poems it receives each month, and for November 2007, there is mention of a poem by an alum of our university and a former student of mine, Sarah Borsten.

The link to the main page of Poets Against the War is http://www.poetsagainstthewar.org/,
and Sarah's poem is mentioned on the left-hand column.
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