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The Flies That Feed Off The Dead
O n the road to Basra, ITV was filming wild dogs as they tore at the corpses of the Iraqi dead. Every few seconds a ravenous beast would rip off a decaying arm and make off with it over the desert in front of us, dead fingers trailing through the sand, the remains of the burned military sleeve flapping in the wind.
“Just for the record,’’ the camera-person said to me. Of course. Because ITV would never show such footage. The things we see cannot be shown. First because it is not ”appropriate" to depict such reality on breakfast-time TV. Second because, if what we saw was shown on television, no one would ever again agree to support a war. That of course was in 1991. The “highway of death,” they called it—there was actually a parallel and much worse “highway of death” 10 miles to the east, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force and the RAF, but no one turned up to film it and the only picture of the horrors we saw was the photograph of the shriveled, carbonized Iraqi soldier in his truck. This was an iconic illustration of a kind because it did represent what we had seen, when it was eventually published.
For Iraqi casualties to appear on television during that Gulf War— there was another one between 1980 and 1988, and a third is in the offing—it was necessary for them to have died with care, to have fallen romantically on their backs, one hand over a ruined face. Like those World War I paintings of the British dead on the Somme, Iraqis had to die benignly and without obvious wounds, without any kind of squalor, without a trace of shit or mucus or congealed blood, if they wanted to make it on to the morning news programs.
I rage at this contrivance. At Qaa in 1996, when the Israelis shelled Lebanese refugees at the UN compound for 17 minutes, killing 106 civilians, more than half of them children, I came across a young woman holding a middle-aged man in her arms. He was dead. “My father, my father,” she kept crying, cradling his face. One of his arms and one of his legs was missing—the Israelis used proximity shells, which cause amputation wounds. When that scene reached television screens in Europe and America, the camera was close up on the girl and the dead man’s face. The amputations were not to be seen. The cause of death had been erased in the interests of good taste. It was as if the old man had died of tiredness, just turned his head upon his daughter’s shoulder to die in peace.
Today, when I listen to the threats of George Bush against Iraq and the shrill moralistic warnings of Tony Blair, I wonder what they know of this reality. Does George, who declined to serve his country in Vietnam, have any idea what these corpses smell like? Does Tony have the slightest conception of what the flies are like, the big bluebottles that feed on the dead of the Middle East and then come to settle on our faces and our notepads?
Soldiers know. I remember one British officer asking to use the BBC’s satellite phone just after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. He was talking to his family in England and I watched him carefully. “I have seen some terrible things,” he said. Then he broke down, weeping and shaking and holding the phone dangling in his hand over the transmission set. Did his family have the slightest idea what he was talking about? They would not have understood by watching television.
Thus we face the prospect of war. Our glorious, patriotic population—albeit only about 20 percent in support of this particular Iraqi folly—has been protected from the realities of violent death. But I am much struck by the number of letters I get from veterans of World War II, men and women, all against this new Iraqi war, with an inalienable memory of torn limbs and suffering.
I remember once a wounded man in Iran, a piece of steel in his forehead, howling like an animal—which is, of course, what we all are—before he died; and the Palestinian boy who collapsed in front of me when an Israeli soldier shot him dead, quite deliberately, coldly, murderously, for throwing a stone; and the Israeli with a chair leg sticking out of her stomach outside the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem after a Palestinian bomber had decided to execute the families inside; and the heaps of Iraqi dead at the Battle of Dezful in the Iran-Iraq war—the stench of their bodies wafted through our helicopter until the mullahs aboard were sickened; and the young man showing me the thick black trail of his daughter’s blood outside Algiers where armed “Islamists” had cut her throat.
B ut George Bush and Tony Blair and Dick Cheney and all the other warriors who are bamboozling us into war will not have to think of these images. For them it’s about surgical strikes, collateral damage, and all the other examples of war’s linguistic mendacity. We are going to have a “just” war; we are going to “liberate” the people of Iraq— some of whom we will obviously kill—and we are going to give them democracy and protect their oil wealth and stage war crimes trials and we are going to be ever so moral and we are going to watch our defense “experts” on TV with their bloodless sandpits and their awesome knowledge of weapons that rip off heads.
Come to think of it, I recall the head of an Albanian refugee, chopped neatly off when the Americans, ever so accidentally, bombed a refugee convoy in Kosovo in 1999, which they thought was a Serb military unit. His head lay in the long grass, bearded, eyes open, severed as if by a Tudor executioner. Months later, I learned his name and talked to the girl who was hit by the severed head during the U.S. air strike and who laid the head reverently in the grass where I found it. NATO, of course, did not apologize to the family. Or to the girl. No one says sorry after war. No one acknowledges the truth of it. No one shows you what we see. Which is how our leaders and our betters persuade us still to go to war.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.