Sunday, December 17, 2006

Candide's Notebook: The Christmas Toll

Pierre Tristam has an affecting essay about the families whose loved ones have been killed or will be killed during this Christmas season:

It's turning into an interesting Christmas season for those mothers, fathers, wives, sons and daughters who'll get to lose a husband, a father, a son in the next few weeks (and of course years) as the American death tally in Iraq ho ho hoses it to 3,000 while our Lord and Savior president and decider decides not to decide what to decide next for Iraq until -- maybe to please Jenna and the other one -- "after the holidays," as the phraseology of the corporate cruiser goes. As long as the Dow keeps breaking records, why worry?

Each life lost, Tristam writes, is part of a human ecosystem that is altered when any member of it dies -- who knows with what lasting consequences?

Those back-stories of young men's lives are all distinct and all the same. They're all individuals and yet all, without exception, human beings with lives rooted in the lives of others -- families, friends, enemies, companies, communities. Provincial newspaper stories capture shreds of those lives but couldn't possibly capture them in their totality, in the true effect of a lost life's shock to a human ecosystem that quivers down to the uncomprehending eyebrow of a four-year-old inflicted on his father's funeral, or that intrudes an emptiness sudden and total and astonishing on an eight or nine year old, whose pain isn't yet mature enough to feel what will come with age: sorrow that doesn't -- unlike the fortune cookies' predictions -- heal with time, but only deepens. It's those burdens that the newspaper stories cannot convey, that all the fraternal love and camaraderie of military units cannot possibly take on, that presidents, and this president in particular with his chesty way and jarring peppiness, this president who has yet to attend a single serviceman's funeral, think grave words in speeches alone can carry. It is those burdens, magnified a thousand fold with every life lost as the president delays and prevaricates and poses for his subservient storytellers, that, gathered together in an indictment of their own, amount to a different kind of war crime that will never be prosecuted because they're here, dispersed and diffuse all around us in small hearts and souls only solitude can grasp.

And yet our loss is small compared with the loss on the other side:

... We write about the lives lost, the names, the high school sweethearts, the children left behind, because these are American lives. But what differentiates them from the lives being lost on the other side, the Iraqi side, if not the most puerile and ridiculous difference -- a difference of geography, of culture, of nationality, differences that have nothing to do with the human loss, to say nothing of the humanity being lost. Here we are, mourning an American loss or two or three or four every day as if it were the limit of the unbearable. And yet two days ago, in a single bombing in Baghdad -- one bomb, one explosion -- seventy Iraqis lost their lives. The equivalent of a heavy month's total losses for the American military. And that bombing was just one of several that day. And those bombings were just a few of the many means by which hundreds of Iraqis found their end that day. What newspapers are telling those stories? What encyclopedias of the dead will tabulate those losses, the effects on those human ecosystems? Who ever speaks of a shared humanity when an Arab dies anymore, the deaths -- in Iraq, in Gaza or the West Bank, in Lebanon -- being so routine, so disposably forgettable. ...

Read the whole piece.

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