War and Children


It is deadline day and I have spent hours over the last month on an editorial about humanising birth to go with all the special features and of birth articles in this issue. But a niggling feeling is tugging at me as my heart is pulled towards our current situation with the ‘war on terror’. Up until now I have avoided lending an entire editorial towards the war, as I couldn’t bear to put the two, children and war, in the same context, let alone the same magazine. Unfortunately, they are an obvious pair. I also find myself at a loss at what to do and therefore wonder of what use are my words. Will they make any difference? But I think at the very least, our responsibility to our world and the children of the world lies in making some attempt to acknowledge what is going on and being willing to feel and experience the sheer horror of it. We will not get that by watching the nightly news. We are harboured from the realities of violent deaths and particularly protected from violent deaths of children. This makes us ignorant, and worse, untouched. The nightly news keeps it all palatable so we may watch it at the dinner table over our vegetarian lasagne. Ratings are more important than the truth. We are also kept in the dark by the fact that if we really saw the charred remains of toddlers and their mothers on their way to the playground, the business of war would go bankrupt. We are fed with far away concepts like collateral damage, surgical strikes and civilian casualties. Yes, it’s all about being tasteful, bodies shot from a distance falling softly to the ground like Dorothy in the poppy fields.

Recently the Pentagon announced that it intended to shatter Iraq ‘physically, emotionally and psychologically’ by showering its people with 800 cruise missiles in two days.1 If you are like me, this sort of information can sound abstract. Images arise of black and white film clips showing 1940’s bombs dropping from planes over the agricultural countryside, Charleston music in the background. Surely, we say, these targets are selected with the least amount of civilian casualties possible. It all looks very civilised and noble. Inserted are the sailors kissing their gals in Times Square.

Please make no mistake about the immensity of what is taking place. Nearly half of Baghdad’s population is made up of children under the age of 14. A US military strategist named Harlan Ullman was quoted recently, ‘There will not be a safe place in Bagdad. The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.’ He went on to say, ‘You have this simultaneous effect (of “shock” and “awe”) rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but minutes.’1 Again, a billowy white cloud mushrooms on my TV screen while I eat my ice cream. Families blown to dust and generations mangled by radiation are only to be conceptualised.

When I see the carnage of children, daddies and mummies, and fathers shielding their children from bullets with their own bodies only to fall limp together in a heap, I no longer care about ‘America’ (where I am born), ‘Australia’ or ‘England’ or even what they call freedom. Unlike the words that describe the deaths of innocents, these words are mere concepts made to harness my soul to a political and corporate agenda. I care only for our world family. It is the children that matter, all children. And for that, myself and those who speak similarly are called traitors. Our conditioning is strong, our hearts protected from the shame that would engulf us if we knew what was really happening. We see children of another race, another religion, another culture and somehow there is this subtle way we separate ourselves from them. There can be righteousness about what was ‘done to us’ or that these people are a part of an evil regime or that their lives anyway are filled with violence. Or we feign spirituality by keeping a non-judgemental mind and by sending prayers of peace. ‘Let us not be emotional, angry or violent.’ But this is just a way to comfort ourselves away from the atrocities. I don’t know about you, but I feel a crying rage that burns in my heart.

April 30, 2003 is International No Hitting Day (www.stophitting.org), an international outgrowth from the 1998 initiative called SpankOut Day USA that brought to attention the need for the end of corporal punishment of children. It is amazing that with so many initiatives beginning to happen towards ending violence to children, that Bush, Blair and Howard reveal themselves to be collectively the greatest perpetrators of violence towards children of our times. According to the World Heath Organization, an estimated 500,000 people could require treatment as a result of direct or indirect injuries from these planned attacks. And these are the living ones. We keep the boundary of Western middle class family life quite separate from that other world. ‘At least we are not affected,’ we say. Do I dare quote you from Robert Fisk’s recent article? Such things might not be appropriate for a parenting magazine. Of course they are. It is our duty as caretakers of our human family to know the face of war: ‘I remember once a wounded man in Iran, a piece of steel in his forehead, howling like an animal before he died; and the Palestinian boy who simply 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 young man showing me the thick black trail of this daughter’s blood outside Algiers where armed “Islamists” had cut her throat.’2

There are few who really know the true face of war, and when asked can hardly speak about it. My father fought in World War II in Italy with the American 10th Mountain Division. Shrapnel blew through him after first destroying his best friend. As a child, I would ask him to tell me about the war. His look would immediately change and he would grow silent. As an archeologist who travels regularly to third world countries, he witnesses human suffering on a regular basis and has always spoken openly. But on war, he will not speak. He served his country, patriot that he is, and is adamantly against this absurdity.

The media helps us remove ourselves from war. Like everything else we are removed from these days (birth, death, our child’s education, our elderly), its experiential absence from our lives means we are rendered ignorant. This ignorance is our demise. It is interesting as I read through what I have written to notice that much of what I wrote previously about our relationship as a society to birth is parallel to what I notice about our relationship to war.

We are sheltered from the enormity of the human experience, be it death, war or birth. We lack true stories and true images that give us courage to forge ahead with dignity and faith with right knowledge and right action. Birth is shrouded behind the hospital screen, war is glossed over by the TV producers and death made palatable for the dinner table. Let’s be honest, these things are covered not to protect us but to render us oblivious.

Generally we glean small amounts of the truth of things like birth or war and therefore life, but never enough to threaten our sense of security and certainly not enough to change the current medical, corporate and political environment that holds us, literally, in a position of powerlessness.

As you thumb through the pages of byronchild, and in particular the pages that feature strong and provocative photographs of mothers in labour or a baby’s head crowning or a story, know you are getting the real thing. ‘God!’ says my partner breathlessly as the images appear on his computer. That about sums it up. Notice what these stories and photos do to you, how you might squirm or become embarrassed or confronted. Notice also how you might rather not know about the equally confronting photos and accounts of Bush’s war. There is a connection.

I believe that the way in which we relate to birth and life is directly related to our ability to cherish ourselves as human beings and as a result explains in part why we are at the crossroads of annihilating ourselves.

When I was pregnant, my favourite book was Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. Of all the pregnancy books strewn around my bedroom at the time (and there were many), I relied on it most because it gave me honest and raw accounts of birth. It was not clinical nor spiritual or philosophical, but real. Women wrote in their own tongue and words like pussy, smootching and grunting were scattered on the pages like sparkly confetti. There were scary stories and good stories, stories with bad endings and stories that made me jealous. True stories. They were coarse, unrefined and real … they embodied birth. That’s what I hungered for, transmissions of what really happens.

I encourage you, especially in these times when the truth can be so professionally masked, to get your hands on real information, especially if you would rather not hear about it. Let the photos rip you apart, let the statistics sear you and break your stride. Let yourself be truly touched by what is human. Let your heart be broken open.

And while you concern yourself with your own children and community, get on the internet and read some of the more honest accounts of war, past and present. People like John Pilger, Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky (znet.com). Like the digging we do to be informed for our choices around our families, it will take some digging to get accurate pictures of the terror in the streets of Baghdad or any other war zone. What will that do? It will brew a storm inside. It will join us with the ones left maimed on the streets. It will break the boundaries of us and them and break our hearts. Maybe in those broken cracks, a miracle can happen.

1. John Pilger, Jan. 29, 2003 znet.com
2. Robert Fisk, Jan. 26, 2003 alternet.com

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