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First Person Personal

My personal views on a variety of matters ranging from popular culture to quantum physics to religion to politics to history to bushido to ... well, whatever I feel like, really. Warning: we all have agendas. Trust no one totally, myself most specifically included. Email me at wbrerwolf at gmail.com

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Thinking about Iraq

I believe that President Bush will be most remembered for the Iraqi War and its disasterous aftermath. I was against the war at the time for various reasons, but I completely failed to predict this slide into Hell. What makes this mess bearable to the American citizenry is that we usually just get "the big picture": over thirty thousand Iraqis and over two thousand Americans dead for no discernible benefit to our nation or to the Iraqi people as a whole (indeed it can be argued that this war has considerably worsened our situation and it is undeniable that the current situation in Iraq is very bad indeed).

Thirty two thousand dead is just a number. Human beings cannot accept that many deaths as real. Those of us with my particular mindset realize that this number is a very bad indicator of what is going on in Iraq but even we cannot effectivly relate this number to the human suffering it represents. So we react the way we react to a major hardware failure in our computer system: annoyance, a desire to fix the problem, serious irritation directed towards the manufacturer, but no real emotional involvement.

A few weeks ago NPR aired an interview with a virologist who specializes in the Spanish Flu outbreak of the early twentieth century which killed over two million people. The doctor discovered that some people were buried in lead coffins which preserved the lethal virus. He used newspaper obituaries to find people who died of the Flu and how they were buried. Then, something unexpected happened.

Two million dead is just another number, something that has no emotional impact. But consider reading about a couple who married and started their new life together. Before their first anniversary, the husband became ill from the Flu. Recognizing the risk of contagion, the wife refused to leave her husband and tried to nurse him back to health. Both died, both were buried in a way that preserved their killer for the doctor to extract almost a century later.

The virologist keeps a copy of their wedding picture on his wall. You see, you can't mourn two million dead, but you can mourn two people.

Individuals make things real.

Riverbend, creator of the blog Baghdad Burning is the person who makes the Iraqi experience real for me.

Riverbend is a young Iraqi woman who has been posting her blog about life in Baghdad for several years. For obvious reasons, she has kept her real name a secret. Early portions of her blog have been published as a paperback under the title Baghdad Burning with Riverbend listed as the author and both the book and her blog are up for or have won several awards, a fact of which she is justly proud.

As I read her blog, I become more and more aware of the human toll that our government's tragic blunder has imposed upon the people of Iraq. Over the months since we invaded Iraq, things went from hard to bad to the current threat of civil war. Riverbend's posts document the deterioration of Iraq with amazing clarity and humanity. I doubt that I would have had the emotional strength to continue posting if I was in her situation: courage is not facing down a tiger with a broken pocketknife, courage is getting out of bed and dealing with your world getting worse every day. By this standard, I think that Riverbend is considerably braver than I am.

One of her most compelling posts is devoted to mourning her friend Alan Enwiya, who was the translator for Jill Carroll when she was abducted. As they normally do with Iraqis accompanying their main target, the kidnappers shot and killed Alan. Alan left behind his family: a much-cherished wife, two small children and the rest of his immediate family, including his parents. Riverbend makes me appreciate how great a loss Alan's death was not just to his immediate circle of friends but to his city and nation. Another Iraqi blogger, Ms. Fayrouz of - Iraqi In America kept a pay-pal link on her site until the Christian Science Monitor took over the fund-raising. Alan's family has left Iraq and hopes to come to America. Christian Science Monitor had an article about Alan where I got much of the more recent information and quotes extensively from Baghdad Burning, who in turn is quoting Pink Floyd.

More recent posts document the increasingly bad situation in Baghdad. Prior posts concentrated on physical discomforts: massive (and increasingly common) power and water outages. Current posts are about the increasingly violent situation in Iraq: she describes people lined up outside a morgue to try to find the corpse of a missing relative and mentions how almost every morning corpses are found in the streets of Baghdad, often showing signs of torture.

Riverbend regularly goes for days without posting: no power, no internet, no posting. At such times, I find myself worrying about her. Odd, to be concerned about a person who I will never meet in the flesh when I am often indifferent to the problems of people I see on the street.

Still, you care about the people you care about. In keeping with this concern and with the full knowledge that nobody on the planet is really interested in my opinion, I would like to devote my next few blog entries to the situation in Iraq and possible solutions that suggest themselves to me. I am also going to apply some programming techniques to my blog entries. I intend at this time to have four or five main postings under the general heading "Unsolicited Advice: Iraq". Each post will be devoted to a separate subject such as: personal survival; community safety; nation building; possibly useful parables; who's who. I will modify the blog entries as I go, starting with fairly simple posts and then expanding them as I have the time and resources. I will start off by labeling them in the traditional way: Alpha 1, Alpha 2, then Beta 1, Beta 2 and, if I can get that far, actual release versions 1.0, 1.1, etc. If you are interested in the process, feel free to copy the earlier versions and compare them with the later versions. As for me, this is a work in progress and I am working on each new version as it arrives in my head.