Bob Herbert: Other People’s Blood

It’s really simple, Bob: denial is not only the easiest antidote, it at times seems to be the only antidote. If you don’t partake in denial, you’ll literally go insane, the truth in Iraq is so impossibly awful. Either we deny it and put on MTV, or our heads explode in a fit of impotent rage. There are no good choices and no solutions. “Mission Accomplished” has morphed into “Voyage of the Damned,” and we the people can only sit back in horror as our hopes and dreams for America disintegrate.

Other People’s Blood
Published: June 8, 2006

For the smug, comfortable, well-off Americans, it doesn’t seem to matter how long the war in Iraq goes on — as long as the agony is endured by others. If the network coverage gets too grim, viewers can always switch to the E! channel (one hand on the remote, the other burrowing into a bag of chips) to follow the hilarious antics of Paris, Britney, Brangelina et al.

The war is depressing and denial is the antidote. Why should ordinary citizens (good people, religious people, patriots) consider their role in — and responsibility for — the thunderous, unending carnage? Enough with this introspection. Let’s go to the ballpark, get drunk and boo Barry Bonds.

The nation is in deep denial about Iraq. For years the president and his supporting cast of arrogant, bullying characters have tried to put the best face on this war. They had no idea what they were doing when they ordered the invasion of Iraq, and they still don’t. Many of the troops who were assured that the Iraqis would welcome them with open arms are now dead. And there’s still no plan.

Paul Wolfowitz, who fashioned the phony intellectual underpinnings of this catastrophe, told us that Iraqi oil revenues would cover the cost of reconstruction. He was as wrong about that as the president was about the weapons of mass destruction. (And as wrong as Dick Cheney was last June when he said the insurgency was in its last throes.)

Here are the facts: The war so recklessly launched by the amateurs in the Bush White House has already taken scores of thousands of lives, and will ultimately cost the United States $1 trillion to $2 trillion.

No one has been held accountable for this. While Mr. Bush’s approval ratings are low, the public has been largely indifferent to the profound suffering in Iraq. This is primarily for two reasons: Because most Americans have no immediate personal stake in the war, and because the administration and the news media keep the worst of the suffering at a safe distance from the U.S. population.

The killing of American troops is usually kissed off with a paragraph or two in the major papers, and a sentence or two, at best, on national newscasts. (Imagine if someone in your office, sitting at a desk across from you, were suddenly blown to bits, splattering you with his or her blood. You wouldn’t get over it for the rest of your life. This is what happens daily in Iraq.)

The many thousands of Iraqis who are killed — including babies and children who are shot to death, blown up, or incinerated — remain completely unknown to the American public. So not only is there very little empathy for the suffering of Iraqis, there is virtually no sense among ordinary Americans of a shared responsibility for that suffering.

Despite the frequently expressed fantasies expressed by President Bush and some of the leading politicians of both parties, the idea of a U.S. victory in Iraq is an illusion. The nightmarish violence is rising, not receding. Iraq is not being pacified. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a bustling market in Basra over the weekend, killing 27 and wounding scores. On Sunday, 20 people were stopped and pulled from their vehicles on a highway near Baquba and shot to death.

John Burns, writing in yesterday’s New York Times, told us: “The death toll in one of the most grisly recent attacks, in the village of Hadid, near the Diyala provincial capital of Baquba, rose to 17 on Tuesday when the police delivered nine severed heads to the Baquba morgue in the fruit boxes in which they were found in the village.”

Eight other heads had previously been found.

Instead of beginning to pull our troops out of Iraq, we are sending more in. The permanent Iraqi government, which was supposed to be the answer to everybody’s prayers, is a study in haplessness. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s man in Iraq, remains at large. (As does Osama bin Laden, somewhere in Pakistan.)

As was the case with Vietnam, the war in Iraq is a fool’s errand. There is no clear mission for American troops in Iraq. No one can really say what the dead have died for. And yet the dying continues.

When it all finally comes to an end (according to President Bush, on somebody else’s watch) we’ll look around at the hideous costs in human treasure and cold hard cash and ask ourselves: What in the world were we thinking?

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