Taking genocide & war personally

Anyone who’s ever visited the Vietnam memorial in Washington, DC can testify to its overwhelming power. Its a plain black rock wall with the names of 58,300 US soldiers who died in Vietnam etched in the order of their deaths. It’s a very moving monument because it makes the human toll of war very personal & immediate. (For the moment we’ll put aside that it’s a dishonest monument because the death toll of US soldiers was considerably higher–almost double. For the monument the Pentagon only released the names of those who died in Vietnam & excluded those who died on forays into Cambodia or Laos, on a ship on the way to hospital in Japan, or from injuries & Agent Orange health complications after they returned.)

Now numerous media sources are publishing the photos & brief bios of the terrorist victims in Paris. They were beautiful young cosmopolitans from all around Europe, the US, Chile, Morocco, Tunisia, & of course, France. Their faces, expectant of a good life, bring home to us the horrors of such monstrous acts of violence. It isn’t cynical to suggest media’s intention is to feed Islamophobia & less to pay tribute. But that doesn’t change how moving it is to see their faces & confront their loss.

What the Vietnam memorial leaves out are the names of Vietnamese victims which number somewhere between 1.5 million & 3.6 million depending on whether Cambodians & Laotians are included. And then there’s all those other wars–like Iraq, where Madeleine Albright said the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children were “worth it” to achieve US military goals–or Afghanistan, where 26,000 civilians have died just this year. The figures of civilian deaths from several wars are staggering & way beyond what’s possible to list on a news site or a monument.

The Pentagon works hard to keep the casualties an abstraction, just numbers, no names, no faces. no bios. We need to learn from Paris that these millions of victims were men, women, & children with every right to a long & peaceful life. They weren’t disposable; their deaths were not “worth it” but constitute war crimes. They were our brothers & sisters & we take their deaths very personal indeed.

Rebuild the international antiwar movement!