Dead Bodies Don’t Attract Flies, They Breed Them

Saturday, January 22nd, 2005


(Pic from BBC via Jeanne D’Arc via Jim Henley)

This is a four-year-old Iraqi girl. She’s covered in her parents’ blood. Her parents died when U.S. troops mistook their car for, I guess, insurgents. They weren’t. The Army says it may investigate. Perahps the soldiers were entirely in the wrong. Perhaps they were justified, as the car continued coming toward them. More likely, things transpired in some panicked-stricken fog that hovers between the two.

(Photographer’s story here.)

Let’s put aside for a moment the horror of what happened (and yes, that’s a rather large matter to set aside).

Let’s look at this in purely self-interested terms. What do you suppose is going to become of this little girl? Think she’ll dismiss her dead parents in light of the larger picture, this grand scheme to remap the Middle East? What do you suppose the prospects are, now, that we’ll win her over to our cause? What about her sister, who was also wounded? What about their extended family? Friends? Neighbors? What about moderate Arabs/Muslims who see this image on TV?

I’m sure there are several thousand orphaned boys in Iraq, too. Who’s side do you think they’re on now? Are they more likely to join hands with the uniforms that killed their parents, or the forces who want to kill the uniforms that killed their parents? And it isn’t just them. Orphan one kid, and you turn him against you, as well as his siblings, his cousins, his aunts and uncles, his neighbors, and his friends. Orphan a thousand kids, and you make about 50,000 enemies. Of course, that’s just friends and family. This picture made it to the BBC. We know dozens just like it get aired on Al-Jazeera every day. For every Little Green Footballs weblog that posts pictures of angry Muslims, there’s a dozen Muslim newspapers that publish images like this one (perhaps images like this one will make some of us see a little better how it’s possible to string together a few horrible photos in an intempt to wrongly indict a larger group of people. LGF does it to Muslims. Muslim nespapers do it to the U.S. military). How many new enemies does each picture like this win us? How many new terrorists does each image like this breed?

I’ve written before that I think out troops are on par the most measured, humane, restrained military force in in history. I still think that. I think we do more to avoid collateral damage than can really be reasonably expected of us. We ought to be proud of that. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Reality isn’t important. Perception is. My point with this picture isn’t “look at how brutal the United States is.” My point is, “what do you think the world’s billion Muslims think when they see this?” What happened before the picture doesn’t matter. What happens after doesn’t matter either. What matters is the picture. Screaming kid. Covered in blood. America killed her parents. For the people who we’re trying to win over, that’s the entire story.

Shit like this is always going to happen in war. No matter how well-intentioned the military waging it. It happens in every war, as do Mi Lais and Abu Ghraibs. It’s not the nature of America or the American military. It’s the nature ofwar. That’s why we’d better be damned sure any war we fight is essential only to defend us from grave, immediate harm, because even if it is all of that, shit’s going to happen to make new people hate us. This one wasn’t, and isn’t any of that. And so we’re breeding a new generation of terrorists. Why? In some farfetched, Kiplingian attempt to convert the unwashed, and centrally plan a liberal society where none has existed for centuries.

This little girl had no reason to hate the United States. Now she has two. So does everyone who knows her, and everyone who has anything in common with her.

And she’s just one case.

I’ll say it again. Dead bodies don’t just attract flies. They breed them.