As Interdependence Day approached, the United States humbly admitted an error in bombing a wedding party in Afghanistan, killing around 40 people and injuring more than 60. Bombs and rockets in our country symbolize a celebration of freedom, but in other parts of the world, these explosions are all too real, bringing carnage, death and grueling efforts to survive destruction of homes and livelihood.
This error, undoubtedly labeled 'collateral damage', stands next to a smattering of misguided bombs which have inadvertently and regrettably killed hundreds of civilians in numerous countries over the past few years. As reported by the BBC, during the current Bush administration's war on terror in Afghanistan, U.S. planes accidentally killed four Canadians in April, bombed the town of Hazar Qadam in January, fired at a caravan of tribal elders en route to the inauguration ceremony for Hamid Karzai and last October hit a residential area in Kabul rather than the intended helicopter at the airport. Oops.
For the pilots and American citizens, these mistakes are akin to losses while playing a video game. From afar, with targets merely illuminated points on a screen, the people who die are unreal, just numbers and statistics. When we kill by remote control, our hands are theoretically clean. The computer won't show blood and won't cry; it's a machine, an abstraction.
The people affected by our ubiquitous blunders, however, are terribly real, as is their pain. In February of 1991, during the Gulf War, U.S. planes bombed a women's and children's shelter in Baghdad called al-Amiriya. Hundreds of civilians died as a result of the two bombs hitting this supposed-safe haven. The U.S. apologized after realizing what happened, but still continues to bomb the country.
The rhetoric about a "new war" with Iraq is a farce. We are already at war informally with them. Friday June 28th we dropped bombs in the South of Iraq. Wednesday the 26th of June as well. On Thursday the 20th of June four people in Iraq were killed when U.S. planes bombed them. Eighteen people were wounded when bombs fell on Iraq on the 25th of May. And another four were killed when we bombed Iraq on February 6th. I'd imagine that Iraqis feel attacked and besieged as bombs continue to fall in an undeclared, ongoing, indefinite war that inevitably targets civilians.
When I tell people this, they invariably say, "Where'd you hear this? Why didn't I know about it?" It's in the news, alright, but it's just hard to find. These statistics get buried in the middle of stories about deposing Saddam Hussein and vilifying his evil acts.
"But Saddam kills his own people!" He did this in the 1980's as well when he was our friend. We just turned a blind eye then. Besides, we kill our own people, executing hundreds of people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. The crime of a state murdering its own civilians looks different when it's on our own soil.
Incidentally, these bombs that rain down on Iraq are illegal under international law. They were not approved by Congress nor by the United Nations. The United States justifies dropping bombs as we unlawfully patrol Iraqi borders enforcing the bogus "no fly zones." Iraqis have become sadly accustomed to the noisy air raid sirens.
You cannot achieve peace through war. The United States cannot continue to be proud guardians of weapons of mass destruction and deify their usage, apologize for their errors and claim that we are the land of the free and the home of the brave. Do these mistakes which take innocent lives make us safer or prove our strength or our liberty? Is it righteous or noble to kill unarmed guests at a wedding? Moreover, to what end are we still bombing Afghanistan - has it brought us closer to capturing Osama bin Laden? Has enough justice not been rendered on the citizens of Afghanistan to make up for the loss of lives on September 11th?
We are not alone on this small planet, a fact that ought to be in the hearts and minds of all Americans as the nationally celebrated holiday approaches. We drive automobiles made in Japan, drink coffee from South America, wear clothes made in Southeast Asia, buy oil from the Middle East and Africa and import furniture from Sweden. Even our fireworks are made in China!
On July 4th, millions of American children lit sparklers tracing their names in the night sky. If only they were also to trace the names of any of the thousands of displaced Afghani children, due to the bombings, who are still refugees on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If only they were also to trace the names of the Iraqi children who are their same-age counterparts, held captive under the sanctions and threatened almost daily by U.S. bombs. On Interdependence Day, each and every one of us is affected by an errant bomb.
Leah C. Wells serves as Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.