“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”- Howard Zinn
It is hard to imagine that a healthy mind would consider the murder of a child to be a justifiable action. It is the frightening action of monsters, the child killer. Not much is more pariah in a civilized society than such a being. As one series of wars slowly wind down, the drums beat to the distant call of likely more wars. It is the routine conduct of some nations to always be in a state of war, always to be “over there.” And no matter how many innocent are killed, how many children are murdered, there is never any justice, little is learned, and no shame is felt.
With the magical language of legalese, the collective responsibilities of the state, and abstract notions such as “social contracts” and the assumed right of government to rule, the lines of justification for the death of not just a child but of many children suddenly becomes, for some, complicated. Through action of very real violence those representing the state directly will and have murdered many children. At time this was done with direct intention, and on other occasions it was a known outcome where calculations of either tactical or strategic ambition were weighed up, and sometimes it was a mistake. A frequent mistake.
“We took ground fire and we returned fire. We estimate that around 40 were killed. But we operated within our rules of engagement.”- U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt on the Mukaradeeb Wedding Party Massacre (May 19, 2004), 42 civilians killed, 13 of them children
It is then that the collective in some ways assumes responsibility. When the dead children are familiar, the call to justice is strong. Those who are associated with the killers are considered the enemy and often considered as guilty. The ‘trigger pullers’ are guilty, some may argue not if they were obeying orders. When the children are murdered in the application of foreign policy, guilt tends to be suffocated beneath the layers of bureaucracy and national politics. The murdered children of foreign policy become non-entities, dehumanized and made to seem unlike us. But like the victims of criminals at home, they are very human, They are the same as us.
Western liberal democracy is considered to be sacred. It has values that ensure its civilized perfume lingers on. Beyond its frontiers are barbaric regions of hatred and zealotry, religious fanatics and tribalism. The West is secular and has reason, beyond which is the endless wilderness of savages. Despite this belief the nations of Western reason have continued to go abroad and kill for decades. With a zealotry that transcends any theology, it can only be found inside the halls of academic pontification that such mass murder is always justified and conducted for good cause.
“We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms.”
“Given the damage we were willing to cause to the bodies and minds of innocent children in Afghanistan and Iraq, our disavowal of torture in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seems perverse.”– Sam Harris, The End of Faith
It is the miracle of collective obligation and responsibility that both removes any obligation and responsibility while also spreading it across an abstract amount of individuals. A national government can kill thousands of children, with the intention of punishing the populace that they belong to. It is done in the name of national interest, the interest of the liberal democracy and its people. It is the strategic ambition and intention so determined by those who are elected through the legal institution and processes of liberal democracy.
How far along the line does the responsibility for the murder of those innocent children go? The operators of the weapons systems, the commanding officers, the logistics crews, the war planners, the policy makers, the contractors, the manufacturers, the voters, the taxpayers, the unborn, etc? It is a calculus that tends to go only one way, against them and not upon those inside the privileged Western liberal democracy.
“War is when innocent people are killed for the interests of others.”– Winston Churchill.
During World War II, all German citizens were often considered responsible for the deeds of their government. Babies not born when London was blitzed or children unaware of the mass death camps being managed by the government that ruled over them all in some way became a legitimate target to be bombed from above. Inside Japan, not a democracy but a complicated imperial system of arrogant layers that lead to the murder and torture of millions, the private citizen had no say in government policy. But in the mind of planners a powerless Japanese baby was somehow still responsible for the policy of its government. In killing a child does this punish the community, the nation, or government? Such is the act of terror. Terrible it may be, it is argued by the killers that innocent life can be taken so long as it serves the cause of the righteous.
“In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.”- Robert McNamara
We are told that those in the liberal West enjoy a free society, they are nations of laws with checks and balances whose leaders are elected. The people have a say, either directly or through representation. When a national government of the liberal West murders the innocent, does that then make the citizenry who vote in free and fair elections responsible? It seems not.
It is a skewed perspective of justice. Perhaps a victors? A sane mind knows that it is wrong to kill the innocent. Especially a child. A liberal democracy is full of sane and rational individuals who value such virtues. Most claim to cherish justice, freedom, and the right not to be murdered, especially from a foreign military that has travelled far with the intention of starving, bombing, and assassinating with direct and random recklessness.
“55.6% percent of the U.S. public preferred and 59.3% percent approved of killing 100,000 Iranian civilians to save 20,000 U.S. soldiers”- SD Sagan & BA Valentino on a Gallup poll asking about a hypoethetical war with Iran, Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran: What Americans Really Think about Using Nuclear Weapons and Killing Noncombatants
Never have the people of the liberal democracies been held responsible, unlike many of those civilians who suffered beneath tyrants. An often claimed declaration from the private citizen is, “I can’t do anything about the wars,” or “I am powerless” and so on. Well then, what good is such a system of government if that is the case? The very virtues boasted by such governance are meaningless when they matter most.
The children that are blown to pieces in a drone strike or starved to death in an embargo are living human beings. They are not fictional creatures invented for talking points. The animosity and grief felt by those who love such children, the pain that the children themselves endure are very real and ever lasting. They do not suddenly evaporate because the policy of a liberal democracy had claimed good intentions.
“Most children killed and injured directly by U.S. forces and their allies were killed the same way as their parents: they died when bombs fell; when they were caught in ‘cross-fire’; shot in night raids; shot at check-points and run over by U.S. convoys who speed through the streets and roads. The roadside deaths are often not recorded unless the U.S. gives some compensation to the families.”- Neta Crawford, Accountability for Killing: Moral Responsibility for Collateral Damage in America’s Post-9/11 Wars
Children whose parents were not even born during a war have been blown to pieces as they walk to school or play when a mine or bomb that had been sitting for decades suddenly explodes. Long buried in the marsh or jungles near their homes, they are horrible reminders of the past when liberal democracy visited their lands. This is the reality for thousands of innocent humans in the decades since the United States waged war on South East Asia.
A war that was fought to end communism; to save the people by bombing them. The planes and crews have long retired. The nation that dropped the bombs has moved on. It is a distant memory of mostly pop culture now, trapped in the films of Oliver Stone and Francis Ford Coppola. To the people of those lands it is still a home that continues to explode with random death and with chemicals that mutate babies with such frequency. But for the liberal democracy that war ended long ago. Not for its victims. Especially the children yet born.
Many years after the war some administration officials may admit some guilt as Robert McNamara exhibited in “The Fog of War” but most are venerated and cheered as heroes of history. It is always the great nations over there, it is always an expedition or crusade of the righteous. To quote Peter Van Buren, it is claimed that “we meant well.” Is that enough to wash away so much blood? And did “we” mean well in the end? an one shake the hand of so many demons and not expect to be considered the devil?
Maybe the only reason why the child killer from within is considered so wicked is because it may have been your baby, or a familiar’s that was murdered. Those abroad may as well be statistics, photos that no one can embrace. Perhaps the reason why war comes so easy to these exceptional nations is that the citizens who make it possible have an ideology of neurosis. Everything everywhere may in some way harm them, so they need to act with paranoid might, just in case. And should the blowback occur, then they have an absolute right to kill all, even children.
“We think the price is worth it.”- Madeline Alrbright, U.S. Secretary of State on the near half a million Iraqi children killed by U.S. sanctions in the 1990s.
It is after all the righteous domain of government to declare a city legitimate for destruction, to be bombed by fleets of planes or that a region should be made a “free-fire-zone” where soldiers may kill anyone or thing that lurks inside of the lines on a map. That entire nations may be starved of food and denied medicine, that children may be targeted by a drone, even if a citizen of ones very own nation. Would it matter if war was declared by Congress, senate or parliament or that war had not been declared at all? It does not change the fact that thousands are murdered. It is the power of the righteous to kill the children of another, simply because they can. Because they think it is worth it.
“Nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021, four United Nations agencies warned today. Of these, 400,000 are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition and could die if they do not receive urgent treatment.”- World Health Organization report on the coalition war and blockade against Yemen (February 12, 2021)
When ISIS executes children in an almost universally agreed upon atrocious act, we are told this is why such a group is hated and opposed. These actions which make them monstrous is one of the defining aspects of such organizations, just as the Khmer Rouge or Lords Resistance Army are death squads of brutal conduct with countless victims. Still they have followers, supporters and those who enable, not to mention the killers who believe in the objectives and even methods. Not all of the killers are brutalized press ganged children or brainwashed zealots but many are willing individuals of rational thought. As perverse as it seems, some are even apologists for such cruelty and attempt to justify it, ends to means as such. When it is a collective that murders in the name of a cause, others will rationalize the calculations, weigh the murder upon intended outcomes. As a non-state actor, these groups are by definition illegitimate, criminal.
It is in the extreme examples of violence and torture that such illegitimate terror groups and regimes are considered pariah. It is not because they collect taxation, provide services, and operate schools. It is what most would agree to be considered, as McNamara calls it, “evil;” kidnap, torture, rape, murder and especially killing children, these are the evils that define such regimes and organizations. They are the evil actions of evil actors. What good lurks among this evil is not determined by the victims but only by those who are in someway involved in the evil acts. For some of those who live in the liberal democracies responsible, they can even pretend that this evil never happens at all.
“…many readers are no doubt thinking that war is a messy, unpredictable business, which always ends up hurting innocent people, such as children. Exactly. That is why war must end.”- John Horgan, Scientific American
The great nations of western liberal democracy continue to exercise imperial ambitions abroad. Creating instability when they claim to bring it, installing tyrants when they are supposed to oppose them, fighting terror by either supporting, training, enabling and allying with such groups. It is the alchemy of death and mayhem that planners play with, conducting “peace missions” that either prolong war or expand it and at times create an animosity that may lead to further wars. Murder of the innocent is not just the domain of government, but the government is the only entity with the exceptionalism to be “allowed” to do so. And in a liberal democracy does so, despite defying the virtues that it such governments apparently stand for.
“Running became a death sentence, even for women and children, with the dead person’s actions being recorded as ‘tactically manoeuvring’ to a firing position.”- Brereton Report on Australian war crimes in Afghanistan
Job security and patriotism are the often rationalized calculations as to why individuals can participate and ignore such murder. Indifference does not wash away so much blood. If you claim to support the government and profit from its actions, you under many definitions are complicit. In the eyes of the less moral, a legitimate target. After all it is likely that your own government would reserve such a definition for you, if you were born over there. Even your children would be considered legitimate to murder in such a case.
“The aim of Bomber Command should be unambiguously and publicly stated, that aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilised life throughout Germany. The creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale and the obliteration of German cities and their inhabitants.”- Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, Royal Air Force
Claiming to care about something and then ignoring it is not caring. Boasting that the murder of the innocent is abhorrent and then playing a dance of intellectual masturbation to justify it only proves that you support the mass murder. Most killers have a rationale and claim to have a righteous reason, whether through self preservation or a paranoid need to push their reach into the lives of others. In the end, the victims suffer. You can not claim to be good if all you ever do is evil (even if you believe otherwise). And ignorance of the murder is a choice in our age of constant information.
The next time your government commits to kill in your name, no matter how righteous the mission seems, it won‘t seem that way in a matter of years. No matter how evil the enemy is, they will pale compared to the next. And no mater how different the people are to you, there is more in common than you realize. If you dare to view the photo of a corpse wrapped in carpet congealed in dirt and blood, or of a young child burned to the bone from phosphorous or dismembered because of a land mine, they were real children. The stench, the pain, the agony are absent in the distance between you and them, but it is all too real. Just imagine that the child is your own, or at the very least a familiar.
Learoyd: “Why would you ever kill this baby, huh? Why?”
Captain Fairbourne: “Why would you have let me?”
From ‘Farewell to the King’
Perhaps we need to be the monarchs of our own morality. Moral dignity does not come from the mob or from law but from your very own principles as an individual. Nothing will change if you outsource your dignity and principles to others. So much collective cruelty is made possible because the individual does not stand up and defy the blood lust of the group. Even when that group is familiar and even when that blood belongs to a stranger. She loved being tucked in at night by her father, he loved to play soccer with his friends; why would you allow your government to murder them? They are children, imperfect beings but perfect in their innocence of the cruelty in this world. Innocent of the indifference and absolute power that strangers far away have over their lives. If you do not care or in some way think that they deserve to die to satisfy abstract ambitions then maybe you are just another child killer too.