|A Science Fiction Fanzine||Summer 2004|
An editorial you knew was coming.
Do you feel disgraced? Do you feel shamed? You should. You are. We all are - all we Americans.
It's the incongruity of this photo that makes it so obscene. The girl is gorgeous, all-American dimples and smile, giving the all-American thumbs-up over the butchered body of a nameless Iraqi corpse. We'd like to think it incongruous, anyway. Apart from the absurdity of such a beautiful creature expressing glee and pride over such a grisly trophy, there's our whole conception of ourselves, of Americans - a happy, pretty, superior people, who don't do things like that.
But there is no incongruity. There's merely truth. We are a happy, pretty people who think we're superior, fully capable of things just like that - and grinning over them.
Remember the ditch at My Lai, and Jack Lemmon's portentous line about it from Save the Tiger: "What about that ditch?" What did that ditch tell us about our American selves? What do these hideous photographs out of Abu Ghraib tell us about ourselves? If this sickening behavior is un-American, as we are assured by Bush and his administration, then who are these people? If Americans are not torturing prisoners, then who is torturing prisoners? If this isn't our failure, our responsibility, our doing - then whose is it?
A corrupt war corrupts its warriors. I knew this was coming when the first film from conquered Baghdad reached American TV. A panicky G.I. is ordered to lower his weapon as he pointed it at a group of Iraqis on the street, people who, Saddam or not, did not take kindly to having their country invaded. More panicky G.I.s slaughters a carful of Iraqi women and children for misunderstanding shouted commands - in English - at a checkpoint. Panicky G.I.s bomb and strafe wedding parties firing celebratory guns into the air. Panicky G.I.s raid Iraqi homes looking for anything suspicious - including loose money. And goon squads in uniforms are given carte blanche to get creative with outright torture, because it will "soften up" Iraqis - Iraqis who may have heard stories about American evil before, but who will never harbor doubts about it again. Don't be naive. Don't be mistaken. For as long as we live, the rest of humanity will despise us for the crimes at Abu Ghraib.
But as an American, I must protest. In this Challenger I celebrate wonderful Americans - Julie Schwartz, Quinn Yarbro, and yes, Harlan Ellison. In this summer my wife and I have dealt with other really excellent American people - Geri Sullivan, John Guidry, Fred & Mary Ann van Hartesveldt, Joe & Lisa Major, Joe & Patty Green, not to mention our whole boisterous American community of science fiction. On a personal level, my American family has kicked in with love and support during a rough patch, stunning me with their decency. Such as these are the true heart of America. It sickens me to my core to associate them with Abu Ghraib. But: here are the pictures. What choice do we have?
I'll tell you what choice. We don't allow this. We don't rationalize it. We don't accept it. We reject it. We prosecute Abu Ghraib right up the ladder, starting with sadistic little shits like Buchenwald Barbie here and climbing all the way to the suits who either ordered such behavior, or enabled it.
The Secretary of Defense tells interrogators to get touch on John Lindh and other "enemy combatants"? He's a disgrace to our country and a menace to our people in uniform - because how dare we protest atrocities against them? Get rid of him. John Ashcroft's Justice Department issues memos justifying torture and mocking the Geneva accords? He's a disgrace to our country and a menace to everyone's civil liberties - because if all we have to rely on is our might, then what will befall us when we are not the mightiest? Get rid of him. Their inarticulate, mean, shallow boss relies on the word of a con man and a known fantasy of Weapons of Mass Destruction as a pretext for war? Creates the atmosphere which enables an Abu Ghraib? He's a fool and a disgrace to our country, and we have an election coming up: get rid of him.
To erase the shame of Abu Ghraib, in fact the disgrace of the whole sick dumb lawless lie that is the war in Iraq, erase the administration that took us there. Prove to mankind that we've been saying in protest is true in practice: Americans are not like that and will not tolerate such behavior.
Are we like that? You tell me. Better still, tell Sandra Bond in England, Lloyd Penney in Canada, Inge Glass in Germany, Craig Hilton in Australia. Tell my nephews in Buffalo, or Naomi Fisher's baby, in the future. What about that ditch? Is it a chasm into which we simply throw body after body, or do we close it up forever?
Are we a country of bullies and thugs - or a people who believe in justice?
The world awaits our reply.