If there is a more emotionally painful experience than a parent’s losing a child, I can’t imagine what it would be. The emotional wound is raw and goes down to the deepest recesses of a person’s heart and soul.
And as we see with the Connecticut massacre of all those little children, it’s not just the parents or even just Connecticut residents, who feel the pain and anguish over what has occurred. People all over the country sympathize deeply with the pain being suffered by the parents of those children.
What I find absolutely fascinating, however, is how so many Americans have a totally different reaction when it comes to the deaths of foreign children at the hands of the U.S. national-security state. There is an indifference and a callousness that defies credulity.
Yet, that mindset of indifference and callousness doesn’t seem to apply to deaths that occur from natural causes. For example, when there are deaths of foreign children that occur as a result of a tsunami or hurricane, there is a tremendous outpouring of sympathy and help among the American people. There is also tremendous empathy for foreign families who lose children at the hands of a private murderer, as we saw in Norway.
But when the deaths occur as a result of some drone strike, bomb, or sanctions at the hands of the U.S. government, everything seems to shut down within Americans. Sympathy and empathy disappear. People don’t want to hear the details. They do their best to shut out any discussion of the episode. The attitude is always, “Regrettable, but now it’s time to move on.”
Why the difference?
As I argue in my current series, “The Evil of the National Security State,” in FFF’s monthly journal, Future of Freedom, the answer lies in what the national-security state has done to the American people. In the name of fighting communism and, later, terrorism, it has warped their values and their principles and stultified their consciences.
Ever since the enactment of the National Security Act of 1947, the attitude has been that the national-security state, especially the military and the CIA, must do whatever is necessary to protect “national security.” If that means hiring Nazis to help fight the Cold War, so be it. If it means illicit drug experimentation on unknowing Americans, so be it. If it means invading foreign lands without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war, so be it. If it means assassinating foreign leaders, so be it. If it means military coups in foreign countries, so be it. If it means torture, indefinite incarceration, secret prisons, and kangaroo military tribunals, so be it. If it means assassination of American citizens and foreigners, so be it. If it means bombing wedding parties and funeral processions, so be it. If it means killing children with drones or sanctions, so be it.
Throughout the Cold War and then the “war on terrorism,” Americans have walked through the entire process in what seems to be a state of extreme numbness. All that has mattered has been “national security,” a term that has no real meaning at all and is not even found in the Constitution. As long as national security has been at stake, Americans have chosen to defer to the authority of national-security state officials. Conscience has been set aside for the sake of national security.
One of the best examples of this phenomenon was with respect to the Iraq sanctions. For 11 long years, the U.S. national-security state maintained one of the cruelest and most brutal systems of sanctions in history against Iraq. Year after year, tens of thousands of Iraqi children were dying from illnesses, malnutrition, and disease.
The situation was made worse by what the national-security state had done to Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, a war that Congress never declared. It had knowingly and intentionally destroyed Iraq’s water and sewage treatment plants with the specific aim of spreading illnesses and diseases among the Iraqi people. When the war was over, the sanctions prevented those plants from being repaired.
Throughout those 11 years, there was very little outpouring of outrage, anger, and indignation from the American people. There were some groups and individuals who spoke out against the horror but they were few and far between. Most Americans were indifferent to the massive, ever-increasing, death toll.
Even when two high UN officials, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, and Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Program in Iraq, all stricken by conscience, resigned their positions based on what was being called a “genocide” in Iraq, Americans, by and large, remained distant and detached. If the national-security state said that Saddam Hussein had to go, then that’s all that mattered. National security was everything.
There were Americans who chose to help the Iraqi people by sending them or providing them with medicines, money, or other such things. The national-security state ended up going after them with a vengeance. They included groups like Physicians for Social Responsibility and Voices in the Wilderness and individuals like Bert Sacks. National-security state officials threatened them with fines. Just recently, Sacks prevailed in the government’s relentless crusade against him in the federal courts to recover a $10,000 fine for helping the Iraqi people in violation of the sanctions.
They were the lucky ones, however. American doctor Rafil Dhafir is currently serving a 22-year jail sentence for helping the Iraqi people in violation of the sanctions. What precisely did he do? Send money to Saddam Hussein? To al-Qaeda in Iraq? Nope. He sent money to an Iraqi charity to help the Iraqi people.
Why a criminal prosecution against Dhafir and merely a civil fine against Sacks? Perhaps the answer lies in the radically different nature of the names and national origin of the two.
Only a few Americans cared what happened to Dhafir, Sacks, or anyone else who responded to the dictates of his conscience by helping the Iraqi people deal with the sanctions.
When U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright was asked in 1996 by “Sixty Minutes” whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it,” she responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”
Hardly anyone here in the United States batted an eye at her statement. After all, she was the principal spokesman for the U.S. national-security state. And national security was everything. The sanctions continued for another seven years.
The reaction was entirely different in the Middle East. There, the deep emotional pain and anguish was being suffered not only by Iraqi parents who were losing their children, it was being felt by people all over the Middle East, much as people all over the United States are feeling the pain of losing those children in Connecticut.
Imagine — year after year of watching children die, needlessly. The anger ultimately boiled into rage, which ultimately manifested itself in terrorism against the United States. In fact, when Ramzi Yousef, one of the terrorists who struck the World Trade Center in 1993, appeared for sentencing, he angrily pointed to the deaths of the Iraqi children from the sanctions as one of the reasons for his terrorism. His point about the sanctions would be repeated later by Osama bin Laden.
Yet, when the 9/11 attacks occurred, many Americans quickly accepted the explanation provided by national-security state officials — that the anger and rage that motivated the terrorists had nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy. It was all about hatred for America’s “freedom and values.” And when some of us pointed to the sanctions and other acts of U.S. interventionism as providing the motive behind the terrorist strikes, supporters of the national-security state responded with, “Oh, you’re nothing but a justifier! You’re justifying the attacks!” They were not even willing to entertain the possibility that people in other parts of the world get just as angry when children in their part of the world are killed as Americans do when children in our part of the world are killed. They simply did what they had been doing their entire lives— defer to the judgment of the national-security state.
After Saddam Hussein’s infamous WMDs failed to materialize, all to many Americans quickly accepted the national-security state’s alternative rationale for invading and occupying Iraq — to help the Iraqi people by bringing them “democracy.” Of course, hardly anyone asked U.S. officials to reconcile their new-found love for the Iraqi people with their 11 years of brutal sanctions which brought death to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.
How many deaths of Iraqi children would actually have been worth regime change in Iraq? 100,000? 50,000? 10,000? 1,000? 100?
The answer is: None. The commandment does not say, “Thou shalt not kill except for regime change or some other political goal.” It says, “Thou shalt not kill.”
But under the principles of the national-security state, God’s laws were subordinated to national security a long time ago. And in the name of national security, all too many Americans have rendered their conscience to the national-security state.