Friday, May 21, 2004

Out of Balance

Here's an article written by a dear friend of mine in Detroit. Shea writes a weekly column for the Michigan Citizen called, "Thinking for Ourselves."

By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, May 23-29, 2004

The mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners is a scandal that will not go away. The President has apologized, sort of. The Secretary of Defense has said he didn’t know this kind of thing was going on. The generals are claiming the abuse was the result of a few “bad apples.” Right-wing talk show hosts charge the incidents of mistreatment are being blown out of proportion, that the photos disclose nothing more than good-humored fraternity pranks. Conservatives are outraged by the outrage. And now the Pentagon and the White House are claiming that Seymour Hersh, whose careful articles in the New Yorker broke the story, doesn’t know what he’s talking about. In just a week’s time the administration moved from concern to attack. In an effort to avoid blame, this administration is robbing the American people of an opportunity to explore how we have come to this point in our history.

But the images of Abu Ghraib will not go away. They have captured an essential ugliness about American power. The face of the prison guard, grinning astride a pile of hooded, naked men, is a macabre parody of how much of the world sees our nation. Before our eyes, flexing military muscle to humiliate, emasculate, and denigrate the very souls of those whom we label as ‘others’ has become as American as apple pie.

We owe the world more than an apology. We owe ourselves more than the effort to place blame on a few soldiers. We owe more than a painful investigation into what will ultimately prove to be the complicity of the Secretary of Defense and the Pentagon in creating the context for these abuses.

It is time for us to raise a fundamental question. Are we willing to continue to use military might to secure the wealth of the world for ourselves? We are less than 6% of the population of the earth, yet we consume over 30% of its resources. This is an unholy and unnatural imbalance. It can only be maintained by force.

Most of us, as we shop at Wal-Mart, pump gas into our cars, toss out the countless devices that crowd our lives and clutter our landscape, don’t dwell on what it takes to keep this imbalance in place. We don’t think of ourselves as connected to some vast effort to exploit and dehumanize others.

But the harsh truth is that the way of living for most Americans is a way of death for much of the rest of the world. We can try to apologize for this. We can say we didn’t really know this kind of thing was going on. We can claim it’s just a few bad rich people who benefit from this system. We can say such charges are way out of proportion to the good we do in the world.

But the photos from Abu Ghraib are not going away. They are about more than the crassness of a president and his willingness to wage war at all costs. They capture the very real costs to our own young men and women and to their
brothers and sisters around the globe of a way of life that is out of balance.

The original people of this continent, the first to suffer the full extent of the destructive power of the U.S. military, have a modern-day slogan. It says, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” The photos from Abu Ghraib are an opportunity to look at the deal we struck a long time ago, before Bush and his war on terror. They mirror a truth we should not evade.

For more info, see the Boggs Center website,

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