When tragedy strikes our own children, we collectively mourn. The world would be a better place if we did the same for the children of others.
Figure 1: Pakistani Children Keeping Vigil for the Sandy Hook Victims Click image for the source
In my novel, The Revelation of Herman Smiley the title character is tasked with remembering what much of humanity has forgotten in our seven thousand year odyssey of civilization. For fear of spoiling the ending, I will reveal that this lost memory is, “It’s all about the children.” Herman Smiley feels like a fool for taking so long to remember something so simple and so glaringly obvious. Well he should. And so should we as we go about our lives wasting incalculable resources in wealth, time and emotion on meaningless paradigms of success, growth, status and so called “work ethic.” We, all of us, including at times this author, often lose the most basic and primal truth of human (and many other species’) existence to the rote and ritual regimens of everyday life.
Tragically, moments like the horrific Sandy Hook massacre jolt us back into stark reality. We’ve forgotten the children. We grieve for the fallen, for the bereaved parents and loved ones. However, a part of us retains a certain remorse for our own forgetfulness when it comes to the children. As a result we spend some time holding our own even tighter, being more attentive, more appreciative of the beauty and promise that we recognize as childhood. People die all over the world to war, famine, crime and sickness. These deaths are all mini-tragedies. When it’s children, however, we understand viscerally that there’s a qualitative difference in the pathos. We know that more than a life has been lost, but also a promise a dream for our own future.
When President Obama eulogized the deaths of the Sandy Hook victims he recognized this basic truth. “This is our first task caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.” He offered an understanding and empathy not just as a national leader at a time of profound sorrow, but as a feeling man and as a devoted father. “There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace that is true. The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger we know that’s what matters. We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.”
More importantly, President Obama recognized the necessary, communitarian roots requisite of constructing a healthy childworld. “And we know we can’t do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together
” We all share responsibility for the children of our community, city, nation
world! It’s all about the children. All of the children.
Like most who listened to the President’s lofty words, I was moved. Yet it was difficult to synchronize his statements in Connecticut with his actual policies. How can Obama’s sincere remorse for the little lives lost in Sandy Hook, and all over the country, flow so effortlessly from the same man responsible for the deaths of children unfortunate enough to find themselves at the receiving end of a drone strike. According to Robert Greenwald, and the activist organization War Costs
62 children have been killed by drone strikes during Obama’s presidency, the equivalent of three Sandy Hook massacres. Since the drone program began under George W. Bush, 178 children, almost nine Sandy Hooks, have been confirmed killed.
Yet drone attacks are only one avenue through which scores of Sandy Hook massacres are taking place in our name. U.S. wars and combat operations all over the world result in the senseless slaughter of children. For over a decade, the United States has overseen the deaths of children in Afghanistan. Military policy in Afghanistan under Obama condones the targeting of children who show “potential hostile intent.” The Administration also defines all “fighting age” males as potential combatants unless it can be demonstrated otherwise. How “fighting age” can be determined, especially from the air, is not clearly stated.
Indeed, many of the forces we are fighting do not hesitate to use children for military purposes. The Taliban is known to use children to help support its soldiers in attacking American positions. Also, what constitutes fighting age in the United States is not the norm throughout the world. Regardless, we must understand that these are nations in which the United States was not invited. We invaded not because it was the only policy, but because we can. For the United States, history’s most powerful military culture, invasion is the easy choice, never the only choice. We often justify invasion using the omnibus rationalization known as the war on terror, but terror cannot be defeated by drone strikes and cluster bombs. So the war on terror is a false pretense as clearly betrayed In the case of Iraq, in which almost four thousand children were confirmed killed as a result of combat operations and related violence. At least two hundred Sandy Hooks.
Besides, the tragedy of child soldiers is, when convenient, embraced or even ignored by the Obama Administration. The Administration continues to provide aid and training to nations known to use child soldiers. This is happening despite the fact that such funding is a clear violation of the Child Soldier Prevention Act; a law once co-sponsored by a certain Senator Obama.
Let’s not forget that President Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Add on top of that the more complicated calculus of child death and suffering resulting from American policies. How many children are currently dying in Iran as a result of US led sanctions against that country? It’s impossible to say for sure, but if we look at the devastating Iraqi Sanctions put into place in 1991, we can get a good idea. As many as half a million child deaths can be attributed to that policy.
Then there is the blind eye that is shielded from ruinous trade policies and corporate exploitation that leads to the suffering and death of children from the coltan mines in West Africa to child labor mills and sweatshops throughout the developing world. The deaths of children under the American flag are, in essence, the equivalent of countless Sandy Hooks every year
in our name.
Whenever such tragedies in which children are the target occur we are hard put to define the cause. Is the murderer mad, suffering from some unfortunate mental illness? Perhaps he is a psychopath, a sadist or sociopath. It could be that he is just plain evil, unworthy of even the hint of a more sympathetic understanding. In most cases, we never really know for sure.
Yet how may we describe political policies, carried out in our name, which results in even worse deadly consequences?
If we really care about children
If we really care about children.