Death by ear infection
Kids are dying from preventable ailments like infections and diarrhea in a country that’s suffered its share of political violence
An act of war kills thousands in New York City. Parts of Manhattan have been reduced to rubble by the attack. The metropolis is crippled. Transportation, utilities and communications have taken a serious hit. It will take years to rebuild.
If that’s not horrifying enough, take that scene in a hypothetical direction.
What if, after the damage was done, authorities told New Yorkers that they were to have no communication or help from the outside world? What if needed medical supplies were made nearly inaccessible?
“What if they were told that their education system was going to go downhill, that they’d never get equipment for repairs, never be allowed the means to defend themselves?” says Kathy Kelly, an activist with the group Voices in the Wilderness. Kelly will give talks on “No More Victims: A Call to Justice and Healing” Sept. 20-21 in Reno. The talks were planned before the events of Sept. 11, although the focus has shifted since then.
“Suppose [New Yorkers] were told, ‘Your government is an outlaw government, and no one’s going to know about what happened to you because no one’s going to report what happened,'” she continues. “How would New Yorkers feel then? I imagine there would be some antagonism.”
Recovering from disaster in New York and at the Pentagon will take years. The losses are devastating. But sometimes Americans don’t realize that other parts of the world have been just as ravaged by political violence. And for some nations, the resources to rebuild are being withheld by stronger, more powerful world leaders.
“If we are to have security in our future, we need to understand the nameless, faceless people who often feel like dust under our shoes,” Kelly says in a telephone interview from her home in New York.
Americans rightly remember the New York/ Pentagon tragedy by putting names, faces and stories to the lost: heroic firefighters, missing spouses and brave co-workers.
But, in other countries, Kelly says, acts of political violence have led to deaths that have escaped the intense focus of the world media. One such place is Iraq, a country where civilians still pay for the acts of Saddam Hussein, a leader over whom citizens have no control.
More than a decade ago, Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait and started the Gulf War. At the war’s end, instead of removing Hussein from power, the United States and other countries banded together to quell the leader’s need to conquer. Money from the country’s oil sales would be put in an escrow account managed by the United Nations. The country is allowed to spend the money only on items approved by the U.N. sanctions committee. That seemed good. Many people were reassured that Hussein would not be able to rebuild his military arsenal.
But other rebuilding would also be difficult. The nation was in shambles, bombarded first by Iran (back when the United States had supported Iraq with weapons and training), then by the United States during the Gulf War. Water, waste disposal and electrical infrastructure never recovered in many parts of the country.
Access to drinkable water in urban areas is only half what it was in 1990, according to a United Nations report. Because the waste disposal system is similarly defunct, many children are exposed to “unhygienic conditions,” the U.N. reported. Add the problem of malnutrition into the equation, and you end up with the deaths of more than half a million children—and nearly as many adults, according to reports from UNICEF and the U.N.
“The targeting of civilian populations is not a new phenomenon in our world,” Kelly says. “The economic sanctions imposed on Iraq have done just that—targeted a huge number of civilians who had nothing to do with their government. … In fact, economic warfare is even more cruel, more brutal than military warfare.”
It’s not hard to conclude that some anti-American sentiment could build in such groups.
“Some see this as child sacrifice, a barbarity,” Kelly says. “Though nothing, nothing, nothing justifies the actions in New York. There is no excuse for that.”
In Kelly’s experience, most of the Iraqis would not have been dancing in the streets over the news that tragedy had struck the United States.
When Kelly visited Iraq during Operation Desert Fox, she met a family with a newborn baby girl. The family named the girl Hosran, which means “forgiveness.”
“When I go over there—I’m from the United States and people know it—they welcome us,” Kelly says. “They send someone out to get a Pepsi for the American, even though no one in the family has ever had one.”
Kelly has made 13 visits to Iraq since 1996. On some trips, she’s carried in supplies of medicine to hospitals in violation of the sanctions. Kelly was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 and 2001 for her efforts. She and other group members have been notified of a proposed $163,000 penalty for their illegal actions.
Kelly has seen children die in Iraq from entirely treatable things like infections and diarrhea. She talks of a mother pulling Kelly down onto the bed of her dying child, sobbing.
“She clung to me like I was her sister,” Kelly says.
In July 2000, Kelly watched as a U.S. journalist interviewed a woman whose child had suffered from an infection for 13 months before dying.
“The woman was 300 dinars [less than 20 cents] short of what was needed to buy an antibiotic on the black market,” Kelly says. “The hospital didn’t have adequate antibiotics. They had only industrial-strength oxygen, not suitable for a patient, and they couldn’t even take a blood culture to make a diagnosis.”
The journalist asked the mother what message he could bring to the people in the United States.
“I just pray that this will never happen to a mother in your country,” the woman told him.
“This is a commonplace story,” Kelly says. “I want people to know that in my many trips to Iraq, I haven’t met people who feel hatred toward the United States. I have met people who ask why, who feel trapped, who have been undergoing 11 years of being clobbered by economic and military warfare.”
The discussion of economic sanctions against Iraq is full of caveats and twists, like Hussein’s refusal to allow arms inspectors into his country. And charges that the government is spending money to buy slick palaces and withholding needed supplies from its people. Or, conversely, that the U.N. sanctions don’t allow the government to buy pencils for schoolchildren or computers or air-conditioned trucks to safely ship medications to hospitals. The Voices in the Wilderness organization discusses each such issue or objection at its Web site, www.nonviolence.org/vitw.
Kelly hopes to see people here come to the understanding that the individuals trying to survive in other parts of the world face the same kinds of struggles Americans now face in the wake of the World Trade Center destruction. She wants to see political issues resolved without resorting to violence against civilian populations of any country.
“Do we possibly think that in other lands people are that different from us that they don’t also feel waves of grief when they’ve lost someone, or feel fear when they’re vulnerable?” Kelly asks.
“Do we think we need to continue to pound on civilian targets like Iraq … and now Afghanistan? … The people who’ve been the victims in these cases have struggled to understand and extended a tremendous amount of forgiveness—except for a handful of outlaw people who said, ‘No, I’m not going to take this.' "