a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

A nation turns its stony eyes from you

Posted by Thomas Nephew on May 6th, 2008

Last week I had to put down my newspaper in the Metro for a long time. The front page news photo — connected with the story “U.S. Role Deepens in Sadr City” — was this:

Two-year-old Ali Hussein is pulled from the rubble of his family’s home in the Shiite
stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, April 29, 2008.
(Karim Kadim/AP Photo)

It might have been a more cropped version. Certainly all I looked at was the boy, Ali Hussein, aged 2. According to the caption, he died at the hospital he was brought to. Reacting to the photo in a letter to the editor this weekend, Virginia mom Valerie Murphy was upset, writing:

We know that a war is going on. Must you use a photograph of a dying Iraqi 2-year-old, especially on the front page?

I can think of no other reason for putting such a picture on the front page than to stir up opposition to the war and feed anti-U.S. sentiment.

You have sensationalized a child’s death and subjected young children to inappropriate images. From now on, I will preview what’s in your paper before my children see it.

Because after all, it’s all about the children.

As another great Virginian once said, “It is well that war is so invisible, or we should grow weary of it,” or some similarly repellent comment. This ought to be (yet another) “Napalm Girl” photo of the Iraq War, but it’s gone MIA from the Internet since then, except at the photojournalism analysis site BAGnewsNotes, Glenn Greenwald, and the Kansas City Star.

It’s a small miracle it ever appeared at the Washington Post — it’s less of one that you won’t find the front page photo they used there now.* Meanwhile lead editor Fred Hiatt was writing this weekend that Somalian chaos proves we’re right to be creating Iraqi chaos, or something like that. Hence my reposting of the photo, which I hope falls under “fair use” given that I’m discussing it here.

Did the pilot who dropped the bomb intend to kill Ali Hussein? No. Did the commander who gave him the order take sufficient care to avoid that? I don’t know — though dropping a bomb in a populated neighborhood ought to be a last resort, even for a highly critical mission. Let alone this one. Did the commander-in-chief who continues to wage this war take sufficient care to avoid it? Definitely not. Did the people who voted him into office twice, or who ever supported a needless war? Also, no. Did this or does this war and occupation serve any discernible legitimate purpose? Not in my opinion.

I’m among those who ever supported this war — so some of little Ali’s blood is on my hands too. At the time, I thought I was advocating protecting my own child and others from future attacks, ones worse than 9/11. Instead, if anything, I’ve made them more likely.

And if a Ms. Murphy speaks for any appreciable number of others, or if we passively allow this war to continue, we may collectively deserve the “terror nation” epithet Rev. Wright so controversially bestowed. Just as with Senator Durbin’s comments once about abuses at Guantanamo, what was said is not unthinkable. It’s not impossible. It may or may not always have been the truth, but it may be the truth now.

My own little Maddie turns 10 today. I love her dearly. I know this boy’s father must have loved him, too — look at him, he’s an angel even in his final moments. There’s nothing I can do for either of them but ask forgiveness — and do whatever peaceful thing I can think of to help bring this war to an end.

* A zoomed out shot of the same scene, from a different angle, is part of the online photo slideshow for the story.
UPDATE, 5/10: The father speaks (ABC News):“You attacked civilians’ houses crowded with people for the sake of a few militants,” said Hussein’s father, his face in tears. “A considerable number of people were killed for the sake of killing four.”
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8 Responses to “A nation turns its stony eyes from you”

  1. eRobin Says:

    Death from above.
    I’ve seen all manor of horrible photos from Iraq but this one is particularly affecting. How do we ask for forgiveness for any of this? I don’t see how to do it after we re-elected a war criminal and the opposition party shows no interest in stopping the carnage.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Well, forgiveness isn’t as important as stopping it somehow. But you’re right, I don’t see how to do that either, other than keep plinking away at it.

  3. Nell Says:

    This last month of air and artillery assaults on one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in all of Iraq is the most stomach-churning display since the destruction of Fallujah just after the 2004 election.
    We have to work like hell to elect every one of the candidates supporting the withdrawal plan, then once we have an Obama administration and an improved Congress, get intense in putting the war in the faces of the American public. Thanks for your recent work, Thomas.
    The letter writer is one of the 25-percenters. Forget them; they’re in deep denial. The other three-quarters of the public want the occupation to end, don’t want more of this blood on their hands, and need to see that action can produce results. I truly believe that a change at the top will give them that expectation, and that they’ll join in applying pressure from November on.

  4. Nell Says:

    But until then, a whole lot of the 75%, including those who should know better, will continue to treat efforts to push for accountability for torture, corruption, and massive domestic spying or to end funding for the occupation the same way they treated Rev. Wright — an an embarrassment, a most inconvenient and unwelcome obstacle to the election of Democratic candidates.
    Interesting that the liberals leaped to accuse Wright of vanity — an echo of Alterman’s charge of “moral vanity”. How dare we suggest that this country has problems that the Democratic candidate isn’t going to solve (or isn’t even particularly interested in solving).

  5. karen marie Says:

    thanks for the post and the photo. i can occasionally get reception on a local spanish-language tv channel and, despite my extremely limited command of spanish, i like to try to watch the news. i have found that they report more frequently on, and show video footage of, what too many americans turn away from, in comfortable revulsion — what our government has wrought in our name.

  6. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Respect! I wouldn’t have the patience for trying to glean the news from a Spanish TV broadcast; probably a good way in the long run to improve one’s working Spanish. Unfortunately, mine isn’t working. Another good source is “Real News Network“, which runs clips from overseas news sources like the Guardian, and has its own DC reporters picking up on underreported events like “Winter Soldier.” (You can also log in and collect your own favorites for archiving and re-viewing, like on YouTube; here are some of mine.)

    PS: the plan Nell’s referring to is (I assume) the “Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq“; the link leads to the web site set up by congressional candidates who developed and endorsed it. You may well have noticed posts about it here from last week. It’s mainly a legislative agenda, not a military plan, but it’s a political platform worth supporting; please consider endorsing it yourself and supporting candidates who do.

    Yes, I think Wright got short-shrifted by nearly everyone, many liberals included. (The HIV=US plot made it too easy, granted; he backpedals to “capable of it because of Tuskegee,” but that’s not how he starts out, IIRC.) The Moyers interview and subsequent editorial were pretty good, though.

  7. Myke Says:

    It’s really a disturbing picture. I think everyone has a right to know the details. It may be really a disturbing pic but it vividly shows an underlying statement.. that we all must heed.

  8. Remembering Ali Hussein | David Visentin's Web Log, Links & Commentary Towards Real Democracy Says:

    […] […]

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