School Shootings and House Bombings, Road Bombings, Raids, Highways of Death: A Portrait of America

Another school shooting.  What’s the deal?  Do we care?  Or do we tsk-tsk it away?  “Such a shame.  What’s wrong with kids these days?”  What’s wrong with kids?  What’s wrong with America?  This is the pertinent question.1


Indeed, what is wrong with a country that loudly proclaims itself both democratic leader and dictator of the world?  Police, peace keeper, terrorist?  What’s the difference?  What’s the difference when New Orleans is still destroyed, when that disaster is met not by humanitarian relief but by mercenaries and so-called reconstruction—a euphemism for private contractors making big money out of the ruination of thousands of lives. 


Why are we surprised then when young adults and children take guns and shoot each other in schools?  Hell, why do we even care about that when it happens every day in the colorful ghettos of our nation?  I refuse to grieve for horrific school shootings until our media and citizenry equally recognize the horror and terror of every black-on-black act of violence, of every under-educated person in this country, and significantly recognize the absolute hypocrisy, massive scale atrocity, actual genocide that we are currently perpetrating in Iraq.  We!  Us!  U.S.A.!  The bastion of freedom and democracy; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!  How is it that we are so willfully ignorant of the destruction, death, deprivation, depression, and degradation that we daily inflict on the world?


Every time we fill up our gas tanks, we are oppressors.  Every time we drink clean water while women, children, and men throughout the world go thirsty, are we not committing some kind of moral crime?  How is it that our media and government have convinced us that it is even possible, much less desirable, to wage an ongoing, possibly endless War on Terror?


In short, how is it that we run through our daily routines and manage to go out to eat at night, make small talk and laugh at jokes, when iraqbodycount.org estimates that between 81,269 – 88,720 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the beginning of the “war” in April of 2003?  Iraq Body Count’s count, by the way, is a conservative estimate, with “Data… drawn from cross-checked media reports, hospital, morgue, NGO and official figures to produce a credible record of known deaths and incidents.”  This does not include, by the way, civilian casualties from the first Gulf War and from the period of sanctions that lasted thirteen years.  It does not include injuries, or the number of dispossessed.  This number of between 81,269 – 88,720 Iraqi civilians is only inclusive of those who have been “cross-checked,” whose deaths are drawn from a “credible record.”  In other words, it’s a low-ball figure.  It doesn’t fully represent the full horror, carnage, inhumanity, depravity, and sorrow of life and death in the fractured, privatized, fearful land that used to be known as Iraq, which used to also be known as Mesopotamia, now known as nothing but the destitute land where Americans come to kill people and get rich—and I should also mention, where American soldiers come to die, and come to carry out murderous orders which they may or may not later be prosecuted for.2


I fail to see how, in this climate of violence, disregard for law and simple human kindness, in this era of arrogant power-over and might-makes-right, in this culture of petty individualism and under-funded everything (except of course, war and terror and war on terror), we are still able to be shocked, horrified, and even mournful over another little blip of violence like a school shooting.  I mean, I’m totally desensitized to this shit by now.


That’s not completely true.  But speaking of desensitization to violence, let me belabor my point by striking my readership once more over the head with details: According to James Ridgeway’s introduction to Riverbend’s collected blog entries, Baghdad Burning, an estimated “56,000 Iraqi soldiers” (not terrorists, not insurgents, but soldiers in an army) “and 3,500 Iraqi civilians died during the fighting.”3  3,500 Iraqi civilians killed in the fighting of Gulf War One, and a highway in Kuwait littered with burnt and bombed cars, trucks, tanks, corpses of retreating Iraqi soldiers.  Hey kids, can you say “war crime?”  No mercy for the enemy on what has been dubbed the highway(s) of death.4  No mercy indeed, for the enemy or any Iraqi for that matter now, in the 21st century, as the US occupies, loots, and dehumanizes Baghdad, Mosra, Faloojeh, Basra, Ramadi, and all the rest.  Raids are now not carried out on insurgents, but as Riverbend reports in her “Road Trip” entry for August 29th, 2003, “raids are exclusively for decent people who can’t shoot back or attack.  Raids are for the poor people in Ramadi, Ba’aquba, and Mosul.”5  


Let me continue this dizzying and violent time/death re-cap by returning us to an earlier point in time: that limbo hell time between invasions and occupation, that time when intermittent bombers trailed across the skies of Iraq, blowing stuff up at intervals, that time of sanctions, the time of denied medicines, imported food, UN dependency, and ongoing depredation of infrastructure, ongoing denial of human rights of millions of human beings punished for the foreign policy sins of a formerly U.S.-supported dictator, the Evil Dread Death Lord himself, Saddam Hussein.  According to Yale University demographer Beth Osborne Daponte (quoted by Ridgeway), ten months after the ceasefire of February 1991, “health problems caused by the war led to 110,000 more deaths, of which 70,000 were children under 15.”  Furthermore, Ridgeway writes, “estimates in a report completed in 2003 [indicate] that there were from about 345,000 to 530,000 excess deaths of children under five between 1990 and 2002.”3  Children under five years old!!  The numbers are horrifying, all the more so because they represent only the youngest fraction of the population! 


Yet how we suffer in America, with our school shootings and World Trade Centers.  How we suffer and suffer, over and over with our routine days of malaise, of reality TV and too many hamburgers, how we suffer from obesity and depression, suffer for our faith and our freedoms, how we suffer from cradle to grave by the ungratefulness of the ingrates of the third world, how we suffer from the ungrateful brats who mill dangerously about downtown streets in American cities, how we suffer for the coloreds of the world, the queers, and the entertainers.  Oh, oh, how we suffer!!  We suffer for our Founding Fathers, our Father in Heaven, our Foundation Rock of Solid Rock Democracy; we suffer for Gold’s Gym and our Gold Visa and our Solid Gold Dancers. 


We do suffer in America.  We are the most spiritually impoverished people I’ve ever even heard of.  We suffer from overwork, from apathy and malaise and a severe spiritual malnutrition that has crippled us so that we fail to recognize the suffering of humanity unless it is clothed in white skin and removed comfortably from our daily lives for pathetic, mournful display in our dens and living rooms.  Because of this suffering, school shootings continue.  Because of this suffering, we daily inflict horrors in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the government and Noam Chomsky only know where else—Latin America, Africa, Asia?  Perhaps Antarctica?  Surely not our friends in Europe and Great Britain?  Because of this suffering we look the other way, we build artificial paradises and consume artificial panaceas of all kinds; we lose ourselves in virtual reality and obsess with gadgets, machinery, soulless bits of technology, all the while unknowingly (or do we know, just dare not look?) fueling the industries that plague and rape and kill and maim every piece of living, breathing, vital life that the Earth has produced over billions of years.  We put the Earth’s billion-year brew into our cars and use it up within a week, a day, and then drive back to British Petroleum to get more.  Consume, consume, consume, and when the violence comes home to roost—a school shooting here, another murder there, road rage, cancer, twin towers imploding—we consume that, too.




  1. For an insightful analysis and commentary of the latest school butchery, read “Northern Ill. University: Was the Killer Crazy, or the Campus Hopeless?” by Mark Ames: http://www.alternet.org/stories/77226/
  2. “US Soldiers Kill Unarmed Iraqis and Afghanis” by Robert Perry: http://www.alternet.org/stories/77064 or http://www.consortiumnews.com/2008/021208.html
  3. Baghdad Burning, Introduction by James Ridgeway, pages xiv and xv
  4. http://archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-71-593-3127/conflict_war/gulf_war/clip14,  http://deoxy.org/wc/wc-death.htm
  5. http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/2003_08_01_riverbendblog_archive.html

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