I underwent a fundamental change in who I am the day my first child was born almost 16 years ago. Being a mother has become the story of my life. I know that's the case for many mothers. I am now the mother of two beautiful boys. And I am simply not going to have a very good Mothers' Day this year.
I am thinking about the hundreds of thousands of mothers who have had their children murdered or traumatized just since I have been one. How many in the last 16 years, I wonder? I am so newly angry about the wars. During the decade after the first Iraq war, 5,000 children died every month as a direct result of our sanctions against that country. This killing began at the beginning of my motherhood. That's more than one 9/11 every single month, a 9/11 that took place only against children. Adults died by the droves as well. But 5,000 children? Think about that. I don't know how many have died since in our wars. I can hardly be sane and think about it.
Maybe among the wealthiest of the thousands of children we in the United States are now responsible for killing are the three infant grandchildren of Qaddafi, ages six months to two years. But the headlines the day after we killed them sounded celebratory, saying we had killed Qaddafi's son; it sounded at first glance like it was a killing that somehow needed to happen – some sort of victory – much the way the papers sounded when we killed Saddam Hussein's sons years ago. Like it was justice. No headline read, “NATO Murders Infants.” The headline never reads that way. Somewhere after the headline was a mention of the children's deaths. It took me some research to discover how old they were and what their names were, though. Or that the 29-year-old son whom we killed was not really a political actor. He was just the son of Qaddafi. Bully for us.
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That the headline never really conveys the human meaning, the flesh and bone and soul of a story, is how I console myself, how I emotionally survive. I avoid the news, to be sure, but I absorb enough of it in the environment to know that if I read it, if I paid close attention to it, I might know less and not more about my world as I become a part of the culture that can murder infants in their home without a tear or an apology because of their race, as is the case with the hundreds of thousands of poor of Afghanistan and Iraq, or because of who their grandfather is, an “evil Arab cartoon-man,” as Glen Ford put how we view Qaddafi, the human man, recently. I cope because I imagine that we kill because we are tricked into it and that we just don't really understand what we are doing.
And then there is Osama bin Laden. We shot the man in his home in front of his family, and a fair number of people in the United States celebrated in the streets. I heard this woman on NPR the other day gloating about how “Bin Laden's kids are going to be such a great source of information.” How old are these children? I discovered the answer is they range in age from four years old to 12 years old and that, after we shot their father and mother, we handcuffed them and swept them from their home and into detention with the expectation that we would be able to question them later. Shouldn't they immediately be placed in a protective environment with their injured mother after suffering such trauma as they have? The woman on NPR lamented that the “Pakistanis are so far not allowing us access to them.” Well, I really hope that means that someone is planning on protecting these children. How exactly do they plan to question these children if they get access to them? This is what Americans should be asking this Mothers' Day. Why aren't we?
What made Osama bin Laden evil? I think it was that he targeted civilians, made us responsible for our government's actions and killed some of us to achieve a political goal. This, of course, included some children, some mommies and daddies. It always does, once the killing starts.
Most of the people we have killed in Afghanistan were children. Some of our soldiers have killed civilians for sport or, more likely I think, out of frustration and trauma. I made the mistake of viewing a photo of what was clearly a boy about my older son's age who had been killed in this way, his head held up by the hair, congealed blood hemorrhaging from his nose. He didn't even have the beginnings of facial hair. The soldiers were grinning as they held him up for the photo. Bad apples, we say those soldiers are. That we hear stories like this every few months does not cause us to pause. And yet, our soldiers, too, are mommies and daddies and some mothers' children. Can you imagine being the mother of the young man who shot that 14-year-old and then held his gory face up to the camera that day?
I keep thinking about the children who are now in custody in Pakistan because of who their father was, after seeing his body swept away, brains dripping. The frantic wife that was shot in the leg there. The mothers of those dead children in Libya preparing what was left of their little arms and legs and tummies for burial. The thousands of weeping people whose names we don't know because they are poorer than many of us can imagine. The father I once read about who finally found a pair of shoes for his little toddler and, when he came home, his baby was dead, killed in one of our bombings, and the shoes were so valuable to life he gave them away to another child. And I think about the men and women we have sent to commit to this tragedy with their minds, souls and bodies, and who will never be whole again.
What, then, is evil? Where is it coming from?
I am not going to have a good Mothers' Day in a country where we think it is O.K. – if not just fabulous – to tie up little children and question them after we kill their father and injure their mother in front of them. We all know what happened and what is happening. My coping mechanism is souring. I can't think that we don't know, that we don't understand, that we just need to hear more stories. We know what is important anyway. These are children we have been talking about this week and they have been traumatized and they have been killed. There is no escaping it. Our culture is an enemy to life and to motherhood.
Happy Mothers' Day to me … I am raising people I adore to confront this that I can't protect them from anymore than the screaming mothers of the dead have been able to protect their babies. Don't send me any roses this year, please. Save them for the graves of the children we are destroying.