FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
It's been three years since the war in Iraq began, and as the military and civilian death tolls mount, commentator S. Pearl Sharp wonders if the U.S. has done more harm than good.
Ms. S. PEARL SHARP (Filmmaker; Writer): It's not on the dozens of shelves in the bookstore, it's way in the back on a poster tacked to the wall in the bathroom. That's where I found this gentle admonition: I always leave the bathroom a little cleaner than when I entered it.
The statement is attributed to one of the most esteemed black leaders of the 20th century, WEB DuBois. The first time I saw this, I thought just to the use of the bathroom, keeping it clean and all that. A couple of years later, it began to register as meaning the community in which this black bookstore is housed in Los Angeles. Lately, however, DuBois' words keep floating through my head with each newscast about our occupation of Iraq.
I always leave the bathroom a little cleaner than when I entered it. Now, let me say from (unintelligible) that I'm no political analyst. I'm an ordinary citizen who tries to catch the evening news on TV a few times a week, but I turn to alternative radio for the real info. And every Friday evening I must pause as the PBS News Hour runs in silence the photo, hometown and age, of each American soldier killed during the past week.
The war against Iraq was launched two years and four months ago. Over 2,500 American service members have died. But there is an Iraqi body count too. In a country the size of Arizona, somewhere between 38,000 and 42,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. These figures come from iraqbodycount.net, a collection of academics, journalists, and peace activists who monitor civilian deaths from journalist and eyewitness reports.
These numbers make me stop and wonder, are we doing any better than the dictator regime we removed? The U.S. has a unique way of delivering democracy, which seems to be bomb it, then rebuild it. We treat death the same way. First we create collateral damage, and then through the Iraqi War Victims Fund we pay some of the families for their loss of their loved ones, their homes, their body parts.
There are still many communities in Iraq waiting for our promise of essential services, like drinking water. There was the sexual and religious degradation at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, and now the world is gasping over the U.S. Marine's alleged murder and cover up of 23 civilians in Haditha. It is patriotically painful to recognize that this massacre is not the first from our side.
The new Iraqi Premiere, Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki, described the violence by American troops against civilians as, quote, a daily phenomenon. They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion. We're not just talking numbers here. We're talking about the death of math teachers, a secretary on her way to work, the former national boxing champion. Are we better?
To a nine-year-old girl in Haditha whose family may have experienced the brutality of ruler Saddam Hussein, the American presence was better. But this same little girl heard the Marines coming last March, watched her grandfather take the Koran into the bedroom to pray for the family's safety, then hid as her grandfather, her uncle, her mother, her father, were all dragged into one room and shot. In the coming weeks, she will hear a lot about the U.S. Marines' values, honor, and courage. She will come to understand terms like orphan and collateral damage, and most recently, classes to teach soldiers core warrior values.
So yes, I do wonder; are we morally capable of creating that cleaner bathroom?
CHIDEYA: S. Pearl Sharp is a filmmaker and writer in Los Angeles.
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