A great wave struck 12 countries Dec. 26 and killed over 150,000 people. The nations and people of the world have come together in a massive demonstration of solidarity that is entirely consistent with people’s essential generosity.
The enormity of this tragedy recalls other disasters that killed great multitudes of people, but were caused by humans — or tolerated by them through policies of non-intervention. Natural disasters get considerable publicity, but catastrophes that stem from human purpose may be glossed over. When the truth comes out, then the stage is set for an unveiling of contradictions and hypocrisy.
The U.S. government, for example, is remarkably quiet about its concern for the 2.3 million sub- Saharan Africans who died of AIDS in 2004. The dead represent 74 percent of the world’s total for the year. The disease is preventable but Washington reneges on the full $15 billion it promised for AIDS treatment and prevention.
Huge contradictions arise from comparisons between the human wastage caused by the tidal wave and deaths from U.S. military operations in Iraq. For one thing, Washington promises $350 million for tsunami relief, and simultaneously pays out more than $5 billion a month for war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We don’t do body counts,” says Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, referring to civilian deaths. A group of courageous epidemiologists, however, estimated that as of September 2004, the U.S. occupation has killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians, the majority of them women and children. The researchers went out into Iraqi communities to find the truth. Their report appeared in the medical journal Lancet, but very few corporation controlled newspapers covered it as a news story.
Burhan Fasa reports for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. He was in Fallujah for eight days in November while U.S. forces destroyed the city.
“I saw at least 200 families whose homes had fallen in because of the U.S. bombs … From the top of the hospital, U.S. snipers were shooting anyone that moved, anyone they saw. I saw a huge number of people killed in the northern part of the city, and they were almost all civilians … The Americans had no interpreter, so they entered the house and killed people because they did not know English … There were some 20 bodies of dead fighters and some wounded civilians in front of that clinic. I was there in the clinic, and at 11 a.m. of Dec. 16, I saw tanks run over the wounded and the dead that were there.”
Here one learns just how Iraqis die. Reporters serving the U.S. media are on a short leash, however, and go easy on the details. They are, of course, free to tell other horror stories, like, for example, the bodies of tsunami victims caught in trees. Contradictions like these were grist for Rosa Luxemburg’s mill.
The German socialist wrote about the deaths of 40,000 people after Mt. Pelee erupted 101 years ago in Martinique. The imperialist powers of the era communicated sorrow and grief but were silent about misery and slaughter caused by their own armies. Luxemburg cited British crimes in South Africa, German atrocities in Namibia, French massacres in Madagascar and the Caribbean, and Yankee depredations in Cuba and the Philippines.
People kept in the dark, she lamented, are denied the altogether human experience of giving vent to heartfelt outrage. She tells how the Paris Commune ended: “And we have seen you too, oh Mother Republic, you tear distiller. It was on May 23, 1871. No volcano erupted. Your cannons were turned on the tightly packed human crowd. Over 20,000 corpses covered the pavements of Paris.”
Reporting on the Iraq war, Luxemburg would have found an avalanche of material for making the case for socialism. The gulf between rich and poor widens. Global capitalism is again striving for mastery of peoples and regions. The poor and the racially oppressed do the dying and suffering.
The selection of victims for unnatural disasters seems hardly to be accidental. Capitalist chieftains tend to rank people according to value and use, and classify many of them as disposable. Iraqis are learning first-hand about barbarism. The world is watching. For Luxemburg, and for us, socialism is the alternative: “The whole sanctimonious blood spattered culture” has to go. Only then “will the nations come together in true humanity, which will know but one deadly foe” — the deadly force of nature.
C. McKinnon is a librarian and veteran peace activist.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a pediatrician in rural Maine.