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Pyongyang, Foley, and Mass Death

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It is October 11, 2006, and this month would have been my father's 100th birthday were he still alive. These milestones, swallowed into the abyss of an incalculable universe, nonetheless make me pensive. Constituted as a human being, I care as recklessly and vainly as any of my six-plus billion fellow Homo sapiens.

Today, the news is full of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study, released by The Lancet, showing that since March 19, 2003, the Bush administration liberation of Iraq has facilitated the liberation of more than 600,000 people from their corporeal existence. Among the national politicians in the US preparing for the 2006 electoral contest, this war is the subject they least want to talk about, and for which both parties seem to have employed armies of weasel-wordsmiths to develop saccharin pronouncements that ignore the existence of those residents of Iraq who are left behind by this exercise in mass death.

Mass death had become the signature of the 20th Century. We are barely six years into this one.

Earlier this year, I published Sex & War, a book about the roots of imperial military masculinity, and near the beginning of the book, I wrote:

As this is written, around two thousand U.S. troops have lost their lives in Iraq, and more than 100,000 Iraqis have died. I can't distinguish combatant from civilian because the reports are mostly lies. All these have died just since the March 2003 ground offensive. Fewer than 3,000 people were killed in the September 11 attacks, while around 4,000 Afghans were killed in the invasion and subsequent occupation of that country in the wake of 9/11. Some estimates put the toll of the pre-2003 invasion international sanctions at 1.7 million Iraqi dead. Around the world almost 3 million people will die of AIDS this year, and another 25 million will die early from hunger and malnutrition. Over 7 million will die from the plaque in their coronary arteries, 5 million will die from cerebrovascular disease, almost 4 million from lower respiratory infections, 2.6 million from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 2 million (mostly small children) from diarrhea, 1.6 million from tuberculosis, 1.3 million from various childhood diseases, 1.2 million from respiratory-tract cancers, 1.1 million from malaria, 870,000 from hypertension, 850,000 from stomach cancer and another 800,000 from cirrhosis of the liver. 745,000 will fall prey to measles. Around 3 million more will fall through a combination of colorectal cancer, yellow fever, sleeping sickness, nephrosis, liver cancer, and influenza. Motor vehicles will claim around 1.3 million. Suicide will take another 850,000. In the 20th Century, 4.1 billion people died. If we call the average height of the dead 50 inches and could string them head to foot, the human cadavers of the 20th Century would stretch out for 3,235,417 miles, enough to trace every paved road in the United States. Political killing - including organized warfare - took 167 million of those lives. Only 33.5 million were military people, so we need to be careful when we say that soldiers make the biggest sacrifices in war. Famine claimed 44 million in the 20th Century, proving that hunger is a more effective weapon than arms. Preventable blindness affected 35 million people. Almost a billion are chronically malnourished and without adequate potable water. 40 million are alive with AIDS. 100 million women every year have their genitals mutilated, a kind of psychic killing. Anyone reading this, at least for the next ten years is unlikely to survive the 21st Century. I will certainly die in the 21st Century. All those who died in the 20th Century would have died eventually.

There will be a time in the not-too-distant future when not a single person alive today will be left, and the consciousness that resides individually within each of us will have the plug pulled on it forever. Even still - and this is interesting - there have only ever been around 15 billion human beings on the planet; that's starting all the way back when our collective mother, the real Eve, an African woman, launched our species around 200,000 years ago. Almost half that number is alive on the planet right now, and a quarter of us died in just the last century.

2005 started off with an Indian Ocean earthquake that triggered a tsunami, killing around 150,000 in one fell swoop, rivaling the approximately 200,000 killed in almost as short a time by the gratuitous atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by President Harry Truman in order to intimidate the post-war Soviet Union. We need some perspective before we tackle big subjects...

...Denial is fear. Denial is individualism. These are features of the living, characteristics of those of us who are still around to make our way and perhaps actually do something to make the world less unpleasant for those who come after us.

We die alone, and the dead fear nothing. Anxiety is an attribute only of those who are alive and aware and in society with others.

Why then should we even care that more than half a million people can now be added to the grim total? Especially if they don't live with us, don't speak our language, don't share out history, don't look like us, dress like us, think like us...

That question seems more honest somehow than the grotesque posturing over Congressman Foley's sexual transgressions and the idiotic and phony breathlessness of public figures over little DPRK, half starved in its twisted clinging to the myth of 21st Century national autarky, facing untold numbers of US nuclear weapons aimed at it out of pure offensive bullying from South Korea -- a forward base for the US in East Asia.

Hypocrites are silent about Israel receiving hundreds of billions in free cash from the US while they maintain at least 200 nuclear weapons, and regularly attack their neighbors...not to mention the US itself maintaining an arsenal of nukes great enough to destroy the planet several times over (now fallen into the hands of someone whose narcissism and plain stupidity is more than a match for any autocrat in the world).

Hypocrites are making Foley into a Republican effigy to burn in November. The lurid fascination with sex as it is constructed in this society, and with the transgressions of our so-called sexual norms, is the same fascination we have with the rich and famous. We all know, at some level, that these norms are there only for us drones... that transgression has always been an aristocratic privilege... that thousands and thousands of rich Americans regularly go to places like Bangkok as sex tourists so they can get their kicks fucking 12-year-olds. Had Foley's target-pages been females, I have little doubt that the young women would have been blamed, and Foley held up as a kind of lovable reprobate.

Without the norm, there is no transgression, and without the transgression, there is no kick. The revelations about Foley are nothing to do with his repressed pent-up "drives" (the steam-boiler analog for human sexuality); they are our peek at privilege and power that the rulers are now obliged to claim "nauseates" them as a way of denying that exploitative, power-trip sex is the norm in this society... and that these transgressions are an entitlement of their power. Now they are nothing more than a political opportunity... and a welcome one at that, because the Democrats want to coast into a victory default in November without weighing in on the crime they co-signed that has taken 600,000 Iraqi lives. It remains to be seen if they can.

I think Foley is an asshole, but I could say that about plenty of them in both parties. He sexually power-tripped some young men (of an age where young men regularly run sexual power-trips on young women and boast of their exploits). Men sexually power-trip women, young and old, all their lives, and we call that... love. Is Foley's transgression comparable to 600,000 dead Iraqis?

So the question of why should we give a shit about all those dead Iraqis and the universe of grief that is now a general Iraqi experience is at least straightforward. I'll give the most straightforward answer I can, as a way of washing off the taint of hypocrisy that is rising up from the US political elite as their moral septic tank floods once again into our living rooms.

At the end of the road, we are all certainly dead. But the dead die alone, and the pain is left with those who survive. I'm writing this between feeding and changing and rocking my new four-week-old grandchild; so the Hobbesian lie that we are all in it for ourselves, and that only in self-gratification do we experience any satisfaction at all, is a flawed premise -- and one implanted like a mind-control chip in our heads by the indoctrinator-institutions of the Empire. It is the lie of individualism, and therefore denial of our truest selves. We can live for each other, not against each other. It's a world that is possible, and if we won't resist now, we are responsible for what those who survive us will know for their own brief glimpse of the universe as sentient beings.

It's a shameful irony that these few would force us to be against them.

We are responsible. Even when it is a Sisyphean task. Even when we don't get paid. That's what makes us part of this family. If we let these hypocrisies stand, while we turn our backs on the 600,000 and the millions who grieve in a war being carried on in our name and sustained by our acquiescence; then we are in the world as superficially as those posturing asses that dominate the airwaves each election year. And this is our one and only turn.