As I watch the black clad ISIS Jihadis rampage across Iraq and Syria and Libya, wantonly decapitating their enemies, setting their captives alight and committing atrocities against Yazidi women and girls - among other Arab and Iraqi women - two things come to mind. These are young men bereft of all sanity and devoid of all reason. And I am also reminded of our bombs falling on them as younger, smaller selves during President George Bush's "shock and awe" unleashed upon Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I wonder how these heartless young men who now lack any sense of mercy and empathy, who as far as I can see are completely inhuman, get to this? How does a human heart get to be this callous, this cold? I believe that our destructive actions, our shock and awe that caught their young souls at a time of their childhood's greatest vulnerability has a great deal to do with this. We have a lot to do with what they became.
We cheered our aviators as they created an amazing spectacle of destruction across the Euphrates and other Iraqi spaces. We love a great fireworks show. We demolished bridges, Ministry buildings and in a short while emasculated Saddam Hussein's power and authority. Just as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Bush government had told us, his government didn't last long. That no one came out waving flowers to the invading US tanks, as promised by some Washington sages, didn't take away our enthusiasm and feelings of elation and triumph. We were entitled to them; we had right and might on our side.
The reasons, we were told, were that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. And he was a despicable monster. We have no sympathy for some monsters. It was a moment of pure unadulterated American triumphalism. We had not had one of these for quite a while and we needed to beat someone. Saddam should have known he was a perfect target. It was cathartic to see George Bush on the aircraft carrier proclaiming "Victory" over the devil incarnate who he said, had a hand in what happened on 9/11. We danced and laughed and drunk our bock. We were happy; America's might was in full display to the world. No one in the Middle East would ever again question our courage and resolve; no one would ever wave a fist at the mighty USA again. Our bombs over Baghdad were followed by a ground war against Saddam, and destruction of the infrastructure, the Baathist Party and the Sunni power structure that saw the ascendancy of Shiites.
In our simplistic conclusions and wide-eyed triumph, few of us considered the fate of the innocent citizens and their children. (I did however wonder about what we were doing to the many who were silent and who we never consider in our many wars.) To this day we don't know the exact number of how many Iraqis - soldiers, men, women and children - actually died. The estimate is 134,000 to 152,000 were killed whereas we know that exactly 4,493 Americans died and 32,000 were injured. However you look at it, the uncertainly of the Iraqi numbers or the disparity in the numbers of their dead compared to how few Americans were killed makes one wonder about the value of Arab lives - compared to American lives?
We never considered the pure terror of the cowering, scared children, many whose homes and dwellings were demolished, homes destroyed, many whose lives were reduced to great deprivation, many who watched their families perish before them, and their sisters and mothers fall prey to predatory men. We call them collateral damage to our crusade against evil and terrorism. The victor never gives himself to "tree hugger liberal sentimentality" for his enemies' kith and kin.
And so as I see the video of beheadings I often wonder, what did the extraordinary violence unleashed on the Iraqi do to the hearts of millions of boys and girls all across Iraq? I like to think that Arab boys' and little girls' hearts are no different from those in Darfur, Nigeria, Syria and Afghan kids. What was done to them was imprinted on their minds and hearts and will always be there for generations to come. I suspect also that every Iraqi child was told of the Abu Ghareib prison humiliations of Arab men by the American victor.
Something indelible happens to children who live through violence, destruction and indescribable abuse. Their minds are warped forever, going through stages of change. From terror comes a hardening of feelings and the birth of a generation of "monsters." Yes, what we see across Iraq and Syria is a rampage of monsters created by our "shock and awe." How else can you explain humans placing another in a cage and setting them alight? How can you explain the lack of any empathy for another human being? I think the case of the men of ISIS can be explained by the deep trauma they suffered as small children.
The fact is often times we never consider the implications of our actions. So intent in the immediate results, removing a perceived evil person, grabbing a piece of land we believe is ours, displacing whole populations, we never consider what we might be creating for decades to come. We create monsters and bequeath violent attacks and terrorism to generations of our children. It is always worthwhile to remember that the decisions are always made by a small group of men with little understanding of human suffering, most without any real knowledge of military activity never seen blood up close. To many of them, war is a game played in boardrooms, and humans are but chess pieces. For us spilt blood, no matter whose, is painful. Loss of life isn't merely a numbers game.
Alas what the world is going through today and will certainly be seeing for the next several decades is a result of what we, as a nation and as members of the Western civilization, have, over the years inflicted upon the Middle East. We have ignored acts of the greatest barbarity by some of the most unsavory rulers in history and allowed them to finance the teaching of the most scurrilous doctrines and hate filled creed across schools or madrasas of the Middle East and Pakistan. It is now believed that the 9/11 terrorists were financed by our Middle East friends. Our actions have consequences; our omissions don't always lead to us being loved. And the men who advice our leaders are not always pure of heart nor always have good intentions towards America; in fact many are less than patriotic. They know how gullible and ignorant the American populace is.
The question that has no answer is: will the rest of the world - including Africans who suffered so much from European brutality during the colonial era - ever turn virulently violent against the West, like ISIS is doing? The reservoir of resentment and ill will is so deep, it is unfathomable.