The Deaths of Children

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The recent death of my grandson, just days before he was to be born into this world, has reinforced a long-held personal sentiment on behalf of the inviolate nature of life itself. The death of our fourth daughter, some three decades ago, was an earlier, painful reminder that life — particularly of young children — is both resilient and fragile. The grief that all of us feel in the death of a loved one — even of one we had not yet come to know — is an expression of the very best of what it means to be a human being: it is not irrelevant to us that others have died; it is not a matter of indifference to be hidden in statistics. We cry because we love; because we can love.

For all the many reasons I hold political systems in utter contempt, this is by far the most dominant: the state is in a constant war with all of life. It always has been and it always will be, and no mouthing by politicians of empty bromides about "caring" will ever change this fundamental fact. Political systems war against the spontaneous and self-directed nature of all living systems, using violence as a weapon to force life to go in directions it does not choose. The state is the most fundamentally indecent of all human inventions, a fact that most of us prefer to keep from our conscious mind, which we obfuscate with lies and rationalizations; anesthetize with drugs or alcohol; or trivialize with entertainment-as-news.

The most contemptible expression of the state’s war against life is found in its abuse, maiming, and slaughter of children. I have long opposed abortions, knowing that a "person" — with a unique DNA — comes into being at the moment of conception. (Although I once had a feminist try to convince me that one did not acquire DNA until after he or she was born, a mysterious process she was never able to explain to me!) As one who rejects the state in any form, I am likewise opposed to governments intervening to prevent a woman from having an abortion. "Does this mean," I am sometimes asked, "that in a free society people are at liberty to kill others?" Of course, I reply, but this is equally true in the most tyrannical of societies. To one who regards liberty and responsibility as inseparable, the question always comes down to this: how will you exercise your liberty so as not to inflict harm on others? Whether a society is to be peaceful or destructive will — as Carl Jung and others have expressed it — always be determined by the nature of the inner lives of those who comprise it.

While the war system has long plagued mankind with its organized insanities, it has been in recent centuries that destructive technologies have made all of humanity a target for attack. This is a fact that has still not sunk into the consciousness of most Americans, who do not understand the atrocities of 9/11 as the playing out of war games on a world — rather than regional — stage. Wars are supposed to be conducted "over there:" we even have popular war songs to remind us of this. But to those long victimized by American or British militarism in their lands, New York City and London have become the "over there" battlefields.

All of humanity has become the target of state warfare, and children are now part of a homogenized "enemy" force to be destroyed along with all other members of "them." Frankly, I have no problem with a bunch of lunatics choosing, voluntarily, to engage in mutual head-bashing rituals. If gladiators or knights-in-armor wish to contend with one another out of some twisted sense of "honor," let them do so, as long as there are no spillover effects — what economists refer to as "socializing costs" — and non-combatants are not bound by the outcomes. I would regard such foolishness with the same indifference I have to professional wrestling, pursuits that seem to attract the same nitwitted following of fans.

But I draw the line at dragging non-belligerents into this insane game, particularly when children are affected. If there is any activity that is more of an abomination to even the most meager sense of decency among humans, it is to be found in the systematic and unapologetic slaughter of children. If one chose to personify such a depraved disposition, one could find no more fitting paragon than former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who, when asked in 1996, if American economic sanctions against Iraq were worth the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, replied "we think the price is worth it." Her arrogance and contempt for the lives of the most innocent of human beings is reflected in the sneering lips through which she speaks.

This is what not only America, but other statist regimes, have come to represent. That there were no adverse political or criminal consequences to such actions — just as there are none attaching to President Bush’s slaughter of Iraqi innocents — is an indictment of a society that has lost its very soul. The conservatives who answer that "other societies are just as bad" reveal their own moral bankruptcy, as do those who charge critics of governmental policy as "America-haters." I have a great love for this country, but not for the political system — or those in control of it — who seem intent on flushing the country into the same moral swamp that destroyed earlier civilizations.

When societies organize themselves into war systems — which is the nature of all political entities — and purposefully destroy each other’s children — be they soldiers or non-combatants contemptuously dismissed as "collateral damage" — they are placing themselves in a state of war with the very future of mankind. The casualties of such a war are not to be measured just in the calculus of young persons destroyed in the process, but in the general diminution of respect for life itself; for the sense of truth and reality upon which life depends; and for the value that is fundamental to any vibrant and decent social system, namely, that neither the dignity nor the will of harmless people shall be violated.

We may not always be able to protect our children and grandchildren from biological forces we do not understand, but we can — and ought to — protect them from the dangers of our thinking, and from the destructive systems that our thinking creates. Right now, there is a tug-of-war taking place for the soul of Americans. We can personify this struggle as one between two mothers, although all of us are contestants. One mother is Cindy Sheehan, who continues to ask President Bush the question he regards it as irrelevant for any American to even ask: "what was the noble cause for which my son died?" The other is Bush’s own mother, Barbara, who declared: "Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? Oh, I mean, it’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"

It is easy to understand the different perspectives of these two women. Cindy’s son died because of the cascade of lies, forged documents, and other deceptions employed by Mrs. Bush’s son to send Casey Sheehan to Iraq. Unlike Cindy, Mrs. Bush never had to "waste" her "beautiful mind" waiting for the knock on the door that informed her of her son’s death. During the Vietnam War, Mrs. Bush’s son enjoyed the immunity from personal harm that attaches to members of the politically privileged classes: he safely manned a bullet-proof desk at air national guard facilities in Texas and Alabama. This is what is at the heart of our difficulties. As long as it is other people’s children who are dying, many of us have a calloused indifference to the suffering.

Which mother’s question is central to the future, not just of this country, but to mankind itself? If Barbara Bush — like Madeleine Albright — regards the systematic, politically-driven slaying of children as "not relevant" to her "beautiful mind," what prognosis are we to make for humanity? And does the answer to that question matter to you?

Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.

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