Treasure of Baghdad is one of the very best Iraqi bloggers. The deaths in Qana make him remember Baghdad's Qana, the Amiriya Shelter 1991:
The crime's TV footage and pictures posted on the internet reminded Iraqis with a similar crime happened in 1991 when the U.S. decided to punish Saddam for his invasion to Kuwait by killing his country's civilians. Amiriya Shelter crime was never forgotten. On February 13, 1991 at 4 in the morning it was hit by two American bombs, which incinerated the building, including all but ten of the 400 women and children seeking refuge inside of it. Despite severe looting to the shelter after the U.S.-led invasion, pictures of many of the victims remain, which includes several entire families who died in the slaughter. Shadows of women who died have been burned into the walls, similar to the infamous shadow of a man flash-imprinted into concrete as he was vaporized by the atomic bomb of Hiroshima.
I was 10 years-old when the crime happened. I still remember the footage of the men and women who were weeping for their families and relatives at the metal fence of the shelter. Their eyes were red as if they were crying blood instead of tears. Twenty-five years passed and I still see the same footage but this time in Lebanon. Lebanese civilians were crying blood for the loss of their relatives and friends in Qana.
Americans were at fault then. Apparently, the intelligence was wrong; it wasn't a military site but a shelter of civilians. I want to believe that the military didn't target it knowingly. "We're human, we goofed!" is what I wanted to say at the time. How inadequate is that response. But its is barely mentioned in our histories of the war, America has never had to account for it morally or in any other fashion. I will admit that I had completely forgotten it and even after reading Treasure of Baghdad could recall only vague memories from 1991 of hearing it briefly on the news.
We say it was first a shelter for high-ranking officials. They say it was opened to the general public. We say there are no innocents, everyone is implicated. (Didn't they know Saddam was a bad guy? Vaporized into shadow-prints? that's what happens to people who associate with Saddam -- Can't you almost hear Cheney saying that?).
Over and over, I hear this. The children in Qana should have known Hezbollah was launching missiles nearby (Don't they know they are bad guys?). Somehow, people want want to believe that the unjustly dead were not truly innocent. Because then what? We owe compensation and need to accept guilt and possibly punishment. But if they were implicated, in on the violence, the attack, the threat in some way, well, then, it is all part of war.
In Amiriya, they should have known we would target government sites, they are not truly innocent. Even Bin Laden invokes it about the Trade Center, they should have known what the government has done in their name. They are not truly innocent.
Is anyone ever innocent anymore? Is any war death a simple tragedy? Is compensation ever offered? Prosecution for war crimes ever made? Decades of painstaking work in establishing the Geneva Conventions, the Internation Criminal Court, establishing rules for the conduct of war and the protection of civilians and we all throw it away. I don't want to die for my blue passport some day. I don't want anyone to die for their lack of innocence, for the coincidences of life, and identity, and circumstance, that put them in the range of either madmen or the madly rational governments who try to take them out. Enough!
Another memory of mine now: pictures of the civilians killed (including small children) when President Reagan bombed Libya posted in permanent display cases in front of the Libyan embassy in Damascus. I walked past those pictures of limp, bloody toddlers and felt a pang, a pang of guilt and implication every time. But really, those pictures weren't for me, weren't meant to shame the few Americans in Damascus. They were meant for the Syrians, for fellow Arabs, to demonstrate their current powerlessness and rouse them to further action.
My students have a hard time grasping this, why people would cling to a moment of defeat, of humiliation, of loss, why would they would stubbornly remember? Until I say two words: Remember the Alamo! The nascent Republic of Texas lost at the Alamo, lost completely. But they fought valiantly (or so we are told). And that loss became the rallying cry that led more men to fight. No one remembers the Battle of San Jacinto, the overwhelming victory that led to Texas' independence from "the tyrant Mexico." Had the defeat at the Alamo been less total perhaps there would have been less urgency to sign up and fight. Hell, a tactical victory at the Alamo might have doomed the whole Republic of Texas project!
Remember Qana, someone is saying somewhere. Remember Amiriya!
Somewhere else someone is saying, Remember the Marines in Beirut 1983! Remember the Trade Center!
And on and on. I say, remember when children and women and old men were innocents, remember when we all signed treaties and defined war crimes and pledged to uphold human rights?
Because right now, my toddler is sleeping. And somewhere in Pakistan a toddler is awakening. And in Kashmir, and Iraq, and Lebanon, and Israel, and Chechneya, and Darfur, and Somalia, and Congo, and Libya, and Guatemala and New York City, there are toddlers. And they are all innocent tonight.