Madeleine Albright, the American ambassador the United Nations, was asked on nationwide television in 1996 if the death of half a million Iraqi children from US war and sanctions on that country was a price worth paying. Albright replied: “This is a very hard choice, but the price – we think is worth it.”
That was before the so-called Second Persian Gulf War that began in 2003 with American air force “shock and awe”, followed by nearly nine years of illegal military occupation – an occupation that included the use of nuclear munitions and white phosphorus on the civilian populations in Fallujah and elsewhere, and involved countless massacres of families and children by US helicopter gunships and troopers.
Since Albright’s infamous admission, the death toll of Iraqi children from American military crimes can be safely assumed to run into multiples of what she candidly thought was a price worth paying more than 16 years ago.
Earlier this week when President Barack Obama was offering condolences to the families of the 20 children shot dead in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, he said: “Whatever portion of sadness that can share with you to ease your heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.”
Indeed, Newtown is not alone. Children are slaughtered every week by Americans all over the world on the watch of Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama and his White House predecessors.
One study by James Lucas in 2007 put the death toll of civilians from American wars and sponsored conflicts in 37 countries since the Second World War at up to 30 million lives. The proportion of that figure corresponding to child deaths is not known but if the casualty rate of Iraq is anything to go by we can estimate that the number of children killed by American militarism and covert wars since WWII is easily in the order of 20 million – that is, a million times the carnage last week in Connecticut.
The countries where these American-inflicted deaths occurred include: Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Angola, Congo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. They also include Iran during the American-backed Iraq war of 1980-88. Every continent on Earth has felt the American hand of death.
But note the figure of 20 million child deaths from American militarism is bound to be a serious underestimate of the actual total. In the last five years, the world has seen an escalation of child mortality from the carcinogenic legacy of depleted uranium and suspected use of other nuclear weapons in Iraq. The above figures do not include the latest killings from American assassination drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and other suspected war theatres, such as Mali in West Africa. Nor do the figures include overt and covert American military action in Libya last year and currently in Syria – nor the ongoing imposition of crippling sanctions against Iran where an untold number of sick children are dying from lack of medicines due to Washington’s import blockade.
As people across the United States watch in grief the procession of funerals this week for 20 tiny children in Connecticut, there is a sense of profound disbelief that such a horror could be carried out in their society. The young man, Adam Lanza, who went on a murderous rampage with high-powered assault weapons, was mentally ill. He reportedly shot his own mother four times in the head in their home before driving to the nearby elementary school to kill six and seven-year olds along with six female members of staff, before taking his own life.
Lanza’s mental disorder is part of the awful picture to this mass murder. So too is the easy availability of explosive lethal weaponry in America, which represents five per cent of the world’s population but possesses up to 50 per cent of all global civilian firearms.
We should also look at the malign influence and prevalence of violent entertainment and video games that teach children how to kill and to view killing others as a fun “challenging” sport. Even in the sickening aftermath of the Newtown shootings, some internet sites were inviting customers to try out the video killing game said to have been frequently played by Adam Lanza before he took his own life and those of 27 others last Friday morning.
But more than this, Americans need to look at how their society has increasingly become a psychopathic culture of death over many decades. Americans need to realize how their hallowed capitalist ideology of the putative American Dream is in practice nothing but the destruction of communities and millions of individuals on the altar of elite profit-making. Think about the glib, common parlance used to describe the process of human destruction. Investors “make a killing”; workforces are “liquidated”; society is facing a “fiscal cliff”.
Death on an industrial scale is sanctified through genocidal economic policies that enrich an oligarchy of financiers and warmongers belonging to the financial-military-congressional complex.
If human life can be violated and cheapened on such a vast, systematic scale, both in America and around the world, then the loss of 20 children in Newtown is, to be honest, a price that is negligible, if not worth it.
America has become a killing machine, driven by an ideology in which human life is but a worthless commodity that can be exploited and discarded. The discarding of human life is seen most graphically in foreign countries where American elite interests want oil or some other commercial or geopolitical gain. But increasingly this killing machine is turning in on itself, destroying its own society, families and individuals.
Obama added in his eulogy for the deaths in Newtown, Connecticut: “We cannot tolerate this any more… we will have to change.”
This is from the man who orders drone kill lists in Afghanistan and Pakistan every week that involve the “collateral damage” of children being ripped to pieces. This is from the man who is killing children in Iran by tightening economic strangleholds. This is from the man who immediately agreed to millions of dollars worth of more weaponry to the Israeli state fresh from its mass murder of innocents in Gaza. This is from the man supporting militants in Syria who are targeting schools and hospitals with car bombs.
Through the pain and suffering of the latest mass shooting in the US, maybe ordinary Americans are beginning to realize just how big a change is really needed in their country.