THOLOS OF ATHENA

Friday, November 24, 2006

ARTISTS OF WAR

Just when you think we've gone about as far into the heart of darkness as we can go, somebody manages to find an even darker place. That somebody is General William Caldwell, the chief spokesperson in Iraq. Speaking in Baghdad recently, he compared the ongoing war there to a work of art. He said: “Every great work of art goes through messy phases while it is in transition. A lump of clay can become a sculpture. Blobs of paint become paintings which inspire."

Hm. I'm trying to imagine the response to that bizarre statement by the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, or Claude Monet or Pablo Picasso. I actually know quite a few artists. I'm fairly certain none of them have ever killed anyone in order to complete a painting or a sculpture. I don't recall them dropping bombs on cities or burning people alive with white phosphorous. I never heard of them going into private homes and killing all the family members, while in the act of putting the finishing touches on a canvas or a portrait in clay.

I never knew them to torture anyone, or to leave thousands of unspent cluster bombs lying around in Lebanon or Iraq, waiting to be stepped on by a soldier or a civilian, or most likely picked up by a small child, then watching that child lose an arm or seeing her face blown off.

When we reach the point where we are comparing the "messiness" of war to the creating of works of art, surely we have descended into the depths of the unholy and the monstrous. But if bodies are lumps of clay and paint is blood then I suppose what we are doing in Iraq and what Israel recently orchestrated in Lebanon might constitute a macabre renaissance of "art."

Perhaps we should get busy and build some nice museums to house our rarefied new "works." But we already have them, don't we? They're called "mortuaries."

Here's how the British journalist Robert Fisk described the mortuary in Hilla, Iraq, after the American massacre there in 2003. He called it “a butcher's shop of chopped-up corpses.” The victims were farmers, women and children. We killed around 61, and left more than 450 seriously injured.

Film footage at Hilla the next day, the first shot by Western news agencies of what was then happening on the Iraqi front lines, showed babies cut in half, scattered limbs, kids with deep cuts in their faces caused by American shellfire and cluster bombs. In fact, most of the casualties were children. Remember, the majority of Iraq's 24-million people are children.

I wonder how these wounded would feel about being described as potential works of art.

And what about the four to six-thousand Iraqi civilians killed during the November, 2004 U.S. assault on Fallujah? How many Americans even remember Fallujah, let alone care what happened there? Or how about the twenty civilians recently gunned down in Haditha by U.S. Marines? Haditha is now touted as Iraq's "My Lai", even though there are "My Lais" happening in Iraq every day, most of which go unreported in the Western press. Yes, it would appear that we are rather messy artists.

If only we could talk to the young Iraqi girl, Abeer Hamza, fourteen-years-old, citizen of Mahmoudiya, raped, murdered and set on fire in her home by five U.S. Marines. If we could talk to her five-year-old sister, Hadeel, or her mother, Fakhriya, or her father, Qassim, but alas, they, too, were shot dead by those marines.

But if we could talk to them and all the other casualties, the wounded mothers, fathers, children, the dead buried in the rubble of Baghdad and Fallujah, I wonder if it would ease their minds at all to know that they and their families were part of some grand "work in progress" of our American "artists of war"?

And what about our own wounded and dead soldiers, returning day after day to the arms of their mothers and fathers after being thrown into harm's way by the lies of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell, the architects of war?

Perhaps it would comfort them to know that it was all for the sake of art.

--Published in The Lone Star Iconoclast.

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