Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Dead Iraqis" -- fifteen years later

Three decades of "Saturday Night Live" have provided lots of laughs but debased the meaning of the word "satire." Real satire isn't that bland. It doesn't just flatter your sense of self and the righteousness of your beliefs. At its most outrageous, it takes you by the hand, spins you around till you're completely nauseous and disoriented, kicks you in the gut, and then leaves you gasping on the ground in the wreckage of your beliefs and assumptions.

I recently came across an example of the real thing via a link on The Sharp Side, the blog of British experimental writer Ellis Sharp. The link is to his brilliant short story called "Dead Iraqis", which begins in the reasonable voice of the reasonable narrator beloved of satirists since Swift and his "A Modest Proposal."
In a society like ours there are bound to be disagreements about this and that. It is only natural. But although we may disagree on many things, I think we can all agree on one thing. The nice thing about dead Iraqis is they don't smell.

Some years ago, as you may remember, dead Iraqis were turning up all over the place. At the time there were various theories about why this was happening but thankfully all that is behind us now and we can set aside our differences and get on with the business in hand.

Let me say something else about dead Iraqis. They are not nearly so much of a nuisance as dead Paraguayans. Dead Paraguayans are cumbersome, frequently blood-splattered and almost always attract flies. They smell disgusting. Dead Iraqis, on the other hand, are lightweight, portable and, on the whole, easy to manage. At most they give off a light powdery odour, not at all unpleasant, redolent of potting compost in a rose-bordered rural shed.
It takes off from there into a surreal fantasy where these charred Iraqi remnants just come wafting into homes on the breeze and fall on yards like autumn leaves, sometimes in huge piles. The narrator's calm indifference to all but the nuisance aspect is a powerful indictment of how indifferent we in the West are to the Iraqi suffering produced by this awful war.

The real kick in the gut for me, though, was when I saw the date at the bottom of the page. I had assumed it was a contemporary story, although I found the Paraguayans a bit puzzling. But it was written 15 years ago, in 1991.

That's when it really hit me. Our military actions have been killing Iraqis all this time -- the first Gulf War, the devastating sanctions, really war by other means, and now the current fiasco. A full 15 years and counting. And for most of that time, few Americans lost much sleep over it.


Phil said...

Makes me wonder how many other counties are being sanctioned.

Andrew said...

So you have a problem with sanctions and military intervention. Any chance you're against appeasement as well, just to round off the absurdity of your argument. You can't reject all three at the same time. And I'm staggered not to hear a word about the piles of bodies Hussein and his cronies left buried in the desert. But oh no, it's all the West's fault. Not the murdering dictator.