recently attended an alumni meeting in Seattle of a well-known East Coast
college. The president of the college spoke and a hundred alumni came to
listen. I used the chance to speak to several of them about something I
know well from my nine trips to Iraq: the 12 years of U.N. and U.S. economic
sanctions on Iraq, reinstated after the Gulf War in 1991 and ending with
this war in 2003.
It was enlightening.
The first man, a
doctor, knew about the 500,000 Iraqi children who had died from 1991 to
1998, as reported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). He knew
they died from epidemics of diseases caused by unsafe water. Perhaps he'd
read about it in The New England Journal of Medicine, where the prime cause
was described as our bombing of Iraq's electrical plants, water facilities
and civilian infrastructure during the Gulf War. He was saddened by this
but shrugged his shoulders: What can one do?!
Then I spoke with two
more alumni, one a former Marine on his way to fish in the Caribbean. When
I spoke about 500,000 dead Iraqi children, I felt I'd breached an unspoken
rule of etiquette: One just doesn't talk about our responsibility for dead
Iraqi children. The talk quickly went back to fishing.
I did find two people
who were interested. And it was refreshing to talk to them, even though I
learned they weren't alumni.
There is a personal
irony in this. When I left to go to that college many years ago, I had the
conscious thought that "now I am going to learn about the real
world." Two years later, when I dropped out, I had the thought that I
would not learn about the real world there.
question-and-answer period of the alumni meeting, the president of the
college mentioned that he kept informed by reading both The New York Times
and The Wall Street Journal. I thought to myself, "My God, he really
doesn't know!" This man, who attends meetings with the U.S. president,
thinks these papers will keep him well-informed of important world events.
The example that
immediately came to my mind was the coverage by these two papers of a very
significant story in 1999. On Aug. 12, 1999, UNICEF reported "that if
the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the
1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million
fewer deaths of children under 5 in the country as a whole during the eight
year period 1991 to 1998."
The report continued,
"Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors,
especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such
deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the
Security Council and the effects of war."
Here is the most
credible children's organization in the world telling us that war and
U.N./U.S. economic sanctions had contributed to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi
children. How did these two papers report it?
The Wall Street
Journal's entire coverage was two sentences: "The death rate for Iraqi
children doubled in this decade, according to a UNICEF report sure to
reignite debate over U.N. sanctions. The U.S. blames Saddam Hussein's regime
for hoarding food and medicine purchased under a program allowing limited
oil sales." It isn't even listed as a news story in their news index.
The New York Times
story said the same thing, but in 800 words: It failed to report the number
of deaths and quoted only a U.S. spokesman who blamed everything on Saddam.
Meanwhile, the three television networks never said one word.
It's often said there
was a failure of intelligence leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That
is true. The most obvious failure is that so very few Americans knew the
U.S. kept to a policy that devastated the civilian population of Iraq for
12 years. Thousands of its most vulnerable — the very young, very old and
very sick — died needlessly every month.
We justified this by
saying it was "to punish Saddam."
Can we begin to imagine
someone doing the same here "to punish George W. Bush" for our
invasion? How would we possibly feel? What piece of information better
explains why U.S. troops never were received with open arms and flowers as
predicted? Our invasion began with two strikes against it.
Congressman John Murtha
recently said that we've already lost the battle for the hearts and minds
of the Iraqi people. What chance did we have for Iraqi hearts and minds
after all those years and all those deaths? Not much at all.
Sacks is a Seattle resident and retired engineer. Active with Washington Physicians for Social
Responsibility and the Interfaith
Network of Concern for the People of Iraq, he has worked for the past
10 years to change U.S. policy toward Iraq, including the economic
© 2006 The Seattle Times Company