Two Tragedies and a Tragic Irony
The terrible details of the human tragedy in South Asia are all over the world press and television, now, just one week after the event. Towns destroyed. Families broken. Countless homes destroyed. The air putrid from corpses lying everywhere. Victims who have lost all they owned. Survivors displaced in refugee camps hundreds of miles from home with no prospect of an early return home.
Here's one small example from the London News-Telegraph, written by reporter Olga Craig in Indonesia.
Yesterday, Mr Jamil made an emotional return to what remained of his village, Monikeun. He had been staying with friends in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.In no way does it diminish the tsunami tragedy to observe that the Bush administration, in the name of the people of the United States, five weeks earlier visited a comparable disaster on the people of Falluja, Iraq. But that tragedy has gone largely unreported by the U.S. press and world media.
We accompanied him as he walked for several hours... to reach the stretch of western coastline that is still cut off from the rest of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Along the way we encountered scenes of utter devastation. Not a building was left standing. Some houses had been so completely destroyed that not a trace remained.
* * *
Picking his way through the debris with a scarf pulled across his face to mask the stench of rotting corpses, Mr Jamil finally came to the place where his three-bedroom home had stood. All that remained was the concrete flooring and the jagged stumps of two walls.
* * *
It was scarcely believable that the area had been home to thousands were it not for the cooking pots, clothing and fishing nets scattered in the debris.
Mr Jamil's son, Badrul, wants to leave Aceh and move to Medan, Sumatra's main industrial city.
One rare exception appeared in The Los Angeles Times the other day, in an article by Edmund Sanders. It should not be overlooked even in the midst of the tsunami tragedy. Indeed, one of many striking aspects of Sanders' article is how so many of the conditions of the desert city which he describes resemble the devastatation in South Asian coastal villages.
From Sanders' account, a description of Falluja, Iraq:
Lakes of sewage in the streets. The smell of corpses inside charred buildings. No water or electricity. Long waits and thorough searches by U.S. troops at checkpoints. Warnings to watch out for land mines and booby traps. Occasional gunfire between troops and insurgents.A month ago, I mentioned a number of reasons why the world press as a whole fails to report the full scale facts of the military tsunmai we have wrought on the Iraqi people. It's too dangerous for independent journalists who value their lives. Pentagon propaganda prevails. Lazy reporters look for their news scoops no farther than the daily press briefings of U.S. occupation forces. Embedded journalists are in thrall to the military, not least because they depend for their lives on the same soldiers they're covering. Journalists with mainstream outlets like the Wall Street Journal have reason to fear for their jobs if they write the truth.
"I thought, 'This is not my town,' " [Yasser Abbas] Atiya said Tuesday after going back to the abandoned Baghdad clinic his family shares with nearly 100 other displaced Falloujans. "How can I take my family to live there?"
* * *
As they drew closer, however, Atiya and his brothers began to curse. A gaping hole in the two-story house appeared to have been caused by a tank, whose tracks were visible in the mud, he said. Most of the furniture was smashed. "Half my house was demolished," Atiya said.
In the kitchen, cabinets had been ripped from the walls, he said. Others were emptied of their contents, which lay in heaps on the floor.
"Every dish was broken, every cup, every plate, as if someone had just stood there breaking one dish after another," said Atiya's brother Raaid Abbas, 37. "Why?"
* * *
The brothers quickly determined that the house, where all three had been born, was uninhabitable. * * * Atiya said the family had no choice but to stay in the makeshift shelter [in Baghdad] until conditions in Fallouja improved. "We are fed up with being here," he said. "We just want to go home."
Most such explanations and excuses do not apply to a tragedy caused by nature, of course. With the tsunami event, the media is doing a creditable job of bringing the details of the human tragedy and horrific destruction into our living rooms every hour on the hour. Why? Precisely because no one is to blame except nature.
About the wholesale destruction of Falluja, on the other hand, most of the world remains uninformed. Why, again? Because specific people and policies are to blame.
Two horrific human tragedies. Each having similar outcomes for the victims. One is reported. One almost never is mentioned by the media.
For the victims of one, the American public -- well informed by the press -- is eager to offer succor. For the victims of the other, that same public is largely kept in the dark by a complaisant press and it remains apathetic or, worse, cheers the death and destruction.
There's something ironic and deeply offensive here -- a third kind of tragedy. The catastrophe that engages press attention and our nation's sympathy is the one no one could have prevented, while the one the media and the public are ignoring is the one that we chose to cause and we alone could have avoided.