We were spoiled for choice this week, with two hideous killings filmed in Iraq, and doubtless more to come. There was a bullet in the head for Margaret Hassan, the saintly British woman who was the director of Care International in Iraq — she was best of British, she was — and another bullet for a bleeding Iraqi whose name we may never know.
So low have we sunk that I was relieved that Ms. Hassan was shot, not beheaded. I was so grateful not to see the shot, as I looked at that famous photograph from Vietnam of a man’s face in a spidery wrinkle of terror as the trigger was pulled. (I remain suspicious about whose interests Ms. Hassan’s killing served, given that many Iraqis and even al-Qaeda called for her release.)
But I saw an old man die, many times.
It was a quiet whitewashed room in a building beside a mosque, empty save for five Iraqi men on the floor bleeding to death. The elderly man lay slumped, half-breathing, against a wall; another man lay with his head touching the old man’s thigh (his son?) and the light slanted through the spooky scene like an Edward Hopper painting. The CBC showed me the man about to be killed; the American networks pixellated it out, as they did the Marine who was heard to say, “He’s . . . faking he’s dead,” and the Marine who blew the old man’s head off and said with tight machismo, i.e., restrained glee, “He’s dead now.”
This is a war crime, filmed by an NBC pool reporter. It is being watched all over the world, like Abu Ghraib on the move. The Marine has been taken out of combat; the U.S. military is investigating whether wounded Iraqis were left for 24 hours to die and whether three other dying men were killed.
A British Falklands veteran wrote this week of his sympathy for the Marine while noting that each nation brings its own character to war. The Brits are taught to use aggression coldly, without anger, while the United States uses a “group revving-up” that he thinks is dangerous. Was this why our soldiers died in Afghanistan, bombed by U.S. part-timers on speed and rah-rah-rah?
I have read of soldiers keeping company, without hatred, with their dying enemy. Farley Mowat describes entering a stone hut in Italy in 1943 and finding a German soldier sitting against a wall quietly, much like the old Iraqi man. The German’s arm had been severed and gouted blood. A glistening mass that must have been his liver protruded from a giant gash in his side. He pleaded for “vasser,” but all Mr. Mowat had was rum. So they got drunk together. “And in a little while he died.”
Or you could have gone another way, Farley. A soldier has a choice. You made yours and the American soldier made his, and we ponder this.
George W. Bush’s re-election has made America one of the most despised nations on Earth. Democrats know this and care. All week, when I have needed cheering, I’ve visited sorryeverybody.com and studied Web photos sent in by ordinary Americans apologizing to the world for having saddled it with this violent, stupid President. The originality, wit, humour and sheer human goodness on display boggle the mind; I haven’t felt so moved by American voices since my last Bruce Springsteen concert or Anne Tyler novel.
What fine people these good Americans are! The site has exploded with photographs of people holding up written apologies to the planet. Clumps of college students arrange their sneakers to spell out “sorry world,” 16-year-old girls beg forgiveness for being too young to have voted for John Kerry. “Please don’t hate us. We tried our hardest,” one Wisconsin woman pleads. People’s pets and newborn babies are enlisted to apologize.
The site, begun by a 20-year-old University of Southern California student named James Zetlen, is the first genuine evidence I have seen of a global village that looks like a nice place to live.
Million of Americans visit the site and the world is responding. Citizens of Austria, home of Ah-nuld, have accepted Democratic apologies for what Republicans did and will do, as have Swedes, Canadians and even Muslims, along with long-suffering Argentines, and most remarkably, a French waiter. Young James, you made history. You made a Parisian waiter forgive. They are hard men.
Republicans are enraged that anyone should even speak to furriners and have set up their own websites to tell their traitorous fellow citizens and the rest of the world to get stuffed (my polite translation).
There it stands. There are hate websites and there are stricken-with-guilt websites, much as you can finish off a dying enemy or you can share a drink with him. You decide.
One photo message posted on sorryeverybody.com featuring a really depressed-looking baby, says “Since we’re close enough to get burned here in Canada, our hearts and thoughts are with you. Keep living, keep loving, don’t let him bring you down.”
Prime Minister Paul Martin should realize that, until he fired her, fearless MP Carolyn Parrish was doing him a great service by voicing the opinion of most Canadians. This enabled him to toady. We don’t want to be part of Star Wars or go to Iraq, and we do not like this Bush creature. Ms. Parrish made Liberals sound like the party of Lester B. Pearson. We approved.
I would have every one of those Americans on sorryeverybody.com as a guest in my home and that includes the weeping southern biker in the weird hairy horned helmet. Me, Ms. Canadian Nationalism, am declaring now that I love 48 per cent of that country. Soul mates, they are.
The rest of them? If I were dying, I know they’d finish me off with a bullet.
If they were dying? I’d offer them a drink.