Iraq: What have we done?

June 19, 2008

Unlike past wars, the Iraq war is an abstraction. We rarely glimpse the unspeakable suffering. Most of the media have lost interest. Some stalwarts remain, chronicling events beyond our comprehension. As much as I hate this war, I’ve never let what happens there penetrate my comfortable life here. Until now.

Reality intruded last night when Suzame, my wife, showed me this photograph:

I kept returning to it on the New York Times web site, seeing not Akeel Faisal Ghazi, two-year-old victim of a Baghdad car bomb this week, and his father delivering a farewell kiss. I saw Atticus, our son who’s nearly three. He was upstairs, sleeping. A few hours earlier, my lips had been on his. I could still feel them, warm and pliant.

Suzame asked, “How would we feel if someone invaded our country and did this to us?”

Not answering, I envisioned car bombs and air strikes in Portland, dimly outlined destruction that soon faded. Akeel and his father interceded. I conjured up their happy moments together, but they too vanished. Then I tried but couldn’t imagine what his father must have felt in the moment captured on film. Was I keeping another thought out?

The unthinkable elbowed in. Roles reversed, faces switched. An Iraqi man staring at a photo of an American father and son. I couldn’t hold back the sensation of slipping from a ledge overhanging a dark chasm.

After Atticus woke this morning, I bought the license to reprint Karim Kadin‘s Associated Press image. A reminder of what Suzame and I have safe at home and another Iraqi father does not. A poster proclaiming our complicity of inaction against this war. A meager $75 penance for what we as a nation have done.

If I could, I’d put the picture on every computer screen and program it to reload again and again, not a virus but a beacon that tells truth we can’t bear.

And what if Atticus sees Akeel’s last kiss? There are no words to make him understand. Not for a boy whose own first words this morning, spoken with joy on his face, were:

The sun came up!