Sabrina Harmon, left, with corpse. On the right, the victim's widow and orphan. Are these the family values our administration cares about so much?
This article first appeared on Counterpunch
May 22 / 23, 2004
I just saw a picture of Spc. Sabrina Harman, posing with the dead body of an Iraqi prisoner, her gloved thumb up, and a bright, Miss America smile on her wholesome face.
And I am wondering what it means. Is this the sweet all-American smile of a "bad apple?" There is nothing of the vamp or stage murderess in her pose, or her clothes, or expression. If she were wearing white pants and shirt, with a green tie, she'd lcould be a 4-H-er, showing off a prize melon for a seed catalog or almanac.
And yeah, it does bother me more that she's a woman. One of her partners in crime, Spc. Charles Graner, who similarly poses with the corpse, was, after all, a prison guard. I know about prison guards--or I think I do.
But then, I have long held some erroneous ideas about women, I guess. I used to point with pride at the long centuries of female non-participation in the bloodiest and most pointless work of civilization: war. It gave me great satisfaction to know that--in general--women had not made all those wars; had for the most part, not fought in them; and, though the virtue or honor of women was occasionally brought up as a cause or excuse for which men slaughtered each other, we women were never in need of protection. . . . from other women.
In my ignorant bliss, I was pleased to think, less flatteringly perhaps, that women were probably incapable of being organized for war. Like herding cats. They yawn and return to their all-important grooming. Should you become insistent, they dematerialize without apology. No. The innocent amorality of cats is a reproach to this grinning girl grotesque beside her lifeless trophy.
For centuries, woman activists have struggled valiantly for What is Right. Or what they thought was right at the time. Abolition. Suffrage. And end to child labor. Even when they had no legal power at all, they managed to be in the forefront of those important human rights campaigns. And, on the downside, Temperance, political correctness, and idiotic non-solutions to crime, like California's Three Strikes law, which has resulted in life sentences for shoplifting cookies or videos.
Naive, women might have been (and it may be that such time-hallowed, hardened institutions as slavery are only ended by naifs.) Foolhardy, in their persistence in achieving the vote, for instance, which quest outlived most of the original fighters. Ah, but they were gallant.And honorable. And humane.
And now this grinning harridan emerges from some unpleasant folktale of heartless womanhood to put an end to any cherished stereotypes of feminine decency.
Where did we go wrong?
Believe me--I opposed the idea of women in combat, or of drafting women to assist in the age-old, ongoing, slaughter. Because I opposed war in general, and the draft as involuntary servitude. In my dreamer's way, I wanted rather to set men free of that old, ultimate tyranny, and I thought--I hoped--that if women were given an equal voice in the affairs of state, some balance would be restored, or brought to the world.
Other women, meanwhile, wanted females to prove themselves in combat. To earn their "equality" by shedding blood, by disproving, once and for all, that woman's biological equipment does not make her more sympathetic, less violent, more peaceable. I knew this. And opposed it. And that is one of the reasons I ultimately abandoned the feminist movement as it exists today in America. I left it for something I thought better and truer, only to be mocked by the triumphant Ms. Harman, gloating over a miserable corpse.
I thought I worked for a new society in which traditional female values would be honored, and women empowered to contribute some understanding from their own history and culture to male-dominated society. Instead, young women are gleefully taking part in that brutal culture, proud to be "a soldier too."
"The question he asks, in all but words, is what to make of a diminished thing". . . . .Robert Frost
I have noticed that if you live long enough, you will see all of your most sacred notions trampled and dishonored. I myself, have lived through times when civic involvement was ridiculed; I heard young people--too young I thought, to abandon all ideals - parrot "greed is good." I have lived to hear "Barbara Ann" turned to "Bomb bomb Iran," and Christian doctrine twisted to serve a bloodthirsty Middle East policy. And I am happy to say I have lived long enough to see another generation of activists rise to struggle against indifference, and avarice, and all the deadly civic sins. But they are--as we were--a tiny, proud, ungovernable minority. The majority is proud to line up, sound off, and once again, turn their guns in the wrong direction--against the cooked-up Enemy of the Day, instead of at those who would send them off to murder or die for plunder and conquest--Oil and Empire.
But what keeps coming to mind as I see these photos of American, apple-faced kids, rotted in the hothouse atmosphere of a prison into which hooded and dehumanized inmates may disappear forever, is Lawrence Bittaker. Remember him? In the late 70s, he and his accomplice, Roy Norris, tortured and murdered women and girls, and filmed their agony and death for later delectation. He took still pictures of his victims and autographed them for fellow inmates (and sold 'em too.) "Pliers" Bittaker was not too bright; he--like the prison guards at Abu Ghraib--in obscene, oblivious glee, produced all the evidence needed to convict him. And he was cruel--unbelievably cruel. Like Lynddie, and Sabrina, and their cohorts. And yes, like their superiors--who ordered or ignored or participated in--the evils that were done in our name--in my name--in the "liberated" nation of Iraq.
I leave it to you to decide just how far up the ladder the responsibility for this ugliness--this American Ugliness--goes. To the top, I'd say. To those who decided that the Geneva Conventions ("GENCONS") need not be applied to our righteous cause. To those who slyly send captives to foreign countries to be "interrogated"--that their hands would not be seen to bear the beastly bloodstains of the torturer.
And to the bottom, too. To a society that revels in cruel entertainments; in bloody but self-righteous films; in racist, vicious talk about our "enemies"--whoever they may be at the moment. To parents who don't teach their children not to be cruel to animals, and to disdain those who are "not our kind." To teachers and coaches who tolerate the jocks' bullying. To a system content with vast, undemocratic disparities in wealth and education.To everyone who decides that some people are beneath their concern.
And to the women, who dreamed of equality, and settled for shared brutishness. Is this the egalitarian society we dreamed--a desexualized human grid of automatons in camouflage?
Better a thousand lives chained to a kitchen sink.