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Thursday, April 10, 2003  
A tale of two photos

I have two photographs on my mind. One was shot in New York City on the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. The other was shot in Baghdad. In a giddy celebration of this week's mood of American triumphantalism, thousands of people gathered to celebrate the ravaging of the major city of the country they hold responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Thousands of labor union workers crowded along the western edge of Ground Zero Thursday to show their support for U.S. troops and the war against Iraq.

Police said 25,000 people, including electrical workers, carpenters, ironworkers, firefighters and police officers, attended the gathering.

The governor and other political officials were on hand to urge them on.

The other picture I have in my mind is of the 12-year-old boy dismembered by American bombs in Baghdad. I will not link to that photograph because, like my friend Laura at Interesting Monstah, I believe too much of a focus on it can be a way of dehumanizing him. Suffice it to say Ismail Abbas is a smallish preteen who now lacks both his arms below the armpit level. He also lacks most of his family. His friends. The house he lived in. His pets, if he had any.

I am having a problem connecting the first picture to the second. What do young Ismail and most of the other Iraqis killed or maimed in the invasion have to do with the jubilant firemen, policemen and men on the street in that picture from New York? The aggrieved father of a man who died in the attack on the World Trade Center thinks he knows.

Construction worker William Sekzer's son, Jason, died September 11. He attended the rally because he believes the terrorist attack is connected to the war on Iraq.

"What do you want as proof?" Sekzer asked. "Do you want Saddam Hussein shaking hands with Osama bin Laden?"

I am not convinced. For one thing, newshounds like me know there is next to no chance Hussein and bin Laden would shake hands under any circumstances because bin Laden opposed Hussein's regime. Nor is there any tangible evidence, with the war over for all practical purposes, that weapons of mass destruction provided a rationale for the invasion. What we have instead is statues being torn down in Baghdad, flags being waved in NYC . . . and a boy with no arms.

Not everyone sees it that way. Right Wing blogger Robert Prather at the Mind of Man cheers on the rally at Ground Zero and what it represents.

The war isn't over, but the Ba'athist regime that was terrorizing Iraq and posing a threat to the rest of the world is no longer functioning. That in itself is reason to celebrate. It should also serve as a warning to any would-be terrorists and their state supporters that we don't live with threats, we remove them.

I am also skeptical about that last sentence. It seems to me the threat of terrorism is greater now than it was before the invasion of Iraq.

Another blogger, Ryan Cormi, describes the story about the rally as "the worst thing I've ever read." I won't go that far, but will say the sentiments expressed at that celebration explain a lot about how the image of the ugly, self-centered, dehumanizing American arose and is maintained.

It doesn't have to be that way. One hundred and thirty eight years ago President Abraham Lincoln visited a vanquished city. It was a somber trip, devoid of pleasure for him except about the hundreds of people newly freed from bondage he was cheered by.

"Lincoln visited here just after the fall of Richmond to see what had happened to it and to try to start the reconciliation. It was a peaceful visit, not a fearful one," says Robert H. Kline, the man who spearheaded a drive to commemorate Lincoln's only visit to Richmond with a statue there.

It is that spirit of reconciliation and even basic recognition of the Iraqis as fellow human beings equal to us that is sorely missing in this week's response to the taking of Baghdad. Instead of a mood of celebration, one of sobriety would be appropriate. There has been much suffering and there is much hard work ahead. Instead of politicians encouraging ignorance, this should be a time of learning more about the country the United States will soon control. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on a rally to celebrate victory over a country that probably had nothing to do with the World Trade Center bombings, we should be spending millions to repair the devastation in Iraq . . . and buy a boy a new pair of arms.

11:01 PM