Archive for January 14, 2009

Killing Children With Impunity


The unsettling and deeply disturbing images of children in Gaza mutilated, bleeding, and dead evoke similar images from our collective memory. One such image is that of Emmett Till, whose body arrived home in Chicago in September 1955. White racists in Mississippi had tortured, mutilated, and killed the young 14-year-old African-American boy for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Determined to make visible the horribly mangled face and twisted body of the child as an expression of racial hatred and killing, Mamie Till, the boy’s mother, insisted that the coffin, interred at the A.A. Ranier Funeral Parlor on the South Side of Chicago, be left open for four long days. While mainstream news organizations ignored the horrifying image, Jet magazinepublished an unedited photo of Till’s face taken while he lay in his coffin. Shaila Dewan points out that “[m]utilated is the word most often used to describe the face of Emmett Till after his body was hauled out of the Tallahatchie river in Mississippi. Inhuman is more like it: melted, bloated, missing an eye, swollen so large that its patch of wiry hair looks like that of a balding old man, not a handsome, brazen 14-year-old boy.”1 Till had been castrated and shot in the head; his tongue had been cut out; and a blow from an ax had practically severed his nose from his face—all of this done to a teenage boy who came to bear the burden of the inheritance of slavery and the inhuman pathology that drives its racist imaginary. The photo not only made visible the violent effects of the racial state; they also fuelled massive public anger, especially among blacks, and helped to launch the Civil Rights Movement.

From the beginning of the early Civil Rights Movement to the war in Vietnam and more recently to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, images of human suffering and violence provided the grounds for a charged political indignation and collective sense of moral outrage inflamed by the horrors of poverty, militarism, war, and racism—eventually mobilizing widespread opposition to these antidemocratic forces. Fifty years after the body of Emmett Till was plucked out of the mud-filled waters of the Tallahatchie River, another set of troubling visual representations emerged that both shocked and shamed the nation. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, grotesque images of bloated corpses floating in the rotting waters that flooded the streets of New Orleans circulated throughout the mainstream media. Dead people, mostly poor African-Americans, left uncollected in the streets, on porches, hospitals, nursing homes, in electric wheelchairs, and in collapsed houses prompted some people to claim that America had become like a “Third World country” while others argued that New Orleans resembled a “Third World Refugee Camp.”6

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) tried to do damage control by forbidding journalists to “accompany rescue boats as they went out to search for storm victims.” As a bureau spokeswoman told Reuters News Agency, “We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media.”7 But questions about responsibility and answerability would not go away. Even the dominant media, CNN included, for a short time rose to the occasion of posing tough questions about accountability to those in power in light of such egregious acts of incompetence and indifference. The images of dead bodies kept reappearing in New Orleans, refusing to go away. For many, the bodies of the poor, black, brown, elderly, and sick came to signify what the battered body of Emmett Till once unavoidably revealed, and America was forced to confront these disturbing images and the damning questions behind the images. The Hurricane Katrina disaster, like the Emmett Till affair, revealed a vulnerable and destitute segment of the nation’s citizenry that conservatives not only refused to see but had spent the better part of two decades demonizing. But like the incessant beating of Poe’s tell-tale heart, cadavers have a way of insinuating themselves on consciousness, demanding answers to questions that aren’t often asked.

In light of this legacy of collective indignation to horrible images of human suffering, why is it that shocking representations of devastation, suffering and killing of hundreds of children in Gaza have elicited so little outrage among the mainstream media and intellectuals in the United States? In the international media stories abound of children being killed as part of the military imperative–supported by weapons from the United States– to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel–a terrible act but one that has resulted in very few deaths. Jimmy Carter and others rightly argue that Hamas’s launching of rockets from Gaza is an act of terrorism. But terrorism is most destructive when it makes its own politics and use of power invisible–that is, disguised as its opposite. Even when terrorist acts become visible should all acts of terrorism be treated equally, regardless of the scope and degree of military operations and human suffering they cause among civilians, and especially children. Certainly not for the Israeli government, which portrays itself as a victim and refuses to end the slaughter of civilians and children on the grounds that its military operations have not yet been successful enough. In this discourse, children no longer serve as an ethical referent against acts of barbarism, they simply become collateral damage, a ghastly and inhumane act often justified on under the pretense of historical necessity and surgical strikes–a language that reveals more about a political state that uses such euphemisms then the repugnant strategies it evokes. Is any military strategy justified when it results in the killing of over 300 defenseless children? And what does it mean when the issue of military disproportionality is simply treated by manin the media as an obvious fact and not understood as part of the equation used to define state terrorism, particularly when the most sophisticated military weapons are used unchallenged against densely crowded civilian populations that have no comparable military technology? Why are the shocking images of Emmet Till or the bloated bodies of Katrina victims any more moving or cause for outrage and collective action among Americans than the image of a two-year old child hit by an Israeli shell while running for safety? One such image was described by an aid worker in the following terms: “It was like charcoal….Also without any limbs, because some of the animals ate some of his limbs.”8 Is it conceivable that Palestinians are now viewed as a population so disposable and without any redeeming value that even images of Palestinian children being blown apart by rockets and gun fire no longer elicit a need for moral outrage and rigorous political criticism?

What is that connects the death of Emmett Till, the abandonment of largely poor African Americans in New Orleans, and the deaths of innocent children in Gaza? All three are tied together by the racialized logic of disappearance and disposability implemented under the practices of a modern state. All three reference, as David Theo Goldberg points out in his newest book, The Threat of Race, populations marked as targets to be dispensed with, “heel on face eating dust when they have anything to eat at all..deserted, reduced to philistinism, untrusted because untrustworthy. And once deserted, having nowhere to turn, no one to appeal to be a few folks of conscience, they are fair game.”9 All three embody the ideology of a racial state in which it is assumed that in the absence of African Americans and Palestinians, including children, there would be no police violence, threats, insecurity, checkpoints, blockades, economic problems, immigrants–just a racially cleansed society no longer at war with itself and others. What unites all three events is the shame of racist violence and the practices of state terrorism, hardly a foundation, normative or political, for repulsive images and deadly actions of the type we see in Gaza promoted by Israel in the name of democracy.

Children provide a powerful referent for social criticism and collective change because their suffering and hardships offer the promise of both a public hearing and a potent social category by which to connect a range of issues and problems that are often addressed in isolation, a subtle way of identifying grievances without inquiring into their social and political roots. More than any other group, they provide a credible referent for opening up the possibility for progressive individuals and movements to create new ethical discourses and modes of advocacy within the wider struggle for democracy. Children invoke compassion and understanding, which are crucial to shaping the civic imagination. A critical analysis of the plight and killing of children in Gaza is important because it foregrounds the relationship between acts of military power and aggression and the lived realities of massive suffering and death shaped by an expansionist state. Moreover, it reminds us once again that the plight of children must play a central role in reclaiming those democratic values, practices, and relations that would make such treatment of children indefensible regardless of the appeals to justice, defense, and democracy made by those for whom a child’s death can be legitimated as one unfortunate element in waging a successful military strategy.

Of course, there is more at work here than the horror and immediacy of children being killed senselessly, there is a suppressed history, dangerous memories of entire populations being displaced after the 1967 war, and how unchecked state power can commit the most ruthless deeds in the name of fighting terrorism and spreading democracy. But there is more. There is also the issue of what a country becomes when it loses its ability to question power, views military values as the highest ideals, ignores international law, and becomes indifferent to the suffering of the most innocent and defenseless. Hannah Arendt once argued that when the public realm loses its power of illumination, one result is that more and more people retreat “from the world and their obligations within it.”10 Surely, in this instance, we are seeing more than a retreat, we are witnessing a crime against humanity for which indifference and silence makes one deeply complicitous with the killing and disappearance of young children. Gaza reminds us that the “dark times” that haunted Arendt’s generation can now be seen in the images of wounded and dead children and should serve as a desperate reminder of what it means when politics, social responsibility, and justice, as the lifeblood of democracy, becomes cold and indifferent in the face of death.

Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: “Take Back Higher Education” (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex” (2007) and “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed” (2008). His newest book, “Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?” will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2009.


6.. Rosa Brooks, Our Homegrown Third World,” Los Angeles Times (September 07, 2005), pp. 1–2.

7.. Terry M. Neal, “Hiding Bodies Won’t Hide the Truth,” Washington Post (September 8, 2005).

8. Cited in Ahmed Abu Hamda and Dion Nissenbaum, “UN Wants to Know if war Crimes were Commited in Gaza.Truthout (January 1, 2009).

9. David Theo Goldberg, The Threat of Race (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 20090, p. 119.

10.. Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1955), p. 4.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payroll employment declined by 3,445,000 from December 2007 through December 2008.

The collapse in employment is across the board.

Construction lost 520,000 jobs. Manufacturing lost 806,000 jobs. Trade, transportation and utilities lost 1,495,000 jobs (retail trade accounted for 1,120,000 of this loss). Financial activities lost 145,000 jobs. Professional and business services lost 713,000 jobs. Even government lost 188,000 jobs.

Only in health care and social assistance has the economy been able to eke out a few new jobs.

Many analysts believe the job losses will be as great or greater during 2009.

Moreover, the reported job losses are likely understated. Noted statistician John Williams ( reports that biases in measurement have understated the job loss over the last 12 months by 1,150,000 jobs. Williams reports the unemployment rate as it was measured prior to “reforms” designed to minimize the measured rate of unemployment. According to the methodology used in 1980, the US unemployment rate in December 2008 reached 17.5 percent.

Yes, “our” government lies to us about economic statistics, just as it lies to us about “terrorists,” “weapons of mass destruction,” “building freedom and democracy in the Middle East,” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An objective person would be hard pressed to find any statement made by the US government that is reliable.

The collapse of the job market means even harder times for last year’s and this year’s crops of college graduates. The offshoring of professional jobs and the widespread use by US corporations of H-1b, L-1, and other work visa programs for foreigners have left many recent American university graduates without careers.

Recently, Bill Gates of Microsoft was pleading with Congress to allow even more foreigners in on work visas. According to Gates, there is a shortage of American workers despite a 17.5 percent unemployment rate. I personally know American computer engineers, both seasoned and recent graduates, who cannot find jobs.

What Gates and American corporations want is cheap labor, in effect indentured servants, unprotected people who don’t demand an American standard of living and who have no student loans to repay.

If Congress expands the work visas as US unemployment mounts, we will have one more piece of evidence that “our” representatives have no sympathy for the American people.

Where were America’s leaders while the economy slipped over the precipice?

Our leaders were telling us lies in behalf of special interests into whose pockets Washington was pouring the taxpayers’ money. Our leaders engineered wars that put billions of dollars into such disreputable pockets as Halliburton’s, the firm of the American outlaw, Dick Cheney, and into Blackwater, supplier of the overpaid mercenaries that the Bush Regime uses to beef up its military force in Iraq. Some of the taxpayers’ billions, of course, recycled into “our” representatives reelection campaign funds.

Our leaders were too busy making trips to Israel to reaffirm their support for Israel’s ongoing theft of Palestine and for wars that enable this theft.

Our leaders were too busy serving financial interests by dismantling regulatory barriers to over-leveraged greed. The extraordinary level of leveraged debt and the fraudulent financial instruments resulted in annual compensation for hedge fund managers and investment bankers larger than a king’s ransom.

When the leveraged mortgages went bust, the banksters declared a “crisis” and Congress responded by ripping off the American taxpayers for another trillion dollars.

More is to come. Credit card debt, car loans, and commercial real estate mortgages have been securitized, too. There is little doubt there are derivatives based on this enormous pile of debt. As each “crisis” unfolds, it will mean more bailout rewards for the crooks who deep-sixed the US economy.

It is not implausible that by the end of this year the unemployment rate, honestly measured, will be as high as during the Great Depression.

Few in Washington think there is any cause for alarm. Obama is calling the situation “serious” not because he believes it is but in order to get another trillion dollar “stimulus” package on the taxpayers’ books. Stimulus will do the trick, economists say, and, moreover, the Federal Reserve has already extended $2 trillion in loans, but won’t say to whom the money has been lent.

This massive expansion of new debt, economists think, is going to fix the economy and put people back to work. They think the solution to excessive debt is more debt.

The federal government budget deficit for the 2009 fiscal year will be $2 trillion at a minimum. That is five times larger than the 2008 budget deficit.

How can the Treasury finance such a huge deficit?

There are three sources of financing. Possibly people will flee from stocks, bank deposits, and money market funds into Treasury “securities.” This would require a form of “money illusion” on the part of people. People would have to believe that investments can be printed, and that printing so many new Treasury bonds would not dilute the value of existing bonds or reduce their chance of redemption. They would have to believe that the bonds would be repaid with honest money, not by running the printing presses.

A second source of financing might be America’s foreign creditors. So far in our descent into massive debt foreigners have footed the bill. Our foreign creditors now hold very large amounts of US debt and other dollar-denominated “securities.” They are likely to develop a case of cold feet when they see a $2 trillion expansion in US debt in one year. Their most likely response will be to start selling their existing holdings.

Who would purchase them? The only way the Treasury can redeem the bonds that come due each year is by selling new bonds. Not only must the Treasury find purchasers for $2 trillion in new debt this year but also must find buyers for the bonds that must be sold in order to redeem old bonds that come due.

If foreigners cease buying and instead start selling from their existing holdings–China alone holds $500 billion in Treasury debt–a deluge will fall on an already flooded market.

The third source of financing is for the Federal Reserve to monetize the debt. In other words, the Treasury prints bonds and the Fed purchases them by printing money. The supply of money thus expands dramatically in relation to goods and services, and high inflation, possibly hyperinflation, would engulf America.

At that point the US dollar, if still on its feet, collapses. The import-dependent American population, dependent on imports for their mobility, their clothes, shoes, manufactured goods, and advanced technology products, no longer will be able to afford these imports.

A scary scenario? Yes. Overdrawn? Perhaps, but perhaps not. The United States has spent the last 7 years in pointless wars that benefited only the military-security complex and Israel’s aggression against Palestinians and Lebanon. According to prominent experts, the out-of-pocket cost and already incurred future liabilities of Bush’s wars comes to $3 trillion.

The cost of the Bush Regime’s wars, together with the 2009 budget deficit that Bush has bequeathed to Obama, equals half of the accumulated national debt of the United States.

Several years ago United States Comptroller General David Walker informed Congress and the White House that the accrued liabilities of the US government exceeded the ability to pay. Yet, “our” leaders ignored the Comptroller General and rushed headlong to add more trillions of dollars to federal liabilities. In effect, the United States is bankrupt at this present moment. According to generally accepted accounting principles, the federal government has a negative net worth of $59.3 trillion.

Who is going to lend to a bankrupt government that is ruled by financial crooks, the military-security complex, and the Israel Lobby? How long will the world finance US aggression that disrupts energy prices, keeps the world on edge, and makes America’s creditors complicit in war crimes?

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: