Monday, March 12, 2007

War & Grief

Think of the people left behind by every death in the world's war zones.

By Liam Bailey

For the first time in my life, I have been forced to deal with the sudden death of someone in my immediate family. Such a death is a like a tsunami of grief engulfing everyone it touches. Not only immediate relatives but their friends and distant relatives as well, if not affected by the death, then affected by their sympathy for those who are.

I am only talking about one death. Last night when I was watching the news it occurred to me that if one death affects, say 100 people, when 36 people die in an attack in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan or anywhere else in the world, then that potentially affects at least 3,600 people.

I have found in the last few days that my sister's death has affected me less than that of an uncle I hardly knew dying when I was a child. The only reason I can think of for this is my being engulfed in news reports from the world's war zones in the past year. Devastating attacks are causing unrelenting tsunamis of grief across the world's war zones each and every day, but have we heard about them so many times on the news that we have disassociated from the pain of an unexpected death?

I believe we have. In the example above I mentioned an attack with a death toll in the mid-30s. That should be shocking on its own, but it isn't. Attacks with such high death tolls are commonplace in Iraq; frequently two or more such attacks happen each day. So, because of this maybe they can't be shocking, but I feel that they should still be upsetting.

If we imagine that an attack, say on a marketplace, might kill 15 people, if these are fifteen people, wandering the market alone, then using my formula above that is 1,500 people in separate families forced into the grieving process. More likely it would be a family walking through the market together. Maybe four of those killed were from the same family -- mother, father, daughter, and son. For their extended family that is a tsunami of grief, like the one hitting my family, multiplied by a factor of four. There could have been another member of the family on the day out to the market, but he/she had gone to get an ice cream, or straggled behind admiring something that caught their eye. Now he/she has the grief to deal with, plus the guilt of not keeping his family together with him. The extended family now has the grief of all the deaths, plus the heart-breaking sympathy for the one left behind.

If every time an attack like this happened, everyone looked at and thought about it in this way, would there be less violence in the world?

For instance, a suicide bomber boards a bus in Israel and leaves four people dead in his wake. The four people's deaths are on the news, four people far away and distant from our hearts. But if the news reports told us that the dead were a mother and her small baby and two grandparents on their way to the hospital to see their first grandchild for the first time, it would upset and appall everyone with a heart, Palestinian militants included. The militants may think twice the next time they are asked to martyr themselves.

It probably isn't practical or even possible that news reports could contain such information about the deceased in every violent incident around the world every day. What is possible, in fact even probable, is that almost every life extinguished in a violent manner affects someone apart from the deceased. Some may be vagrants, and only their vagrant friends will be affected in a small way. But some will certainly be mothers that will never see their children again, and/or like my sister, the children may be so young it is unclear whether they will even remember their mother. That is one aspect of my sister's death that has affected me badly.

Is anything more upsetting than a child asking where their dead mother is? Yes, having to explain the answer to them.

So, the next time you are listening to the news about three simultaneous car bombings or an attack of any kind that has left a total of 75 people dead, try not to compare it to the death toll of 9/11, 7/7 or the many other major disasters that have killed many more. Try to imagine the grief each individual death has potentially caused and spare a thought for those left behind.

My sister's death was the biggest shock I have ever experienced, but it could not have been avoided. Can the same be said of those dying in the world's wars?

Surely there are enough people dying unexpectedly and unavoidably in the world, in accidents, natural disasters and civilian murders, for the tsunami of grief to do a perpetual lap of the world's oceans. So let's stop unnecessary wars and violence from causing anymore thousands of avoidable deaths, or, let's at least try.

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