Iraqi Policy and Institutionalized Child Abuse: Interview of STK by Felix Carroll
Published Friday, February 13, 1998
Suzy Kane has a long history of trying to "sort things out," as she says. But with the war drums beating loud in recent weeks for a heavy military response to Iraq, sorting things out has become difficult, even exasperating. "It seems to me we’re asking the wrong questions," said the Bedford Hills resident and writer and researcher on the Persian Gulf War. "Everyone knows the evil deeds of Saddam Hussein—who wasn’t exactly voted into power. His people are just as much his victims as the rest of the world is.
"But in the tangle of politics," she said, "what about the children?"
That’s the important question, she said.
The world knows Saddam is a brutal leader, maybe a madman. It knows he’s got biological weapons. It knows he’s used them before.
Mrs. Kane acknowledges she doesn’t have the answers to the situation, but she does take a wider look than most people at the gulf war, its aftermath and the hardships faced by the Iraqi people.
For example, many population centers in Iraq have had unreliable electrical power for seven years. That affects refrigeration, even flushing toilets.
In 1994, the country went from having no cases of typhoid to 24,000 cases. Before the war, Iraq imported 70% of its food. Now, with sanctions, the country has had to survive mostly on food it can produce, which is very little. In many cities, garbage isn’t picked up because the trucks are broken down and there are no spare parts to fix them. Iraq has 70% unemployment. There’s been an increase in the number of birth defects due to what some Iraqis claim is the result of Allied bombings of chemical and biological weapons sites. And due to sanctions, contraceptive devices are unavailable.
"The Iraqis aren’t even on their feet and they’re talking about bombing them again," Mrs. Kane said.
Here’s another example: Cluster bombs were the so-called "workhorse weapon" of the Persian Gulf War. Each bomb has 10 to 500 bomblets that distribute in the sky and explode like airborne land mines. During the war, according to military statistics, the United States dropped 28.5 million bomblets—that’s 1.5 bomblets for every man, woman and child in Iraq.
The world also knows that the Allies’ strategy of "precise bombing" was not always so precise. Consider the Tomahawk missile lobbed at Baghdad after the war. It hit an apartment building, killing Iraq’s leading female artist, among many others.
Further bombing of Iraq appears imminent as a result of Saddam Hussein’s refusal to cooperate with United Nations’ weapons inspectors. The bombing may or may not put a dent in Saddam’s power. But, said Mrs. Kane, it will certainly cause further suffering to the nation’s people.
More than half a million Iraqi children died of "preventable causes" in the aftermath of the war, Mrs. Kane said. Since 1996, they are dying at the rate of 4,500 a month. She noted the stance taken by then-United Nations Ambassador Madeleine Albright (now secretary of state) following the war. When pressed, Mrs. Albright told "60 Minutes" that the children’s deaths are "worth it."
"It’s sad," Mrs. Kane said. "It’s very, very sad."
She said, "What I want to know is, what is the experience of people who can accept the death of innocents as collateral damage, what is the experience of people who can accept the death of innocents in the name of national interests?"
Mrs. Kane has been actively involved in political affairs most of her adult life. She is working on a book, "The Hidden History of the Persian Gulf War." She has applied for a grant from the MacArthur Foundation based on her work so far. She will learn in the fall whether she will receive it.
Mrs. Kane was born in the Iraqi city of Basra to an Iraqi father and an American mother. Her family was among the two percent in Iraq that were Christian. In fact, her great-great uncle was the bishop of Baghdad.
Her family moved to the United States when she was four. She recalls a diversified childhood of summers spent in her mother’s rural Missouri and the rest of the year spent in New Jersey.
"In Missouri," she said, "it wasn’t a question of my being from the east. I was a northerner, as opposed to a southerner." She said in New Jersey she entered the adolescent fray where everyone was "trying to be popular."
That she was Iraqi was never a liability. "I pass," she said. "People didn’t think I looked different, but I was different."
She recalls a song from her childhood in Missouri. In a Southern Baptist church, she said, the parishioners would sing "Jesus loves the little children/All the children of the world/Black and yellow, red and white/They are precious in his sight."
She said, "That really gets me. I loved that song, and I also believed it."
She is worried about the world, worried about the children. Particularly, with the military buildup in recent weeks in the Persian Gulf, she is worried about the innocents in Iraq.
"It puts a chill up my spine," she said. "I have dread in the pit of my stomach."
Mrs. Kane said that 42% of Iraq’s population of about 22 million is under the age of 14. These children know little else but hardship, said Mrs. Kane. "They are traumatized with the same symptoms as abused children are here."
She said, "People don’t realize how very violent the Persian Gulf War was." During the war, she said, an estimated quarter of a million Iraqis were killed out of a population then of 17 mllion. That’s 1.5% of the population, Mrs. Kane noted.
"Think about that," she said. "That’s the equivalent in the U.S. of 3.5 million Americans.
"That’s what we left those people with," she continued. "And then we put sanctions on them. Think of the trauma, think of the psychological effects to those children growing up."
Mrs. Kane said she supports the United Nations. She think Saddam is a brutal dictator. But she does not support our nation’s role as the world’s leading arms dealer.
"I don’t have an answer," she said. "But America is the largest arms seller to the world. Why are we doing that? And why is it OK?
"What we are modeling is that, here’s how to be a big shot, make lots of weapons," she said. "That how you run the world. So if someone aspires to that, here’s the model."
"It’s the equivalent, she said, of a father telling a child not to take drugs when he, himself, takes drugs. When the child does it, the father catches him and beats him to a pulp.
"This to me," she said, "is the analogy of what we are doing."
The pediatrician and political activist Helen Caldicott refers to war as "institutionalized murder." Mrs. Kane added to that: "It’s institutionalized child abuse," she said.
Mrs. Kane is the first cousin, six-times removed of Davy Crockett, the frontiersman and folk hero. That makes Mrs. Kane eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), a national patriotic society founded in 1890.
If she receives the MacArthur Grant, that will allow her to hire an assistant and to travel and do further research. Mrs. Kane has had several articles published that deal with the gulf war.
"Overall," she said, "I am hopeful that the world can grow up and we can look back on all this as crude. There are encouraging signs."
"It’s pretty new," she said, "that people are getting attuned to violence in the family and what the effects are. But there’s hidden violence, too, in the way we raise children—even privileged children, the ones who are going to run the world.
"It’s emotional abuse," she said. "There’s more awareness of these things today."
She added, "The way I see it, feeling responsibly about the world is a reward for consciousness."