Jul. 17, 2006

Newsphoto: Basra, Collateral Damage

by Steve Kowit

MONDAY, 17 JULY, 2006
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Poem: "Newsphoto: Basra, Collateral Damage" By Steve Kowit. Published in The Sun literary journal. Used by permission of the author. (buy now)

Newsphoto: Basra,
Collateral Damage

Our armies do not come into your cities and lands
as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.

—General F.S. Maude, commander of the British
          colonial forces in Iraq, 1914

Apparently the little girl is dead.
In Basra, bombed to rubble by the Yanks,
her stricken father cradles her small head.

Her right foot dangles, ghastly, by a thread.
Cluster bombs & F-16s & tanks.
That is to say the little girl is dead

whose fingers curl (small hand brushed with blood)
as if to clutch his larger hand. He drinks
her—sobbing—in, & cradles her small head,

& rocks her in his arms, the final bed
but one in which she'll lie. The father clings,
as if his broken daughter were not dead,

her face, as if in sleep, becalmed, but red,
bloodied, bruised. At bottom left, the ranks
of those still dying die beneath her head.

Legions of the Lords of Plunder: the dread
angel of empire offers you thanks!
Look, if you dare! See? The child is dead.
Her stricken father cradles her small head.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1453 that the longest war in history, known as the Hundred Years' War, came to an end. The war was fought over an incredibly complicated dispute over the succession to the French crown. When the King of France had died in 1328, the fifteen-year-old King Edward III of England thought he had a right to the throne, since he was the nephew of the king. But a French member of the same family, Philip VI, also claimed the throne.

An English army invaded France and began to lay siege to various cities, but at the time, warfare was still so primitive that sieges could just go on and on. The English won a series of battles, but they still didn't make much progress in occupying more French land. The war dragged on through the reigns of five English kings and five French kings. It was fought entirely on French soil and is estimated to have reduced the French population by fifty percent.

It was on this day in 1936 that Nationalist rebels launched a military uprising all across Spain, signaling the start of the Spanish Civil War. In February of 1936, a coalition of left-wing parties had come into office by less than two percentage points. The right-wing Nationalist Party, made up of the rich, the church, and the military, decided to take back power by force. General Francisco Franco amassed his army in Morocco, and he invaded Spain from the south and marched north toward Madrid.

It was one of the first wars in history to be covered minute by minute by the news media around the globe. Photography had been modernized to the extent that journalists could take action shots of battle, so it was the first time that newspapers could show pictures of actual warfare, rather than just the aftermath.

Hitler and Mussolini began providing support to Franco, and Stalin provided support to the Republicans. Intellectuals, writers, and artists joined the fight against the Nationalists. A relatively unknown journalist named George Orwell joined a workers' militia in Catalonia. Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos both covered the war as journalists, and both wrote novels about the war—Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) and Dos Passos, The Adventures of a Young Man (1939). The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca tried to remain neutral at first, but he eventually became a supporter of the Republicans, and he was assassinated by the Nationalists. The French novelist André Malraux recruited a squadron of airplanes and helped lead bombing raids against the fascists.

But Franco was an accomplished general and a brutally decisive leader. The Republicans, on the other hand, were split among their many factions, and they had no central leadership. And so Franco eventually won the war by March of 1939.

The French writer Albert Camus said, "It was in Spain that men learned that one can be right and still be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own reward."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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