I Cry for the September 11 Victims...
And I Cry Also for the 6 Year Old Afghan Girl Whose Spinal Chord Was Severed
by Shrapnel From an American Bomb
December 13, 2001
Like many Americans, I have
shed many tears watching coverage of and reading about the September 11
victims. These emotions were most intense in the days immediately
following the terrorist attacks, but even now, months later, the odd story
will again bring me to tears. Particularly moving are some of the
short but poignant vignettes about September 11 victims that The New York
Times runs each day at the end of its daily special section on the war.
Contrary to the impression
that some readers of this site seem to come away with, I support -- and have
explicitly so endorsed here many times -- military action to overthrow the
Taliban, and eliminate Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda as a threat. The
release of the bin Laden videotape today only strengthens these
convictions. It is not the goal, but the methods our country is using
to achieve that goal that I have strongly disagreed with and criticized.
That being said and hopefully
understood, I am not ashamed to say that I have also cried many times as I
have read about the hundreds, if not thousands of innocent Afghan civilians -- men,
women, children, babies -- who have been killed and injured by U.S. bombs
and missiles. The following account
of a tragedy that occurred last weekend really hit me hard:
A second 6-year-old girl in
the room was paralyzed from the waist down. X-rays showed how a tiny shard
of metal had neatly severed her spinal chord...
Bibi Hawa, the aunt of the
paralyzed 6-year-old girl, said a convoy of Arab fighters fleeing Kandahar
passed their village, Mowshkheyl in northwestern Paktika Province, on
Saturday. Twenty-four hours later, at 4 a.m. Sunday, American planes
struck, she said, just as families were preparing the daily predawn meal
that is part of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Thirteen people were killed
and more than 40 were injured, she said.
The bomb, she and other
villagers said, released hundreds of smaller bombs that sprayed the area
"No Arabs were
injured," Ms. Hawa said bitterly. "Only these grandchildren and
The Pentagon had no comment
today on whether American bombs might have hit this village.
A picture accompanying the
article gives the little girl's name as Palwasha. Seeing her lying
there in the hospital breaks my heart.
Life in an impoverished,
famine-ridden country like Afghanistan is hard enough. What will life
be like for Palwasha? What kind of medical treatment can she possibly
expect to receive? Will there be any rehabilitative services at all
for someone like her? Or will she be condemned to a life of lying in
I know that thousands
of people were killed here on September 11, and many others horribly
injured. They have all, fortunately, received massive attention, and
every single one of the injured will undoubtedly benefit from the most
advanced medical care in the world and post-care rehabilitative
But Palwasha will probably
receive no attention from anyone except her immediate family. She will
most likely benefit very little from any modern medicine. But for the New
York Times article, the outside world would know nothing of her.
And there are undoubtedly countless other Palwasha's throughout Afghanistan
whose bomb-induced injury and suffering is going completely unnoticed
by the world. So please don't write in and say "Why are you
writing about that girl, why aren't you writing about the injured
Compassion for our own dead
and wounded should not close our hearts to the innocent victims on "the
other side." In fact, I would hope that the trauma we have
suffered would make us more empathetic with, and more desirous
of helping, those who are suffering death and injury. Especially
should this be so when we are the direct agent of their death and
While I have maintained that our
deliberate choice of a high-altitude bombing strategy has ensured such
casualties, while a different strategy would have avoided them, let's assume
for the sake of argument that we bear no blame for Palwasha's tragedy at our
hands. But even if we bear no blame, aren't our hearts big enough to
include her in our circle of compassion?
Did Palwasha have anything to
do with the September 11 attacks? Did she help bin Laden plan
them? Did she harbor an al Qaeda terrorist cell in her little village
house? Did she do anything at all -- as if a 6 year old girl could --
to deserve this obscenity that has been visited upon her?
In short, isn't Palwasha as
much a victim of September 11 as the people who died that very day?
And isn't she as deserving of the assistance
of the American people and government?
[Does anyone know how to
set up a fund to provide assistance to this child? Please write if you do.]