We are preparing a new poetry collection of the winning poems in the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Awards. Going through these poems has made me think about the many faces of war. There are the faces of the leaders who choose to go to war. There are the faces of the soldiers who fight in the wars. There are the faces of loved ones left behind. And, most powerful, there are the faces of the victims of war. In general, the faces of the leaders are smug and certain; the faces of the soldiers are young and determined; the faces of the loved ones left behind are distracted and worried; and the faces of the victims are twisted in agony and death.
The Foundation gives poetry awards in three categories: adults, youth (13–18) and children (12 and under). One of the first place poems in the children’s category is about a young Iraqi boy named Ali Ismail Abbas. Ali was 12 years old when tragedy struck his home in the form of US guided missiles, killing his father, his pregnant mother, his brother and 13 other family members. Ali survived, after the amputation of both of his arms. He had wanted to become a doctor.
Daniel Amoss wrote this short poem about Ali:
I saw his picture.
War is a 12-year-old boy
With no arms, brown eyes.
His poem captures so much. It reveals the brown eyes (soft? tearful? frightened?) of a boy whose family and whose dreams were destroyed by war.
I remember reading about Ali in 2003 when the story of his loss was covered in the media. It was a devastating story of the horrors of war; in this case, of the unintended horrors of war. I wrote this poem:
TO AN IRAQI CHILD
for Ali Ismail Abbas
So you wanted to be a doctor?
It was not likely that your dreams
would have come true anyway.
We didn’t intend for our bombs to find you.
They are smart bombs, but they didn’t know
you wanted to be a doctor.
They didn’t know anything about you
and they know nothing of love.
They cannot be trusted with dreams.
They only know how to find their targets
and explode in fulfillment.
They are gray metal casings with violent hearts,
doing only what they were created to do.
It isn’t their fault that they found you.
Perhaps you were not meant to be a doctor.
I wrote from the skeptical perspective of the cynics who justify the unjustifiable: “They are smart bombs, but they didn’t know/ you wanted to be a doctor.” No, our bombs are not so smart. And those who go along with the justifications for war are not so brave. And those who make war, who choose force over reason, are not so wise. Most often those who lead us into war pay no price, as do their victims such as Ali Ismail Abbas. We would do well to remember Ali’s 12-year-old face, with its brown eyes, and his shattered dreams the next time a leader tries to sell us on a war.