Article Overview:   How do you walk among the dead and dying without crying?   How do you take pictures of death and destruction without a camera?   How do you face the Beast of Terror on Fifth Avenue in New York City?


Friday--March 28, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 562
Walking Among The Dead & Dying Of Iraq
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, Mar. 28--I walked through the dead and dying of Iraq yesterday.   I stepped over 150 bodies, young and old, men and women.  I paused and aimed my digital camera at their faces and shot picture after picture of their faces to the cheers and jeers of hundreds of onlookers.

Rockefeller Center

      It was about 9a.m. Thursday morning when it happened.   I located myself in a swirl of protestors in front of Rockefeller Center.   They had vowed to perform a "die in."   At a certain moment they were going to try and block the traffic on Fifth Avenue, between 49th and 50th Streets, one of the most prestigious shopping areas in the world.
       In the crush of people with signs shouting and jeering "no business as usual," I waited for what protestors call "the break."   It's a trigger, an event starter.   Someone lurches or lunges toward the target and everyone follows.  

"Die in"

      I kept my camera at the ready, shooting the protestors and police.  Then the break came.   The fence barricade was breached.   A herd of protestors swarmed onto Fifth Avenue amidst a stream of bumper-to-bumper morning traffic.   They wedged their bodies down on the pavement, daring cars to run over them.
       In less than thirty seconds, there was a nest of "dead bodies" sprawled on the street, each holding a picture of a dead Iraqi on his or her chest.  The pictures were to symbolize the death of the innocent.   I wondered how many of those pictures were of people Saddam had killed and claimed were victims of American forces?
       Riot helmeted police ringed the group.  A squad of mounted police were brought up, the steeds placed between the barricade and the "dead," forming an equestrian wall.
        There was no police violence.  They didn't attack the protestors with clubs, or use force to stop them.  I, along with a host of other photographers, freely moved around the "bodies" taking pictures.  I stepped inside the ring, carefully placing my feet so as not to step on the "dead" and shot pictures.
        The police let us take our pictures and then told us to move.

Disembarking from Mike boats in an amphibious assault

        I thought back to my first photo shoot in Vietnam.   I landed with the first amphibious assault since Korea.   We shelled the shore and then went over the side of the troop ship, climbing down nets as our WWII and Korean buddies had done before us.   The South China Sea was not cooperating that day.  Twenty foot swells heaved the Mike boats up and down, making the climb down more dangerous than landing on the beach.   A number of Marines fell into the water with full packs and gear as the swells drove the Mike boats up, hitting the nets, and then sank down, leaving other Marines dangling in mid air.
        By the time we hit the surf and then charged ashore, I was glad to have firm ground under my feet, even though the enemy was supposed to be waiting for us.
        Artillery had "softened" the landing, pounding it with countless rounds before we disembarked.   I was with the first wave, and charged up with the point group, eager to engage the enemy and to write about my first "real war" experience.
        I was met with something I didn't expect.

Viet Cong tunnel entrance

       The enemy had long since departed.  The Viet Cong weren't egotists.   Rather than fight a huge force, they retreated into tunnels and caves, waiting to fight on their grounds, on their terms.
        As we moved forward, cautiously, unsure what to expect, we were met with a number of wailing villagers, women and old men. The young men fled for fear of being taken prisoner as suspected V.C.
        Our artillery had blasted the village.   Bodies were strewn about, and the old men and women were scuttling about, collecting the parts blown off to make the dead bodies whole.   The body must be whole when buried for it to go to heaven.
         I knelt and shot pictures.   Then I moved around the village, shooting the carnage.   There appeared to be a child leaning against a tree with reed sun hat.   He was small, perhaps five or six.   Our job was to clear the village, to make sure none of the villagers had weapons, and that there were no booby traps.    Another Marine approached the silent boy.  He yelled for the boy to move.   We were told even the young could throw hand grenades, or strap on satchel charges.   Caution was the key.
         "Di-di," rang the Marine's Voice, the words for run, move, get away.   The child didn't budge.
     The Marine nudged the boy with the toe of his jungle boot.  The boy's body tilted.  The conical hat fell, exposing a body without a head.   From across the village came the boy's mother, screaming.  She clutched the child's head she had found under her arm.
         I began to shoot the pictures.   My body went numb as I clicked one frame after another.   As I approached for a close up the mother turned to me and wailed, waving her hands.   I wanted to shoot the picture of her pain, clutching her dead child with one hand, his head tucked under her other.  It would be a Pulitzer Prize picture, I was sure.
         But I couldn't continue.

Another time, another village

       I lowered the camera and looked into her face, twisted by pain, her eyes empty of tears for I knew she had cried them out.  Vietnam had been at war with someone for more than 300 years.  They knew little of peace.   I wondered if the mothers of ravaged countries were born without tear ducts.
         I looked at her pain,   It scarred itself into my mind.  It embossed itself into the gray matter, carving each line of her anguish upon the backs of my eyes, so that whenever and where ever I would look at suffering in the world, her face and her son's headless torso would flick into sharp focus, haunting and reminding me that war is brutal, it is indiscriminate, it is heartless.
         As I locked eyes with the Vietnamese woman, I was sure I felt her sense of gratitude I didn't shoot the picture.   Many villages believe if you take their picture you capture their soul.   I wondered if the woman was thanking me for not capturing her son's soul, her soul?
        But I had.
        Her soul and her son's live with me.
        As I turned my camera on the peace protestors with their pictures, I saw the woman and child from three and a half decades ago staring at me.
         What was different for me was that I knew that war was the act of criminals acting out of greed and a thirst to kill.  That was what the protestors tried to portray.
         They were making the war in Iraq one of avarice, a capitalistic thrust of power over a poor people to rape and pillage the land's oil.
         They had no idea if the pictures they held were victims of Saddam's torturous brutality or American bombs.    Neither did I, but I knew that the odds favored Saddam lining up people and killing them to take their pictures for the protestors, more than they favored intentional deaths by Americans or British troops.

Saddam and his sons hoisted the flag of Terrorism

       Saddam and his sons are ugly dictators, evil leaders who would carve out a protestor's heart and eat it in front of all the protestor's family just to show them who was in charge.   But that's not what the protestor's were after.  They were after making America wrong.  They wanted to burn down the fabric of Freedom and Liberty, and hoist the flag of Terrorism.
        By the protestors' neglect to address the victims of Saddam's Terrorism, they were in fact supporting his regime.  By their obvious hatred and vehemence against America, they were offering idolization of Saddam's Butcher of Baghdad status.   
       Where were the pictures of more than 5,000 Kurds he gassed?  Where were the pictures of the rape and torture rooms?  Where were the graves of thousands of prisoners he killed who opposed his policies?   Where were the pictures of his grandchildren's fathers he executed and dragged their bodies through the streets of Baghdad?  Where were the pictures?
        As I moved through the "bodies" I had an urge to raise my foot up and bring it down hard upon the "dead bodies" to awaken them to their folly, their ignorance.
        I couldn't believe they could be so heartless, so cold, so arrogant or so stupid to believe that Saddam Hussein would offer any truths about death.   How could they know those pictures were really not his victims?
       I was sickened in Vietnam by every death of a non-combatant.   Sometimes I had to stop and grab my gut.  Sometimes I cried.  Sometimes I heaved.   One does not become inured to war's horror just because he is a warrior.

How many of these Iraqis pictured here were killed by Saddam?

      But I believed then, as I do now, that America's motives for launching a war against the Viet Cong were correct.   The original intent was to free the people.    That intent disintegrated at the top echelons of government, but it never lost its goal on the front lines.
       At least, not in my case.
       I knew in my guts that America would not conquer Vietnam.   I know it will not conquer Iraq.   It has never conquered one nation it has liberated.
       I also knew that the price of war is horror.   But the horror of war is not the result of America's ugliness or America's corrupt nature.
       The horror of war is an attempt by America to stop the horror of living.
       Protestors had no time to consider that America has a right and duty to stop any tyrant from threatening his people and endangering the security of the world.   Saddam is the creator of horror in Iraq.   His continued policies of human oppression, of human degradation, of human violation led to the war.

        But the "dead" along Fifth Avenue didn't see that side of the war.   They didn't want to think that Saddam, the symbol of their support, was the real Beast of Terror.   They wanted to make President Bush the Saddam Hussein of America.

Along Fifth Avenue..............

         Sadly for them, it didn't work.
        At least, not for me.
        I had walked into the jaws of the Beast of Terror.  I had been swallowed whole into his guts, not unlike Jonah.   I have smelled his rancid breath breathing down my neck.  I've heard him try to whisper to me:  "See, Cliff.  See, America is a warmonger.  America is an imperialistic, capitalistic tyrant trying to enslave the world.   Turn against America, Cliff.   Turn against the flag.   Demand America, Cliff.   Desecrate it.  Come on, Cliff.  Come on."
        Oh, I have heard those Voices many times.    When the fathers of the protestors who lay on the streets spat on me when I returned from Vietnam, they cemented in me the belief that Terrorism of the Mind is the worst kind.

.....some of the dead

       When wolves dress up as sheep, and carry only one message with them--America Sucks--I know the Beast of Terror gave them a ride to the protest.   
        Yes, war is ugly.   Yes, the innocent are victims.  Yes, it is horrible.  Yes, it is wasteful.
        But no, it isn't America at fault.  It isn't "war for oil." It isn't "no business as usual."
        It's about Freedom and Liberty, two concepts that protestors exercise by protesting, but have little respect for when it comes to giving credit to the nation who established it.
        When a nation's leader will kill all his people to maintain his personal power, when a nation's leader shoots his soldiers in the back because they won't fight, when a nation's leader develops and plans to sell weapons of mass destruction to others, then there is no Freedom and Liberty for those people.


The Beast of Terror needs decapitation

         Instead, there is a Beast of Terror.
        And that Beast needs decapitation.
               It was hard for me yesterday to not grab the protestors and shake some sense into them.   But, this is America.   I step back and give them the right to act out of their ignorance, to perform acts of desecration that fuel the Beast of Terror's desire to weaken America's faith within.
        I have my own picture of the horror of war.  The one of a woman and her headless child.
        I can hear her eyes telling me:   "My child died so that others might be free one day.  Let his death always be your reminder that war is the result of tyranny and oppression.  It is fought by those who seek peace for the citizens of the land.    If my child must die so that one day other children will be free, then I sadly offer his soul to them."

     More "Die In"  photos


Mar. 27--Surrender Or Die, The Last Battle Cry

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