Measuring Life in Scrap Metal

by Jan Baughman

January 1, 2002

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On December 24, 2001, The New York Times reached a new level of propaganda with its piece headed "Ravaged Earth" and entitled "Scavenging The Harvest Where Bombs Have Plowed." This short fable takes us to the farmland village of Gri Khel, outside of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, that is scorched by drought and now devastated by bombings. "In pitiful Afghanistan, this spot of devastation is now considered a place of plenty. The region's parched farmland may yield little harvest, but the scorched soil here holds a bounty of scrap metal. Every 15 pounds is worth 25 cents." The story goes on to describe the risk of unexploded bombs and gives us graphic detail of one man's fatal encounter with a cluster bomb which tore his body into pieces - pieces that were collected by his fellow scavengers and returned to his family home. One of his brothers cried out in an angry rage, "I want to kill the Americans!"...."Get my gun, I want to kill them." The dead man's father questioned why his mountains were destroyed, why these deadly bombs were left around - "we are not terrorists." "However, he was then reminded of the scrap metal and the price it fetched," the story continues. "'Yes,' he allowed, wishing to be reasonable, 'The mountain is now dangerous, but the mountain is also now good. I will freely admit this. The mountain is now good.'"

The next day, Christmas Day, the same newspaper carried a section headed "Trauma," with a piece entitled "After a War, Deadly Reminders of It." "Land mines recently wounded three American soldiers in Afghanistan; one lost a leg. And the task of clearing hundreds of thousands of mines there has just begun." The article goes on to describe a study published in The Lancet on the dangers of mine clearing work in places such as Angola, Cambodia and Chechnya. "Pentagon officials have warned that they expect more American casualties from mines in Afghanistan," the piece concludes.

It would appear that one man's bounty is another man's demise in this zero sum game of life.

Imagine for a minute that we had said to the families of the World Trade Center victims, "There is a bounty of scrap metal in the remains of the Twin Towers - enough to allow you to rebuild your lives again..."

Hundreds of charities have raised over 1.5 billion dollars in various 9-11 funds; in addition, the Federal government is expected to pay out an average of $1,650,0000 to families of the victims. The sad reality is, people are fighting over who deserves how much and whether a stockbroker is worth more than a fireman is worth more than a policeman is worth more than a security guard is worth more than a dishwasher, and whose pain and suffering was greatest. Is it fair to deduct one's life insurance award from the government funds? Does a 35-year old widow of a man who earned $175,000 per year deserve more than the widow of a $40,000 per year man, especially if she's already 60? Or should it be the other way around? Is all of this equitable in light of the government's airline bailout? And what about the Oklahoma City bombing families? Why didn't they deserve this outpouring of money? It's just not fair...

The economic fallout from September 11 will continue into the foreseeable future. What about the laid-off airline, restaurant and hotel workers - are they not, too, innocent victims who deserve some help? And what of the rest of us who will suffer from the emotional, political, legal, civil liberties, economic, global consequences? Who will take care of us?

Better read the fine print when your new insurance policy arrives. By the time the next attack occurs, Acts of God*, Acts Against God*, and Acts in the Name of God* will no longer be covered. Our lives will be essentially worthless, as the powers-that-be define it.

We all -- Americans, non-Americans, insured, uninsured, rich, poor -- die one way or another, fairly or unfairly, naturally or unnaturally, eventually or sooner. Dead is dead. Will we ever value a human being, in life and in death, for the mere humanness of being, and not in an arbitrarily defined value-added light?

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals disaster relief fund raised $1.6 million to aid animals affected by the 9-11 attacks, slightly higher than that raised by the America's Fund for Afghan Children, born out of President Bush's appeal to every American child to send in $1.00 for their war-ravaged counterparts.

Meantime, in America, we've created a nice career path for the homeless -- collecting and recycling aluminum cans. And now we're doing the same for Afghans, offering them hope and salvation, if they live to achieve it, through some scraps of metal. We can all feel good about that as the bombs continue to fall.


*The definition of God includes but is not limited to God, Allah, and any deity or Supreme Being heretofore unnamed but thought or believed to control some part of nature or reality.


Jan Baughman is a scientist in the Biotech Industry. When Jan does not travel around the world on behalf of the company where she manages a clinical research department, she spends most of her time devouring books like candies and relaxing over the preparation of the finest recipes in Northern California. She started writing at a very young age when she found this mode of expression easier than having to answer the perpetually boring and conservative chit-chat around her. Jan's sense of observation is directly related to her sense of humor. She is a founding member and co-editor of Swans, and brings to the site wit and a lightness of being.

Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted. All rights reserved.

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Published January 1, 2002
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