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A walk through the rubble

Dawn breaks in the stillness of the early morning desert. I breathe deeply from the cool, dry air. A line of buildings along the outskirts of a nearby town casts a forbidding shadow across the vast stretch of flat dusty earth before me. The edge of the shadow falls at my feet. I step into the shade and walk toward its source.

I am walking through the streets of a devastated city. It resembles a city struck by a tremendous earthquake, except that the man-made destruction is very localized. The air is thick with dust, smoke, and the smell of blood. An entire block has been reduced to a smoldering heap of twisted metal and concrete. I can't tell if it was a military target or a civilian dwelling, but I guess it doesn't really matter, because it isn't anymore.

A middle-aged man dressed in soiled, tattered clothes is slumped in an alley. There are blood-soaked pieces of cloth jammed in his ears, and my guess is that the man has almost completely lost his hearing. He is looking at a warped photograph of a woman and two teen-aged children, and he is praying incoherently in Arabic. Occasionally he yells fragments that I cannot make out. Now he is crying. He tells me that he has lost his family, his home, and his business. He is in shock and despair, and he cannot bring himself to blame anyone or hate anyone. That will come later, if he survives this war.

A bit further down the alley, there is a small door to one side. I knock, and an old woman inside opens it. In her eyes, I see the purest form of emotional devastation I can possibly imagine. She is wise, and she has seen many horrors in her time, but nothing compares with what she has gone through in the last few months. The physical and mental preparation for war, the waiting, the hiding, the projection of strength in the face of this sort of utter demolition, all these things have drained her spirit.

She leads me down a cramped stairwell to the bomb shelter. The air is damp and heavy, and the stench of human waste and body odor is hard to bear. My eyes take some time to adjust to the dim lighting. There are about 10 people crammed into a small room, most of whom are asleep. About half of them are children. I realize that these people have been without running water and electricity for over a month now.

The old woman introduces her grandson, a boy in his early teens. She thinks she is the only remaining family he has. I notice that he has the same look in his eyes as she does, and it deeply scares me. He has been brought up to be proud of his background and his country, and although he doesn't understand the politics of this war, he knows that the United States is responsible for invading his homeland, killing his family, and destroying his life. He has already been taught to hate, and that is an irreversible sentiment. There is nothing I can say to him that wouldn't sound hypocritical or condescending or fake. I just wish he could understand that there are people here who think about the horrors he has been through and have sincere feelings of sorrow.

I have seen enough for today. I don't need to visit the hospital or the morgue. These survivors are good people caught in dreadfully unfortunate circumstances. They are people just like you and me, but they are people whose lives have been shattered forever. I am still trying to comprehend what this war has meant for them. But now, it is time to go home.

I am back in my apartment, watching the evening news. The man on TV says that the war appears to be going smoothly, and then he quotes some numbers for casualties. Then a videotape of an air raid is shown, shot by some courageous journalists. I've seen it about 10 times already. On another channel, they are interviewing an Iraqi woman who condemns President Bush and says her children will never have anything to do with Americans.

The news has been pretty much the same every night for the last week. It has almost become prime-time entertainment for some people. It has lost its human element, because it does not promote thought and feeling. This business of war seems so easy. Our daily lives need not be affected. We are told of our country's overwhelming victory on the battlefield, but I know that things are not that simple. In my heart, I know that nothing has been won, only destroyed.


Gregory T. Huang is a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.