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Why Is This Man Smiling?

leah's picture


Because this woman isn't.

Lebanon july 2006 mother and baby




Perhaps. I could have featured other smiling men:

This one, for instance.
Thomas Friedman

Or this one.
Richard Cohen

Or other smiling women.

Let me tell you about the woman in the picture first, and then you be the judge.


Her name is Nohad Zaim; the baby in her arms is her eight month old daughter, Mariam. Those specs and contusions on their face are "the red lacerations and speckles associated with blast trauma."

She was photographed and interviewed by Kevin Sites in a hospital room at Najem Hospital in the south Lebanon city of Tyre where she is sharing a room with her three other children - teen-aged sons, Ahmad and Ali, both of whom have suffered "broken bones, facial lacerations, and head wounds," while in another bed, a younger brother, Mahmoud, suffers from third degree burns to his face - all the injuries the result of an Israeli missile or bomb exploding too near the car in which the Zaim family was seeking to flee from their village, as directed to do via dropped leaflets, courtesy of the Israeli Defense Forces.

At the time of the interview, the children had not yet been told that their father, Mohammed, had died in the air attack.

To be fair to John Podhoretz, he was probably smiling because of the appearance of yet another of his columns in the NY Post, since that is where I found the picture, but here is the subject of his July 25th column:


And here is what is bothering Podhoretz-fils:

WHAT if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?

Again, here is Kevin Sites, the photographer/reporter of Yahoo's The Hot Zone on his one day spent in the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon:

The estimated 50,000 people in need in Tyre and the surrounding region are left with a hugely inadequate relief package totaling a few dozen cases of water, some boxes of milk and bags of rice and salt.

Still, it is the only relief the area has received since the crisis began. Francio Dupaquien, emergency officer for Premier Urgence, says Tyre is already a humanitarian disaster.

"It’s one of the worst I’ve seen," he says, while waiting for the ship to enter port. "There is a food crisis, and a health crisis; we’re already seeing water-borne diseases within the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps."

But along the way we pass the city morgue, where there seems to be a lot of activity. We go inside to see workers laying out the bodies of two men on sheets of black plastic.

I ask how they were killed. The first, I’m told, is named Jihad Ammad Murtada and was driving a car that was hit by an Israeli missile.

They unwrap the blanket from around his body to show me that they were not able to find his head. His hands are clenched tightly into fists.

One of the men reaches into the dead man’s pockets to pull out his personal belongings — a set of keys, a wallet — things that would seem normal for someone breathing, but that take on a near mythical quality for someone without a head.

Next to Murtada is the body of Hassan Brahim Said. He had come to the city to buy food and milk for his eight-month-old daughter, Fatme, and was struck by a missile while riding home on his motorbike, according to one of the medical technicians.

They unwrap the blanket covering him as well to reveal that his body has nearly been split in half, bending from the top into a "Y." His face, absent the skull, hangs to one side like a rubber mask. It is a gruesome scene that causes many to turn their faces.


Inside the morgue’s office, a Lebanese police officer sorts through Said’s wallet and other belongings while his brother waits for the items to be turned over to him.

In the middle of the wallet’s fold, under a plastic sleeve, is a picture of Said’s wife, Sabah, who is at the same time beginning to sob at the entrance of the office...


In the morgue’s office, exhausted coroners tell me they haven’t gone home since the Israeli offensive began eleven days ago.

"I’ve been through four wars," says Dr. Adib Mazanyi, "but this seems to be the worst. The weapons are more powerful and there are so many civilians being killed."

He says many of the bodies are still in buildings or cars where they were struck because anyone trying to reach them is also targeted. He says that there are reports that even two Red Cross ambulances were attacked the night before, possibly killing both crews.

* * *

This leads us to the Red Cross headquarters near downtown, where orange-jumpsuited paramedics, both male and female, have been racing from one missile attack to the next retrieving the wounded and the dead — at huge risks to themselves.

When we arrive, one of the paramedics, Nadir Joudi, is talking to other journalists, his arm in a sling and a pair of burned stretchers lying against the wall.

He says that two ambulances were out on a run the night before when they were hit by Israeli missiles. They all took shelter in a building, he says, while the aircraft made a second attack.

And adding injury to injury, one of the three injured men that the paramedics had picked up lost both legs in the attack on the ambulance, Joudi says. (my emphasis>

Before we can finish the interview, we are shaken by a huge explosion.

The concussion is so strong that we feel it at the Red Cross headquarters almost a half kilometer away.

But the worrying Mr. Podhoretz worries on:

WHAT if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?

What if this triumph of universalism is demonstrated by the Left's insistence that American and Israeli military actions marked by an extraordinary concern for preventing civilian casualties are in fact unacceptably brutal? And is also apparent in the Right's claim that a war against a country has nothing to do with the people but only with that country's leaders?

Well here, at least, one has to admit, the Pod may have a point; why else would everyone in the Bush administration, from the President himself, to Condi, to the revoltin' Bolton, our guy at the UN, be spending so much time and effort into convincing our good friend, the nascent, Syria-free newly democratic Lebanon of the much revered Cedar Revolution, that what Israel is doing is actually in the best interests of Lebanon?

From CNN:

Lebanese officials have demanded the United States back an immediate cease-fire for the region.

President Bush has said that the United States wants to change the equation on the ground fundamentally. Bush has said that moving to an immediate cease-fire would leave the components of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in place.


At the start of her meeting with Olmert, Rice said that it’s time for "a new Middle East."

"It is time to say to those who do not want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail, they will not," Rice said.


The Bush administration has been walking a tightrope between supporting Israel’s right to self-defense while also trying to avoid destabilizing Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government, which the United States has embraced since it came to power.

"President Bush wanted this to be my first stop — here in Lebanon — to express our desire to urgently find conditions in which we can end the violence and make life better for the Lebanese people," Secretary Rice said.

After a closed-door meeting, a source in the parliament speaker’s office said that Berri considered Rice’s comments "not encouraging."

And here is Rich Lowry, publishing at that same Corner where Podhoretz hangs out:

Lebanon's gain? [Rich Lowry]

Was just talking to a friend who pointed out that, rather than punishing Lebanon as often portrayed in the press, Israel could be doing it a huge favor by delivering a devastating blow to Hezbollah. If Israel succeeds in surrounding and pulverizing Hezbollah in the south it will have "disarmed" Hezbollah in a way the Lebanese government never could, and it will be another blow against Syrian influence in the country. It won't be pretty, but could be just what the Cedar Revolution needs in the long run.

And Lowry adds these updates:

E-mail: Hey Rich,

As to your last post, as Jonah's OG Middle East Guy, I should mention that there are rumors that Egypt, Jordan, etc., have quietly given Israel the green light to obliterate Hamas and Hezbollah.


It wouldn't shock me if the Lebanese government's protests were for public and international consumption while they privately say, "See you in hell, bastards."

And another e-mailer informs Lowry that the Israeli ambassador to the UN made the same point as Lowry, "directly to the Lebanese UN Ambassador and swiveling around to look at the weasels assembled…."

No wonder Podhoretz is worried; all this solicitous regard for what the Lebanese think; who is the enemy here?

I suppose it should be acknowledged at this point that some of those Lebanese citizens suffering in southern Lebanon might be adherents of Hezbollah, or be sympathetic to Hezbollah, or have voted for Hezbollah in the first Syrian-free parliamentary elections, and that some of the children might grow up to be militant supporters of Hezbollah, a sure-fire bet if the Likud in Israel, (I know, new party, unity government, but both are Likud-lite, same old same old, only shorn of the most expansive geographical definitions of a greater Israel), and the neo-cons here, continue to set policy for both countries.

When such arguments are made, however, we should remember exactly what it is that we have been witnessing, in only a matter of days - an entire nation shattered, in every definition of that word; its economy non-functioning, its civilian infrastructure steadily reduced to rubble, its citizens reborn as refugees, internal and external, its democracy effectively annulled by a neighboring state, and under our leadership, the international community.

Today the President said again that he wants peace, but a permanent peace, which means to him and to Israel, a Lebanon without Hezbollah, and as of now, no functioning society.

Will they truly appreciate this gift?

Would we, if it was our country, our cities, our towns and suburbs, our citizens?

None of this worries John Podhoretz, or even occurs to him. But continue to worry he does:

What if Israel's caution about casualties among its own soldiers and Lebanese civilians has demonstrated to Hezbollah and Hamas that as long as they can duck and cover when the missiles fly and the bombs fall, they can survive and possibly even thrive?

What if Israel has every capability of achieving its aim, but cannot unleash itself against a foe more dangerous, more unscrupulous, more unprincipled and more barbaric than even the monstrous leaders of the Intifada it managed to quell after years of suicide attacks?

And as for the United States, what if we have every tool at our disposal to win a war - every weapons system we could want manned by the most superbly trained military in history - except the ability to match or exceed our antagonists in ruthlessness?

Perhaps Podhoretz ben Norman should take heart in Rich Lowry's admission that helping Lebanon by destroying it won't be pretty.

Here is Anthony Shadid in the Wa Po, describing some of that unprettyness:

The Tibnin hospital, eight miles from the Israeli border, a half-hour drive to the coastal city of Tyre in peace, is a Guernica-like tableau of suffering, desperation and anguish, the nexus of the country’s unfolding humanitarian crisis in a hilly redoubt near an ancient fort almost unreachable by perilous roads. TIBNIN, Lebanon, July 25 — The Israeli shells thundered into the charred hillside above the Tibnin General Hospital. There were two, then another, then two more, the uneven cadence of an attack on Tuesday. The walls shuddered and acrid smoke drifted through the building. Huddled inside were at least 1,350 Lebanese in hallways, rooms, stairwells, a lobby and a basement lit by a few candles, hiding with little water, less food and almost no hope of salvation from a war that provoked their flight and had returned to their doorstep.

"Oh Lord!" cried 60-year-old Saadeh Awadeh, leaping up from a tattered cushion against a wall. "God stop the bombs!"


There are no doctors here. Water does not run. The electricity was cut on the war’s first day.

Elderly women, fleeing two weeks of fighting since, have wrapped their swollen, bloodied and bruised feet in gauze. Five babies have been born premature since the fighting started. There is nowhere to bathe them. In another hallway, Abeer Faris cradled in her arms her 3-day-old infant, whom she carried on foot from the besieged city of Bint Jbeil nine hours after giving birth.

"The country is grieving," said Hussein Qadouh, a 43-year-old who had left his home in Tibnin and sought shelter inside.

"There’s death all over the place," said Mustafa Wehbe, a 45-year-old, standing next to Qadouh.

Lebanese along the border started fleeing to Tibnin on the war’s first day. It was a bigger town than most, known as a picnic spot, perched over tobacco farms, rows of pines and the gracefully aged, rocky hills of southern Lebanon. The first stone of its fort was laid in 1850 B.C., and the town was long ago a resting place for caravans. The hospital was renovated, a seemingly safe place from bombing. So they came — a few at first, then hundreds and dozens more Tuesday, from fighting growing more intense by the day. And here they wait, in a narrative of war’s suffering, tragedies more personal than political.

Entering the lobby was like opening an oven door, and anger, fear and abandonment poured forth. People crowded for space along the tile floors and underneath an entrance that bore the hospital’s name in metal-worked, gold lettering. The walls were adorned with faded red-and-white Lebanese flags.

"Get us out of here!" one person pleaded.

"Help us!" another cried.

I can’t bear to quote more, but more there is.

I've skipped the nonsensical WW2 references the Pod makes, and you knew he would, didn't you? But here is the conclusion at which the crescendo of his "what ifs" finally arrive:

Is this the horrifying paradox of 21st century warfare? If Israel and the United States cannot be defeated militarily in any conventional sense, have our foes discovered a new way to win? Are they seeking victory through demoralization alone - by daring us to match them in barbarity and knowing we will fail?

Are we becoming unwitting participants in their victory and our defeat? Can it be that the moral greatness of our civilization - its astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all - is endangering the future of our civilization as well?

Or, could it be that we, the US under Bush, and Likudnik Israel, have discovered, in the neo-con acceptance of military force as the weapon of choice to transform the world, a new way to lose, both our civilization and our moral greatness?

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