Sunday, 21 February 2010

Urban Gunfire

Recently I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about the casualties of war; specifically voluntary war waged by the west in far off lands.  These wars are covered by media embedded within one side of the conflict, our side.  It's apparent that our infantilised sensibilities, and the politicians who exploit those, wish only to consider our losses, the brave-hero-soldier-volunteers, rightly afforded dignified ceremony and reams of paper and ink.

But what of the the innocent victims?

Biased casualty coverage is the new propaganda machine, to quote the Wachowski brothers "It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth." Politicians in cahoots with our media, the media we deserve, expediently neglect civilian deaths - civilian deaths have considerably outnumbered military deaths in every conflict, this is the true price of war.

This current war, like the others we have waged, is a good war we are told - as Orwell saw it "War is peace, Freedom is slavery and Ignorance is strength." One sided reporting and the military's "we don't do body counts" policy are transparent tactics to secure our support without disturbing our fragile sensibilities. The uncomfortable truth is that around 200,000 - 500,000 civilians have died in Iraq and Afghanistan (some estimates are higher), 3400 civilians died in well documented terrorist attributed attacks in the USA and Europe, attacks used to justify the military action against these countries - how many of their civilians will we kill before we call it a day?   What ratio would you say was fair?  Well don't you worry yourself, there are no official civilian body counts, and no reliable reporting in the mainstream media - so we can all sleep well in our ignorance...

As I've mentioned before the foremost Scottish poet, in my most 'umble opinion, is the incomparable Edwin Morgan.  Obviously Edwin felt the need to express his discomfort with the much neglected reality of war, and of course does it with his characteristic incisiveness and economy of language.
Urban Gunfire

‘Civilians’ are not really, truly, people.
As regimes fall, they’re only ‘caught in crossfire’.
Expendablest of the expendable, they
crawl, or if they’re lucky someone drags them,
to doorways where they slump and shake till nightfall.
How great it must be not to be civilian
or anything but gun in hand, young, mobile,
slogan-fuelled better than machines are,
you cannot even hear the shattered housewife,
far less see her blood and bags and bread, it’s
bullet time between you and your sniper,
hot streaks go shopping, nothing else goes shopping,
no one is out there in the open, we are,
we are it and it is where they vanish
like a clapped piece of tawdry human magic,
too feeble to be seen by psyched-up fighters.
Their cries are in another world. The trigger
is steady as they roll about the tarmac.
And it goes on as if it could not finish.

© Edwin  Morgan
from Sweeping Out the Dark published 1994.

If you want to find out more about Edwin Morgan the Scottish Poetry Library's archive is here, his official website here, or if you want to avail yourself of one of his publications then get on over here.

I recommend all three...


  1. 'IF' We were to truly consider innocent victims we would never fight another war.

    Nothing has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth.

    The truth is we just look the other way in this modern world a thinking person is unable to escape the truth of war.

  2. 50% of casualties in First Battle of Fallujah were 'noncombatants' out of a 600-700 total 'body count'. This followed the shooting of 17 unarmed protestors angry at a US curfew.

    Not much was said about that at the time....UK even sent a battalion in support of the Second Battle (Black Watch).

    Majority of the citizens of Fallujah remain displaced. And they claim this to be a 'victory'.