A picture is worth a thousand words. It sounds like something my grandmother would have said, like “Pretty is as pretty does.” But it is true. A photograph can, in some instances, change the world – or at least change the way people look at the world they think they know.
One of that kind of photo has surfaced – a photograph of a five-year-old boy in Aleppo, Syria, who had been pulled from a bombed-out building, covered with dust and his own blood. He sits in an ambulance, pathetic, silent, dazed, his feet dangling because he is so tiny, his blood staining the front of his face. He patiently waits for someone to take care of him, even though it appears that no one is going to do that anytime soon. The photo can be found at http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/08/18/490461992/a-wounded-child-in-aleppo-silent-and-still-shocks-the-world?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20160818, and if it doesn’t make you cry, you don’t have a heart. This photo drags us, kicking and screaming, into the Syrian civil war. Syria’s leader, Assad, is determined to preserve his power at the cost of his own people’s lives – including children – by bombing and gassing them into submission with Russia’s help.
When I saw this little boy’s picture, I immediately remembered when the world was drawn into the savage Soviet invasion of Afghanistan through a 1985 photo on the cover of National Geographic, a picture of a girl in a refugee camp who became known as “The Afghan Girl.” I didn’t really know anything about Afghanistan until I saw that picture and read about the Soviet invasion that killed thousands of Afghans, creating a refugee crisis at the time.
The girl’s haunting eyes told her story, although no one actually talked to her until 17 years later, in 2002, when the photographer tried to find her, to see if she was still alive. She was. At age six, she had lost her parents to bombings during the 1980s Soviet action. She had escaped Afghanistan with her brother and her grandparents, walking to Pakistan.
Her story and the 2002 photo are found at through Google under the heading “Afghan – National Geographic,” and in the picture, we can see how the hardships in her life turned her from a beautiful, hopeful girl to a weathered young woman of 30, beaten down by life. But nothing had changed her eyes. She still stared with her still haunting eyes that tell the story of what have been called the “killing fields” of war, when not only people, but the human spirit, can be destroyed, especially the spirits of children who have no part in their own destiny.
Even in the United States, children have been victims of wars of a sort. I remember the 1995 photo of the firefighter carrying the body of little Baylee Almon, dead, from the bombed-out wreckage of the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building (https://www.google.com/search?q=picture+of+firefighter+carrying+child+in+oklahoma+city&biw=942&bih=406&tbm=isch&imgil=1IdEbk0kArTeeM%253A%253BAgBH5ERgp3qn_M%253Bhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fcreightoninfoethics.wordpress.com%25252F2013%25252F02%25252F20%25252F279%25252F&source=iu&pf=m&fir=1IdEbk0kArTeeM%253A%252CAgBH5ERgp3qn_M%252C_&usg=__6601Wj38osYWgixLXxC8fR7isNE%3D&ved=0ahUKEwi1-oWkxs3OAhUGJB4KHfLDCVkQyjcIMQ&ei=xAS3V7WIJ4bIePKHp8gF#imgrc=1IdEbk0kArTeeM%3A). The picture won a Pulitzer Prize, as it exemplified beyond measure the loss of innocence in this country. We became like Israel and Ireland and the Middle East, having been attacked by terrorists who were us, who killed children and civilians without conscience. We were brought rudely into an era that promised the people in the United States the same uncertainty about safety that the rest of the world had been experiencing for decades.
These pictures say thousands of words, but also speak volumes about our world, where our differences are settled by combat that takes the lives of those who have no quarrel with their murderers, who happen to have been born in the wrong place. These pictures, and others like them, cause me internal conflict about war, first knowing and valuing that my father and many of the men I have known gave much to protect this country and her values, and then knowing that children and other civilians such as these suffer through no fault of their own.
I hope that these photos and others like them will bring humanity to a place where we protect our children instead of wound them, where we try to live in peace, and where a country’s leaders do not level cities filled with their own citizens. I can only hope.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.