The carnage shocked Belgian television viewers and will shock you, too, if you download it from the Internet: a short clip showing a peaceful village carpet-bombed, its homes shattered, the dead everywhere, a terrified baby wailing all alone, surrounded by rubble and body parts.
But the air raid took place in Smurfland, and the victims were little blue Smurfs, all part of a cartoon ad tims campaign by the Belgian office of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, to raise money to rehabilitate child tions soldiers in Africa.
The idea is that people in the West have become so desensitized to Third World anguish that television pictures of real babies suffering in war zones no longer have much power.
Whether or not that’s true, this short animation is chilling. The cry of the baby in the final scene, suddenly orphaned and sitting in utter desolation amid the ruins of what just moments earlier had been his happy world, will pierce every heart that is not made of stone. War is bad, and sometimes little kids get the worst of it. If it takes blue cartoon characters dying to remind people of that, good.
Something bothers me about the campaign, though. Last month in Iraq, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a market (which not even the most twisted logic can make into a legitimate military target) in Tal Afar and killed 27 innocent civilians. Children? At a school near Baghdad a month earlier, gunmen burst in and murdered five teachers and their driver. Kids who witnessed it must have been as terrified as the Smurf baby.
The slaughter has been going on for two years. It is being carried out by extremists who strap on homemade bombs or fill their cars with explosives, not by warplanes like in the UNICEF spot.
And you can bet those jets weren’t meant to be from the Belgian air force. Is it overly suspicious to say the ad is intentionally anti-American? Let’s agree “Yes, that’s paranoid.” But let’s also agree it leaves viewers thinking, “Hmm, wonder which country has the air power to obliterate Smurfland?”
A question to which there is just one answer. True, the world’s only superpower has made appalling mistakes in Iraq, starting with the arrogant assumption that insulting the world in the run-up to the invasion served American interests more effectively than seeking global support. There was also Bush’s premature declaration of victory, the tone set by top officials that resulted in the torture at Abu Ghraib — un-American in its inhumanity as well as anti-American in its consequences.
Still, even with all of the Bush administration’s blunders, it’s no time to run. We made this mess, we got the world into this mess, and we can’t leave it a mess. As Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 leader in al-Qaida, made clear in an intercepted letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Iraq’s most wanted terrorist: Iraq has become the center of al-Qaida’s battle for world dominance.
The Smurfs commercial reminds us that war makes kids suffer. But it is just as important to know who causes their suffering, and to tell bad guys from good guys. Dumb as the latter can sometimes be.
- Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology