The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Some Count, Some Don't
Michael Youlton, Dublin • 4.11.03

Another Halloween has gone by, a holiday that's used to be for us to enjoy when we were kids, but has increasingly being taken over by the adults and the marketers – just like Xmas. But beyond the fireworks, supposedly illegal down south but that went on all afternoon and night (“This is like Baghdad is like” said my Russian neighbour” – I could have added 'that’s like Chechnya is like' but I didn’t!), parties, silly costumes, and overpriced bits of sweets, Halloween has its roots as a pagan holiday. One that is celebrated by peasant cultures in a variety of ways to mark the fall harvest, the midpoint between fall equinox and winter solstice, the onset of the year's darkest days. In pagan traditions it is considered the day when the veil between the living and dead is at its thinnest.

And the following day, Nov. 1, is celebrated in many parts of South America and, particularly in Mexico as the Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Greeks, Spaniards and Italians around the Med have a similar custom and, most likely, All Souls Day derives from that tradition.

On this day, people living on the land celebrate -- often by creating commemorative altars -- the lives and living spirits of all those who've passed on in the previous year. It's a holiday for our times. If you don't believe it, check out the Washington Post's web gallery of photos of American soldiers killed this year in Iraq. ‘Faces of the Fallen’ it is called.

The all-American young stare out at you, full of promise and hope and life: portraits, probably obtained from the families rather than the Pentagon (which would rather not dwell on how well the occupation isn't going). They show young adults in dress uniform, or in high school graduation gear. One is of a young couple hiking. Taken collectively, they're painful to look at. Don’t know why but it brought in focus the faces in the posters of our own H=Block dead back, when was it? What was I thinking?

As the dates get more recent, more and more of the listed names have no photos, the portraits having not yet been obtained. The page is only updated weekly, and it's getting hard to keep up. Two days ago, 16 more U.S. soldiers getting ready to return back home suffered what Donald Rumsfeld promptly, and cruelly, called their necessary deaths. Yesterday another one was blown to bits near Tikrit.

Tell the families and their loved ones that those deaths were necessary. Tell the Iraqis that didn't want them there in the first place, and that warned of the danger that would result. Tell their fellow squaddies, lying shitless in bed at night, listening to the endless rounds of errant homemade mortars attacking the U.S. bases.

Dia de los Muertos memorializes everybody -- the one in 75 or so human lives that left our world in the past 365 days. As usual this year, the list includes various celebrities and notables – in my memory live Edward Said, Johnny Cash, John Ritter, Captain Kelly and Samarakis – that stylish poet from Alexandria.

But far more of us simply lose people close to us - notable in our own lives, but not widely among the public. And this year, seemingly more than ever, Halloween, at least in the US, belonged to the portraits that are missing. The ones not yet in place, the ones still to come, and the ones we don't even know about.

In this latter category, it's hard not to notice that while American and Irish media scrambles to memorialise dead U.S. soldiers (and CIA mercenaries), few are trying to count the much larger number of Iraqi deaths. A handful of web sites are attempting to provide estimated ranges of Iraqi civilian deaths resulting from the U.S.-led invasion and occupation, but it's an imprecise count at best. The best-known of these sites,, has documented somewhere between 7800 and 9600 reported Iraqi deaths, but their efforts are hampered by the complete absence of information from America's occupying army and provisional government. Washington simply doesn't tally the Iraqis it kills, whether resistance fighters or innocent bystanders. Reporters in the field have frequently noted instances of U.S. soldiers firing on crowds or civilians that weren't even reported to local commanders -- let alone the brass back home. It's a grim new version of don't ask - don't tell.

Dia de los Muertos is a useful holiday, one intended to help us grieve, memorialise, and move on, an acknowledgement that dying is an inevitable part of living. It's a holiday based far more in peoples' emotional needs than in multinational marketing strategies.

But this year, stories continue to mount of ordinary Iraqis ambushed by hidden checkpoints, or shot to death for not obeying an order they didn't hear in a language they didn't understand. Anonymous deaths, noted in their home villages, unknown to us halfway around the world. Meanwhile, we have the likes of Rumsfeld, calling the resulting U.S. deaths necessary while not calling the far larger number of Iraqi deaths anything at all; and Bush insisting all is wonderful; and all his apologists and sycophants blasting the media for not reporting more "good news" from Iraq.

It's a recipe for many more dead in Iraq in the next days, weeks, months, year. And don’t let them tell us what Saddam might have done. There is no doubt as to who the political leader is, and who his cronies are, that set these events in motion, and who are those who continue to issue the killing orders today – and will do so tomorrow. There is no question as to where the responsibility rests for the loss of all those faces once full of hope, and the far larger number of murdered Iraqi or other Arab faces we'll never see, in death as in life.

For once, oddly, a day meant to memorialise instead has become a call to action: to demand that Iraq's imperial rulers in Washington, London, Rome and Madrid, stop inflicting so many needless, anonymous, and utterly unnecessary deaths. Unless Bush and his cabal reverse their policies, and quickly, there will be many more dead to memorialise Halloween next year.

What we are all living through these days, as the occupation and the war in Iraq continues, is a horrific spectacle of triumphant capitalism. What I hope for is that the resistance to that spectacle is communicated and applied in each new context, be it Palestine, Venezuela, or resistance of bus workers, people working in the airlines or postal workers closer home. Just as in an earlier era, merchant ships carried the news of slave revolt from island to island in the Carribean, igniting a stubborn ring of local fires that could not be quenched.

That communication has, of course, to be translated. And 'The Blanket' is helping there. It's helping to build a link in the chain I would have said ten years ago. It's communicating like a virus that modulates its form to find in each context an adequate host I say today.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

7 November 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Ted Honderich Interview
Mark Hayes


Disappeared and Disapproved

Anthony McIntyre


HMP Maghaberry: First Flames from a Tinderbox
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh


Housebreaking Ulster Style
Brian Mór


United Irishmen
Davy Carlin


From A Granny
Kathleen Donnelly


An Enemy of the Republic
Liam O Comain


Some Count, Some Don't
Michael Youlton


If Voting Changed Anything It Would Be Made Illegal!
Sean Matthews


Hackneyed Views of Cuba
Douglas Hamilton


Colombian Trade Unionist in Belfast: Meeting
Sean Smyth


2 November 2003


A Memo to Adams: Remember That Every Political Career Ends in Failure
Tom Luby



Anthony McIntyre


Ballot Papers and Elysium
Eamon Sweeney


Republican Prisoners and their Families Put at Risk due to Prison Strike
Martin Mulholland


Trust Without Honesty in the Peace Process?
Paul A. Fitzsimmons


The Letters Page has been updated.




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