Monday, April 24, 2006

Dead Xer child soldiers – three different ways

In an Anzac-ish theme, I’d like to propose that GenX is perhaps the most war-scarred generation currently alive. Obviously, I am using “war” here in a different sense to your average RSL-member redneck. However, the image of RSL-types nicely segues into my intro to three Xer case studies in war.

I prefer “old-school” Anzac Day. You know, “One Day of the Year” stuff, that characterized the Day from the 1950s to the early 90s. Pissed old blokes, and . . . um, pissed old blokes. Once, I got cornered at a pub (not on Anzac Day) by a pissed old bloke (POB). He was telling me what could loosely be described as a war story. I was pissed, too – but this fact didn’t help the situation; but my sobriety would not have made any real difference, either.

The war story being told was a rambling, shambling monologue, into which I was occasionally expected to insert “gees” and “wows”. Its narrative content completely escaped me (as much as it escaped the actual teller, which is why I made the above point about its being recipient-sobriety neutral), but the cues for me to interject were unmistakable. I wanted to get away, of course, but without the war story having a discernible beginning, middle or end, it was hard to find the right moment to escape. But of course I did get away eventually. And one day, I might be a pissed old bloke, cornering a young’un with an interminable story about being cornered by a pissed old bloke . . .

Seriously (and less Borghes-ian) though, I reckon that a big benefit of old-school Anzac Days was that being cornered by a POB was, at least in theory, less of a predicament, all round. If you went into a pub on 25 April, you were fair game for a war story or two, and if they lasted all day and night, then you were there for the duration. Conversely, on the other 364 days of the year, POBs, whether bearing war stories or not, could be avoided without too much guilt.

Anyway, that was then, this is now. We all know that new-school, child’n’female friendly Anzac Day has sent the monologues of – and the audiences for – pissed old blokes, somewhere else. Which is nowhere, in fact AFAICT. About ten years ago, then, things just changed overnight in this respect.

And there’s the GenX rub – the disconcerting feeling of things disappearing, usually for no good reason – from a GenX POV, at least. My ruminations on old-school vs new-school Anzac Day are just one small illustration of this phenomenon. Into my early adulthood, Anzac Day seemed to be working just fine. I admit that the veteran ranks were thinning, but if this meant that Anzac Day was going to be extinct by c. 2025, then so be it.

Instead, as we all know, Anzac Day got an unannounced (AFAICT) extreme makeover –hurrying POBs to their graves, I imagine, or if not, certainly pretending that they weren’t there, nor that fifty years of old-school Anzac Day had even ever existed.

And what for? What for?

So that “we” can live in an affluent Australia, where Anzac Day needs to be renovated at least as regularly as one’s kitchen? Tick. Of course, “we” can still concede that such renovations might “negatively impact on” (the ever-dwindling ranks of) old veterans, but otherwise it’s all good, isn’t it?

Only if you take GenX out of the equation, which of course is a thing done without saying, all the time.

My point about being personally “impacted” by the Anzac Day makeover in the 90s may seem trite. And it is – believe me, I’m got many, larger issues, and my loss here doesn’t compare to that of actual veterans.

But I’m just so sick of being caught on the wrong side of history and “progress”, all the time. When I started university in 1984, I thought of it as insurance – by paying my dues upfront, I would avoid the worst that the economy might throw at me (such as unemployment) later in life. In this, I was comprehensively mistaken (or mislead), as it turns out. Instead of university being insurance, someone declared it to be (while I was still there) an “investment”.

What for? Who for? Not me, nor for my generation, that’s for sure. And reasonant of the (slightly later) Anzac Day makeover, the late-80s-commenced (but continuing and so apparently endless) renovation of tertiary education in Australia was soft-sold as an access/accessability package. #%&! When the actual stakeholders – current students in the case of the Dawkins de-forms, and war vets in the case of Anzac Day – have precisely zero say in the makeover, something is badly awry.

Badly, but oh so silently awry. Hence, my three GenX war stories, each a type of murder, and each, while on the public record, not nearly well-enough known and understood.

These are three of my generations’s early tipping points, but that’s “tipping” Xer style; that is to say, manqué. On each occasion, the world should have sat up, taken notice, and turned its very axis around in response. However, almost nothing materially has changed, in any such response to date. Only the first death was perhaps not completely in vain.

Hector Pieterson – 1964 to 16 June 1976

Hundreds of children (from primary school, and junior and senior high) were killed in Soweto by white South African forces that day, but I’m singling Hector out because (i) he was almost the first killed on the day, (ii) he was one of the youngest (AFAICT), and (iii) three photographs featuring Hector’s fresh corpse make the tragedy more media-indelible.

I can’t understand why the West didn’t see fit to invade/bomb/nuke/whatever South Africa’s white bastions (preferably police/military, but in the context, civilian targets would seem justified, also) in immediate retaliation for this atrocity. Was it because many of the dead children were Xers – and Xer lives were, from birth it now seems, “invested” with a sort of discount compared to the value of earlier (and later) generation’s lives? Or was it because Vietnam had already “done” childhood snuff footage, as far as blasé boomers were concerned? Whatever the reason, the West seems to have thought that in Vietnam, it “prepaid” military retaliation against any other, later regimes which might pop-up to commit atrocities against children (at least until the 1990s, when Xers were no longer children).

Motif: boomers have prepaid insurance, bought for a relative song in their youth, but that will be “good” to last them for the rest of their lives. Xers carry the insurance risk of such contracts – to this day, and this is a burden we have borne since being children in the 1970s.

Oddity: Only one of the three photographs of the dead Hector seems to be widely known; it’s often called the “famous photograph”. This one is an odd choice IMO; especially compared to the other two, it seems quite comic – an effect added to by Hector not being obviously dead in the photo. The same trio shown in the “famous photograph” are shown quite differently in this photograph. The crowd in the shot’s background is an obvious difference, but more importantly, the foregrounded three scream with pain, burden and silence (respectively). The third photograph is similarly powerful, but its screams are tempered by a beauty that reminds me of the Palestrina Pieta: Hector’s body is at once unbearably heavy and almost floating in Mbuyisa Makhubu’s arms.

Strong stuff – the almost-unknown latter-two Hector Pieterson photographs, anyway.

Hossein Fahmideh – 1967 to 1980

The first suicide bomber was also a child and an Xer. Unlike re the hundreds of children killed in one incident in Soweto, the West does/did have several reasonable excuses for not interfering in the 1980s Iran/Iraq war – which was to involve the murder of hundreds of thousands of children, mostly as front-line cannon-fodder for the Iranian side. This war was protracted, messy, and most of all, not in the West’s bailiwick – oil supply aside.

Oh, and suicide bombing aside, too. Could September 11 have been nipped in the bud? Yes, and although it wouldn’t have been easy, the best place for such a hypothetical intervention in history would have been straight after the murder (there is no other word to describe a 13 y.o. “suicide bomber”) of Hossein Fahmideh.

Motif: a stich in time doesn’t save nine, when the nine are Xers. Boomers long ago decided that the best “cure” for cancer is for everyone to get it, slowly and steadily.

David Reimer – 22 August 1965 to 5 May 2004

Unlike a recent doco on David’s life suggested, I don’t think that David’s fairly recent suicide (or indirect murder, if you prefer) was a turning point, after which the psychologist who had tried to reverse David’s gender should be looked at in a new and colder light.

Rather, David had long lived on borrowed time – ever since 1978, when he refused any further physical or psychological interventions from/via Dr John Money.

Unbelievably, the “Dr Money and the boy with no penis” doco missed the core of David’s grievance: that throughout David’s teenage and early adult years, Money had continued to trumpet David’s case as a medical success. This was clear-cut scientific fraud and something unrelated to the issue of whether Money (i) was following scientific best-practice in David’s early years (he probably was), and (ii) was right to first publish David’s case as a success in 1972 (again, he probably was, but the experiment’s “success” started to unravel almost immediately after that).

Motif: When an Xer child is the experimental guinea-pig, scientific fraud (which inter alia goads that Xer to highly-predictable suicide in later life) is justifiable, if the alternative would mean a loss of prestige or money on the part of the researcher. In other words, the 13 y.o. David should have known who and what he was f*cking with, when he decided to refuse further treatment in 1978.


Three children born in the mid-60s, who each died through acts of boomer (or older) calculated atrocity. As far as I’m aware, none of the perpetrators, who would mainly still be alive (certainly so in Dr John Money’s case) has been brought to any kind of justice. But hey, that's the power of boomer "insurance" in action. Which translates to infinite risk-shifting - aka war - onto and on my generation.

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