and the darwin award goes to... human shields

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    And the Darwin Award goes to... human shields, By Russell Working

    Jan. 30, 2003

    t's a cruel joke, to be sure. A website called is chronicling those who boost the average intelligence of humankind by removing themselves from the gene pool in spectacularly stupid ways.

    There are the Cambodian gamblers who played a form of Russian roulette by tossing down drinks and stomping on a land mine they'd found (you guessed it: Stomp. KABOOM!). A Romanian checked on the lateness of a train by listening with his ear pressed to the rail (yes, precisely). And a Florida granola head thought he would commune with nature by swimming naked with a killer whale at Orlando Sea World (it's not what you're thinking).

    Now "hundreds," perhaps "thousands," of volunteer human shields are rushing to Iraq to protect one of the most murderous regimes on the planet against a possible US-led war, Reuters reports. The group, We the People, planned to send off its first 50 human shields from the London mayor's City Hall building, traveling by bus in order to stir the conscience of a world anxious for their safety.

    Their number includes British lefties, diehard Romanian communists and New Zealand patriots opposed to American hegemony. They are led by a former US Marine named Kenneth Nichols O'Keefe, who reckons that "the potential for white Western body parts flying around with the Iraqi ones should make them think again about this imperialist oil war." A hundred thousand Jordanians might tag along for good measure.

    Now I don't doubt the sincerity of these thoughtful persons, just as I don't doubt the seriousness of Kevin, a drunken 19-year-old Quebec student who allegedly pulled a 420-kilogram Coke machine down on top of himself while trying to shake loose a free can of pop. And I, too, would like to think that the Pentagon will stand down when it learns that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's palaces are crowded with Romanian Stalinists with labor medals pinned to their brown polyester suits.

    Still, call me genetically challenged, but what if it doesn't work? What if Bush really is the murderous bully that O'Keefe perceives?

    What kind of expressions will we see on the faces of these human shields as they gape skyward at the camera of a descending smart bomb? Will they shine with a beatific willingness to die so that others may live under the rule of a man who cuts out the tongues of deserters and builds prisons for children?

    Or will these human shields have expressions more like that of poor David, a 27-year-old Arizona man who reportedly fired two rounds from a 16-gauge shotgun at a eight-meter saguaro cactus, started to shout, "Timber!" and was crushed when the p*rickly plant toppled onto him?

    It's not the first time peaceful souls have sought to restrain state evil through methods that could win them Darwin Awards, if not Nobel Prizes. Volunteers flew in from around the world to protect Palestinians last March when Israel hit back after a string of gruesome bombings. (None, it seems, was interested in shielding Israeli civilians from suicide attacks.)

    If the United States were weighing a strike against Pyongyang, doubtless We the People would be busing in volunteers to protect North Korea's Kim Jong Il, who starved up to two million of his countrymen to death while indulging his own taste for lobster.

    THIS ISN'T the first time human shields have found a place in the defense of a grateful Iraq. In the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam forcibly held thousands of hostages after his invasion of Kuwait. Baghdad also used Iraqis, alongside some foreign volunteers, as shields in 1998 against US-British bombing. (The IDF, too, was criticized for using human shields on a much smaller scale against Palestinian gunfire, until the army ordered a halt to it last year.)

    Still, some are anticipating Darwin Awards of a spectacular nature this year. "Putting yourself in danger is not going to help at all," John Nichol, a British air-force flyer shot down in 1991 and later paraded on Iraqi television, told Reuters. "I doubt it would be a deterrent to any attack. I am shocked that anyone would want to put themselves in such a situation."

    Mirthless as always, the United States has warned Iraq that using human shields will be considered a war crime. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, cautioned against deliberate recruitment of innocent civilians in order to put them in harm's way should a conflict occur.

    But perhaps Myers should give it a rest. The Darwin Awards teach us that something greater is at work here. Eons of future human evolution may hinge on whether O'Keefe and his peacemakers can get to Baghdad on time.

    So, if you find yourself staring at the rapidly approaching face of a human shield through the lens of a smart-bomb camera, bear in mind this report from Northern Ghana. A man named Aleobiga, 23, and 15 buddies purchased a witch doctor's potion to render themselves invincible, Darwin Awards reports. After smearing the magical lotion over their bodies for two weeks, Aleobiga volunteered to empirically test the potion. He stood in a clearing. His friends raised their guns. And they fired.

    Aleobiga may have lost his life. But future generations of children in Northern Ghana might gain a point or two on their math scores.

    The writer is a freelance reporter currently based in Cyprus.

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