There are no words for what you see. There weren’t then and there aren’t now. You can accept it and admit there is great wrong in the world and say nothing can be done. Or you can reject the foul ugliness and pity of it—and insist that you are not helpless in the face of monstrosity. That things can change.
There are no words for what you see. Humans, real people, lugged on to plastic sheets and sprayed like so many cattle. Scared humans running from scared mobs, roughly wrestled by suited spaceman and hurled on to lorries.
Bodies slung by rubber-gloved hands into pits. Other bodies cased in plastic sheeting for a coffin. Mothers and fathers at a distance—useless masks covering their terrified, agonized faces—while two metres away their small child bleeds from every orifice. And all the while the child stares in mute pitiful confusion, not knowing why her parents dare not approach and comfort her tiny dying body.
The lovers who cannot touch. The husbands unable to hold their wives’ hands in the death.
The $90 plastic suits that take 45 minutes to put on in 40-degree heat, and which take even longer to remove—gingerly peeling off gloves to ensure there is no contact with the wearer’s skin. The suit, used once and burnt
The stigmatized survivor, no longer welcome, for fear of virulent contamination. The hundreds of children orphaned with nowhere to go now and now unwelcome “in the community”.
More than half the local businesses closed, for fear of infection. Two-thirds of schools shut, because parents dare not send their children and teachers dare not attend. The growing hunger as farmers refuse to go to market and cannot get the seed for the new planting.
The loss of dignity of it all. The guilt of perhaps being responsible because you wished to honour your dead by humbly, lovingly, gently washing the corpse of the one you loved. Now, not allowed. Now, told these ancient beautiful human rituals must never again be practised. The hope that God, whoever he is for you, will understand. That there can still be dignity in death, if not now in living.
So there I was. Again. All the cacophony and useless futility of the words that swirled around me were at best a nuisance. At worst they were an excuse to remain mired in an awful, empty, hopeless cynicism. And thereby be complicit in the pain. Yeats had it: “The best lack all conviction/While the worst are full of a passionate intensity”.
Whatever impenetrable bollocks has been spoken about this little song, the reality has been 30 nonstop years of Band Aid work, hundreds of millions of dollars raised and spent, millions of lives bettered. Out of it grew Live Aid, Live8, ONE, Comic Relief, the Commission for Africa, the Africa Progress Panel, and Kofi Annan even citing Band Aid as an inspiration for the Millennium Development Goals. In the face of that, who gives a fuck what some ill-informed, stupid, clichéd, metropolitan bunch of twats from “Cooltown” think disputing the words of a minor pop song, questioning the artists, querying the motivation behind it? And all this sickening petty irrelevance against what the BBC last week called “the industrial-scale dying” of those one plane ride away from us. If you can’t get a life then why not try and give one to others? Whatever.
But be assured that I, for one, and all the others involved in Band Aid will never stop. And nor will millions of other people, real people, who saw those other real people in unimaginable terror and pain, and wanted to do something, however simple.
In buying this record that is what most people will do. They will reach out across the abyss of human suffering. For whatever the cynics say, the impulse of compassion will always triumph. Love will always win.