On the eve of the 2003 US invasion
I wrote this in the days leading up to the beginning of the Iraq war. I felt compelled to speak out about the impending slaughter of the Iraqi people and take a stand against the insanity that seemed to have overtaken our leaders. A shorter version of this piece was published in the March/April 2003 issue of The Thought.
I confess I don’t know much about you. In the weeks leading up to the war it has been easy to find detailed stories in our media about the daily machinations of our president as he bought, bribed and bullied other countries into a “coalition of the willing,” but there was almost nothing about you, the people of Iraq.
I imagine you have beautiful children with dark, wide eyes. I imagine you are afraid that you and your families will be killed when the bombs start falling, that your way of life will be lost forever when our troops come rumbling in. You must have felt abandoned by the world when the UN observers, weapons inspectors and western journalists scurried out of Iraq in the last days, leaving you alone to face the rain of fire. I can’t imagine the terror you must feel.
Just as we know almost nothing about you, I’m sure you have few accurate perceptions of us Americans. Our mutual ignorance makes it easy for our leaders to stir the pot of hatred so they can advance their own nefarious policies. This is a shame because I have a feeling we could find much common ground. As you know, recently our country too came under attack, so we have a small taste of the fear and hatred that violent aggression can generate.
You have every reason in the world to hate us.
In 1991 our military dropped 88,000 tons of bombs on you, incinerating your sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, relatives and friends. Over 113,000 civilians died according to the Red Crescent Society of Jordan. Sixty percent of your casualties were children.
Then our government led the call for sanctions against your country, restricting the import of medicine, medical equipment, spare parts and basic necessities of life. Malnutrition and infectious diseases became widespread, cancers and leukemia increasingly common, the deaths of your children an everyday occurrence.
Your country was once prosperous, a thriving center of learning, literature and art.
Now, after years of sanctions, with your cities in ruins and your economy in tatters, the winds of stagnation and despair blow down dusty streets, past the shuttered shops of your towns and villages.
Mere survival has become a struggle.
We the people in the US knew about the sanctions, but not enough of us tried to stop them. As citizens of a country with unparalleled international political influence and a monstrous military machine that sprawls around the globe, we have extraordinary responsibilities to restrain the natural tendencies of such a system to dominate and control everything everywhere. Unfortunately, we are for the most part a nation of self-absorbed individuals, more concerned about the latest electronic gadgets or Hollywood gossip than the suffering our government inflicts on other peoples of the world.
War is Merely an Inconvenience
We are a powerful nation, but a flawed one. Greed and militarism are a dangerous combination.We are a powerful nation, but a flawed one. Greed and militarism are a dangerous combination. Click To Tweet
Perhaps we’re not greedier than other people—we just tend to grab more because so much more is within our reach. Because our national resources alone can’t support our elevated standard of living, we need to continuously expand our domination around the world to secure access to natural resources, markets and cheap labor. That’s why we have had to develop such a fearsome military.
To most of us Americans war has become a minor inconvenience. It is a game we watch on TV as high-tech weapons destroy inanimate targets.
Real war is sanitized for us, so we never have to see the disemboweled bodies, smell the charred flesh or hear the cries of agony.
Because of our wealth and advanced technology, our military can kill from a distance without much danger to its own soldiers or citizens. Those of us with friends or family members in the military may miss them and worry about them while they’re gone. We may complain about the high taxes that keep our vast military bureaucracy supplied and ready. Other than that, our wars have little impact on our daily lives.
Our leaders take full advantage of our indifference. They claim we must depose your president for your own good and for the good of the civilized world. I don’t like Saddam any more than our president does. (I didn’t like him even when our government went out of its way to befriend him and provide weapons for his bloody war against Iran.) Nevertheless, even if we took our government at its word when it said it wanted regime change and disarmament in Iraq for purely selfless reasons, there were many ways to achieve these ends without resorting to the mass slaughter of innocents, ways that might have been more permanent and less destabilizing to the region. The international community clearly thought so too. Unfortunately, our leaders are men of limited imaginations with “Christian” values that stress machismo and domination rather than consensus and cooperation.
From the start, the military option was the only one they ever seriously considered.
Some Tried to Stop It
A few of us did try to stop this war.
I wish you could meet some of the people that show up at our Friday evening anti-war demonstrations. Maybe you wouldn’t hate us as much.
They all had their own agendas and causes, but were united in believing that dropping bombs on you was an unacceptable way for a nation to behave, especially one that thinks of itself as morally superior.
One night at our demonstration I stood next to a group of retired seniors who could have been my grandparents. Like my grandparents, they were Republicans and probably voted for Bush. I listened while they talked about their RV’s, last night’s bridge game and the terrible human tragedy their government was about to unleash on your country. Then there was the kid who wanted me to sign a paper so he could get school credit for attending the demo, hastening to add that it was not the only reason he was there, that he thought killing people for their oil was wrong.
Some of us Americans fear this war will bring horrendous carnage to your country.
We, like our president, pray that the human toll will be much less this time, that our bombs will be smarter and stay away from your schools, hospitals and homes.
Still, we know our aggression will kill and maim thousands of you, and in the regional chaos that follows many more may die and suffer the brutality of civil war and political violence.
Our Soldiers are Humans Too
Please don’t misunderstand when I plead with you not to resist our troops by force of arms. This plea stems not from any disdain for your national sovereignty but rather from a belief in the sanctity of human life. The more of you who violently resist, the more lives will be lost on both sides.
Unlike many of my fellow citizens, I do not value Iraqi lives less than the lives of American troops. But our soldiers are human too.
I hope you understand that most of them are just kids. Many come from poor neighborhoods with ramshackle schools and limited educational opportunities. The military promises them an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families through military job training and education programs. Despite their macho bluster, they are frightened like you, and most of them would rather just go home to their families and not have to kill anyone.
When our superior forces attack your cities, I hope your civilians neither fight nor surrender, but just lay low. Then, after we’ve stormed in and installed our puppet government, I hope you will find peaceful ways to take back your country, preserve your culture, profit from your natural resources and defeat those that would oppress you, whether they are dictators or imperialists.
I hear you are a proud, brave, educated and resourceful people and I would be disappointed not to see demonstrations and other forms of nonviolent resistance to US occupation in the coming months and years.
Blood on Our Hands
In Los Angeles on the Saturday before the war, thousands of us marched in a driving rain to show our solidarity with you. We were wet and cold and miserable, but we knew it was not as bad as having a 500-pound bomb dropped on your house. Afterwards, we climbed into our warm SUV’s and drove back to our safe, comfortable homes.
Merely attending a demonstration does not absolve us of responsibility for this high-tech slaughter. Not enough of us did enough to stop this war.
This war is being prosecuted with our money, by our elected officials, in our name. We all have your blood on our hands.
I can’t speak for my government or the majority of US citizens who that feel murdering thousands of innocents is morally permissible. I can only speak for myself and a large minority of like-minded Americans when I say I am sorry for what we are about to do to you. As the bombs fall, we will only be able to watch with helpless shame the sickening spectacle of destruction. We pledge to you we will try harder in the future to make this our country’s last imperial war.
March 18, 2003
Text and graphics on this page by James L. VanHise licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Attribution: James L. VanHise – fragmentsweb.org.
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