Munich American Peace Committee (MAPC)
Als Augenzeugin im Irakkrieg
Boulder, Colorado, am 21. Juli 2003
Kathy Kelly ist Mitbegründerin von „Stimmen in der Wildnis“, der amerikanischen Menschenrechtsorganisation, der es trotz des Embargos gelang, die irakische Bevölkerung mit Medikamenten zu beliefern und internationale Beobachtergruppen zu entsenden. Die bereits dreimal für den Friedensnobelpreis vorgeschlagene Friedensaktivistin und Stimmen in der Wildnis wurden wiederholt mit Geldstrafen und Strafverfolgung bedroht.
In unserer heutigen Sendung schildert Kathy Kelly Ihre Erlebnisse während der US-Angriffe im März und April 2003.
Eigentlich ist meine Botschaft ganz einfach: Es ist der eigene Standpunkt, der darüber entscheidet, wie man etwas sieht. Sie alle waren entschiedene Gegner des Irakkrieges. Sie wollten nicht, dass man den Menschen im Irak so etwas antut. Und Sie sind enttäuscht, dass wir diesen Krieg nicht verhindern konnten. Aber vergessen Sie nicht, mehr als 30 Millionen Menschen auf der ganzen Welt beteiligten sich an unserem Protest. Man konnte es fast mit Händen greifen, wie nahe wir damals waren, diesen Krieg aufhalten zu können. Heute, wo es darum geht, einen weiteren Krieg zu verhindern, müssen wir versuchen, die ganze Wahrheit über den Irakkrieg aufzudecken. Deshalb möchte ich Ihnen erzählen, was ich vor, während und nach den Bombenangriffen im Irak erlebt habe.
Sie kennen sicher alle jemanden der meint, „Na gut, es gab zwar keine Massenvernichtungswaffen und keine Verbindung von Saddam Hussein zu al-Qaida, aber wir sind Saddam Hussein los und dafür sollten die Iraker froh und dankbar sein.“ Wollen diese Menschen tatsächlich behaupten, dass dieser Krieg, den viele als das größte Exekutionskommando gegen eine schutz- und machtlose Zivilbevölkerung ansehen, die einzige Möglichkeit war, um Saddam Hussein zu entmachten? Warum halfen weder die Weltgemeinschaft, noch die USA, noch die UNO den Irakern, mit besseren Bildungschancen, einem funktionierenden Sozialsystem und modernen Kommunikationsmitteln selbst demokratische Strukturen aufzubauen? Statt dessen mußten wir von Stimmen in der Wildnis mit ansehen, wie die Wirtschaftssanktionen Bildungseinrichtungen, Sozialsysteme und das Kommunikationswesen ruinierten und die Menschen traumatisierten.
Der kleine Ort Jumhurija in der Nähe von Basra ist für diese Traumatisierung typisch. Hier im Südirak war man vom iranisch-irakischen Krieg, dem 1. Golfkrieg, der Niederschlagung des schiitischen Aufstandes, dem Embargo und den durch verseuchtes Trinkwasser verursachten Epidemien besonders hart betroffen. Im heißen Sommer 2000 hatte ich dort für uns in zwei Tagen mehr Geld für Trinkwasser ausgegeben als unserer Gastfamilie für einen ganzen Monat zum Lebensunterhalt zur Verfügung stand. Sie lebten von Reis und Linsen und Linsen und Reis und Wassermelonen, gelegentlich ein bißchen Fisch und Eier. Sie waren belesene, feine Leute. Der Vater war Kunstmaler, um zu überleben, reparierte er Autos. Als endlich das marode Abwassersystem in ihrer Strasse repariert werden sollte, hielt die kriegstraumatisierte Mutter das Motorengeräusch des Bulldozers für das Dröhnen eines herannahenden Kampfbombers und brach vor Schreck zusammen. Im Fallen verletzte sie sich tödlich an den Zähnen des Bulldozers
- II -
Im März 2003 erschienen die ersten beiden Tagen von „Shock and Awe“ noch nicht so bedrohlich. Noch belächelten wir unsere Freunde in Chicago, die Spanplatten, Isolierband und Plastikplanen hamsterten, um sich gegen Gasangriffe zu schützen. Auch in unserem Familienhotel in Bagdad hofften die Menschen, dass verklebte Fenster sie vor Angriffen retten könnten. Doch am 3. Tag wurde klar, was die USA unter Schock und Furcht verstanden. Den Aufwärm-Einsätzen der ersten Tage folgte ein Großangriff mit Tausenden präziser, Laser- oder Satelliten gesteuerten Bomben. Auch 900 Tonnen radioaktives, abgereichertes Uran wurden abgeworfen. Im ersten Golfkrieg waren es noch 300 Tonnen gewesen. Jede einzelne Bombe kostete eine Million Dollar, da macht 1 Milliarde Dollar pro Kriegstag! Hätte man diese eine Milliarde Dollar in das Bildungs-, Sozial- und Kommunikationssystem investiert, die Iraker wären der in Lage gewesen, Saddam Hussein abzusetzen. So wie es Iran gelungen war, sich vom Schah zu befreien und Rumänien von Ceausescu. Auch nach dem 3. Tag gingen die Bombenangriffe bei Tag und Nacht ununterbrochen weiter; kein Ort war mehr sicher. Um die Kinder nicht zu erschrecken, trugen die Erwachsenen ein Pokergesicht. Die Teenager spielten bis in die Nacht wie besessen „Risiko“ und manche von ihnen ahnten, dass sie das Spiel am nächsten Morgen vielleicht nicht mehr fortsetzen können. Süße, kleine Mädchen spielten „Bombenopfer“ oder „Nahkampf“. Bei jedem Jubelschrei der US Medien dachte ich an die jungen irakischen Wehrpflichtigen, die da draußen irgendwo im Bombenhagel sein mußten. Waren sie verstümmelt, verbluteten sie, lebten sie noch? 70% der unfreiwilligen irakischen Armee hatten in den Kämpfen ihr Leben verloren.
Und so erlebte meine irakische Freundin Um Zainab die US-Besatzung:
Nach den Angriffen wollte sie das beengte Hotel, in dem wir Zuflucht gefunden hatten, verlassen und wieder nach Hause gehen. Aber ihr Mann verbot ihr das, der Sicherheit der Kinder wegen. Und so wurde ihr bewußt, dass die Besatzungsmacht Sicherheit für Angestellte und Landkarten im Ölministerium bedeutete, aber nicht für die Kranken in den Krankenhäusern, nicht für die Diplome im Unterrichtsministerium, nicht für die Wasser-, Strom- und Abfallversorgung.. Und mit Tränen in den Augen sah sie, wie mehr und mehr Stacheldrahtabsperrungen Bagdad der besetzten West Bank immer ähnlicher werden ließen.
Den drei schrecklichen Bombenwochen folgten die Plünderer, US-Panzer beschossen das Palestine Hotel und überall waren Waffen versteckt, die jeden Moment los gehen konnten. Als sich ein US-Militärkonvoi unserem Hotel näherte, hielten wir ihm unsere Friedens-Transparente entgegen und im Nu wimmelte die Straße von cremefarbenen Armeefahrzeugen, aus denen erstaunte, oft kindliche Gesichter heraussahen. Einige begannen sich zu rechtfertigen, andere hielten uns für Kommunisten. Als wir ihnen Wasser und Datteln brachten, erklärte uns der Kommandeur, dass er schuld sei am Tod der vielen Zivilisten und nicht diese jungen Männer. Ein Afroamerikaner war erleichtert, dass er niemanden erschießen mußte und erzählte, dass er nur zu den Marines gegangen sei, weil seine Tochter mit 6 Fingern geboren ist und ohne Krankenversicherung nicht operiert werden konnte, und dass sein Kamerad an einem Kontrollpunkt, einem Auto „Stopp! Stopp!“ zugerufen habe, aber der kleine Wagen hielt nicht an. So wurde das Kind auf dem Rücksitz zur Waise. Vielleicht hatte sein Vater nicht verstanden, was „stopp“ heißt. Warum nur hatte der Kamerad nicht auf die Reifen geschossen? Später kamen junge Soldaten, um bei uns im Hotel die BBC Nachrichten zu sehen. In Wahrheit wollten sie es sich von der Seele reden, dass sie die Bewohner eines Dorfes erschossen hatten, weil sie nicht wußten, ob die erschöpften Gestalten Zivilisten oder Soldaten waren.
- III -
Heute ist es nicht mehr süß und ehrenvoll für das Vaterland zu sterben. Unsere Soldaten sterben nicht mehr im Krieg. Und sie sehen auch nicht, wen sie aus 10 000 Meter Höhe oder aus dem Weltraum heraus töten. Es sind die jungen Iraker, die zermalmt und verstümmelt werden, deren Lungen jahrelang unter dem abgereicherte Uran leiden. Im ersten Golfkrieg starben 10 000 US-Soldaten erst nach ihrer Entlassung, 150 000 haben Entschädigungen beantragt und im Irak starben wegen des Embargos 47 000 Kinder unter 5 Jahren an Unterernährung und den Folgen von verseuchtem Wasser.
Und welche Konsequenzen zieht man daraus? Unter den Augen der Überlebenden von Hiroschima, Nagasaki, Korea, Vietnam, von Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, Panama, Irak, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Irak und Kolumbien prahlt unsere Regierung mit einem Militärhaushalt von 400 Milliarden Dollar. Nicht eingerechnet sind hierin die Kosten für den Krieg der westlichen Welt gegen die Artenvielfalt und den Wirtschaftskrieg der USA gegen die armen Länder. Es ist höchste Zeit, dass wir unseren Regierenden klar machen, dass wir nicht länger auf Kosten der Armen in Luxus leben wollen.
Nur wenn wir unseren Lebensstil ändern, können wir unsere Kinder vor den Folgen unserer Umweltverschmutzung schützen und sie nicht weiter dem Terror und der Panikmache aussetzen.
Gibt es noch Hoffnung? werden Sie fragen. Natürlich! Mir machte ein irakischer Astronomie begeisterter Architekturprofessor Hoffnung, der seine Vorlesungen nach Bombenangriffen gelassen und unaufgeregt fortsetzte und bei Stromausfall den Blick auf den klaren Sternenhimmel genoß.
Oder Hisham al- Sharaf und Majid al Ghazzali, die 1960 geholfen hatten, in Bagdad die einzige Volksmusik- und Volkstanzschule im Nahen Osten zu eröffnen. Hishams Privathaus war von Bomben zerstört und von Plünderern ausgeraubt worden. Vergebens bat er die US-Marines, zum Schutz der Musikschule ein gepanzertes Fahrzeug zur Verfügung zu stellen. Als die Plünderer mit ihren Kalaschnikows kamen, stahlen sie nicht nur die Instrumente und die Möbel, sondern vernichteten alle kostbaren Notenblätter und unersetzlichen historischen Musikaufnahmen. Geblieben war nur ein kleines Tonband, das wir kurz nach dem 11. September aufgenommen hatten: „Finlandia“ von Jean Sibelius, ein Lied, das auch 150 Familien gesungen hatten, die am 11. September ihre Angehörigen verloren hatten. Unsere irakischen Schüler hatten den arabischen Text gelernt und das Schulorchester probte bereits für die Aufführung. Das kleine Band in der Hand schwor ich mir, „Finlandia“ nie wieder vor einem amerikanischen Publikum zu spielen. Aber ein wenig später hatten Hisham und Majid irgendwie 11 Instrumente aufgetrieben und führten das Stück öffentlich auf.
Als wir aus dem Irak zurückkamen fragten wir nicht „Warum hassen sie uns?“, sondern „Warum lieben sie uns“? Denn dank der Geschichte und der Erfolge unserer Frauen- und Friedensbewegung dürfen wir patriotisch sein und wie Thomas Paine sagen: „Die Welt ist meine Heimat. Gutes zu tun ist meine Religion“ und dieser Patriotismus schließt auch den Satz von Howard Zinn ein: „Keine Fahne ist groß genug, die Schande über das Töten Unschuldiger zu bedecken.“
Heißen wir die Soldaten in der Heimat willkommen und helfen wir ihnen, ihr und unser Leben zu verändern.
(Wie wir gerade erfahren haben, wurde Kathy Kelly im Januar 2004 zu einer Haftstrafe von 3 Monaten verurteilt.)
Iraq: Eyewitness to War
Boulder, Colorado 21 July 2003
Kathy Kelly helped start Voices in the Wilderness, the Chicago-based organization that delivered medical supplies to Iraq and sponsored some 40 fact-finding delegations to that country. Kelly and Voices have been threatened with financial penalties and criminal prosecution. A three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, she's been to Iraq 20 times since her first visit in 1991. She was in Iraq throughout the U.S. attack in March and April 2003.
I think in some ways my message is very simple. Where you stand determines what you see. And my hunch is that for almost everyone here, as the buildup towards this most recent war was going on, you stood in staunch opposition to it. You didn't want to see this war for Iraqi people. And it may be that at this juncture some are starting to feel a bit discouraged that we couldn't stop that war. And I think we have to acknowledge, when we're not able to accomplish something so important, so vital, and yet it seems to me very important to remember that we are 6% of the world's population. Amongst the 94% of the rest of the world's population, there were 30 million people, maybe many, many more, who joined with all of those who were part of the antiwar movement in this country. And internationally the antiwar movement came closer than it ever has before to that critical mass we want so bad we can almost taste it, that critical mass that would allow us to stop a war before it starts.
So perhaps one way that we can prevent a next war is to try as fully as possible to tell the truth about this one. So sadly, this war hasn't ended yet. It's not the only way. It's been pointed out to me that if there is a tidal wave that comes and destroys your home, you won't be able to preserve yourself from a second tidal wave by telling the truth about the most recent one. You've got to move your home to a new spot. So we do have to make a great deal of change. And I'd like to talk about that with you as well.
But perhaps what I can contribute is some awareness of what the war was like, both before and during and after. We had coined a phrase, pre-traumatic stress disorder, and we were being a bit flippant. We started to pack emergency crash kits for ourselves. But it was more sobering when we realized that we needed to put pliers in the kit so that if a piece of shrapnel were embedded in one of our friends' bodies we could pull it out. And we started to stack up whole walls full of six-packs of bottled water. And we began to realize that in many ways we were much more insulated from the possible impact of the war, just by virtue of the fact that we had the purchasing power to buy all of that bottled water.
I think the most emblematic instance of pre-traumatic stress disorder is probably one of the most tragic stories I know, and I'd like to place it in this context. I suppose that many of you have heard people say, “Well, all right, there wasn't any evidence of weapons of mass destruction to be found after the bombing war ended, and maybe nobody established a relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and the al-Qaeda network, but Saddam Hussein is gone, and that in itself ought to be enough cause for jubilation and thanksgiving, that we could change the subject, change the channel, and Iraqis ought to be fairly grateful.” This would suggest that the only way to dislodge Saddam Hussein, who did preside over a ruthless and a brutal and a cruel regime, from power was to launch a massive military strike, what some had described as being like the world's largest firing squad aimed at civilians, who had no protection, nor did they have much control over their government.
But it begs the question, what might have happened if the world and the United States, certainly the United Nations, had helped the Iraqi people move toward more democratic governing structures by caring about their education, caring about their social services, caring about their ability to communicate within the country and beyond the country. Those of us who traveled back and forth to Iraq from 1996 on in the Voices in the Wilderness campaign were painfully aware that the economic sanctions had wrecked education, wrecked social services, wrecked communication.
There was no place that spoke of that more fully than a tiny neighborhood called Jumhuriya in Basra in southern Iraq. Basra was the city most hard hit by the Iran-Iraq War, the ravages of that foolish and wasteful and cruel war, by the Gulf War, the aftermath of the Gulf War, with uprising and then reprisals that were so brutal, by the economic sanctions, by the fact that epidemiologically the water that they had was a likely cause of waterborne diseases. And when I stayed there for three months in the summer of 2000, we had spent more money on two days of bottled water for ourselves than the family with whom I lived had for the entire month. The temperatures had reached 140 degrees. I've redefined hot in my life. And the families there were reduced to just the most basic diet of lentils and rice, rice and lentils, watermelon most nights. And in the household where I lived, I saw fish come into the house on three occasions, eggs once, and when a new baby was born into the household, the parents celebrated with a tiny hunk of cheese.
One of my favorite families there had a most prized possession, and that was one magazine which they had read over and over and over again. It was the only piece of literature in their home. Dog-eared edges, yellowed paper, but that meant so much to them. And they lived in an absolute hovel along a street where the phosphorescent green muck and sewage flowed into their home. This family was very erudite and dignified. The father was an artist and oil painter, and he worked as a mechanic, worked hard to service vehicles at the Southern Oil Company. The mother, just an exemplar of raising fine and beautiful children.
We would try to visit them as often as possible. And when I went to visit them in January of 2003, I realized that there was something radically wrong on the street. The women always wore the long black abayas, but they were in intense grief, and they were trembling as they greeted me. And then the story came out. The good news was that on Karima and Majid's street a bulldozer was parked, and that bulldozer meant that there would be a paved road and a curb and a way to keep at bay the very dangerous, brackish, polluted waters that otherwise would often seep into their homes and place them at risk of waterborne diseases. The bad news was that Karima, like other women in the neighborhood, had developed a sort of pre-traumatic stress disorder, a malady in which, when she heard a loud noise, an explosion or a bang, it reminded her of what had happened in 1991, when the airplanes dropped so many, many bombs and when the aftermath was such a long nightmare. And she would just collapse, fall to the ground. You're probably piecing the story together.
The bad news. Karima did what she would normally do on a given morning: she put on her hijab, put on her long abaya, took the bag that she would take to market, and stepped outside her home onto the street. And the bulldozer operator did what he would normally do: he put the key in the ignition, turned on the machine. A loud roar enveloped the street. It reminded Karima, no doubt, of the warplanes. And she fell to the ground, Her head hit the claw of the bulldozer, and she died instantly. And this to me was emblematic of the pre-traumatic stress.
So many people that I knew in both Basra and Baghdad wouldn't be able to place a kiss on my second cheek welcoming me before they would start to shiver and tremble and say, "I cannot go on." As my friend Um Hyder from Basra also put it, she said, “It is very, very, very hard when all you can do is to sit and to wait for your city to be bombed.” These people loved their children. Forty-six percent of the population of Iraq is children, who have committed no crime. There are some mothers that did try to take matters into their own hands. In Baghdad, I knew eight women who on a given morning went to the Dominican-run maternity hospital, and they said to the nurses and doctors and the Dominican sisters, “Please, we want to have Caesarian sections. Yes, we will take the risk of our babies. They are born premature, maybe, but it is better than we give birth to babies under bombing.” Those who could flee, did, but others felt as though they were very trapped. And so we kind of huddled and waited for what seemed imminent.
The first two days of the Shock and Awe campaign, and I clutch using the word “awe” in a church, because we know that the word “awe” should be in the province of the sacred, the province of that to which we would genuflect. And I know none of us here would bow, submit ourselves before that which dismembers and maims and sheds blood and kills. And operation Shock and Awe employed the tactics followed by, stated goals of terrorists everywhere. But the first two days didn't seem so overwhelming. Quite honestly, I giggled a bit, because I had gotten a phone call from Chicago and learned that the hardware store down the street from me was sold out in plywood and duct tape and plastic, because people in my neighborhood were reinforcing their windows. And at the Al Fanar Hotel, where we stayed, these young hotel workers, with their white shirts and black ties, were just starting to saunter out with rolls of masking tape and make Xs on the windows. It was clear that people were harboring a little bit of hope that maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
We were staying in a seven-story hotel, a family-run hotel, where the Muslim owner had invited his extended family to join him there to be, perhaps, safer than they would be in their own neighborhood. And they had also invited their Christian neighbors to come, and so that extended family was there. Hotel workers, spouses, and children were there. So we were a group of grandparents and parents and teenagers and toddlers and the Westerners from the Iraq Peace Team.
On the third day, I know I wasn't the only one that changed my mind about the intent of the United States military as regarded a Shock and Awe campaign. I better understood it when I came back to the United States and read an Army Times article from March 21 entitled “Air War Kicks Into Overdrive.” Shock and awe it wasn't, until day three. Pinpoint targeting and care marked the opening days of the war, with coalition aircraft flying 1,600 strike sorties, dubbed “conditioning work,” over the first two days. But on A day, Pentagon parlance for day three, air power left its considerable impression on the Iraqi landscape. More than 2,000 sorties, half of them strike sorties, involving every kind of aircraft we have, deposited thousands of munitions on key targets. And every single munition used was either laser or satellite-guided. Thousands of bombs, munitions, were deposited on key targets. Each one of the thousand bombs that hit would have cost a million dollars, so, minimally, what was just described to us in the Army Times had a price tag of $1 billion worth of explosives and TNT, much of it covered in depleted uranium. In the first Gulf War, 300 tons of depleted uranium was dropped across Iraq. This time the suggestion is that 900 tons of radioactive depleted uranium has been scattered across that land.
And are we to believe that if just that one day's worth of missiles’ prices, a billion dollars, had been invested in the education, in the social services in the communication in Iraq, are we to believe that people would not have had the chance, the possibility to dislodge the regime from within, internally? Noam Chomsky points out that the Shah of Iran was overthrown from within, even though the United States was supporting that government. We could observe in Rumania, Ceausescu was overthrown from within. I won't ever advocate assassination, and yet I think we do have to look at history and know that there were instances when people were able to overcome and overthrow efficient and ruthless police states, and to do it from within their own society. But surely that society would have to know that there was beyond their own border some hand of friendship that might be extended. Instead, the United Nations had been used to inflict the most egregious form of child abuse and the most comprehensive state of siege ever imposed in modern history. So it seems to me that Iraq's people were almost more beleaguered than they even knew, because they couldn't read the United Nations documents with which we could be familiar. They couldn't know the extent to which Western countries had been complicit in the terrible suffering that had befallen them year after year after year.
When I think about day three of that bombing, I suppose the best way for me to depict it would be to tell about it from the viewpoint within the Al Fanar Hotel. My friend Wade Hudson is from San Francisco, and he said that the bombing reminded him of 11 San Francisco earthquakes in a row, and then the next day you wake up and it starts all over again. But believe me, birdsong was never so sweet and appreciated, nor the look of a child's face surviving that night of bombardment. But as the bombing continued morning, noon, and night, as it was clear that there was literally no place that would be safe, outside, indoors, at shopping places, on roadways, farm villages outside of the city, we began to recognize that the tension, the anxiety was on the rise within the Al Fanar Hotel. I so admired the adults for putting on a poker face and trying to contain themselves so as not to frighten the children.
The teenagers seemed to have their own way of coping. They played a board game called Risk, and almost obsessively played it. It's a game of military dominance. There are lots of ironies in this world. And my friend Cynthia Banas, a 79-year-old woman from upstate New York, stayed down in the bomb shelter. Most of the elderly people and children went downstairs, in what was just an average basement, but it was quieter down there at night when the bombs were exploding. And she wouldn't have minded if the kids had all gone downstairs and settled down so that they could get a full night's sleep. She said to the kids playing Risk, “You know, you could always finish the game tomorrow.” Well, little 8-year-old Dima looked at her and said, “Oh, but, Madam Cynthia, we might not be here tomorrow.” The kids knew.
And we got to know the toddlers. I think especially of 1 1/2-year-old Zainab and 3-year-old Milada. You know how children, when they first get to know you, the first day might be a bit skittish and standoffish, but if you're still there the next day, their arms open up and they can become just the most warm and engaging little beings. And these two were delicate and easy to swing around, and their parents let us help them walk the hallways or rock them to sleep. And that's when we began to realize that these two little girls were grinding their teeth morning, noon, and night. Milada had a game that she liked to play over and over again, much to the distress of her mother. The game went like this: She would wave her arm around in the air in arcs and shout out the Arabic word for airplane, “Tayyara, tayyara,” and then she would bring her fists in to her chest, flip backward, and pretend that one of these airplanes, one of these bombs had hit her. And that's how a 3-year-old copes, I think, with the reality that one of those explosions could be the end of her world.
When electricity had gone out all across Iraq and Baghdad, plunged into darkness inside the hotel, Milada and Zainab's mother would sometimes be caught on a staircase after the sun had gone down with no light, and she would have a child in each arm and be groping her way, and then one of us would come running with a flashlight. And Milada always wanted that flashlight. I would have wanted her to play shadow shows or Tinkerbell, but Milada wanted to use the flashlight, first she would aim it at her mother and say “Ut-tut-tut,” pretending to kill her mother, and then she would aim it at me, “ut-tut-tut,” pretending to kill her new big friend. And I know children always play war games, but this seemed to me to be accompanied by a certain tension, a certain anxiety that I think will linger for a long time.
When I read in the Army Times about their characterization of the bombing of Iraqis, I realized that I had had a sort of an obsession I had to cope with as well. When I would hear these loud explosions, I would start to imagine some of the young teenagers I knew, shoeshine boys, who were all grown up, who couldn't escape from the mandatory conscription, and whom I thought might be out under those bombs, Ali, Mustafa, Ahmed, Saif. And I started to think about what might have happened to them. Were they dismembered, were they bleeding, were they dying? And I realized, I've got to stop thinking like that. It's not healthy, it's not helpful. And I would force myself to go into a novel or knock on someone's door and talk with them.
I read the Army Times account and another from The New York Review of Books. And here's how the military described the many, many tons of munitions that were dropped on unwilling conscripts, Iraqi army troops. They said on a given day that 70% of an Iraqi troop unit was “degraded.” I guess it's because of having been an English teacher before. I immediately think, Oh, they got a C- on a test? Uh-uh, no. It meant that 70% the way that The New York Review of Books author, who took exception to that phraseology, the way he put it was that it would be more accurate to say 70% of the Iraqi troop unit was pureed. That's what the munitions in our warfare do.
I would like to describe the occupation, as it rolled in, from the eyes, from the viewpoint, of my friend Um Zainab. She was seated in front of the large plate-glass windows that constituted the wall of the ground floor of the Al Fanar Hotel. And she wanted so badly to go back to her home, to get out from inside very enclosed, small spaces, almost claustrophobic. But her husband had said, “La, la, la. No. It's not safe. We cannot go home, because now there is no security, there is no way to protect ourselves at home. You must stay here with the children, for the children.” And she was beginning to realize that, as prices would begin to go up under the occupation because the Westerners could pay higher prices, that her husband wasn't going to be getting any higher wages, and that in fact the currency might become less and less valuable. She was beginning to realize that under occupation the United States had dispatched 12 armored personnel carriers to protect the oil ministry, to protect where the maps and the information about controlling the oil were located, but they didn't even know where the hospitals were. And hospitals had turned into war zones. And that even the documentation that she could use to prove that she was an educated university graduate and a graphics arts expert was gone, because the ministry of education had been looted and burned. And likewise, there weren't any papers or documents that would have been important for their everyday life left. It was still possible that essential infrastructure would be further looted. The electricity wasn't on, the water wasn't clean, the garbage hadn't been picked up. And meanwhile, in this intersection more and more vehicles were arriving to create a full occupation, and they were unraveling coiled barbed wire in what must have looked very much to her like the scenes she had seen on TV in the past of the West Bank under occupation. And as the tears streamed down her face, she murmured to me, “Never did I think that this would happen to my country. And I feel very sad. And I think that this sadness, it will never go away.”
So I felt I should at least take the children. I didn't want them to see their mother crying. I thought she needed some space. And it seemed like a good idea to go outside. For the first time we could actually go outdoors with the kids. And then I realized, no, that won't work. They will start running, and they might run into the barbed wire. So I thought perhaps I could just take them each in my arms and show them to the soldiers. I'm pretty hopelessly extroverted, but I knew that these soldiers would like to see these beautiful flowers, these children with shining eyes. They needed to see something like that. But I couldn't do that in front of my friend Um Zainab, because this was an occupation that was affecting her life in an ongoing way. So then I thought, Well, maybe we can watch TV. But that wouldn't work, because on the TV they were showing footage of corpses strewn on Baghdad streets downtown. So I said to the kids, “Let's go down to the bomb shelter.”
I want to tell you, though, about the occupation from another perspective, as it began in the very first moments. We were staying, as I said, at a hotel, a family-run hotel, at an intersection from which 10 minutes away there was full-scale looting going on. And it was a very frightening moment. We thought that we ourselves might be jeopardizing the other people who had been so kind and friendly to us. We had formed a real community during these three weeks of terrible bombing, and now maybe the windows would be broken and the place would be ransacked because looters would be looking for what we might have. So there was high anxiety. There had already been an attack on the Palestine Hotel from a U.S. tank round across the street, and we knew that something had happened at the airport. People were saying that the government was completely crumbled. But nobody knew for sure if somebody might pull out weapons, either from behind us or next door to us, where we were quite sure weapons were stored. It was a very, very tense moment.
And then word came that the tanks and the armored personnel carriers were wheeling down the street, that they would be coming past us at any moment. So we grabbed our banners that we had unfurled when we vigiled and fasted down at the Safwan border between Iraq and Kuwait, banners that said, “Courage For Peace, Not For War” and, very bluntly, “War = Terror.” And we felt it important that we as Westerners in this Iraq Peace Team face the oncoming U.S. military with this message. While we were unfurling the banner, getting ready to be out in the street, the hotel owner, very understandably, said to us, “Please. You know, we are like family, all of us like brother, sister, but you might take banners upstairs.” So that was what we did. We went up to our own balconies.
And we unfurled the banners and looked down as cream-colored Jeeps and tanks and armored personnel carriers and Humvees and all manner of military equipment started to fill the intersection and the streets for as far as we could see. And the way that I would honestly remember describing it kind of to myself as the Marines began to emerge from the hatches of their vehicles was that it looked like the Wizard of Oz scene when the good witch Glenda says, “Okay, children,” to the Munchkins, “come out, come out, wherever you are.” It actually seemed to me like an array of Gerber baby jars. These young men were excruciatingly young.
And one of them climbed out of the armored personnel carrier, very deliberately sat himself down on a bench, and pulled out an Army-issue novel and started to read it. He was signifying something, unquestionably, about his role, his being there in that place. People are naturally curious, and so the Marines looking up at us, maybe wondering where our spaceship was, started to call up questions. “Where are you from?” And we called down, “Boston,” “Chicago,” “Perth, Australia,” “Philadelphia,” “New York.” “What are you?” “We're a peace team.” “Are you a Red Sox fan?” That kind of broke the ice. I turned to Cynthia at that point and said, “They look really thirsty, don't they?” And I had a wall full of six packs of bottled water. And Cynthia didn't miss a beat. She said, “Oh, I'm so glad you said that. Of course, that's the right thing to do.” The next thing I knew, she had a six-pack of bottled water under each arm and with her pink fuchsia hat she was on her way down the staircase to go and distribute water to the newly arrived Marines. I hesitated, but it did seem to me that these are human beings like ourselves and that the Iraqis would understand.
And I particularly thought of a box of dates. They often give us octagonal boxes of dates. And I grabbed one of those boxes and followed behind Cynthia. A beautiful young woman, Yun Ha, who was with us from South Korea, joined in, and the three of us began to mingle with the newly arrived Marines. Of course, I made a beeline for the fellow sitting on the hatch, because I wanted to know what book he was reading. And he said, “Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, ma'am. It's my thirteenth time reading it.”
I'd like to tell you some of the things the Marines told us. One of the first to come by was their commander. He said, “Don't blame these young men for what happened. In the heat of battle, I made some hasty decisions, and a lot of civilians were killed. But it's I who will have sleepless nights.”
Another young man, Harris, an African-American fellow, came up to us with his gun held horizontally, and he said, “I'm glad that I was assigned to bring up prisoners in the rear so I didn't have to use this.” He told us about his daughter, who was born with a sixth finger, and how much he wanted to get the surgery she would need for corrective rehabilitation of her hand; and that he had been going to school and working at night and not having enough time for his family, couldn't get health insurance. And he said, “So I joined the Marines to try and get me some self-respect in this world. But I never wanted to kill anybody.” And he told us that he had felt especially badly when he saw a car pull up to a checkpoint, and one of his fellow Marines got scared, and he said the Marine called out to the car, “Stop, stop,” but the car driver didn't seem to maybe know what “stop” meant and didn't stop and kept going. So the Marine shouted, and that created an orphan in the back seat, because the mother and father were in the front seat. And Harris said, “He could have shot the tires.”
We met a young fellow when several of them came in to watch the BBC late at night. And they pay attention to the news. Our hotel owner was so proud of having a satellite dish in reserve, and as soon as the government crumbled, he whipped out that satellite dish. And his son said, “This piece of technology, it is our freedom.” I felt myself a little badly, because before we had all sat in that TV room face to face and had conversations, but once the TV was on with real news, everybody rearranged the furniture, and we were all glued to that TV screen. But I could understand the soldiers, like us, wanted to know what is going on. So they would come to watch BBC, but I noticed they really wanted to talk. One young fellow said to me, “We came to a village, and we couldn't tell, was they civilian or was they military, because we saw fatigues on the ground. So we shot up everybody. But I hope it never registers here,” and he pointed to his head.
And I thought that day of my three friends, the young conscripts, the shoeshine boys, all grown up, who had told me they managed to get out really fast. As soon as there was a big battle and many people were killed, but they were among the survivors, the Iraqi military commander, had said, “Look, if anybody wants to go, you can leave now.” Your first response is, Hey, maybe that was a setup. But these three guys raised their hands and said they would like to go. And they were told, “Okay, clear out.” So as soon as they got beyond the camp perimeter, you bet they wanted to shed those fatigues. And they made a bargain with a farmer to get civilian clothing, and they were restored to their mothers that same day. But I have to wonder, were fatigues lying on the ground the trigger that caused the deaths of civilians?
One young fellow, a Marine, came up to us and he said, “Would you just tell me your side of the story?” And when I say “came up to us,” at that point we would unroll every day a big, large tarp, and on it was a South Korean graphic artist's antiwar depiction of weapons and victims and his own sense of hope. The bottom third had images of weapons scattered all over it, with flags draped across the weapons; the middle third, the pictures, the faces that people agonizing under war; the top third, a rendition of the map of the world. We would sit on that. And this may sound almost unbelievable, but the Marines would make sure that when they were moving their big APCs or the Jeeps or the tanks, they wouldn't even dog-ear a corner of our tarp. It became like a little holy space, in a sense, and that's where they would come and talk with us. It was kind of extraordinary. One fellow came up to my friend Kathy Britting, and he put out his hands and he said, “Will you pray with me?”
But I think we need to think in the larger context of the presence of Marines and then Army units. And I'd like to ask us to go back to the words of Wilfred Owen. I know many of you have read Chris Hedges' book War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. He uses as an inscription for his book a poem by Wilfred Owen that he wrote at the end of World War I before he died in the trenches. And in it Wilfred Owen is trying to, I think, communicate to people the horror of war. So he says,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro Patria mori.
In our situation today, our governing leaders no longer have that old lie that says that it's glorious to die for your country, because the basic agreement that seems to be in place is that our military won't get hurt. They won't get bruised. We don't expect them to be killed. I don't want them to be killed. You don't want them to be killed. We want them all to come home. But the idea generally seems to be that the United States might accomplish its killing and destruction even from 30,000 feet in the air and pulling levers and never seeing what happens on the ground. And maybe now it will move even further, out into global space, and we will never have to even know what the consequences are of our laser weapons at great distances.
But for the Iraqi lads that were pureed or dismembered or mutilated by these bombs, for the Iraqi civilians that will cope with the effects of depleted uranium for many, many years to come, their lungs coated with sores, our weaponry has still the old barbaric meaning that Wilfred Owen wrote about. I think we also must recognize in this current context of war that after the first Gulf War, 10,000 United States soldiers died after they had come home. And of the 420,000 that had been deployed, 150,000 have applied for disability payments. And I think we must also remember that after that first Gulf War 47,000 Iraqi children under age 5 had died as a direct result of waterborne diseases and malnutrition. So the effects of the warfare are gory and horrendous.
And yet there is still more context with which we must grapple, we who are dunned by the United States Government $2,900 per person to contribute towards this incredibly bloated and inflated $400 billion military budget. We have to also grapple with the fact that in our audience today there are some whose life goes back to living in the shadow of the mushroom cloud after bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ushering us into the Atomic Age, others who lived through and some served in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq again, Colombia still. And I'm not even naming all the hot wars. We would be delusional to think that we could place our foot on the pedal and put on pressure and be able to outrace, pick up momentum to speed ahead of the war makers, the war planners, and somehow put out brush fire after brush fire after brush fire.
Perhaps what we must now come to grips with is that there is an underlying subtext of two ongoing wars to all the hot wars that I named. The first ongoing war is the war of Western culture against the biodiversity of Mother Earth. And the scientists, the rational and sober scientists, are sounding the alarm. We hear it. The second is the ongoing war of U.S. culture against weaker countries whose resources we want to exploit and control. And it seems to me the common denominator between those two wars is clearly the culture, and that the adult choices close to us with greater urgency year in and year out are, How do we change our culture? How do we wean ourselves off of our own addiction to living lives of inordinate comfort while other people live in abject poverty? How do we communicate to our elected leaders that we want to change?
President Bush Sr. said at an energy conference in Rio, “The American way of life is a nonnegotiable.” And I guess by that he meant that he believed that he as an elected official and anyone before him and anyone to follow him was put in place to basically make sure that this way of life maintained. And if that meant using a go-it-alone policy, as George Bush Jr. has done, if it meant using threat and force, that essentially the U.S. constituents were saying, “Do what you have to do,” almost as though we're a gated community of big children. “Don't tell us too much about it, don't show us very much about it, but do what you have to do, because we don't want to change our levels of consumption or our levels of waste.” And we feel like we have a responsibility to give to our children the same ability to consume and to waste that we've enjoyed ourselves. That may sound a bit harsh, but it seems to me that if we really care about the children, we'll deal with the inescapable terrorism that will afflict them in their future: what we've done to our air, to our water, to our ground, and we won't be vulnerable to the smokescreen that gets pounded into our heads about fear of terrorists who might attack us. Instead, I think perhaps we need to find the courage to overcome our fear of changing our lifestyle.
G.K. Chesterton once said there was only one real Christian, and he was crucified. And I suppose right now many people could say of the peace movement that we talk a good line but if we're not the ones who would undertake serious, radical change in our lives, who do we think will do so? It's very encouraging to hear your response to that, because I sometimes wonder, Why does anybody ever invite me to come and talk to them?
Is there hope? Unquestionably. I come back with the hope that I carried from an Iraqi man who worked for an Italian NGO called Bridges to Baghdad. His name is Rahad. He's an engineer, and he's also a professor of architecture. And he had assigned to his students a project to build bridges that would be constructed out of paperclips and cardboard and string, and they were due April 24. That was a ridiculous date to be collecting university students' projects, given the city was under occupation and at the university there were still plumes of smoke coming out of charred buildings. But Rahad went to various radio stations and also to some of the neighborhoods where he knew his students lived, and he circulated the word as best he could that their projects were still due. And he said that this was a time, more so than ever before, when Iraqi students would need to understand the tensions and the stresses and the details involved in building a bridge.
Rahad had an avocation, and that is astronomy. And he, during the height of the bombing, when the electricity was completely out, went up to the top of his building and he pulled out his telescope. And he could examine the stars as never before. And he caught me on a day when I had a lump in my throat. And he said, “Kathy, you too must learn to enjoy the universe we live in.”
I also come back with the words of a friend. Her name is Amal. It means hope. She had truly lost everything. And she had a lot to lose; she was one of the wealthy people that I knew. And when Amal's home was destroyed, it was by a combination of first all the windows blowing out and then the doors being damaged, some of the structure being damaged. And then, bad luck, the next day a windstorm came in and wrecked all of her furniture and belongings and her artwork. But she also had run a very wonderful center for culture. It was a place with valuable artwork, looms, old antique beds, and all kinds of very highly crafted exhibits. It was a place that Agatha Christie used to go and spend her free time, right on the Tigris River. The looters ransacked it, so that the only thing left was a poster that had Kodak photographs that she had taken during the process of rebuilding after it had been destroyed in 1991. So Amal was very, very discouraged at the point when I left. But she had said, “We will never again overlook the plight of poor people in our midst, because now we have lost everything and we know how it feels.”
And I suppose the greatest encouragement came to me from two good friends, Hisham al-Sharaf, Majid al-Ghazzali. They were the people who had helped build up a school that was the only one of its kind in the Middle East. Built in 1960, the Baghdad School of Folk Music and Ballet would just charm the hearts of anyone who has ever worked with young people. The kids were so excited in that school to work with Western and Oriental dance and artwork and music. And they even had instruments, piano keyboards that incorporated both the Western keyboard and the Eastern keyboard in one piece of furniture. They had teachers who had devoted their lives not only to the school but then went on to be the members of the Baghdad Symphony Orchestra. It was a quite a world. After the bombing, Hisham's home had been hit and looted. He came over and he said, “Do you think we could get the U.S. Marines to dispatch a vehicle to help protect our school?” We said, “Give it a try.” But it wasn't part of the mandate of the Marines. They were turned down, actually, to leave. So they made their way back to the school themselves, hoping they could create some protection. Five looters came with Kalashnikov rifles. And there was a shuffle, and Hisham and Majid said, “We'll give you the instruments. We'll give you the furniture. But please don't wreck the school. Don't destroy the sheet music, our records, our history, the art." And the looters said, "La. No. Baghdad is finished.”
There is much for us to try to understand in that. And I know we can't forget that in many ways people in very large corporations in Baghdad today are in a sense looting Iraq's oil wells. But for these two fellows it was just such a huge blow. They came over looking very, very defeated. And they handed to me a small tape, and they said, “Kathy, this is all that's left.” And they took me up to the Norwegian Church Aid office and put earphones on my head and asked me to listen to it.
It was a tape of a song that I helped to teach the kids at the school shortly after September 11. It's a long, involved story, but this was a song that was sung by 150 of the families who buried their loved ones in New York City. And it's a song that was created after World War I by people who hoped there would never be a World War II. It's called “O Finlandia,” or “This Is My Song.” And the lyrics celebrate the common aspirations between people. And these kids had learned it in Arabic and learned to sing it with violin and piano accompaniment. The orchestra had gone on to learn the music, which was first created by Jean Sibelius. And it really was a triumph to have this particular theme being celebrated by people who had endured so many years of suffering and war and still wanted to reach out a hand of friendship to Westerners.
So with that tape in my hand, I felt a strong twinge, a kind of selfish remorse. I thought, Well, I'll never again be bringing this song to a U.S. audience. It's got to be too much to expect that kind of two-way street between Westerners and Iraqis. Do you know, before I left, Hisham and Majid made a point of coming over one more time to the hotel to tell me that they would go ahead with their string concert. They found somehow 11 instruments, and they would present that song.
Conscious of that, I'm going to ask your indulgence. My Arabic is somewhere between piddling and awful, and my voice not much better. And I'd ask you to imagine the high-pitched, almost soprano voices of young teenage boys, the quavering and yet idealistic voices of young girls, and hear these words from them. [“O Finlandia” in Arabic]. “This is my song, O god of all the nations.”
Remembering that music, those words, those children; remembering the hospitality that was extended to every one of the Voices in the Wilderness delegations such that we came back wondering not why do they hate us so much but why do they love us so much. Remembering the possibility that in this country's relatively short history, where we've seen the abolition movement, the women's suffragist movement, the union movement, the civil rights movement, the effort to end the Vietnam War, the ongoing disarmament movements. Remembering that we do have a patriotism that we can dig into, that we could put forward in order to accomplish the kinds of changes so radically needed now. The line of patriotism that will sustain me, and I believe many of us, comes from Thomas Paine: "My country is the world, my religion is to do good." And then I think we can also hear, not with hatred, not with rancor, but with understanding, the words of Howard Zinn, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
And then let us welcome the soldiers back with a healing hand. They will need it. Let us open ourselves up to the possibility that we can choose the works of mercy over the works of war, even as it means changing our own lifestyles and holding that forth as the gift we would give to our beloved children, creating always the beloved community. Thank you.
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“Song for Basra”
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