Peace Porridge #33, 12/06/02: This May Be The Final Peace Porridge  

"The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."    -Dante Alighieri, 13th century

In a few days, God willing, I will leave on my fourth trip to Iraq. Some believe that a new phase of the 13 year old Iraq war will begin as early as December 8 with massive US bombing. Friends and family have advised me not to go. But I find it impossible to turn back. There seems to be almost unanimous consensus that the Iraq war will escalate soon. The argument seems to be over the timing, mid-December? late-December? January? It hardly seems to be worth speculating about. The result of another war is clear: more destruction, more suffering,more death, more lies. How many more wars before our fragile planetary life support system collapses? Will this war be the straw which pushes us all over into the abyss?

Six months ago I used to argue that the escalation would not occur. The newspapers were beginning to publish anti-war articles, congress began to question the president, UN member states were speaking out, and above all people took to the streets in protest. But this has changed. One by one the media, congress, the UN surrendered. Now only the people of the world stand publicly against this despicable war. In the latest outrage, 13 UN member states joined the US and UK and voted 15 to 0 for Security Council resolution 1441 in full knowledge that the US would consider it justification for unilateral war.

Nonetheless, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I still feel this war won't happen. I can't say why. Like most of us in the US, my experience of the ravages of war has been from a distance. Perhaps, the time has come for me to experience first hand the terror of war which so much of the world has felt recently at the hands of US and Israeli aggression. In any case I think I would prefer to be where the bombs are falling than in the country which is responsible for dropping them, and causing so much suffering and degradation.

In Peace Porridge #30, I argued that the US is waging a war on children. I want to expand on that argument here.

A few days ago I returned from what may be my final trip to Nicaragua. I know a family of 11 children in Managua. I visit them every year. When I met them they were dressed in rags, living in a one room shack, sleeping on a dirt floor, without schooling or medical care, and barely enough food to stay alive. The school age girls were trying to make a few pennies selling tortillas on the street. Thanks be to God they are doing better now, but only because they had the good fortune to meet some gringos who look after them. This is the exception, not the rule.

Millions of children throughout the third world, and thousands in the US, live with little or no shelter, education, and medical care and barely enough food to stay alive. Any country which attempts to lift its people out of grinding poverty is immediately met with resistance from the US government: Nicaragua, Palestine, Haiti, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq - the list is endless. And the weapons in the US arsenal are endless too: structural adjustment, regime change, sanctions, low intensity conflict. But, if these weapons do not suffice, outright war and invasion, even with nuclear weapons, loom on the horizon. Is it any wonder that the latest tape purported to come from Osama bin Laden asks, "Why should fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning and widowing continue to be our lot, while security, stability and happiness be your lot?"

Indeed, why should the US, the wealthiest, most powerful country the world has ever known be permitted to drive the childhood mortality rate of Iraq up from 50 per thousand in 1990 to 133 per thousand in 2001 through economic sanctions and then claim the right to make unilateral war as if it hadn't already murdered enough. And why should the United States with a child mortality rate of 8 per thousand (hardly anything for the wealthiest country in the world to boast about) be permitted to drop cluster bombs on the children of Afghanistan which has a child mortality rate of 257.

To return to the alleged bin Laden tape, "This is unfair. It is time that we get even." The thought of others getting even strikes tremendous fear into people in the United States. Perhaps, somewhere beneath all the sanctimonious pronouncements, we recognize our guilt. But there is little talk of justice, and much talk of even more unfairness.

Consider 9/11. The perpetrators (we still don't know who they were, US news media pronouncements notwithstanding) attacked the centers of US economic and military power. How many young children were killed in these events? Certainly not many. These buildings were not locations like schools and clinics were one expects to find children, nor were they places whose destruction could be expected to negatively impact the lives of children, like water purification and sewage treatment plants.

By contrast, the killing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere deliberately targets children through the use of cluster bombs and teratogenic weapons like depleted uranium, and through the destruction of hospitals, clinics and schools; and water treatment, sewage treatment, and electricity generating plants; social services on which the health and education infrastructure of a country depends.

This very important distinction is almost totally ignored in the West. Leftists falsely claim equality between the two terrors. The Right condemns only the lesser terror, while rejoicing in the much greater terror of cluster bombs, economic sanctions, structural readjustment. Some argue that those who died in the world trade center and the pentagon were innocent. This is a strange argument. How can any of us in this country claim innocence of the terrible atrocities committed by our government.

I do not claim to be innocent of the terror perpetrated by my country. For almost 30 years I made a good salary training youth in the techniques of computer science, with full knowledge that many of the brightest would be hired by the military and its contractors to develop the most horrible weapons the world has ever witnessed. How could I possibly profess to be innocent of the destruction and suffering caused by these weapons?

Further, don't we (at least until recently) live in a democracy? How many of us could meet our maker and say that we voted for a presidential candidate in 2000, who would have ended the sanctions of Iraq, stopped us aid to Israel, and forgiven the debt of the poorest nations in the world? Perhaps one or two percent of us at most. Sometimes I'm asked how this endless war will end. In the long term, its clear that it will end in our destruction. Every empire contains the seeds of its own destruction: The Egyptian Pharoahs, Rome, The Mongols, The British, The Soviets - all gone. Why are some so arrogant as to believe that the American empire will be different, and last forever?

The short term is not at all clear. How much terror? How much suffering? How much death before its over? Will the United States somehow find the courage to renounce empire building before its too late? To my knowledge that has never before happened in history. But maybe somehow we can find the courage to do what has never been done before.

If it can be done, it will be because of all of you who are working for peace and justice. I know there are many more of us who would prefer peace and justice to empire and war. We can prevail.

-Tom =====

"I will tell you that in my time, I never saw anything come out of fighting that was worth the fight."

--- US General Anthony Zinni, October 10, 2002

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