A four year old girl named Savannah arrived at the capitol in St Paul with her mother and grandparents. As she and her family members walked up the stairs of the Capitol and into its rotunda, they saw pairs of black boots laid out in a circular pattern. There was a pair for each of the 59 Minnesotan soldiers who have died in Iraq, including Savannah’s father who died this past January. In addition to the boots representing each of the Minnesotan servicemen, clusters of sandals, tennis shoes, and walking shoes with tags bearing the names of Iraqi citizens who were victims of war were placed around the periphery of the rotunda.
Savannah’s father, a combat medic, was 24 years old when he was killed by a roadside bomb. At the direction of her family, little Savannah walked toward the pair of boots that had a tag bearing her father’s name. She grasped tightly a small wooden angel with both hands and delicately placed it on the floor in front her father’s boots.
Savannah's family decorated the boots with a flag and some flowers, and paid their respects to a loved one who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country. When they were ready to leave, the young girl picked up the angel as if she wanted to take it home with her. After listening to some words spoken quietly by her grandfather, she returned the angel to its place beside her father’s boots. She turned around and ran into her grandfather’s outstretched arms. Her small body disappeared from sight for a moment the way little kids do when they are hugged by a love one that is so much larger.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed Savannah and her family at the Eyes Wide Open ceremony that recognized victims of the current Iraq War and occupation. Later that night I was watching the television news, and Savannah’s mother told the newscaster that her daughter keeps asking when her father is returning home. She doesn’t understand.
Becky Lourey, a former Minnesota state senator, doesn’t understand either. She doesn’t understand all of the unnecessary death and destruction caused by a preemptive, war of choice. She doesn’t understand why we haven’t learned from history. She spoke about this and more at the Eyes Wide Open ceremony to about 100 persons who were in attendance (below is a complete transcript of her eloquent speech). Following her speech, the names of the 60 Minnesotans were read. The number is 60 instead of 59, the number who died in Iraq, because the list included a soldier’s name who committed suicide after serving in the war zone. Following the reading of the names of the Minnesota victims, the names of the nearly 4000 US soldiers and many Iraqis who have died in the past 5 years were read. After each name was announced, a gong was sounded. Becky Lourey attached a photo of her son on the face of that gong during the speech she delivered (see photo below).
The ceremony was sponsored by Merriam Park Neighbors for Peace. My thanks to Krista, a leader at Merriam Park, for encouraging me to attend this moving ceremony. I hope we don't have another one next year; this was too sad.
Below are the words of the eloquent speech presented by Becky Lourey at the Eyes Wide Open Ceremony on the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War.
As I write these thoughts that we share today, I have placed Matt’s photo directly in front of me so that as I glance up, I am gazing into his eyes. This message today, on the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq - a conspiracy to defraud the United States by President Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, National Security Advisor Condaleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald M. Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Clin M. Powell - is laden with pain, but also with determination. Determination to see that these tragedies are not repeated in places like Iran, promises that person who wrote torture memos and allowed horrendous acts against humanity and human rights in prisons in Bagram, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, Cuba, at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, and extraordinary rendition are brought to justice.
I hate it when we don’t learn from history. After I had learned the horrible things we had done by interring the Japanese Americans in detention camps during World War II, and following Ronald Reagan’s apology in 1988, when he signed a law passed by Congress, I thought we would never do things like this again. Especially now since we have the Geneva Convention and Nuremberg principles to guide us, how is it we let fear completely annihilate our humanity? Have patience because justice will be done, as a nation, as a people we will seek atonement for the sins we have committed.
The Nuremberg Principles provide for accountability for war crimes committed by military and civilian officials. Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles states: “The fact that a person acted pursuent to an order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided that a moral choice was available to him.” Principle VI of the Nuremberg Principles describes which crimes are punishable as crimes under international law:
a. crimes against peace
b. war crimes
c. crimes against humanity
Attacking Iran will be a crime against peace, a war crime. Those conducting military operations will be violating the Nuremberg Principles, the Geneva Conventions, and the Laws of Land Warfare. Prosecution for commissions of war crimes is possible.
Why am I talking about Iran? The recent resignation of Admiral William F. Fallon caused many of us who watched the conspiracy to invade Iraq move steadily forward to pay closer attention because Admiral Fallon us a critic of Bush and is adamantly against invading Iran. The Boston Globe cibsuders “the validity of Fallon’s advice” as it notes Bush has a “history of stumbling into grievous strategic errors” because he ignores the advice of military commanders. While Secretary of Defense Robert Gates states that he also does not want to invade Iran, President Bush has stubbornly refused to take it off the table and we know that Vice President Cheney has certainly considered the idea. In 1997, a new conservative Washington think-tank called The Project for the New American Century was established. Vice President Dick Cheney, at the time Chairman of Halliburton, was a founding member. Soon after its founding, The Project for the New American Century produced a White Paper published in September, 2000, which outlines what is required of America to create the global empire they envision. The White Paper expressed the conviction that and I quote, “Over the long term, Iran well may prove as large a threat to the U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element of U.S. security strategy given the long standing American interests in the region.” End Quote. AndI suspect that they don’t care at all that the National Intelligence Estimate which represents the consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies reported on Decmeber 3, 2007 that Iran Halted its weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen.
So, why wouldn’t we be worried?
Admiral Fallon succeeded General John Abizaid and both were against the surge. On November 15, 2006, General Abizaid appeared before the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee and said “It is easy for the Iraqis to rely on us to do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, taking responsibility for their future.
Let’s look closer at the surge. It is interesting to me that the surge is indeed killing fewer American soldiers, but just as many Iraqis are being killed - the death toll is at 2005 levels. Does someone think this is acceptable? Don’t we care about them? International agencies are reporting Iraqi death tolls as high as one million dead. But these numbers are not reported here in the U.S. My dear friend, Ann Wright, who retired from the U.S. Army Reserves as a Colonel after 29 years, who served in Grenada, Panama, Greece, the Ntherlands, Somalia, Uzebekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, and Mongolia, who was on a small team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, and who resigned from the U.S. Diplomatic Corps in March 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War, agrees with the observation written by Peter Oborne from Baghdad for the Daily Mail. Ann and Peter both worry that “by arming former insurgents and paying them to swoop sides, the U.S. risks building up heavily armed new militias who could unleash untold terror and blood letting once American troops pull out.” (Peter’s quote) The surge is like the concept of holding onto a bull by its tail; if you let go, everything breaks again. It’s also like squeezing a balloon, U.S. personnel are dying fewer numbers where the surge (the squeeze) is occurring, but the killing is swelling out to the surrounding areas. The surge is also creating problems with U.S. Army recruitment, Peter Oborne reports. Former U.S. General Barry McGaffrey warned that “the U.S. Army is starting to unravel. Our recruiting campaign s bringing into the Army thousands of new soldiers who should not be in uniform” - drugs and mental dekiquency being the reason (Peter Oborne). Think of it, Americans on the edge being recruited to die for oil. I feel more comfortable saying that now that so many more people with more credibility are also saying it: General Abizaid, Retired, “Of course it’s about oil, we can’t really deny that.” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “We’ve treated the Arab world as a collective of big gas stations.” Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, “ the Iraq War is largely about oil.”
Just look at the greed of this administration has done to our country. It has devastated our economy. It is said that the attention of the electorate in this election season is upon us is focused on the economy and not on the war.
It is said that Americans have become accustomed to the backdrop of the ongoing killings in the war in Iraq as they struggle to make ends meet and deal with financial challenges as food and energy prices soar, as they lose their homes, as they lose value in their retirement accounts, as they can’t afford college, as their schools lay off teachers, as they lose their health care.
But you can’t see, it is the war in iraq that is causing the crumbling of our own economy, it is the unchecked greed of the pepple at the he;m of our failing institutions as they walk away with golden parachutes and their employees lose their pensions and their jobs. Where have our morals gone? We have a president who told us to go spend money in time of crisis - Iwas raised to believe that it is not spending, but working - jobs that are needed to meet the challenges facing our world - that build and rejuvenate an economy. And war only makes a few rich - the oil companies and a few defense contractors.
Bush of course denies it, but the new report by Joeseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J Blimes presents figures to us that are staggering. The Washington Post reports that the authors “final tally reaches $2.2 trillion in their best case scenario and $5 trillion in their realistic scenario - and those figures and those figures don’t even count the costs to Iraq, U.S. allies, and the rest of the world. Choosing to err on the conservative side (and perhaps on the side of a catchier book title) the authors settle on $3 trillion.” The title of the book is The Three Trillion Dollar War; it’s authors are experts on the subject. Stiglitz is the Nobel Prize winning Columbia University economist and Blimes is a Harvard University lecturer and public finance expert.
So - when Americans are focusing on the economy, they are in fact focusing on the war at the same time - whether they are aware of it or not.
Maybe 4000 U.S. military dead by the time this 5th anniversary ends, 29,000 physically wounded with multiple serious injuries, not to mention the psychological scars from repeated deployments and extended tours of duty without rest, inadequate medical support upon returning home. Somewhere between 600,000 and one million Iraqis dead, and 5 million displaced - take a moment to consider the horror of refugees and immigrants are experiencing and the crisis created for the people of other countries. With the Red Cross estimating that more than 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed and of the 34,000 doctors registered in Iraq in 1990, at least 20,000 have left the country. Beatrice Megevand Roggo of the Red Cross pleads, “Better security in some parts of Iraq must not distract attention from the continuing plight of millions of people who have been left essentially to their own devices.”
How can Americans bear this unconscionable state of affairs? How can we go on remembering what we knew from the back pages of the newspapers, from former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, that there were no weapons of mass destruction? We knew there were no operational links between Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda even before March 11, 2008 report from the Institute for Defense Analyses stated, after examining 600,000 Iraqi documents, that there was no link. What have we done!
We must remain calm and steady. We must not appear to be hysterical because we have a message. ANd we must never tire. We must seek justice - for hope I recommend that you read former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega’s book United States vs. George W. Bush et al. It is from her hypothetical indictment to her hypothetical grand jury that I read in the first paragraph “a conspiracy to defraud.” Elizabeth states “because of Bush’s fiction, we agreed to bomb people 8000 miles away whose only crime was they were oppressed by a violent and cruel dictator.”
For emotional support, I recommend you read Dissent, Voices of Conscious - Government Insiders Speak Out Against the War in iraq by Colonel (Retired) Ann Wright and Susan Dixon with a foreword by Daniel Ellsberg. My son admired and respected Eric Shinseki so I havd planned to read the section where he was castigated in public by Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld for speaking truth. However, this quote from Marine Lt. General (Retired) Greg Newbold reaches deep into my emotion and soul, “The commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions - or bury the results.”
Literature and art contribute so much to our lives. It is unforgivable that we didn’t protect Iraq’s art, her history. So, with a feeling of guilt, I recommend the following art. For a feeling of solidarity, listen to the emotional, well considered music of Nora Jones, Sarah Thomsen, and Ann Reed.
Norah Jones from her song Sinkin’ Soon.
In a boat that's built of sticks and hay,
We drifted from the shore,
With a captain who's too proud to say,
That he dropped the oar,
Now a tiny hole has sprung a leak,
In this cheap pontoon,
Now the hull has started growing weak,
And we're gonna be sinkin' soon.
We're gonna be sinkin' soon,
We're gonna be sinkin' soon,
Everybody hold your breath 'cause,
We're gonna be sinkin' soon
Sarah Thomson from her song Is it for Freedom?
Children of the world, you have the right
To sing and dance, run and play, let your dreams take flight
As the innocent die you rulers carry the shame
And if we stand idly by we share in the blame
And oh, America, do we care Oh, America, are we aware Who’s dying for our comfort in this land Who pays the cost for the convenience we demand?
Children of the world, you have the right To sing and dance, run and play, let your dreams take flight
Ann Reed from her song Tired Old World
If my eyes turn away
Just because I’ve had enough for one day
Then this tired old world
This crazy time
Is havin’ its way.
If my life - On from here
Is a life lived and driven by fear
Then this tired old world
This crazy time
Is havin’ its way
If I ever get to a time when it don’t bother me
To bury my friends or watch somebody die in the street
If I don’t feel much more than disgust, or a shrug, or oh well
Then I’ve lost my compassion and mercy as well as myself
On his deathbed on March 7, 2006, Psychology Professor emeritus, Kamal GIndy, called me to his bedside and told me to never give up. I’m here with you because of my promise to him.
But it is hard, so hard, isn’t it to be fighting fear - fear is primal, but it’s not taught, it is within us, and we must resist it and replace it with empathy and love and action that builds caring, inter-active communities.
On February 28, 2008, Gary Eichten had author and educator Parker Palmer on Midday. Mr. Palmer gave me an enormous gift. This is what he said means to me: we must never stop educating, but sometimes we must be patient for the results. Sometimes it isn’t the right time for the solution, but if we remain faithful, the time for things to work out will arrive. .