Hope is here. The cold light of truth is piercing the cloud of lies conjured by Donald Rumsfeld and others about the war in Iraq even in the defense secretary’s own bailiwick.
A Matter of Conscience
Several months ago, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada decided that U.S. involvement in Iraq is illegal and immoral. Like so many of us, Watada concluded that intelligence was manipulated to “justify” the invasion. Unlike so many of us, he has had the courage to stick his neck out and pay the price for resistance.
We should, I suppose, give the neck its due. It is a pleasant thing a convenient connection between head and torso. We do not risk it out of caprice. But if there is nothing for which we will risk that neck, then it has become our idol. And necks are not worthy of this status. Finally, an active-duty U.S. Army officer has refused to engage in that kind of idol worship.
No publicity seeker, Watada earlier this year quietly submitted a request to resign from the Army. The request was denied. He then refused to deploy to Iraq with his unit this summer, and is prepared to face prison rather than violate his conscience. Meanwhile, he fully expects the kind of ostracism encountered by those few Army enlisted men who objected to the torture at Abu Ghraib. In what might well be the understatement of the month, Watada says he may be “the most unpopular person at Fort Lewis.”
and a Gift for Dan Berrigan
Watada may not realize this, but he has presented a pearl of great price to longtime war resister, Jesuit priest, and poet Dan Berrigan, who celebrates his 85th birthday this weekend in New York. Facing ridicule and ostracism for acting on their principled opposition to the war in Vietnam, Dan and his late brother Phil were no strangers to prison or to profound disappointment at the dearth of those willing to witness in the way of Watada.
In No Bars to Manhood, Dan wrote:
“‘Of course, let us have peace,’ we cry, ‘but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties ’ There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.”
Dan Berrigan will be encouraged by Watada’s resistance. And so, I hope, will Faiza al-Araji, one of the courageous Iraqi women who came to the U.S. in March to give firsthand testimony to the suffering of the Iraqi people. Executive manager of Arab Water Treatment Co., Faiza is a highly educated engineer who took a month off to appeal to U.S. citizens to do something to end the tragedy of her people.
I had the privilege of sharing speaking duties with her on several panels arranged by progressives in California. It was painful. Faiza would pour out her heart, only to be met with expressions of sympathy and impotence. After three successive days of this, she found a way to express her outrage without wearing out her welcome. We were in Santa Cruz, speaking to a standing-room-only audience. After Faiza’s account of the horrors being experienced by her people elicited the all-too-familiar, handwringing moans of “what can we do,” she lost it.
Returning to her seat next to me on the panel, she grabbed my notebook and filled the top page with what she really wanted to say. Her poignant words, as she wrote them:
“So, Iraqis are in the middle between American people who don’t know what to do alway? and American Administration who had plans to war and never listen!
“Where is the key to help poor Iraqis?
“In the beginning of my meeting I feel sad for American people but after passing of time my people are dying and Americans still asking stupid questions like what can I do?
“I feel sick.”
Faiza could see it. We are, for the most part, blissfully (perhaps studiously?) unaware of our own power the power we still enjoy as Americans, even as the claws of fascism creep steadily closer. We in the dominant culture often feel impotent, despite the power of our inherent privilege. Perhaps it’s a subconscious thing. Maybe we prefer to remain in denial because, otherwise, we would have to look in the mirror and decide whether we have the courage to put that power into play.
and Becoming Aware
At the Servant Leadership School in Washington, D.C., we are constantly grappling with the debilitating accouterments of white privilege and unexplored racism. At one point an African-American trainer threw up his hands, looked at us, and as calmly as he could explained:
“If someone has their foot on my neck, I will say once, please get off my neck. If you continue to stand on my neck and explain how you didn’t know you were there and why you were there and how difficult it is to move, I cannot be nice about it any more. It’s not about conversation; in the end it’s about getting your foot off my neck.”
And so, we are back to necks. We must stop the handwringing and find ways to get our country’s foot off Iraq’s neck.
What can we do? Get together with a few friends and figure it out! If we were willing to put something on the line, if we were willing to stick out our own necks, as Lt. Watada has done, things could change.
This piece originally appeared on Truthout.org.