(A speech given at University of Vermont’s AntiWar Protest sponsored by Students Against War, February 11, 2003)
I want to talk for a few minutes about this war those folks in Washington are cooking up. Let me start with a personal anecdote. Some of you might have heard me talk about this before-if so please bear with me. When I was a kid, I lived in Pakistan on a US military base with my family. While we were there, India and Pakistan went to war over the land of Kashmir. The base where the US military operated was near the Pakistani city of Peshawar. The US and Pakistani air forces shared some of the airport that was five or so miles from our house. On my tenth birthday, the Indian Air Force began a week of bombing raids on Peshawar. Every night for a week the air raid siren would sound and every night our family-along with every other family on base-left our home to spend the rest of the night in a long six-foot deep trench covered by plywood and dirt. This was our air raid shelter. All night until dawn we listened to the bombs falling and exploding, the anti-aircraft guns firing, and the bombers leaving. Meanwhile, we prayed and us older kids comforted our younger siblings. To this day, the sound of an air raid siren causes my heart to leap into my throat in fear. We were non-combatants who, being American, were under virtually no threat of attack or injury. Nonetheless, the nightly air raids terrorized us along with the Pakistanis who lived outside the base’s walls.
I only tell this little story to help bring it home to us in the US that war affects us all. It affects us if we live where the bombs are being dropped or if we live where they are made. It affects us if we spend our nights in air raid shelters or in B-52s and aircraft carriers. It affects us if we are watching the attack from our rooftop or on our television screen. It affects us if we are in uniform or not. It takes our brothers and sisters, our futures, and our souls. Every missile fired, every bomb that is dropped, every bullet shot, is another attack on the people of Iraq and the US. Every smart bomb dropped is money subtracted from your education and that of our children. Every 2,000 pound fuel-air explosive device dropped not only creates a firestorm and vacuum where it is dropped, it also burns up our potential and creates a vacuum in our nation’s soul. After all, if we can allow US soldiers to kill people they can’t even see with no more thought than that which we use when we use our tv remote, are we any better than the everyday people of Nazi Germany who paid no mind to the Dachau concentration camp next door? Is ignoring the smell of the bodies from that camp any different from ignoring the destruction and death that is being wrought in our name?
Recently, a US military strategist named Harlan Ullman told Dan Rather: “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad. The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.”
Mr. Ullman was talking about a military strategy that is being called shock and awe, a phrase that was taken from the military strategist Clausewitz. Ullman continued his explanation to Mr. Rather by saying (quite proudly I might add) “You have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but minutes.” Hiroshima in minutes!! This is what they want to do to Baghdad and who knows where else. If these people who run our country and are talking about mass murder as calmly as you or I order dinner were gangbangers or high school kids in Columbine or another town where teenage killers have gone mad, most Americans would be calling for their heads. Because what they are planning on committing is nothing less than a capital crime! It’s mass murder, people!
If the veils of cynicism and apathy have so blinded us to the criminality of this war drive and the sanctions that precede it, the sheer inhumanity of this impending slaughter must rip those veils from our souls and our compassion must shine through. If we are deaf to the cries this war will bring, we must turn down the volume on our tvs, stereos, and video games, and acknowledge-no embrace-our common humanity with those of all nations who will be the victims of this war. If we don’t speak out against this crime, we might as well be blind. Our ears should be made deaf and all traces of compassion removed from our being. This war is not only foolish and ill-advised, it is a crime against humanity. We can’t and won’t let the masters of war define who we are and who we will be!
In each of our lives, there are a few moments that truly matter. Some are very personal, while others are very public. This is one of those moments. One that fits into both categories. What we do today and every day as long as this exercise in mass murder continues will define not only our emotional and spiritual futures, it could very well define our physical futures on this planet. In addition, and most importantly, it will define the legacy we leave for those who will inherit this earth from us.
When the powers of war, greed, and lust for power dominate the earth as they do today, those of us who oppose them must do whatever we can to halt their motion. We must re-prioritize what our jobs and our studies mean, and put our energies into stopping the motion of those powers-a motion that is nothing but death and loss for most of the world. If we haven’t already, then beginning today we must live in opposition to the rulers’ designs for empire. Rallies, marches, civil disobedience and direct action-everything we can do, we must do.
In our classrooms, workplaces, churches, and hangouts…with our families, friends, lovers and colleagues…we must make clear our opposition to the imperial designs of the men and women in Washington, DC.. Sometimes, this will mean vigorous persuasion and action, other times it will mean soft and kind words. We must be ready for anger and tears, and, when we come up against them, we must be ready with a response that will further the cause of peace and justice.
If we know men and women in the military, we must approach them and explain why we don’t want them to kill and die for the profits of a few who care nothing for their lives or the lives of those they will meet on the battlefield or drop bombs on from the sky. Let these service men and women know that they don’t have to go to war-there are people and structures designed to help them should they decide that killing for empire is not how they want to remember themselves. Or want to be remembered.
In case it’s not obvious to everyone by now, let me say it once more: This war is about empire. Empire and the oil that greases it. It’s not about weapons of mass destruction. Even if you believe that the most well-armed nation in the world has the right to bully a nation into disarming, the best way to do that is by destroying the weapons, not the nation itself. This war is about empire. It’s not about freedom for the Iraqi people. The only freedom Bush and company are interested in is the freedom to exploit the rest of the world. This war is about empire. It’s not about restoring democracy. The men and women running this thing don’t know the meaning of that word.
For those of you who believe that the US is basically a good nation, stopping this war is your chance to begin to return its government back to that goodness. For those of you who think otherwise, this is your chance to begin and make it into such a nation.
Stopping this war is a step in this direction. I’m gonna’ be honest here. It’s not gonna’ be a walk in the park. The people in power didn’t get there by being nice. They got there by being ruthless, deceitful and just plain murderous. But, we can win. In deed, we must. One step at a time.
I just saw the Will Smith movie, Ali. Now, I’m not saying we all gotta’ be the heavyweight champion of the world, of course. But, we could take some inspiration from a page of Ali’s life and just plain refuse to go along with this war. When they ask us to step up and agree to their plans for world domination, we can look them in the eye and refuse. That’s all, just refuse. It’s an incredibly liberatory feeling when you finally take that step. Believe me. That first step is underway as I speak. Let’s take it. Get to one of the big demonstrations the weekend of January 15th. Let’s do what we feel we have to do. Then, go home and talk about things with your friends. Get together an affinity group to carry out future actions. Come to meetings and forums around this issue and add your time and words. Let’s stop their war machine in its tracks now and forever. Let’s take that first step on the road towards a world of justice and peace.
RON JACOBS lives in Burlington, VT. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org