Last night, while walking home along Abu Nuwas Street, Charlie Litkey and Jerry Zawada were met by two little boys who begged them for money, grabbed their hands, and then went for the wristwatches. The boys are seasoned little workers. After their father died some years ago, they moved in with their uncle’s family. The uncle sends them out each day and night to beg on the streets. One of our team members recalls buying Saif and his brother bananas instead of giving them money. Both little boys were so hungry that they immediately ate the bananas, including the peels.
The tiny duo had spotted two of our “softies.” Jerry, a Franciscan priest, is happiest when he is helping someone. Charlie, who towers over Jerry, is a former priest chaplain who returned the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded him for pulling soldiers off a battlefield in Viet Nam. Like Jerry, he radiates quiet kindness. We had to chuckle over our two “Gentle Bens” being attacked by the charming but aggressive duo. The kids had just about scored two wristwatches when Charlie took matters in hand and tightly squeezed Saif’s wrist until the watch dropped. Saif began to cry. Both watches were returned. This morning both Jerry and Charlie voiced their regrets. “I squeezed his hand pretty hard,” said Charlie.
Squeeze. The word easily connotes gentle and helpful measures. You squeeze a loved ones hand in times of need. You squeeze an orange to make juice. But this morning, listening to several NGO workers try to work out how they might manage to distribute relief in the face of a “squeeze” planned by the US Pentagon, the word sounds ugly and cruel. You squeeze a country to tighten the thumbscrews, exacerbate an already existing siege. You squeeze until civilians can’t bear it any more. The squeeze means that people who are trapped without access to relief may panic. How will they find drinking water? How can they cook stored rations without water? How can they get medical care for the injured? Once the electricity goes down, how will they manage without refrigerators, lights, communication? Explosions, fires, shrapnel, destroyed buildings, maimed bodies, unburied corpses.Baghdad’s residents have tasted all this before, –but now comes anticipation of yet another agony: a squeeze that can cause chaos and panic to flow like lava.
I think most US people can easily identify with Charlie’s and Jerry’s gentle, even affectionate regard for the little ones who so desperately “attacked” them last night. I think most would share Charlie’s remorse over making little Saif wince. Charlie’s regrets, compassion and courage are never more needed than now. War planners are readying a ghastly and protracted squeeze, designed to frighten, sicken and kill hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people.
Hand holding hand we can catch courage from one another to raise pressure against war. The time is for direct action is now.