The US war on Iraq began in January 1991. This was when US-led forces attacked that country in what Washington claimed was a response to Baghdad’s incursion into Kuwait six months earlier. After wreaking havoc and destruction on Iraq’s cities and villages, killing tens of thousands of Iraqis in the process, the US withdrew its forces. As those forces departed, some of them attacked a retreating column of Iraqi soldiers, viciously killing hundreds of them on what became known as the Highway of Death. After this cessation of overt hostilities, the US, along with Britain and some other nations, imposed a strict sanctions regimen on the people of Iraq, limiting their access to medicines, clean water and numerous other elements of modern living. The stated purpose of these sanctions was to create a scenario where the Iraqis would blame the government of Saddam Hussein for their misery and rise up against it. The sanctions were enforced by rigorous inspections backed up by occasional missile and bomb attacks carried out by US and British air forces. After more than twelve years of these sanctions and bombing attacks, the US military invaded Iraq once again. This time Washington claimed to be going after weapons of mass destruction that Iraq had already destroyed as they promised. It soon dawned on the war’s cheerleaders in the press and parliaments around the world that Washington had lied about the WMD; its real intention was to overthrow the Iraqi government and replace it with a US puppet regime.
As almost everyone who was cognizant is aware, that attempt at regime change pretty much failed. Instead, armed resistance to the US occupation occurred, followed by a civil war manipulated by the US and other outside forces. The resulting chaos has yet to subside and has spread to other nations in the region.
There were huge protests against the US invasion, both before and after it took place. While these protests may have influenced how the war was conducted, they did not prevent its occurrence, nor did they truly end it. In fact, as I write, there are several thousand US forces in Iraq–military and contracted mercenaries–fighting Iraqi and other fighters opposed to the Baghdad regime. The intensity of the conflict is not the same as it was in 2003-2009, but it continues to be waged. A similar situation exists in Afghanistan, where locals opposed to the US-NATO occupation and the Kabul regime fight on under various banners lumped by the western media under the name Taliban.
I provide the brief history above as a means to introduce an almost forgotten aspect of these wars. As it became clear to some of the troops sent to these theaters to fight that the reasons they were given for their assignment were straight out lies, some of those troops changed their minds. Their consciences could not allow them to continue to be part of an illegal and immoral war that saw them killing civilians and destroying their homes. In response, some of these soldiers applied for conscientious objector status or just plain left their units. Of the latter, over a hundred went to Canada, hoping that the neighbor to the north would show them a hospitality similar to that shown their brothers and sisters during the war in Vietnam.
Unfortunately, this would not necessarily be the case. The election of a Conservative government led by Stephen Harper that supported the war would create challenges to these resisters and their families. Filmmakers Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller tell the story of some of these men and women in their new film Peace Has No Borders. Ellis and Mueller are prize winning documentary filmmakers. Among their works are Howard Zinn: You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train, The FBI’s War on Black America, and the 2015 release about the writer Nelson Algren titled Nelson Algren: The End is Nothing. Their newest film, a labor of several years, is titled Peace Has No Borders. It primarily follows the struggles of three Iraq war resisters who left their units and moved to Canada because of their opposition to the war. Beautifully filmed mostly in Toronto, the film features interviews with the three resisters and their families, coverage of rallies and meetings organized by the resisters and a community composed of Canadians and Vietnam War resisters. It details their interactions with supportive Canadian legislators from the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. Likewise, the film records some of their less than friendly encounters with members of the Harper government and their occasional frustration with the entire process.
Two of the featured resisters, Kimberly Rivera and Patrick Hart exiled themselves to Canada with their families after they could no longer support the war. The third featured resister, a man named Chuck, gave up his retirement because, after serving seventeen years in the US Navy, he could not reconcile the fact that the planes leaving his carrier were intentionally targeting civilian buildings and their inhabitants. These three folks of conscience were part of over two hundred US military members who left their units because of their opposition to the illegal and immoral war in Iraq. The response of the Harper government to their actions was to begin deportation proceedings against them and every other Iraq war resister in Canada. Fighting those deportations would become the focus of the resisters and the aforementioned citizens group, who call themselves the War Resisters Support Campaign. Even after the Harper government acknowledged that Canadian support for the war in Iraq was a mistake, his government continued to press for the deportation of the resisters.
Ellis and Mueller have been working on this film for ten years. The result is a powerful, occasionally wrenching and occasionally uplifting tale about individual conscience going up against the forces of modern war and bureaucracy. It is the story of people uprooted by those forces and their struggle to get their lives in synchronization with their core beliefs, despite the odds. Often quite personal and emotional, Peace Has No Borders reminds the viewer that conscience does matter, even when it fails to overturn the machinery of war it is opposing. In its portrayal of the resisters and their supporters–most notably Michelle Robidoux and NDP legislator Olivia Chow–it reminds us that courage is required to oppose wars even more certainly than it is to fight them.