It was the first day of our 12-day peace mission to Iran, and we American peace activisits were visiting the Rehabilitation Center for the Victims of Chemical Warfare in Tehran. Most of these victims were injured during the Iran-Iraq war. That war was one of the longest in the Middle East.
Iraq, under Saddam Husseins leadership, attacked Iran, which had just deposed the U.S.-backed Shah. Then-American diplomat Donald Rumsfeld brought bales of surreptitious money and support to his good friend, Saddam, which kept the war going for 10 long years.
Iran, led by fanatical mullahs, who didnt know military tactics from morning prayers, sent wave after volunteer wave of young, idealistic cannon fodder. It was the longest stalemate since World War I, and Iraq, in a desperate effort, used chemical weapons, and American manufacturers might have supplied some. These same weapons were of the mass destruction type that our government was looking for when the U.S. invaded in 2003 (we know theyre here somewhere, we have the receipts).
Moksan Maksani was one of the Iranian soldiers who threw himself on the front. He lost two arms in the process, and was chemically affected, which cost him his sight. He sat before us, the 23 American peace activists, practically just off the plane. Iranian dignitaries surrounded Moksani as he spoke to us softly in self-taught English. He said he was defending his country, but saw that war had bitter consequences, and he proclaimed there must be a better way.
Surprisingly, Moksani believes Americans have helped the world and counts as his heroes Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. They had good ideas. The Constitution of the U.S., which supports the rights of individuals, shows that the U.S. should be first in the world, according to Moksani (remember, he was speaking before a packed house, with Iranian officials listening). He spoke as if he were a member of Veterans For Peace (my favorite peace group). He spoke from the heart, and, in spite of the Iranian officials, he complimented our country, that great Satan.
Afterward, Moksan Maksani became my friend. I gave him a peace pin, a Veterans For Peace emblem, and said I would get him a membership. He said he would be honored. I also gave him the only gift I had on hand, which was a baseball cap with the Chicago Bulls NBA championship insignia.
He turned toward me and said how unfortunate it was that the Bulls have fallen so low since they lost Michael Jordan. If I had $1 million, I would bring Moksani to the United States to speak about peace and how veterans of war can lead their countries away from the battlefield.
I will be speaking at the 10 a.m. service at Second Congregational Church, 318 N. Church St. (downtown Rockford), Sunday, July 23. Afterward, about 11:30 a.m., I will show my slides downstairs in the fellowship hall. You are welcome!
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the July 12-18, 2006, issue