Left Justified: The war drags on

Does it look like we’re winning in Iraq? Why can’t our boys (and girls) come home now? Well, for one thing, people are still shooting at everybody. We hear reports about how well things are in Iraq, but the reports come from reporters who are locked in hotel rooms. They can’t even go out for a decent cup of coffee or a measly street interview.

But we have a speaker who has lived among the Iraqi people, a member of a group called Christian Peacemakers who will be speaking this Thursday.

Quick! Tell me how many soldiers have been killed in Iraq. We know more than 1,500 Americans have died, but few care about the exact figure. And how many wounded? I’ve read a new book, Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq—By Nina Berman (Trolley Press 2004). It’s a book of photographs and interviews of soldiers who lost limbs for our country. Most of the warriors are like all veterans; they accept their condition and believe in the cause for which they were fighting. But more and more returning veterans are telling disillusioning stories of torture and incomprehensible violence. There’s even been formation of a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War, reminiscent of my own organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War. They say, “If you support us, then bring the troops home.”

I quite agree. The best thing we can do to support troops is to bring them home as fast as possible, and let the Iraqi people sort out their own government. They have a good start, but the recent election results showed an overwhelming support for us leaving. We didn’t hear that on the evening news! There are countries that would take our place if we gave up the real reason we invaded: oil! The soldiers who are protecting the oil trucks and pipelines also notice the highly paid oil truck drivers who make almost five times their salaries.

There are lots of Americans hired to do jobs that should be given to Iraqis. Billions of dollars seem to be subcontracted to American firms that have ties with the present American administration. Remember the Machesney Park printing company that got the contract for Iraqi election posters? Surely there was a company in Iraq that could have used that contract. Instead, a friend of Don Manzullo printed and shipped posters encouraging people to vote; I hope the printer had a good Iraqi translator; otherwise, Larry Morrissey might be mayor of Baghdad.

Seriously, though, our soldiers are facing more combat than necessary.

I invite you to listen to a woman who just returned from Iraq. Peggy Gish has spent a total of almost 15 months in Iraq over the last three years with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. They live with the Iraqis and observe the American occupation. They do not have an ax to grind; most are Brethren or Mennonite Americans who volunteer their time to put themselves in harm’s way for peace. They are not evangelists but witnesses and don’t bring much in the way of supplies. But they do try to help make people’s lives a little easier. Sometimes they act as interpreters to the Americans on behalf of some Iraqi families, and sometimes they try to defuse hostilities.

The group has been in Iraq for more than 10 years, and Peggy is one of those volunteers who was there during the last American invasion. She just returned and is making a special tour through the Midwest. Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee is happy to host her Thursday, May 5, 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockford, 4848 Turner St., four blocks north and east of State and Alpine.

The CPT in Iraq has worked to support nonviolence, promote fair treatment of Iraqi detainees, and witness the conditions of life under the occupation.

Peggy Gish’s recent book, Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace, tells the story of her personal experiences and the work of CPT in Iraq before, during and after the 2003 war. Peggy makes real the horrors of war, and explains her passionate vision for peace. Her talk includes stories of sleeping in a tent during the bombing, villages surrounded by razor wire, being deported out of Iraq, working for justice for Iraqi prisoners, creating relationships with Iraqi citizens, and through it all, seeking the way of Jesus’ nonviolent suffering love.

Gish is a mother, grandmother, farmer, community mediator and former co-director of the Appalachian Peace and Justice Network in southeastern Ohio. She is a member of the Church of the Brethren and a part of New Covenant Fellowship, a communal church.

Christian Peacemakers currently have other violence reduction teams working in Hebron in the West Bank, also in Colombia, Canada with Native American communities and the Arizona/Mexican border. The Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church USA, and Friends United Meeting supports it.

Your support for peacemaking is welcome!

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the May 4-10, 2005 issue

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