March 20, 2018
15 years since the invasion of Iraq.
Every March 20th, I wear my Be About Peace shirt. To those who comment, I respond with the number of years that have passed since the invasion of Iraq began.
The Iraq War is what drove me to become political.
I witnessed the invasion by the George W. Bush administration under false pretenses; Colin Powell’s testimonies at the United Nations and the chief U.N. weapons inspector finding no evidence for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Bush even campaigned for President, like Trump later would, as a non-interventionist asserting the need for America to be “humble” and avoid using the military for nation-building activities. Yet as President, Bush would go on to say that “America will never seek a permission slip” and called the invasion “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
I witnessed people I admired like Hillary Clinton and John McCain support the invasion of Iraq, wondering how I, a high school senior, knew there were no WMDs and that this was about more than just oil. Yet, two elected and well-respected U.S. Senators did not. What disappoints me more than their support for the war though are those who, based on a tribalistic allegiance to a political party, justify the votes of these politicians for that war to this day. Both nationalism and patriotism is an expression of love for one’s country. The difference, to quote Sydney J. Harris, “is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.”
It was a major reason I was excited to vote for Barack Obama in ’08 as he took a critical stance on the invasion and proclaimed that he would’ve voted against it if he had been in office at the time. The ideas and values espoused by candidate Obama were rooted in empathy and shared community. As an aspiring social worker, it was these values that rang loudest for me. I’d even argue that people who were part of the anti-war movement (which arose during the Vietnam War) played a major role in getting Obama elected. The sentiments were global when Obama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize just 12 days into office, which he was later awarded. Some pundits on the airwaves disapproved stating it was premature, but as Shashi Tharoor, Indian diplomat and Member of Parliament, once remarked on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, “You can make a difference and win the Nobel, but you can use the Nobel to make a difference.” The world had hope for real change for the first time in the new millennium.
Prior to Obama’s election, as an undergraduate college student, I became involved with efforts for a responsible end to the Iraq War. In 2006, I had the honor to work with and be part of a delegation to present a petition calling for “A Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq” to staff directors at the office of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez. The petition was jointly written by South Mountain Peace Action and Families of the Fallen for Change.
It was a moving and inspirational moment for me when SMPA chair, Paul Surovell, asked me to present the petitions to the directors. To me, Paul demonstrated that this was not about him or SMPA. It was not about a photo-op. It was about serving something greater than all of us. To get the world back on track by working together with people across generations, and preparing the next generation to do better than the previous – how success is measured.
Yet, since that moment, I’ve watched our government expand warfare into several nations. Regime change in Libya. The rise of ISIS and the arming of “moderate rebels.” Providing weapons to Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen, which is now referred to as the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” Operations in Niger, Somalia, Ukraine, Pakistan, and other nations.
And as of right now, we continue to “manufacture consent” as Noam Chomsky would say, for war with North Korea, Iran, and/or Russia. Powerful institutions like the media, government, and industries work together to create a narrative to convince people that war is necessary. All for the sake of financial profit for a few wealthy corporations and it’s executives – who have families and loved ones like anyone else. In the words of Arundhati Roy, “Once weapons were manufactured to fight wars. Now wars are manufactured to sell weapons.” The impact on our communities is devastating. Countless lives are taken and lost. From the innocent family that became collateral damage during a ‘targeted’ drone strike to the 22 Veterans who takes their own lives every day.
At the same time, we witness the endless violence inflicted upon ourselves in our own borders. Today, as high school students in places throughout the nation, especially in Parkland, Florida where the recent school mass shooting took place, we witness a generation that has grown up knowing warfare all too well. We have permitted weapons of mass destruction on our streets. We’ve witnessed Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary, and Las Vegas. We witness the many forms of gun violence in minority communities. We witness police brutality. We witness bombs being dropped on nations we will never visit, on children no different from our own. Yet, there is difficulty in discussing any of it with each other in a rational and empathetic way.
I feel fortunate to know those who were part of a powerful anti-war movement. It was those people who took to action to condemn the invasion of Iraq. Many voted in Democrats in the blue wave of 2006 and Obama in ‘08. However, that generation has put in their time, knowing the number of sunrises and sunsets are limited. They are mirrored by a generation that has limited hope. Proclaiming “enough is enough.” Who know they must walk out of their classrooms and march during school hours to have their voices heard because there is not much more to lose at this point. This is the state of our union.
I have hope, guarded hope, for the generation coming of age. If their voices and movement are co-opted by establishment politicians who wish to return to the status quo, then all hope will be lost. Fortunately, they do not rally for a rally’s sake. They do not march for a march’s sake. It is not about self-promotion and a photo-op. It’s about preservation and vision. The core values of an America we have yet to realize and become. They are coming to understand that the powerful few concede nothing. That power only responds to the disruption of the status quo. After all it took action like home-spun clothes and the Salt March to defy the British during Gandhi’s era. It took nonviolent marches across a highway from Selma to Montgomery for Black Americans to achieve the right to vote during the Civil Rights Movement. In order to restore power back in the hands of the many, we must fight for it. That fight, however, must be understood in taking into account the intersections of class, race, and gender globally.
To quote Arundhati Roy once more, “The battle to reclaim democracy is going to be a difficult one. Our freedoms were not granted to us by any governments. They were wrested from them by us. And once we surrender them, the battle to retrieve them is called a revolution. It is a battle that must range across continents and countries. It must not acknowledge national boundaries but, if it is to succeed, it has to begin here. In America. The only institution more powerful than the U.S. government is American civil society. The rest of us are subjects of slave nations. We are by no means powerless, but you have the power of proximity. You have access to the Imperial Palace and the Emperor’s chambers. Empire’s conquests are being carried out in your name, and you have the right to refuse…If you join the battle, not in your hundreds of thousands, but in your millions, you will be greeted joyously by the rest of the world. And you will see how beautiful it is to be gentle instead of brutal, safe instead of scared. Befriended instead of isolated. Loved instead of hated…History is giving you the chance. Seize the time”
The time has come to recognize we cannot kill our way to peace; that bombs and bullets will only create the need for more bombs and bullets. Our path forward will only be possible in the light of shared opportunity and prosperity. In a world with perpetual warfare, be about peace.