POCATELLO -- Kathy Kelly spent a year in jail for planting corn on a nuclear missile site. The three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee told a crowd of about 100 people Monday night that her time in jail helped her better understand the plight of Iraqis and American soldiers involved in the current conflict.
"When you are in the prisons or county jails of the U.S. it sometimes does feel like a war against the poor," she said.
Kelly said her fellow inmates, who called her "missiles" for short, were unable to complain about their conditions for fear of consequences, such as not being allowed to see their children.
In 1996 Kelly helped found Voices in the Wilderness, an group that has organized more than 70 delegations to Iraq since 1996.
Kelly organized the Iraq Peace Team, which stayed in Baghdad through the bombardment and invasion.
She told the crowd assembled in the Salmon River Room at Idaho State University about living in a Baghdad hotel during the U.S. "shock and awe" bombing campaign.
The first two days, no one seemed to notice, she said. Markets were open, people were shopping. But by the third day, things had changed, and she found herself huddled in the bomb shelter of the hotel with other guests, some of whom were refugees.
An Iraqi girl who was staying in the hotel would borrow Kelly's flashlight in the darkened basement. Then she would point it at her mother and others, and pretend to shoot them.
"Never before did she want to play like this," the girl's mother told Kelly.
"I felt, 'that is how a 3-year-old copes with war," Kelly said.
When Baghdad fell, the prison emptied, the Iraqi army and police disbanded. Looters began to overrun the city.
"We began to get very nervous that the looters would make it to us," Kelly said, telling how they searched for hiding places for their cash and even more valuable passports. Kelly and other pacifists beseeched the men in the hotel to not start a gun battle if the looters came.
"The looters were 10 minutes away. The Marines got there first," she said. "I was one relieved pacifist."
The tanks and Humvees lined the streets, and after a while, Kelly said, one marine climbed out of his hatch and began reading "Heart of Darkness." Soon the soldiers were talking to the group of protesters in the hotel, telling them about their families. Kelly and the others brought the young marines, who she said looked like baby food labels to her, water and dates.
"It wasn't unusual to hear someone talk about his past life, his family," she said.
Sometimes, the marines confided in her, quietly telling her of the terror of war.
"There was one night where we didn't know if they was military or civilians, but there were fatigues on the ground," a young marine whispered to her. "So we shot everyone."
Kelly said people are not wired to be kind all the time, but that a change in our culture could bring peace into the world.
"To whom much is given, much is required," Kelly said. "I think we are required to do more."
Copyright © 2005 The Pocatello Idaho State Journal