On September 19, 2000, Danny Muller and Andrew Mandell, both of Voices in
the Wilderness, went to the Oprah show. Her guest that day was
presidential hopeful George W. Bush. They had come to ask important,
unscripted questions and to find out if our future 43rd President would toe
the same line on the Iraq issue as the administrations of his father and
Other Voices in the Wilderness members handed out roses to the other
audience members before they were seated in remembrance of the 5,000 Iraqi
children who die each month due to sanctions. We didn't see those roses on
television, however, because before each audience member could enter the
studio, they had to hand over their rose.
Halfway through the show, impatient for the canned question period from the
audience, Mr. Muller stood up and asked Bush, "Mr. Bush, would you continue
the Democrats' policy of bombing and sanctions that kill 5,000 children a
month in Iraq?"
The show immediately cut to commercial.
Mr. Mandell then stood and asked what the children of Iraq could
expect. Bush stared directly at him. Both Muller and Mandell were
escorted out of the audience for their acts of conscience.
More than two years later, the children of Iraq know what to expect.
For many Americans, Iraq had disappeared from the map since the last Gulf
War. The economic embargo remained in place, routine bombings dotted the
landscape, and Iraqis suffered in silence.
In September 2001, Thomas Nagy, a professor at George Washington
University, released a report detailing the U.S. government's foreknowledge
of the devastating effects of sanctions and the impacts of the Gulf War on
civilian infrastructure. The document, published in The Progressive,
outlined the outcomes of impure water and insufficient sanitation on the
most vulnerable members of society: the children. He cites the Geneva
Convention as precedent for why these actions are illegal and punishable
under international law.
As history repeats, a country considerably less prepared is bracing for
"There will be no safe place in Baghdad," the U.S. Department of Defense
declares. Only now the country is dependent on the U.N. programs which
keep the cycle of food and humanitarian goods in motion. Were that to be
interrupted, there will be major problems for the Iraqi people.
The pipeline for humanitarian goods for Iraqi civilians is potentially
jeopardized by an invasion. In the event of a massive conflict, who will
take responsibility for the unfulfilled contracts for humanitarian
goods? Governments and private companies enter into contracts under the
current conditions the Oil for Food Programme and the current Iraqi
regime, but if a major war occurs, the agreements to fill orders for wheat
and rice, or to transport those goods into Iraq, may fall through.
This would mean that the people of Iraq would be forced to buy their food
at market prices. Currently they pay the equivalent of $.12 for their
monthly ration which includes rice, lentils, baby formula and flour. The
market price is $3.50 and the international price is $8.50. Most Iraqis
have a monthly salary equivalent to $2-4 USD. Even government employees
only make an average salary amounting to $12 USD. Iraqis could not afford
to pay the market or international prices for food, and thus the
alternative is starvation if the food basket under the Oil for Food
Programme were interrupted due to war.
Mr. Mandell and Mr. Muller doubtfully could have predicted the catastrophic
global events which have transpired since their appearance on the Oprah
show. The events of September 11th changed the face of modern geopolitics,
of civil liberties and of human interaction.
But rather than recognizing the human capacity to transcend hateful acts of
extraordinary desperation, our leaders have called for retributive justice
smeared across a global canvas. Afghanistan was not enough revenge. The
detainees at Camp X-Ray were not enough. Peaceful Tomorrows, a group
comprised of the families and loved ones of those killed on September 11th,
calling for an end to war has not been enough. The unprecedented
international dissent and the street protests in nearly every country have
not been enough.
Unfortunately, short of Oprah taking a stand against the war or adding
Thich Nhat Hanh's "Peace Is Every Step" to her book club list, those with
something to gain from waging this war will continue to do so at the
expense of those who have everything to lose.
Leah C. Wells serves as the Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age
Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). She may be contacted at
email@example.com. This piece also appears at www.electroniciraq.net.