As the regular columnist of "Dr. Lisa's Class" for the quarterly Once Upon a Time Magazine, a journal for authors and illustrators of children's books, I was surprised when the editor rejected my most recent submission, saying, "No harsh realities of war here, even though I'd probably forward your piece to others if I saw it written elsewhere." The article follows for Audrey to forward.
Sometimes in class it's just impossible to stick to the syllabus. The world gets in the way, and we talk about the more important things on our mind. And so, today, if Audrey will let me, I'd like to digress from children's literature for a few paragraphs.
I got up at 4 a.m. this morning because the cats meowed and I couldn't get back to sleep. (It's six now, and I've done the important work of writing and deleting about 1,000 words so far.) I couldn't get back to sleep for the usual reason: the bloody "to do" list that runs through my head constantly when I'm in no position to do any of the things on it. That list is growing ever-longer these days because during normal waking hours the mundane tasks on it slip my mind. My mind is preoccupied with other things--things, ironically, I can't do anything about.
And writing fiction, well, that's just impossible right now. I can't seem to get myself to spin stories for privileged children in the U.S. when I can't stop thinking about the facts of life for today's children in Iraq.
Our leaders claim to be fighting terrorism, but we're not the ones living in constant terror. The people living under our bombs, the people whose homes and cities have been destroyed, the people who don't have enough food and clean water nor proper medical care, the people who have no choice but risk their lives just by being who they are, where they are-they are the ones living in terror each day while we in the U.S. go to Wal*Mart to buy yellow magnet ribbons for our SUVs to honor our 1,000 fallen troops.
Meanwhile, 100,000, that's one hundred thousand, Iraqi civilians have died as a direct result of the invasion, according to a study conducted by the highly reputable Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published online in the October 29 edition of The Lancet. Johns Hopkins claims, "The researchers found that the majority of deaths were attributed to violence, which were primarily the result of military actions by Coalition forces. Most of those killed by Coalition forces were women and children."
Women and children. All accidental, of course. But it still bothers me deeply where my tax dollars are going.
I'm all for supporting our troops, by the way. Completely. Like many others, I want to support them by bringing them home!
For every soldier who dies, for every soldier who is injured, there are dozens more who carry emotional scars home from war. Most educated people know how drastically and irrevocably war can damage the heart and soul. I'd like our soldiers not to have to experience that for themselves unless absolutely necessary. Better they just read about it. Books such as Walter Dean Myers's young adult masterpiece about Vietnam, Fallen Angels, should be required reading before any kid signs up for the army-and before any military hawk who has never been in the trenches encourages an engagement of our young troops.
My college students don't like this war, either. They'd like to see it over. Yet many of them have friends or family in Iraq, and of course they love the United States of America (as I do), so they seek justification for the war, reasons for it to be okay. Uh-oh, turns out there was no imminent danger from weapons of mass destruction to merit our preemptive attack, but . isn't Iraq and everyone else in the world better off without Saddam Hussein in power? Aren't the women of Iraq better off liberated from a repressive Islamic regime? Aren't these things worth the sacrifice our country is making in lives and tax dollars?
I don't know. How about we ask the Iraqi people who are suffering most?
Yanar Mohammed, an Iraqi activist who directs the Organization of Women's Freedom, recently said in an interview (posted at www.democracynow.org), "Now, our cities, our neighborhoods have turned into daily battlefields between the U.S. troops and the military resistance. Women cannot leave their homes for work, for studying, for even the streets have turned into unsafe places because of the inhumane practices against women by the rising Islamism. . That's why we demanded for the immediate leaving of the U.S. Troops from Iraq as a prerequisite for any change towards peace. . Whatever government they're bringing is totally rejected by the people, and all kinds of opposition to it, political opposition and other kind of opposition that's military. Some of it is local, but some of it is coming from abroad. Because of their holy jihad against the Americans, we are paying the price, and Iraqis are being killed by hundreds every day. We think this needs to stop, and there's no way it can stop if the U.S. Troops do not leave. Some people would say, 'How would you have security if there is no army to protect you?' We tell them there is nothing worse than what we are facing now. Hundreds of innocent civilians being killed every day is something that we don't want to see anymore. U.S. Troops have to leave now, immediately. And we will take care of Iraq."
So now you can see why my to-do list is so long, and my sleep so short. In the spare time when I'm supposed to be calling the dentist to make my next appointment for a cleaning, I'm searching the Internet to learn as much truth as I can about the things on my mind. We don't get all sides of the story from the mainstream media, where patriotic Iraqis who resist the occupation of their own country are called "insurgents." The nightly news doesn't show us many pictures of the children whose bellies are bloated from hunger, whose injuries are festering from lack of medicine, who aren't reading Harry Potter in the SUV on their way to soccer practice.
Ultimately, doing something to stop senseless wars is the most important thing on my bloody to-do list. I'm hoping that some day I'll think of a way to write about it for children, but it's hard to write a story that begins with a concept rather than with character, plot, or voice. Until I come up with something, all I can do is vent to anyone who'll let me.
Thank you for listening. And now I must go call the dentist.
Lisa Rowe Fraustino is an Assistant Professor of English specializing in children's and young adult literature at Eastern Connecticut State University; the author of several award winning children's books, most recently I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials (Scholastic/Dear America); and the editor of three young adult fiction anthologies, including Soul Searching: Thirteen Stories about Faith and Belief (Simon & Schuster) about young people from various religions.