MAP Member Opinion "Peace"  
 

“OOOOH, THAT’S BAD!” AND OTHER REFLECTIONS
ON THE SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST

By Joe Schwartzberg

On Sunday, May 2, I joined some thirty other members of Chapter 27 of Veterans for Peace to march in Minneapolis’ annual May Day Parade. A poster that our chapter President asked me to carry was a mosaic composed of hundreds of small photos of American soldiers thus far killed in the current war in Iraq. Seen up close, one could discern the generally handsome young faces of those who lost their lives in that inexcusable war. At a distance, however, the images blended to form the face of George W. Bush, whose “leadership” led to those soldiers’ untimely deaths. Waiting for the parade to begin, I sat on a bench in the playground where the marching groups were to assemble. There, a girl, six-years-or-so of age, approached me and asked, who were all those men in the poster I was holding. I responded, perhaps injudiciously: “These are soldiers who died in a place called Iraq.” Her eyes widened and she replied: “Ooooh, that’s bad!” Had the faces been chosen from among the vastly greater group of slaughtered Iraqi civilians, I’m sure she’d have given the same response. So, there it was; a six-year old could grasp at once, a basic truth that our leaders simply do not get, that killing lots of people, or needlessly causing them to be killed by others, is terribly, terribly wrong.

How one can justify avenging the brutal slaying in Fallujah of four American contract workers by killing an estimated 700 Iraqis, mostly innocent civilians, totally mystifies me. But so, too, does so much else that our country has been doing in the Middle East over the last decade and more. As a non-pacifist, I reluctantly accept that extreme cases exist when one may have to resort to the necessary evil of war. But what is happening in Iraq simply doesn’t qualify. Almost equally reprehensible is our politically calculated support for Ariel Sharon’s draconian occupation policies in Palestine. Both the United States and Israel, I am convinced, are creating far more “terrorists” than we are managing to eliminate. It has to stop! The victims, alas, are not confined to Iraq, Israel, and Palestine; they are also dying in Bali, Turkey, Spain, and other locations around the world. And, whatever the facts may be, our country will be held largely responsible.

Happily, there are abundant signs that lots of ordinary folks are now coming to the same realization about the Iraq intervention as my little six-year old friend from May Day. On the Wednesday before May Day, I participated in the long-running weekly protest vigil on the Lake-Marshall Bridge linking Minneapolis and St. Paul. I’d taken part in a number of other such vigils as our leaders were beating the drum for war in Iraq; but this time there was a major change. In the past, opinion was sharply divided; while many of those who drove by did show support for the demonstrators by honking their car horns or giving us a thumbs-up or a V-sign, many others shouted epithets or otherwise indicated their “patriotic” disapproval. Now, however, the signs of support outnumbered those of disapproval by at least twenty-five to one. Often I would count anywhere from six to ten cars in a row whose occupants in some way or other cheered what we were doing. I realize, of course, that one locale in the Twin Cities does not represent a cross-section of Minnesota, much less of America as a whole. Nevertheless, what I witnessed there leads me to question the polls suggesting that roughly half of all Americans still back the President on Iraq. Rather, my guess is that many respondents simply cannot yet bring themselves to utter an opinion that might cast doubt on their patriotism, even as they gradually become persuaded that we have made a horrible mistake in our arrogant attempt to impose on Iraq some semblance of our brand of democracy.

So, if war is not the answer, what is? May I suggest that the need of the day is to build up the capacity of the UN to deal with situations such as those we face in the Middle East and to promote international reliance on the force of law rather than on the outmoded law of force. It won’t be easy, but it’s high time we made a start.

Joseph E. Schwartzberg

The author is a Korean War veteran, President of the Minnesota Chapter of Citizens for Global Solutions, a Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Minnesota, and a former Chair of the University’s Department of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. He may be reached at .


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