“The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles.”
– Mohatma Gandhi
“Non-violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak… Non-violence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.”
– Cesar Chavez, 1927-1993
Sometimes it is easy to forget we are a nation at war. There is no supply rationing like World War II, there are no weekly antiwar demonstrations in the streets like Vietnam.
Even in wartime, the American Idol finale on TV garnered more votes than our last presidential election.
Unlike previous wars where the draft (despite college deferrals) still drew men from a wider range of socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, the Iraq war largely is being fought by troops from communities of poor and working class people, and disproportionately by people of color.
Many of us personally do not know any of the 153,000 soldiers fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few of us know any Iraqi civilians whose families and lives have been shattered by invasion, terror, loss of loved ones, lack of electricity, water and daily bombings and reprisals. Iraq Body Count, the most-cited source for Iraqi deaths in the war, reports that approximately 40,000 Iraqis have been killed since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. According to the United Nations, civilian Iraqi deaths in June totaled more than 100 a day, or 3,149 a month. U.S. casualties, while fewer, continue at a relentless pace. We are very close to reaching the grim milestone of more soldiers killed in Iraq then Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks.
On the financial-resource front, the Defense Department reports that the Iraq war is costing us $4.5 billion a month, or $100,000 a minute. Meanwhile, President Bush’s 2006 budget proposed cutting early-child education programs, $1 billion in food stamps and $45 billion in Medicaid.
U.S. public opinion is turning increasingly pessimistic about the war. A Washington Post poll in June reported that 6 in 10 Americans did not believe the war was worth fighting. A steady string of alleged atrocities by U.S. troops have not helped to allay those fears. The killings in Haditha, Iraq, and the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and her family in Mahmoudiya are recent examples.
Even with these dire statistics and hemorrhaging of dollars, however, one group has largely been enthusiastic about this war and our legitimacy in fighting it: soldiers and their families. According to a poll of active-duty soldiers in January by the Military Times, 73 percent believed the U.S. was very or somewhat likely to succeed in Iraq. Yet support for Bush and the Iraq war slipped even in this group. Overall support for Bush’s handling of the war was 54 percent, down from 63 percent last year. Just 36 percent of the general public agrees.
There are a host of reasons why active-duty military and the general public have different takes on the war. Unlike Vietnam, where many of the most outspoken critics of the war were vets and drafted soldiers, today’s troops are rarely heard criticizing the war or their role in it. In this climate of acquiescence and “support our troops” rhetoric, it was shocking in June for Ehren Watada, a soft-spoken lieutenant from Fort Lewis, to take a public stand against the war and refuse to deploy to Iraq.
His story, told in this issue of ColorsNW, is one of personal commitment to a cause. He has galvanized critics and supporters alike. Online blogs call him a coward and accuse him of treason. Not in Our Name and other peace organizations see him as a principled objector to the war and possibly the new face of the peace movement.
In any case, he reminds us that dissent is the most democratic of principles and that speaking out about our beliefs is the foundation of the freedom our government says it is spreading in our names.