The Pain of Victims, the Illness of Victors

BAGHDAD -- I suppose I'm more prepared than most of my companions for the grueling roar of warplanes, the thuds that threaten eardrums, the noise of antiaircraft and exploding "massive ordnance." Compared to average Iraqis my age, I've tasted only a small portion of war, but I'm not a complete stranger, having spent nights under bombardment here in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, in Sarajevo in 1992, in the 1998 Desert Fox bombing, and last spring in the Jenin camp on the West Bank. I feel passionately prepared to insist that war is never an answer. But nothing can prepare me or anyone else for what we could possibly say to the children who will suffer in the days and nights ahead. What can you say to a child who is traumatized, or maimed, or orphaned, or dying? Perhaps only the words we've murmured over and over at the bedsides of dying children in Iraqi hospitals. "I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry."

One of my fondest childhood memories is that of holding my baby brother, Jerry, and pointing his gaze toward a beautiful sunset. I wanted him to feel the awe I felt. I was a pious child, capable of great awe when genuflecting before the candle lit altar in our neighborhood church. Now the world's greatest killing machine perversely appropriates the preserve of sacred awe as a sick smokescreen for inflicting terror.

Readying for the "Shock and Awe" coming our way, I've turned to David Dellinger's accounts of travel in North Viet Nam when the US was strafing villages, mutilating civilians, and burning the earth. My beloved Karl says that Dellinger may be one of the finest human beings that has ever walked on our planet. I agree. Dellinger hated to see "just normal people" suffering from the illness of getting "pleasure" by harming people. It isn't just the suffering of the victims that upsets him, but also the illness of the victors. We must labor to cure that illness.

It's a sad and tragic irony that on the eve of warfare we can presume that today may be the last day of the cruel, perverse sanctions regime. We had to starve you so that we could stop bombing you. Now we'll bomb you so that we can stop starving you. Was that the logic of nearly thirteen years of an abysmally failed policy?

"Embedded media" traveling with US troops will no doubt show footage of Iraqis celebrating release from a brutally repressive regime, of horrible weapons caches discovered by advancing US troops. Years of murderous suffering preceding and following the "Shock and Awe" operation aren't likely to preoccupy the victors whose illness goes undiagnosed in their antiseptic think tank settings.

But the momentum, globally, for curing the warlords, has grown substantially during this dramatic and critical time. "Ring the bell that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering," croons Leonard Cohen in his song, "Anthem." "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in. That's how the light gets in."

Kathy Kelly, founder of Voices in the Wilderness, remains in Baghdad with 24 other Voices' delegates.

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