Just International

These voices of peace from the days of Iraq invasion are worth recalling

By Bharat Dogra

“Today, I weep for my country…”

These are the words with which Senator Robert Byrd started his famous speech on the floor of the Senate at the time of the Iraq invasion in 2001.

He continued, “I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed.

Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination.

Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of pre-emption which is understood by few and feared by many.

We say that the United States has the right to turn its fire-power on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body.

As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.”

Further Byrd alleged more specifically, “The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence.”

Capturing the feelings of common people he stated, “The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to “orange alert”. There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?

“A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

“What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international   order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

“Why can this President not seem to see that America’s true power lies not in its will to intimidate; but in its ability to inspire?”

While the above statement has its own special value as it was made on the floor of the Senate, the statements by Veterans of the US armed forces was even more courageous in terms of stating the truth in very difficult circumstances.

This statement said, “We are veterans of the United States armed forces. We stand with the majority of humanity, including millions in our own country, in opposition to the United States’ all-out war on Iraq. We span many wars and eras, have many political views and we all agree that this war is wrong. Many of us believed serving in the military was our duty, and our job was to defend this country. Our experiences in the military caused us to question much of what we were taught. Now we see our REAL duty is to encourage you as members of the US armed forces to find out what you are being sent to fight and die for and what the consequences of your actions will be for humanity. We call upon you, the active duty and reservists, to follow your consciences and do the right thing.”

“In the last Gulf war, as troops, we were ordered to murder from a safe distance. We destroyed much of Iraq from air, killing hundreds of thousands, including civilians. We remember the road to Basra – the Highway of Death – where we were ordered to kill fleeing Iraqis. We bulldozed trenches, burying people alive. The use of depleted uranium weapons left the battlefields radioactive. Massive use of pesticides, experimental drugs, burning chemical weapons depots and oil fires combined to create a toxic cocktail affecting both the Iraqi people and Gulf war veterans today. One in four Gulf war veterans is disabled.

“During the Vietnam war we were ordered to destroy Vietnam from the air and on the ground. At My Lai we massacred over 500 women, children and old men. This was not an aberration, it’s how we fought the war. We used Agent Orange on the enemy and then experienced first-hand its effects. We know what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder looks, feels and tastes like because the ghosts of over two million men, women and children still haunt our dreams. More of us took our own lives after returning home than died in battle.”

After reminding soldiers of these past experiences, this statement went a significant step further to openly tell them, as elders only can guide their younger colleagues, “If you choose to participate in the invasion of Iraq you will be part of an occupying army. Do you know what it is like to look into the eyes of a people that hate you to your core? You should think about what your “mission” really is. You are being sent to invade and occupy a people who, like you and me, are only trying to live their lives and raise their kids. They pose no threat to the United States even though they have a brutal dictator as their leader. Who is the US to tell the Iraqi people how to run their country when many in the US don’t even believe their own president was legally elected?

“Saddam is being vilified for gassing his own people and trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. However, when Saddam committed his worst crimes the US was supporting him. This support included providing means to produce chemical and biological weapons.  Contrast this with the horrendous result of the US-led economic sanctions. More than a million Iraqis, mainly children and infants, have died because of these sanctions. After having destroyed the entire infrastructure of their country including hospitals, electricity generators, and water treatment plants, the US then, with the sanctions, stopped the import of goods, medicines, parts, and chemicals necessary to restore even the most basic necessities of life.

“There is no honour in murder. This war is murder by another name. When, in an unjust war, an errant bomb dropped kills a mother and her child it is not ‘collateral damage,’ it is murder. When, in an unjust war, a child dies of dysentery because a bomb damaged a sewage treatment plant, it is not ‘destroying enemy infrastructure,’ it is murder. When, in an unjust war, a father dies of a heart attack because a bomb disrupted the phone lines so he could not call an ambulance, it is not ‘neutralising command and control facilities,’ it is murder. When, in an unjust war, a thousand poor farmer conscripts die in a trench defending a town they have lived in their whole lives, it is not victory, it is murder.”

Further this statement informed, “There will be veterans leading protests against this war on Iraq and your participation in it. During the Vietnam war, thousands in Vietnam and in the US refused to follow orders. Many resisted and rebelled. Many became conscientious objectors and others went to prison rather than bear arms against the so-called enemy.  During the last Gulf war many GIs resisted in various ways and for many different reasons. Many of us came out of these wars and joined with the anti-war movement.”

In a very noble call this statement went on to add, “If the people of the world are ever to be free, there must come a time when being a citizen of the world takes precedence over being the soldier of a nation. Now is that time. When orders come to ship out, your response will profoundly impact the lives of millions of people in the Middle East and here at home. Your response will help set the course of our future. You will have choices all along the way. Your commanders want you to obey. We urge you to think. We urge you to make your choices based on your conscience. If you choose to resist, we will support you and stand with you because we have come to understand that our REAL duty is to the people of the world and to our common future.”

Veterans for Peace also sent an open letter to fifteen generals and admirals in the top ranks of the US military advising them of their possible liabilities, under international law, to criminal prosecution for being part of a pre-emptive war against Iraq.

Open letter to America’s top military commanders

Dear Gentlemen,

Veterans for Peace is an organisation whose members have served with honour in the armed forces of the United States of America. Among our members we count decorated veterans of WWII, the Korean war, the Vietnam war and the Gulf war. Many served during two, and in several instance, three of these wars. Two of our members are recipients of the Medal of Honour, dozens received Silver and Bronze Stars for valour in combat, and hundreds were awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action. One of our members was a POW for over seven years in the Hanoi Hilton.

We learned the horrors of war through our military experience and we want the killing stopped. We believe it is not just enough to be against war, we must also work against war and that is the purpose of our organisation.

We, like you, know the world is a dangerous place and that our military forces are necessary for our defence. We realise that you too have seen and do not want war. War must only be the option of last resort.

We believe the war against Iraq that the US government is planning and preparing for is in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and customary international law. The judgement of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg noted, “Resort to war of aggression is not merely illegal, but is criminal.”

The principal of renunciation of the use or threat of force is now one of the fundamental principles of international law and, as such, is stated with the utmost clarity in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, which imposes definite obligations on states participating in international affairs. States are bound in their international relations to renounce “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the UN.”

The US seeks to justify a pre-emptive strike on Iraq on the basis of self-defence. Article 51 of the UN Charter permits the use of force by a state to repel an armed attack or a substantial and immediate threat to the national security of the state until the Security Council exercises jurisdiction. A threat which permits the use of force must be an immediate, specific threat to US national security and not a general threat to the Gulf region or a possible future threat. The legality of pre-emptive self-defence has been rejected on the basis that use of force to deter future use of force constitutes punitive rather than defensive action. If the US fails to gain Security Council approval for war, the US is bound by Article 51 and may not lawfully, unilaterally take military action.

It is clear that the planned massive attack on Iraq is not based upon self-defence. Iraq has not attacked the US nor does Iraq constitute an immediate and specific threat to US national security. We are not apologists for Saddam Hussein but we believe there are ways to deal with his regime without the resort to a war of aggression. Other countries and many Americans have suggested reasonable and safe alternatives.

We members of VFP remember well our military service. We swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We were informed of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the conviction and punishment of soldiers for following illegal orders. We were taught that we must not follow an illegal order. US military leadership must not only know and teach the obligations of international law but must respect and follow them.

You are in high military positions and you have awesome responsibilities under our Constitution and international law. We believe you are honourable men. We respectfully urge that you do the right thing in this terribly difficult situation. Clearly your duty is to not engage in the political leaderships’ illegal war. Many veterans will support you if you refuse to participate in an illegal war and we believe that you can successfully use your high position to warn the American people and you will be supported.

If you fail your sworn duty to the Constitution and international law by engaging in an illegal war against Iraq, we fear the US will become a rogue nation that will believe in and act on the principle that might is right to the great dishonour of all our professed values and to the great discredit of all who served in the armed services of the US so that their children and future generations could live in peace and freedom.

With great urgency.

National President, Veterans for Peace

This writer, after discussing with several friends who had been participants in several non-violent actions and movements for justice and environment protection, had at the time of before the invasion made the following appeal which got some attention when it was published. This appeal suggested—“One last effort can perhaps still be made by the peace activists after securing the cooperation of Iraq government and perhaps some neighbouring countries as well. This effort should involve about one hundred thousand people (or more if possible) from Iraq, neighbouring countries as well as volunteers from western countries and other parts of the world. These entirely unarmed people will gather every day and night at about ten strategic locations in Baghdad and perhaps some other important parts of Iraq. These people from all parts and all religions of the world will continuously say prayers and sing songs of peace. They will be entirely unarmed. They will not shout any hostile slogans. An atmosphere of complete peace and serenity will prevail at these gatherings.

“It is hoped that these huge gatherings for all religion prayers will be able to prevent the invasion. The most eminent peace loving people from all walks of life will be called from time to time to bless these gatherings. At least one such eminent person will come every day. Those who are able to stay for a few days will remain here. Various peace-loving organisations from various parts of the world will be requested to send special delegations.

“All of these people from various religions will together pray for peace and harmony in the entire world. These prayers will continue till a firm decision is taken to cancel the invasion. While several peace loving people will participate directly in these gatherings, others will take responsibilities such as arranging transport and food and ensuring that this message of peace reaches more and more people.”

In another appeal addressed more specifically to ‘Brothers and Sisters in the USA’, this writer stated, “Dear Friends, You have the privilege of living in a country which is the most powerful in the world. As a citizen of the USA you share the power-hence also the responsibility – of influencing the world events like the citizen of no other country.

“Every nation, every society has a right to pursue the welfare of its own people, but the real challenge – the test of greatness – is to ensure that this pursuit of welfare by one nation is in conformity with the welfare of other societies as well as the welfare of future generations.

“As the USA is a world leader, we the people of other parts of the world expect the USA to accept this challenge of leadership – keep its pursuit of welfare in conformity with the welfare of others and protect the environment/resource base for future generations.

“Unfortunately there is a mound of evidence which shows the failure of this leadership role. In its quest for a greater and greater share of the world’s resources, the USA has not cared for the needs and rights of other nations, nor indeed of future generations.

“With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the USA uses 30 percent of the world’s oil supply (two thirds of it just to fuel its cars and other vehicles). The USA is responsible for as much as one quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emission. It is the only country to have actually dropped an atom bomb. The heaviest ever use of chemical weapons was made by the USA in Vietnam. Dozens of assassinations/ assassination attempts of eminent leaders and/or coups to topple democratic, popular governments are more routinely attributed to the CIA by the USA’s own media.”

Noting that several eminent persons within the USA and the UK have pointed out that there was hardly any evidence to link Iraq with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, this statement said, “Yet President Bush has gone relentlessly after Iraq, mobilising perhaps the most destructive war machine ever to attack a nation already badly wounded and shattered by over two decades of war and economic sanctions.”

“Many in the world see the war against Iraq as a ploy to grab control over some of the richest oil resources of the world which may be followed by more oil-grab tactics in the Middle-East. In the process hundreds of thousands of people   including women and children may be killed, wounded and displaced.

“Can such violence may justified? Can it possibly promote the welfare of American people?

“Hundreds of thousands of protesters have already given a clear answer – no.

“In fact the violence which the USA has inflicted on other societies is reflected in the very serious levels of violence which exist within American society.

“According to World Health Report (1997), WHO, during the decade of the eighties, more than 2,00,000 people died as a result of violence and 20 million more suffered non-fatal injuries. Doesn’t this appear like a never ending internal war?” Linking internal violence to external use of force at several levels, this statement urged people to be more active in striving to reduce both kinds of violence “This is a time in the history of United States for its citizens to stand up and firmly ask the government to work for the happiness and welfare of all people, to play a leadership role in linking the country’s happiness to the happiness of all people in the world.”

While the specific context of all these statements and appeals was of course the Iraq invasion of 2001-02, but their relevance for present times of increasing world tensions is also very evident.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now.

24 March 2024

Source: countercurrents.org

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