Friday, July 01, 2005
They Died for Their Country
by Paul Rogat Loeb
"They died for their country," read the white granite memorial in the Concord, Massachusetts town square, honoring local men who died in the Civil War. Newer headstones mourned Concord men who gave their lives in other wars -- practically every war America has fought -- belying the recent baiting of quintessentially blue-state Massachusetts as a place whose citizens lack patriotism. I was in town, on the first anniversary of Sept 11, speaking at a local church that had lost one of its most active members on a hijacked plane, a man named Al Filipov. It was clear then -- and clearer now -- that these honored dead would not be our nation's last.
I thought of Concord when George Bush urged us, this past Memorial Day, to redeem the sacrifices of our soldiers in Iraq by "completing the mission for which they gave their lives." But what if this mission (which will, of course, claim more lives) itself is questionable, and founded on a basis of lies?
Forty-eight Concord men died in the Civil War, which the memorial called "the War of the Rebellion." They indeed died for their country, turning the tide at battles like Gettysburg and helping end the brutal oppression of slavery. The World War II vets, listed on a nearby plaque, helped preserve the freedom of America -- and the world. We owe a profound debt to the farmers and artisans who won our freedom in America's Revolution, and whose sacrifices were marked, a few miles away, with an exhibit on the battles of Lexington and Concord. It's easy for those who have lived through too many dubious wars to forget the power of their sacrifices.
But not all the Concord deaths served such lofty purposes. Three Concord men died "in the service of their country" during the Spanish-American war. This war of empire took 600,000 lives alone in our subsequent occupation of the Philippines and our suppression of the first Asian republic, prompting Mark Twain to suggest that the Filipinos adopt a modified version of our flag "with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones." Five Concord men died in Vietnam joining 58,000 other Americans, one to two million Vietnamese, and four million who died after we overthrew a long-neutral Cambodian government and paved the way for Pol Pot.. One died in our 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic, which helped prevent the return of a democratically elected president and installed a corrupt oligarch who would rule for nearly three decades.
The American soldiers who died in these wars were as brave as their compatriots in the Civil War or World War II. They undoubtedly had as much integrity in their personal lives. But their courage and sacrifice made the world neither safer nor freer. Since my visit to Concord, the memorial has added another name, a 25-year-old first lieutenant, killed a month after our forces rolled into Iraq in March of 2003, around the time that Bush spoke under that "mission accomplished" banner on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.
It's tempting to assume that all the sacrifices of our soldiers are worthwhile. But mere courage guarantees no inherent moral rightness: German and Japanese soldiers fought bravely in World War II. The September 11 hijackers were willing to surrender their lives to murder 3,000 innocent people, including Al Filipov, whose widow would initiate the peace and justice lecture series where I spoke. Even when we're told our soldiers are fighting for freedom, we have to look at the broadest consequences of their actions. For instance, an international Pew Center survey right after our Iraqi invasion found that we'd so embittered the Islamic world that majorities to near-majorities in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt now said they trusted Osama bin Laden "to do the right thing in world affairs." They now viewed him as a hero, not a murderer.
Unfortunately, those who initiated the Iraq war now use each additional American death to justify the need to stay. If we challenge this war, we're told we're being disloyal to the troops, undermining their resolve and disdaining their sacrifices. We heard this as well during Vietnam, after which the media rewrote the history of the antiwar movement to imply, through images like protestors spitting on soldiers, that those working to bring the troops home were their enemies.
By time the first Gulf War began, these images were omnipresent. Even young anti-war activists told me, "We won't spit on the soldiers this time." Yet when sociologists Jerry Starr and Richard Flacks, who worked extensively with Vietnam vets, tried to track down the story, they couldn't find a single incident of a vet who said he was actually spat upon. And when syndicated columnist Bob Greene invited responses on the subject in a column that reached 200 papers, he found only a handful.
The power of such useful myths for those who send our sons and daughters to war may erode as military families and veterans play an increasingly visible role in the current antiwar movement, though veterans and families played a key part in the Vietnam-era peace movement as well. Every time I've marched against this war, I've ended up next to someone carrying a picture of a relative in uniform, a son or brother, husband, nephew, or niece, often someone facing the involuntary servitude of being unable to leave the military long after his or her original service term had expired. But unless we can convince our fellow citizens to separate the lives of the soldiers from the policies that place them in harm's way, they'll continue to be held hostage to the choices of leaders who are insulated from the human costs.
So let's remember the debt we owe to those who have died for freedom as well as those who risk and sacrifice in the name of protecting us all. But not all wartime deaths advance human dignity, and not all sacrifices are worthwhile. If those who die for a worthy cause are indeed heroes to be honored, those who send our brave young men and women to die in wars of empire and dominion squander their courage, their trust, and ultimately their lives. To use their losses to justify further needless deaths is to betray the best of what the soldiers enlist to protect. For not all of America's wars have been worth dying in, nor are those we now fight.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, winner of the Nautilus Award for best social change book of last year.
© 2005 Paul Rogat Loeb
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International
AI Index: IOR 61/016/2005 (Public)
28 June 2005
Brussels 28 June 2005) A strong human rights agenda can help the European Union overcome its political and institutional crisis and reaffirm the EU as a Union of values, says Amnesty International in its recommendations to the UK Presidency of the EU.
Amnesty International says its human rights proposals to the UK Presidency, released today in Brussels and London, add up to an ambitious program that would strengthen the EU’s leading role on human rights both at home and abroad.
Amnesty International EU Office Director Dick Oosting said: "It is clear that the current EU crisis stems from a lack of vision of what the EU is actually for. By actively promoting the protection of human rights, the EU can project a convincing sense of purpose not only to its citizens but to the rest of the world. This will be a real test for the UK Presidency – to make the EU deliver on a strong human rights agenda."
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
"The UK should use its presidency to put the EU’s words into practice when it comes to human rights. "And it must lead the EU by example – not just in areas where we have seen positive developments, such as arms control and freedom of expression, but also closer to home on issues like counter-terrorism and asylum."
In its human rights recommendations, Amnesty International points out how the EU has taken a number of measures to strengthen its human rights capability over the past year. However, Amnesty’s assessment criticises the EU’s approach on issues such as counter-terrorism and asylum.
Amnesty International’s ten proposals for the UK Presidency of the EU:
1. Make the EU Fundamental Rights Agency the cornerstone of a proper fundamental rights order including full compliance by Member States;
2. Examine the threats to the balance between security and human rights and redress the human rights deficit in the EU’s counter-terrorism strategy;
3. Counter practices of unlawful detention and removal of foreign nationals from the EU;
4. Ensure scrupulous observance of the international protection obligations when developing the external dimension of asylum and immigration policies;
5. Promote the early ratification and implementation of the European Convention Against Trafficking.
In the world:
6. Press for more active implementation of the EU’s human rights foreign policy guidelines;
7. Reaffirm unequivocally the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment;
8. Press for a binding international Arms Trade Treaty;
9. Galvanise global support for UN reform towards the promotion and protection of human rights;
10. Assert a strong human rights dimension in the EU’s enlargement and neighbourhood policies.
Delivering on human rights - Amnesty International's ten-point program for the UK Presidency of the European Union can be downloaded from http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maadGL5abie6eciLAxLb/ from 00.01 GMT Tuesday 28 June. Journalists who wish to receive an advance copy should contact the Amnesty International office (see details below).
For further comment/background and interviews:
Amnesty International EU Office (Brussels)
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More Evidence Indicts U.S. - by Dahr Jamail, from his Iraq Dispatches Digest, June 27, 2005This is another important dispatch from Dahr Jamail, from his Iraq Dispatches Digest, Vol.10, issue 7, June 27, 2005.
More Evidence Indicts U.S.
Inter Press Service
ISTANBUL, Jun 27 (IPS) - New evidence on U.S. war crimes and violations
of international law was presented at the concluding session of the
World Tribunal on Iraq at hearings in Istanbul Sunday.
The World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) is a 'peoples' court' set up by
academics, human rights campaigners and non-governmental organisations
to take an independent look at the Iraq record of the United States and
other occupying powers such as Britain. The tribunal was inspired by the
Russel Tribunal of the Vietnam war days.
The three-day tribunal, the 21st in a series of meetings held over the
last two years, was held against a background of another spurt of
violence that left 41 people dead in bombings Sunday. The dead included
four U.S. soldiers, three of them women.
The tribunal says it derives its legitimacy from the fact that a war of
aggression was launched on Iraq "despite the opposition of people and
governments all over the world." It adds: "However, there is no court or
authority that will judge the acts of the U.S. and its allies. If the
official authorities fail, then authority derived from universal morals
and human rights principles can speak for the world."
The last sitting took place before a 'jury of conscience' that included
author Arundhati Roy and Francois Houtart who participated in the
Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal on U.S. Crimes in Vietnam. In all
54 persons gave testimony on several aspects of the invasion and the
occupation of Iraq.
"The assault on Iraq is an assault on all of us: on our dignity, our
intelligence, and our future," Roy said at the hearings.. "We recognise
that the judgment of the World Tribunal on Iraq is not binding in
international law. However, our ambitions far surpass that. The World
Tribunal on Iraq places its faith in the consciences of millions of
people across the world who do not wish to stand by and watch while the
people of Iraq are being slaughtered, subjugated, and humiliated."
Denis Halliday, former assistant secretary-general of the United Nations
who resigned in protest against sanctions on Iraq said during his
testimony that "the UN silently accepted the totally illegal no-fly zone
bombing by the U.S../UK of Iraq culminating in softening up attacks
preliminary to the unlawful invasion of 2003."
Halliday said that "by these various means, the UN has itself destroyed
the basic human rights of the Iraqi people through the wilful neglect of
Articles 22-28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN
failed to protect and safeguard the children and people before and after
the 2003 invasion."
Thomas Fasy, associate professor of pathology at the Mount Sinai School
of Medicine in New York, provided evidence of a seven-fold increase in
congenital malformations of Iraqi babies from 1990-2001.
Fasy also testified that childhood cancers and leukemia in children
below five in the Basra governorate increased 26-fold over 1990-2002.
Fadhil Al Bedrani, a BBC and Reuters journalist who was in Fallujah
during the November siege, provided evidence of collective punishment of
civilians by U.S. forces.
Iraqi women's rights supporter Hana Ibrahim said women suffer 90 percent
unemployment, and are often the victims of rape, lawlessness, forced
prostitution and kidnappings.
"From the day that the occupation started in Iraq there was a systematic
violation of women and their rights," she said.
Herbert Docena, researcher with the group 'Focus on the Global South'
who has studied Iraq's reconstruction and political transition pointed
to the economic and political forces behind the invasion and occupation
"As early as February 2003, the U.S. had finished drafting what the Wall
Street Journal called 'sweeping plans to remake Iraq's economy in the
US's image'," Docena said. "Just as the U.S. bombed out and physically
obliterated almost all of Iraq's ministries, the plan entails the repeal
of almost all of its current laws and the dismantling of its existing
institutions, except those that already fit in with the U.S. design."
The jury in its ruling "recognised the right of the Iraqi people to
resist the illegal occupation of their country."
It recommended "immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all occupation
forces" and called on "the governments of the coalition to pay full
compensation to Iraqis for any and all damages, and that all laws,
contracts, treaties and institutions created under the occupation that
Iraqi people deem harmful or un-useful to them be banished."
Other recommendations included immediate investigation of crimes against
humanity by U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony
Blair, and every other president of countries belonging to the coalition.
In addition, the jury called for a process of accountability to bring to
justice journalists and media outlets that lied and promoted the
violence against Iraq, as well as corporations who have profited from
Iraq Dispatches from Dahr Jamail, Independent Journalist in Iraq, June 27 2005An impassioned letter from an Iraqi citizen to the American people is included in this dispatch. Please read on:
June 27, 2005
Wake up Calls
The jury of conscience has just released it's recommendations after the
culminating session of the World Tribunal on Iraq came to its
conclusion. I'll post the news story I wrote on this later, which will
provide more details.
I will add now, as a preface to a letter I received just now from an
Iraqi who asked me to pass it on to the American people, that the jury
made the following recommendations:
"The recommendations made by the jury included the demand for an
immediate, unconditional withdraw of all occupation forces, the
governments of the coalition to pay full compensation to Iraqis for any
and all damages, and that all laws, contracts, treaties and institutions
created under the occupation that Iraqi people deem harmful or un-useful
to them be banished.
Other recommendations included immediate investigations of crimes
against humanity for Mr. George Bush, Tony Blair, and every other
president of countries belonging to the coalition. In addition, the jury
called for a process of accountability to begin to bring justice to
journalists and media outlets that lied and promoted the violence
against Iraq, as well as including corporations who have profited from
Here is the letter from my friend:
>From an Iraqi citizen to the American people:
We always have thought that you are citizens; away from the savageness
many people in the world because you suffered from the injustice of your
more than two hundred and fifty years ago. Therefore, you picked up
weapons against the occupiers until you forced him to go out of your
state which was a great victory for you.
Naturally, this occupier was giving unreasonable justifications for his
stay in your country. Like any occupation, no country ever admit that
they occupy some land but always says that they are a liberator of the
people who are then unable to govern themselves and so on.
Such reasons cannot change the origin of occupation.
Nowadays, your army is occupying our homeland, destroying our homes and
killing our men, women, and our children. The occupation is leaving this
country full of chaos to the point we are now facing so many disasters,
including suffering from looting and robbery.
Sudden attacks and cruel murders have been perpetrated by your army who
then prevent all people from submitting judicial complaints. This
encourages all soldiers to kill thoughtlessly without any threat of trial.
We have seen our Holy Quran desecrated by soldiers, but you continue to
say your soldiers do not do what the Mogul and Barbarians did in the
lands they occupied.
Your soldiers did many immoral acts but your government leaders have
done even more.
We, the Iraqi people, do not put the responsibility of this on your
shoulders because you are a people and not your government. But when the
people have a decision in the fate of their country and decide to go in
a direction which only benefits the government, this means that the
people are satisfied with their governments' actions.
When you elected Mr. Bush for the second time, this was a declaration
from you of being satisfied with all his acts in violation of the
holiness of a state which shares a place with yours in the United
Nations Security Council
Has the age of occupation returned back to a place where agreements and
treaties and international laws which forbid aggression are useless?
When the people who chose to defend their land and reject the occupier
are then described by your government as a terrorist? How long have you
heard that an occupation which continues will have no resistance against
it? Do you refer to the patriots of your own country as terrorists in
your history books?
Have you ever heard that there is a peaceful occupation? One that ended
in victory for the occupier?
American people, please remember the land of Iraq and remember the Iraqi
people and think of yourselves as if you were in our place. In this way
you will realize what Iraqis suffer.
I am an Iraqi who bears no grudge against any person all over the world.
We simply wish that other people may realize our suffering now,
especially the people who do not support their thoughtless governments
and their aggressive acts. For the people who support these corrupted
governments will be responsible for them, and history will hold them
responsible for allowing this tragedy to have occurred.
This will be a shame on their ancestors who will not be able to hide
this black page of history.
Thank to the American people for listening attentively, and I am wishing
you reasonableness and the ability to comprehend the truth.
This is unabridged from Iraq Dispatches Digest - Vol.10 issue 7 by Dahr Jamail, Independent Journalist in Iraq, with his permission to re-publish on this site. Look here for more of these important dispatches about the situation in Iraq - as it unfolds, NOT as it is 'hyped', misrepresented, abridged or ignored by the commercial, corporate, mainstream media.