Increase the peace II

“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government. … For the sake of humanity I cannot be silent.”

—Martin Luther King Jr. as quoted last year on a Reno Antiwar Coalition flier

“I-R-A-Q! We don’t want a war with you!”

About this time last year, 80 local activists from churches, political groups and area schools gathered at Reno’s main library for a peace march. They paraded up the street and around the Thompson Federal Building, carrying signs, flags and electric lights.

A critic shouted at the protesters from his car: “Why don’t you all go back to Iraq? This is America!”

Protests across the nation didn’t change the course of history. We would go to war in the Middle East and oust Saddam Hussein.

Recently, I received an e-mail forward containing what purported to be a speech from a commanding officer in the U.S. Marines. The e-mail began with a greeting, “Pro- or anti-war, weapons of mass destruction or none, this is what the war in Iraq was all about.” It went on to list the progress that had been achieved in Iraq since President Bush pronounced an end to combat in May. Here are a few items from the list:

• All 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges are now open, as are nearly all primary and secondary schools.

• All 240 hospitals and more than 1,200 clinics are open.

• Pharmaceutical distribution has gone from essentially nothing to 700 tons in May to a current total of 12,000 tons.

• The Coalition has helped administer over 22 million vaccinations to Iraq’s children.

• There are 4,900 full-service telephone connections.

• Iraqi banks are making loans to finance businesses.

• There are more than 170 newspapers.

• Political opponents aren’t imprisoned, tortured, executed, maimed or forced to watch their families die for disagreeing with Saddam.”

These gains sound positive, heartwarming. From what I can tell, they are accurately reported. But they don’t convey the whole story.

Note that the speaker didn’t mention weapons of mass destruction—the stated purpose for war in Iraq. President Bush didn’t send U.S. troops to the Middle East to ensure a free press, better banking and full-service telecommunications.

Another thing: United States-led sanctions against Iraq were what kept Iraq hospitals in the Stone Age for more than a decade. We kept the nation from selling its oil on the world market, thus stalling needed fixes in education and health care.

Finally, the optimistic speech didn’t count the cost.

At last tally, 591 members of the Iraq Coalition killed—most from the U.S. military—and 2,849 wounded.

Nearly 8,000 Iraqi civilians killed.

Hundreds of Iraqis held—without trials or even charges filed—in makeshift U.S. prisons.

An estimated $1.9 trillion spent on war and reconstruction costs.

The good will of the international community lost. By launching a preemptive strike against a weaker nation, the United States flouted due process and international law.

By invoking havoc in Iraq on behalf of freedom and democracy, we’ve actually subverted both. The nagging national insecurity that’s plagued us since Sept. 11, 2001, has not been assuaged. Osama is still at large. Saddam’s capture has not put an end to terrorism.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, local activists will again gather, this time to deliver thousands of peace-symbolizing paper cranes to Nevada legislators.

Perhaps we’ll be reminded that, as King said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”