Iraqi Students Wonder
What U.S. Goal is With War
by Leah Wells*, March 23, 2003
Few dialogues have taken place between Iraqi and
American students on the topic of war in recent months. It seems
remarkable that even when governments have ceased talking, students
across the time zones are able to find a way to communicate their
fears, concerns, angers and dreams to one another.
Recently, eight students from Santa Barbara and
seven students from Baghdad talked to each other in radio stations
for nearly two hours. The talk was candid. We asked them about
liberation, an argument for the war that has won over many Americans.
Answering honestly, they felt anything but grateful for the prospect
of 3,000 bombs falling on their city. What good will liberation
be if they're all dead?
The students asked what authority we Americans
have to impose our will on them. They reminded us that their nation
in the 1950s had risen up to overthrow a monarchy that did not
serve the people. What right have we, they asked, to determine
who should rule their country, and how? Even if they exist in
an imperfect system, the only truly democratic reform could happen
from the inside. No one mentioned the end of the first Gulf War,
in which the first President Bush asked the Shiites in the south
to rise up against Saddam Hussein only to be disavowed by the
U.S. military, which had promised the resisters protection.
Our Iraqi friends not so gently reminded us that
ours is the only country to have used nuclear weapons of mass
destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The students grilled us about why we don't do more
to end war. Those of us sitting in the room were speechless. We
all feel like we do so much: We write, we speak, we organize,
we demonstrate and we work nonviolently to persuade public opinion
that this war is one of the saddest, most unhealthy and insane
policies ever proposed on Earth. Yet, they struck the Achilles'
heel of the peace movement, the well-intentioned people here in
the United States who cannot get it together enough to galvanize
voters to elect true representatives and initiate real reform,
even with all our constitutional freedoms. We pacifist Americans
who have had nominal successes and noble failures need to start
playing to win, said the Iraqi students. Regime change starts
at home, they prodded.
Joining most recently two career U.S. foreign diplomats
and a host of other United Nations officials such as Hans von
Sponeck and Denis Halliday, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
resigned, stating that he could not accept responsibility for
what Britain was prepared to do in concert with the United States
and Spain. These folks have put their careers on the line for
peace. What's holding us back? Why did we not speak out before,
addressing some of the real underlying concerns? Few address the
issue of the sanctions, the more than 12 years of deprivation
at the hands of the United Nations Sanctions Committee, commandeered
by the United States and Great Britain. No one talks about the
relocation of the marsh Arabs in Iraq, done by the current Iraqi
regime under the watchful eye of the United States and Great Britain
in the southern no-fly zones. And who in the United States was
mourning the Kurdish massacre last year at this time? CNN certainly
I couldn't help but think of my freshman seminar
in college called "The Decline and Fall of Empires."
We studied the last days of Greece, Rome, Sweden, Spain and Great
Britain. The Azores Summit smacked of irony, placing two of the
world's great fallen empires on podiums next to the United States.
It seems like we are following the legacy of all those nations,
cutting spending on social programs, over-extending our military
resources and acting not in our own self-interest on crucial domestic
Despite the United Nations, our former allies --
France, Germany and Russia and maybe even China -- the pleadings
of Iraqi students and a massive people's movement worldwide, my
country has decided to plunge further into the wrongness of this
The conversation with Iraqi students punctuated
all the experiences I have had with friends there. Our group concurred
that bombing Iraq is different now that we know people, now that
we have heard their stories and their frustrations. We lamented
that if more people had a personal connection, it would be harder
to support the war.
And all of us sank in our chairs when our friends
said they hoped to be alive to have another conversation with
us, feeling both guilty and lucky that we are bound to our friends
in Iraq because we know each other's stories and names.
* Leah C. Wells
recently returned from her third trip to Iraq. She is Peace Education
Coordinator at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.