Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2005, pages 68-69

Human Rights

“Eyes Wide Open” Boot Display Shows Impact of War

A volunteer lights a candle next to a combat boot on the church steps (photo M. Keating).

THE NATIONAL CITY Christian Church hosted the traveling memorial exhibition, “Eyes Wide Open: The Human Cost of War,” sponsored by the American Friends Service Commitee, from Jan. 19 to 21—just in time for Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. More than 1,300 pairs of combat boots filled the church pews, representing U.S. soldiers who have died during the Iraq war. Lining the walls of the church were photos of Iraqi men, women, and children surrounded by 1,000 pairs of shoes, tiny sandals, slippers, sneakers and scuffed high heels, representing a small fraction of the 100,000 Iraqi civilians who have been killed.

Visitors walked silently through a church exhibition hall examining quilts made by American schoolchildren with messages like “We’re sorry, kids,” from the children of Chestertown, MD to the children of Fallujah, where, a message on the quilt noted, 10 Iraqi children were killed on March 29, 2003. High school students sent American flags constructed with photos of fallen soldiers. Visitors wept after reading a soldier’s love letters to his girlfriend, included in a collage made by the family of Jeff M. Lucey, who was killed on June 22, 2004. Large informational displays described the human and financial costs of this war.

A candlelight ceremony on the steps of the church followed. As speakers who had lost loved ones addressed a solemn audience outside the church in the frigid temperatures of Inauguration Day, helicopters flying overhead and nearby police sirens frequently drowned out their voices, as limousines and buses ferried inaugural guests to the many balls being held.

Sue Neiderer, who lost her son, Seth Devon, wondered why President George W. Bush had to have a $40 million party. “How many people have been killed today while he’s out partying?” she asked. Celeste Zappala described her “sweet child,” National Guardsman Sherwood Baker, as someone who was raised to serve the community. He opposed the invasion for which he gave his life. Cindy Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed on April 4, said she felt it was inappropriate to celebrate when so many people are in harm’s way.

These mothers and other members of Gold Star Families for Peace (parents who have lost a son or daughter to fighting in Iraq) and Military Families for Peace repeatedly have asked to see President Bush or Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Their calls and letters are not returned. “I want Rumsfeld to meet me, look me in the eye, and apologize both to me and to our nation for getting us into this,” Neiderer concluded.

An hour of silence, according to Quaker tradition, was followed by the reading of names of fallen soldiers, contractors and some Iraqi civilians killed in the war.

Delinda C. Hanley

Activist/Author/Peacemaker Peggy Faw Gish Visits Iowa

Peacemakers Marian Solomon (l) and Peggy Faw Gish at the Ames Public Library (photo M. Gillespie).

Peggy Faw Gish, who worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq before the invasion and during the occupation, spoke to a large and receptive crowd at the Ames Public Library on Dec. 3.

“We get in the way of injustice when we see it,” said Gish, explaining the CPT philosophy. “We have the ”˜grandmother effect.’ There are things that you wouldn’t do if your grandmother were watching, and there are things soldiers won’t do if other people are watching.”

Gish led a delegation of 13 CPTers to Iraq in October 2002, the first team to visit the country since the first Gulf war, and has been back several times since. She spoke of her experience in the war-torn occupied country, and of her own and others’ efforts to make peace there.

“Before the war, we did a lot of public vigils, we were out on the street there in Iraq,” said Gish. “We documented the problems and suffering caused by the years of sanctions.”

In her book about her experiences, Iraq: A Journey of Hope and Peace (Herald Press, 2004), Gish writes movingly about her experiences in Iraq. After a group of CPT members were involved in an automobile accident and injured, Gish talked with an Iraqi doctor who had just attended to the injured CPTers. Though his town was being bombed by U.S. military aircraft, the doctor refused to accept payment from Gish for treating the injuries, saying, “Christians, Muslims, Jews, Iraqis, or Americans, you are all our brothers and sisters, and we will take care of you.”

Later, once the occupation was established, Gish and other CPTers assisted Iraqis attempting to communicate with occupation forces. They dealt directly with the confusion, fear, and anger of American soldiers ill-prepared for occupation duty. They also saw the violence associated with Iraqi resistance to the occupation.

“We have a lot of false images of Islam,” said Gish. “I believe Islam is a peaceful religion.”

Gish said she sees suicide bombings as the weapon of the powerless and understands how people become so desperate that they resort to suicide bombing.

“I wouldn’t want Christianity judged by some of the horrible things Christians have done,” she said.

According to Gish, Iraqis see interim Prime Minister Ayad Alawi as a puppet of the United States government. Noting that the U.S. military seems to be trying to pit Shi’i Muslims against Sunni Muslims in a divide-and-conquer strategy, she warned that there is a danger civil war will develop.

Gish was introduced by Ames activist Marian Solomon, who worked with Gish and other CPTers in Iraq in November 2002.

Michael Gillespie

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