Spring Break for Iraq

By David Swanson

I’m honored to have been included in this event and applaud what Our Spring Break and DC Students for a Democratic Society are doing here in cold, wet Washington, D.C., for spring break.

We’re now at 6 years of bloody and horrific occupation of Iraq, and 7.5 years in Afghanistan. That means that most college students in the United States were not yet college students when this began. Opposing something that you grow up with takes more wisdom and more nerve, and yet we see young people in this town and in this country opposing the way old people have always destroyed the environment, the way old people have always borrowed and misspent money, and the way our nation treats other people around the world exactly as we teach little children never to treat each other.

Little children in Iraq and Afghanistan have grown up with these wars and been scarred by them in ways it’s hard to think about very long. An Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush, and who could – if he chose – be elected president of Iraq in three years when they let him out of prison at age 33, was only 24 when this occupation began. And for a decade before that, he knew our nation through the sanctions we imposed and bombs we dropped on his. We’ve now built permanent U.S. military bases all over his country, which most people there — including U.S. generals — believe we will never abandon.

Meanwhile we don’t provide housing, basic shelter to our own people, to the people of this city, much less the people of Iraq, 5 million of whom have been displaced from their homes, over a million killed, many millions injured, virtually everyone’s family impacted in a way that’s not familiar to most parts of America outside of New Orleans.

And what have we learned in 6 years? Many Americans have learned that the war in Iraq was based on lies and have learned to be suspicious of similar lies about Iran. But some have not yet learned to oppose war as an instrument of policy, because the occupation of Afghanistan is not yet as unpopular as the one in Iraq. And I doubt most Americans know that we pay to maintain a thousand bases in nations around the world, or the harm they do.

What has been learned has in large part been taught by the peace movement. We knew 6 years ago and a year before that, that this war would be fraudulent, illegal, and disastrous. Many of you knew it and could have served better in Congress than the actual Congress members if you hadn’t been busy attending high school.

Today there are hearings in Congress on suicides in the US military. The people we recruit to commit our crimes now end up killing themselves at an alarming rate. If that finally wakes up a few of the zombies roaming Capitol Hill, it won’t be a moment too soon. But it has to be asked: Where are the hearings for Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Palestinians? A victim of US torture testified last year via satellite to a nearly empty committee room, after which Congressman Rohrabacher explained to him that in a war mistakes must be tolerated. And our senators now talk about truth and reconciliation, oblivious to the fact that involving the people with whom we need reconciliation is literally unthinkable. The idea, instead, is for us to get reconciled with ourselves. Tell me this: will you ever be reconciled with your nation committing war crimes? Will you?

I’m glad students want a democratic society. If we had direct democracy or even reasonable representation — something that DC doesn’t even have the pretense of — every soldier, mercenary, and contractor would have come home from Iraq years ago. A solid majority of Americans has opposed this occupation for years. And about half and rising now oppose the occupation of Afghanistan as well.

A democratic society cannot coexist with the presidential powers seized by Bush and now being maintained and expanded by Obama. A democratic society does not have secret government agencies, secret laws, laws rewritten by the executive, one man with the power of war, one man with the power of the purse, one man with the power of treaty. Yet President Obama, who to his credit has said he will end torture and close one of the many places where we detain people outside the law, last week wrote a signing statement telling Congress not to interfere in his Constitutional power to make treaties, despite the fact that the Constitution says two-thirds of the senate must approve any treaty.

We are being sold changiness when we asked for transformational change. We’re done with extraordinary rendition, but rendition will now be ordinary. We have no more enemy combatants, but we are detaining hundreds of combative nemeses. Yesterday I got an Email from Amnesty International asking me to object to Obama reviving Bush’s policies. Well, they never died and they are not policies. They are what we used to call crimes. Also yesterday, the ACLU finally, finally, finally — FINALLY! — came to its senses and asked the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor and enforce the law.

And yet too many in the peace movement don’t want to talk about the law, even the laws against aggressive war. Many don’t even want to talk about wars, preferring to talk about military spending. And we must talk about military spending, but doing that alone will not end wars. And the wars are just as bloody no matter who is sleeping in the White House. It’s easier to talk about money now that everything that needs it lacks it, but it’s also harder because we now have toy money, borrowed from China or invented by the Fed at the drop of a hat and in military quantities.

We may even end up halting some weapons programs, especially weapons that don’t work or are designed to fight the Soviet Union or the Japanese fleet. But this Congress and president want to increase the overall budget for killing. This will be a victory against corruption on behalf of the greatest moral corruption known to our species.

For what we’re giving to bankers we could give tens of thousands of dollars to every American, but for what we’re spending — including indirect economic costs — on the occupation of Iraq, we could give $100,000 to every Iraqi.

Let’s get our priorities straight — including ending wars not just because they are badly fought or corruptly managed, but because they kill human beings.

End the occupations.

End the missile strikes.

Close the bases.

Bring our brothers and sisters home.

Prosecute the war criminals.

And create a truth and reconciliation commission that reconciles the United States with the other 95 percent of humanity.

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