This is an incredibly moving article, written by Clare Bayard of the Catalyst Project. Many of us have participated in the struggle to end the war in Iraq, and Clare’s article is a powerful reminder why.
NOT ONE MORE, WAR
by Clare Bayard, March 25 2008
Last night, I stood over a thousand candles on the lawn in front of San Francisco’s City Hall. Veterans for Peace had organized a vigil to mark the official 4,000 U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, which technically happened Sunday, March 24th. As people began reading the last 1,000 names aloud, my whole body suddenly wracked with mourning. My chest was exploding and I knew it wasn’t a coronary or panic attack, but grief saturated me so thoroughly I could barely stand. Loved ones held me up as we mourned together; I could hardly let go of a former Marine friend who chose military jail instead of Iraq, and I had never felt such frantic, choking relief to have him standing alive beside me. I can’t imagine the world without him now.
I say “technical count” because we don’t even have the numbers to do the math, which means the full picture is beyond our grasp:
4,000 official U.S. servicemembers killed
1-6,000 U.S. servicemember suicides- inadmissible as war casualties
over a thousand nonmilitary contractors, civilians, etc.
how many debilitating injuries?
Plus how many deeply affected partners, parents, family members, friends, lovers in the life of each one of these tens of thousands? The children they might have had, and the ones some already did?
…and, echoing in barely broken silence, the deaths of 650,000 to over a million Iraqis.
A Presbyterian minister, who participates in a similar annual vigil for the deaths of San Francisco’s homeless people, began the ritual with a nondenominational invocation. She spoke of the tremendous loss of so many humans with all their talents and creativities, everything they might have brought to their communities.
I feel lucky to be alive today, walking in the spring sun and holding the fierce grief of so many deaths. I feel lucky that my father, a Vietnam Vet, is alive instead of a name on the black granite Wall in D.C., lucky that I was born.
But war doesn’t play duck-duck-goose, bypassing most people entirely and just taking a scatter of heads. No one in Iraq lives separate from the war, and in a dramatically different way neither do we in the U.S.
War defines daily reality in occupied lands. Where wars are being fought in the streets and skies, where depleted uranium underfoot rises in plumes of dust and a sudden noise might be the last thing you hear, war is everything from the toxic air to the mined soil. In the U.S. there is a myth that war is just happening “over there” where bombs are vaporizing houses and human bodies. As if war was not already here, and as if the multi-variant violence of militarism does not return in the body of every veteran, alive or dead.
My perspective on this is profoundly shaped by being raised by a veteran father; the war on Vietnam lived in my house every day when I was growing up. I was lucky enough to be born. To be housed. 1 in 4 homeless people in my city are veterans. My dad’s class and race privilege and my mom’s waged and unwaged work kept us housed and together, even though the war has never let him go. And in a way, I have come to understand myself as lucky to be the child of a war veteran, in the ways that it helps me to keep my heart alive during the crushing numbness of this “endless war.” I cannot see, or feel myself as disconnected from war—either from those murdered by U.S. occupation, or those within the ranks of our military who are struggling to stay human.
War comes into homefront communities in many ways. It is the wartime economy, where every bomb explodes twice: once shattering lives in Fallujah, Karbala, Basra; then burning up our schools and universities, healthcare, levees, social system. It is the racist dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims that inflames hate crimes of street violence and hate crimes of state legislature. It is where “security” means genocide, and none of us are made at all safer by U.S. empire expanding. And war comes into our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces and social spaces, cloaked in the silent roar of a taboo topic: how veterans return from war carrying the violence of militarism. Some kill themselves quickly, with a bullet or a rope, and even when these deaths occur on a base they are not part of the official tally. These 4,000 recognized deaths are the tip of the iceberg of U.S. war casualties. Domestic violence murders, almost entirely women, don’t qualify even when under the clearest circumstances. Other vets die slowly, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, often on the streets. Many strain enough healing through gritted teeth to put their life back together, supported by their loved ones, not by their government, not by the drivers of SUVs decorated with yellow ribbons, and largely not by the peace movement.
I do not mourn these 4000 deaths (and the other invisibilized U.S. deaths) any more than the uncounted Iraqi lives, nor any less. The judgment that some lives are disposable is part of what we are struggling against, in demanding justice and peace. I don’t hold these 4000 accountable for engineering this war, nor do I excuse them for participating. To do so would remove their agency in the situation, and dishonor the choices that many U.S. soldiers are making every day to refuse orders, resist compliance with occupation. I won’t devalue the choices that the majority of young people in this country are making to not enlist at all, despite the outrageous lack of options facing them, especially working-class kids and youth of color. Every day, people act to resist the U.S. military, from around the world, from within its ranks. And how do we know how many of those names read out last night belong to resisters? How many were carrying an unloaded weapon, like Agustin Aguayo did for a year while the Army denied his conscientious objector status? How many were considering going AWOL? How many were pursuing, if they knew the option existed, a conscientious objector status? How many had done something recently to stand up to racism, misogyny, or some random violence within their unit?
Mostly we’ll never know because now their mouths are filled with dirt and their stories will be carried only by those surviving them. The singers among them, the writers, the kid who was so good at math, the girl with the fierce will, the boy who protected his best friend from queerbashers, the dreamers, the confused, the 20 year old with a 2 year old daughter, the one who died so homesick, the one who learned Arabic to talk to the neighborhood kids, all the ones you and I will never meet, who died in a country that’s losing millions of its people to death and escape.
We do not stop organizing. We can’t. But as we keep organizing, we do also need to mourn. It keeps us human to mourn, to truly recognize the grievous loss of millions of people, to stand with their loved ones in remembrance and in defiance—to spit in the face of war. We say: no more lives, war, we will not feed you. All of us are needed, and war, we shall starve you.
Clare Bayard heads the Anti-War program of Catalyst Project, organizing to connect work against wars abroad with domestic racial and economic justice struggles, and building the G.I. resistance support movement. Clare serves on the National Committee and Organizing Task Force of the War Resisters League, an organization that seeks to end all wars and the root causes of war.
Check out the brand new Iraq Veterans Against the War’s Winter Soldier hearings archive at: www.warcomeshome.org
Please bring your political and financial support to organizations that are supporting antiwar veterans and troops who refuse to fight.
www.ivaw.org— Iraq Veterans Against the War
www.servicewomen.org— Servicewomen’s Action Network
www.couragetoresist.org— Courage to Resist