War is all Hell

 by Brad Cotton

[published: Circleville Herald, March 13, 2012]

Shelby Foote, noted Civil War historian wrote of the unease he saw on the faces of his Southern states brethren listening to  Richard Nixon’s Vietnam era declarations that the US had never lost a war and that he wasn’t about to be the first President do so. Never lost a war. Until Vietnam, that may have been a true statement for the Union states. The Confederacy was quite acquainted with the devastation and utter demoralization resulting from being conquered and occupied. Visiting my grandmother in Murfreesboro, Tennessee during the late 1950’s into the 60’s, the peak of the civil rights struggles, I recall locals speaking hatefully of Yankees and the Federal government. The hatred lasts for generations.

Iraq knows also of being conquered and occupied. No one knows how many Iraqis were killed. Estimates range from a low of 30,000 upwards to near a million. Two million refugees have left the country. The infrastructure ; roads, water supplies, electrical grids, many cities , especially Fallujah, lay utterly in ruin. The ascendance of Iran is a direct result of our destruction of Iraq.

It is too easy to spit out numbers and terms like “one hundred thousand Iraqis dead” or “regrettable collateral civilian damage”. Surely the reality of Sherman’s destructive march to the sea is in more than just the numbers of homes, livestock and railroads eliminated. “War is all Hell” to quote General Sherman. It is Hell that we brought to Iraq, where there were no weapons of mass destruction, nor were any Iraqis on the 9/11 hijacked planes. Hell is felt most of all by the innocents.

I rode balloon tire bikes and played outdoors endlessly with the El-Bakris as a kid. Somehow a family of full-blooded Iraqis lived alongside us in Lorain County back then. This was before video games. We played for hours in the Summer throwing dirt clods at wasp nests, then running from the enraged bugs. We sledded down the hill all day in the winter. My Quaker heritage forbid us to play with toy pistols and guns.

The Circleville Quakers and Veterans for Peace sponsored “Eyes Wide Open-Ohio” yearly 2007-2010 on the Pickaway County Courthouse steps. Some of you may recall the exhibit featuring a pair of combat boots for every Ohio soldier killed in Iraq, as well as many pairs of civilian shoes to represent the civilian deaths. The shoes were from infant size, to young kids like myself and the El-Bakris, to adult men and women. I thought about the El-Bakris every time I set out the kid shoes. I think often about the young Iraq War vet who visited our display early one Sunday dawn. I found with him the three sets of combat boots with the names of his three buddies killed on the helicopter he himself was meant to be on over Fallujah that day it went down. I think of the over 6,000 of our young men killed in Iraq/Afghanistan, the 45,000 wounded, the hundreds of thousands whose PTSD makes them a stranger to their loved ones and themselves. Saying that the Iraq/Afghanistan missions were a success is like whistling in a graveyard.

Ms. Zaineb Alani, an Iraqi native and survivor of the Iran/Iraq War and the 1991 US/Iraq War spoke at our “Eyes Wide Open” event 2007. The name “Eyes Wide Open” means we must look, we must feel with open eyes, and open soul the horror of these wars. Zaineb’s poetry and words spoken at the Courthouse, among the empty combat boots and shoes should have been heard by all, especially in the White House and Pentagon. Ms. Alani will speak again Sunday March 18, remembering the 9th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, at the Scioto Valley Coffeehouse, 216 West Main at 3 PM where she will address the  current poor post-war devastation of Iraq. We hope you can attend.

Remember also to call the White House at 202-456-1111 and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at 703-571-3343, ask them to free Pvt. Bradley Manning. Pvt. Manning’s only “crime” is the release of documents and videos showing the untold human cost of the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars. Pvt. Manning compromised no national security. Like  Hugh “Buck” Thompson, the helicopter pilot at the US massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai March 1968 , who landed his craft and trained his .30 caliber weapons on US troops, thus saving many lives, Pvt. Manning is a hero of conscience. Warrant Officer Thompson, after years of abuse, was ultimately awarded the Soldier’s Medal for “the highest standards of personal courage and ethical conduct.” Pvt. Manning deserves the same.

Let us pray with “Eyes Wide Open” before we attack Iran.