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Perspective: When Compassion Becomes Dissent

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  • NHNE
    NHNE News List Current Members: 767 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... Thanks to Tom Atlee. ... WHEN COMPASSION BECOMES
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2003
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      NHNE News List
      Current Members: 767
      Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message.

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      Thanks to Tom Atlee.

      ------------

      WHEN COMPASSION BECOMES DISSENT
      By David James Duncan
      Orion Magazine
      January/February 2003

      on the post-9/11 struggle to teach creative writing
      while awaiting the further annihilation of Iraq

      http://www.oriononline.org/pages/om/03-1om/Duncan.html


      1. I HAVE BEEN SERVING MY COUNTRY, this deceptively serene Rocky
      Mountain autumn, as a visiting instructor of creative writing at the
      University of Montana. I lead two classes, each three hours long,
      with twenty students all told. My students are not "aspiring writers"
      exactly: they're the real thing, and in two months time their
      collective intensity, wit, and talent have lifted our joint
      undertaking into the realm of arduous but steady pleasure. Yet as the
      semester unfolds and we listen to President Bush and his various
      goaders and backers wage a rhetorical war on Iraq and prepare an
      increasingly vague national "we" to lay waste to Saddam Hussein, the
      mere teaching of creative writing has come to feel, for the first
      time in my life, like a positively dissident line of work.

      Creative writing requires a dual love of language and of life, human
      and otherwise. The storyteller then sculpts these raw loves with
      acute observation, reflection, creative struggle, allegiance to
      truth, merciless awareness of the foibles of human beings, and
      unstinting empathy toward human beings even so. Not only have these
      strategies foundered in the post-9/11 rhetoric of the Bush
      administration, they look to me to have been outlawed by two recent
      federal documents: the "2002 National Security Strategy for the
      United States" and the 107th Congress's "Patriot Act."

      Had I been invited to proofread these puffed-up rhetorical works with
      the same critical eye I am paid to apply to student rough drafts, I'd
      have been forced to tell their authors that they had composed two
      half-truth-telling, hypocrisy-laden pieces of sociopathic cant and
      that they should throw them away and start over. Both works redefine
      Earth as a heavenly body whose countries and cultures the Bush
      administration and Congress were appointed to judge and police. Both
      are based on the belief that opposing Bush rhetoric is traitorous,
      that spying on neighbors and friends is patriotic, that fighting for
      our personal freedom "obstructs enhanced surveillance procedures,"
      that manufacturing and exporting weapons of destruction are our
      greatest protection against weapons of destruction, that terrorizing
      the citizens of other nations is the greatest safeguard against
      terrorist acts against our own nation, that biological health, a
      sustainable natural economy, and the conservation of ecosystems are
      beneath consideration in this time of red-white-and-blue crisis, and
      that a daily life of compassion and self-examination is the naïve
      position of sentimentalists and weaklings.

      In such an America the teaching of creative writing is one of
      countless professions that has been inadvertently redefined as
      dissident. This puts me in an odd position. Having signed a contract
      to teach before Bush/Cheney/Powell's "New America" existed, and
      knowing only the former America's literary methods, I'm left no
      choice but to instruct my students in how to become what the new
      national lexicon might call "better unAmericans."


      2. ANOTHER EXAMPLE of how the New America forces literature into a
      dissident position is Bush's presumption (stated in the National
      Security Strategy, page 5) that it is the New America's "clear
      responsibility to history" to "rid the world of evil." As a lifelong
      student of the world's wisdom literature, it is my duty to inform
      students that "ridding the world of evil" is a goal very different
      from any recommended by Jesus, Buddha, or Muhammad, though not so
      different from some recommended by the Josephs Stalin and McCarthy
      and by Mao Tse Tung. In wisdom literature the principal evil to be
      attacked by the person of faith is the evil in oneself, and a
      secondary evil to be opposed is the power of anyone who victimizes
      the weak. The National Security Strategy, on the other hand, is a
      call for unquestioning obedience to and financial support of the Bush
      administration's desire to commit our bodies, minds, ravaged
      ecosystems, work force, and soldiers to an unspecified series of
      international bullying actions. Regardless of what we think of this
      as "patriots," those of us who maintain a politically unfashionable
      love for the world's scriptures can't help but notice that this
      document is a hell of a step down in the canon of literature by which
      people of faith direct their lives.

      Another bone I must pick with Bush's aim to "rid the world of evil"
      is with its authorship. As a novelist, I daily concoct speeches
      destined to emerge from the mouths of fictitious characters. This
      practice compels me to point out that, every time he speaks formally
      (which is to say, reads), the president is less himself than a
      fictitious construct pretending to think thoughts placed in his mouth
      by others. Thus we see, for example, Bush confusing the words
      "region" and "regime" as he stands before the U.N. pretending to
      think thoughts that necessitate war. I'm not making fun of these
      stumbles. It must be hard to enunciate or understand a daily stream
      of words you have not written, creatively struggled with, or
      reflected upon prior to pretending, with all the world watching, to
      think them. The good thing about this lack of authenticity is that
      Bush may not be such as fool as to believe he can "rid the world of
      evil"; the horrific thing about it is that our military might and
      foreign policy are being deployed as if he can. This massive pretense
      does not imply that Bush is a liar. It implies, far more seriously,
      that the U.S. presidency itself has become a pretense, hence a lie.

      This brings me back to the impossibility of teaching creative writing
      under the pretentious new National Security Strategy without seeming
      dissident. As a voluntary professional fiction writer and involuntary
      amateur liar, I'm here to tell you that fiction-making and lying are
      two different things. To write War and Peace required imaginative
      effort. To embezzle money from a bank does, too. It should not be
      necessary to explain even to Jesse Helms that this does not make
      Tolstoy a bank robber. War and Peace is an imaginative invention but
      also, from beginning to end, a truth-telling and a gift-giving. We
      know before reading a sentence that Tolstoy "made it all up," but
      this making is as altruistic and disciplined as the engineering of a
      cathedral. It uses mastery of language, spectacular acts of empathy,
      and meticulous insight into a web of individuals and a world to
      present a man's vast, haunted love for his Russian people. And we as
      readers get to recreate this love in ourselves. We get to reenter the
      cathedral.

      A lie is also an imaginative invention, but only on the part of the
      liar. In hearing a lie we can't share in its creativity. Only the
      liar knows he's lying. The only "gift" a lie therefore gives anyone
      is belief in something that doesn't exist. This is the cruelty of all
      lies. There is no corresponding cruelty in fiction. To lie is to
      place upon the tongue, page, or television screen words designed to
      suppress or distort the truth, usually for the sake of some
      self-serving agenda.

      I fear that the Bush administration's claim that Iraq must be
      attacked, defeated, and occupied for America's domestic safety is
      just such a distortion, and that its chief aim is the embezzlement
      not of cash but of Iraq's oil reserves -- the third largest on Earth.
      I hope to heaven I'm wrong, but the $73 million Dick Cheney's cohorts
      at Halliburton have in recent years invested in oil infrastructure in
      Iraq despite the presence of Saddam casts a hell of a shadow over my
      hope, as do the words of Senator Richard Lugar (R., Indiana) of the
      Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who during the July/August 2002
      hearings on Iraq said, "We are going to run the oil business, we are
      going to run it well, we are going to make money, and it's going to
      help pay for the rehabilitation of Iraq because there is money there!"


      3. THE BUSH/CHENEY/POWELL SECURITY STRATEGY and Congressional Patriot
      Act present us with a daily choice between "unpatriotically" serving
      living beings, the Earth, and international goodwill or
      "patriotically" serving the corporate nation-state as it transforms
      our military into a global police force, the world into a police
      state, and Iraq into an oil-producing colony for "us" and an
      internment camp for its own people. Post-9/11 anti-Saddam talk has
      usurped thought, annihilated international trust, and polarized our
      populace. It has endangered Americans abroad and at home. It has led
      us further and further from reason, history, and physical reality.

      Iraq is not Saddam Hussein. It is the cradle of civilization between
      the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, home of the Sumerians and ancient
      Babylonia, of The Epic of Gilgamesh, of Bedouin tribes. Iraq is
      Mesopotamia, for Christ's sake, and the 944,000 cigar-sized
      depleted-uranium(DU)-coated bullets we fired and abandoned there
      during the Gulf War will remain radioactive roughly a million times
      longer than all the time since ancient Mesopotamia was born. Leukemia
      and other cancers have mushroomed since DU arrived. Military
      spokespersons scoff the coincidence, claiming that DU radiation can
      be blocked by a sheet of paper. I know of no man, woman, or child
      with a protective sheet of paper located between their mouth and
      stomach, or between their nostrils and lungs.

      Iraq is not Saddam. It is twenty-two million egregiously sanctioned
      people, fifty-five percent of whom now live in abject poverty, with a
      majority of children now unschooled because of societal breakdown.
      According to every humanitarian study I've seen, millions of Iraqis
      are chronically malnourished -- a condition permanently damaging to
      children. U.S. pundits who've never seen Iraq praise the U.N. Oil for
      Food program as the solution to this problem and blame the ever-handy
      Saddam for the program's failures. But two successive Oil for Food
      head coordinators, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, resigned in
      protest over the program's insufficiencies and now travel the world
      preaching that malnutrition remains rampant, and that U.S. political
      manipulation of the sanctions is the single greatest cause of the
      humanitarian crisis in Iraq. A word from that old moralist, Leo
      Tolstoy, seems in order: "I sit on a man's back, choking him and
      making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very
      sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means --
      except by getting off his back."


      4. THERE IS A SUPERSTITION -- fed most savagely these days by
      politicians and news media -- holding that what we hear firsthand is
      "true" or "real" and that what we merely imagine is "untrue" or
      "unreal." News reports, for instance, are real, while the works of
      Tolstoy are not. This is nonsense. Insofar as literature enlivens
      imaginations, firms our grasp of reality, or strengthens our regard
      for fellow humans, it serves the world. And insofar as the
      president-character speaks scripts that deny life-threatening facts
      or erode the careful distinctions that sustain civil discourse and
      international goodwill, the "real" news report merely disseminates
      propaganda.

      Reportage can, and daily does, lie. Even first-hand experience can
      lie. And "mere" imaginary experience can open us to truths that would
      remain inaccessible forever if we had to wait for reportage or
      experience to teach us the same truth. One of the greatest of human
      traits, for example, is compassion, which means, literally, "to
      suffer with another." But this high art is seldom born in an instant
      thanks to "news" or to first-hand experiences. More often its seed is
      sown via a preliminary magic known as empathy. And empathy begins
      with a fictive act::

      What would it be like to be that black girl four rows in front of me?
      a little white girl wonders in school one morning. Her imagination
      sets to work, creating unwritten fiction. In her mind she becomes the
      black girl, dons her clothes, accent, skin, joins her friends after
      school, goes home to her family, lives that life. No first-hand
      experience is taking place. Nothing newsworthy is happening. Yet a
      white-girl-turned-fictitiously-black is linking skin hue to life,
      skin hue to choice of friends and neighborhood, skin hue to
      opportunity and history. Words she used without thinking -- African,
      color, white -- feel suddenly different. And when her imaginary game
      is over they'll still sound different. Via sheer fiction, empathy
      enters a human heart.

      To be a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, is to immerse oneself daily
      in unstinting fiction-making. Christ's words "Love thy neighbor as
      thyself," to cite a famously ignored example, demand an arduous
      imaginative act. This deceptively simple line orders me, as I look at
      you, to imagine that I am not seeing you, but me, and then to treat
      this imaginative you as if you are me. And for how long? Till the day
      I die! Christ orders anyone who's serious about him to commit this
      "Neighbor = Me" fiction until they forget for good which of the two
      of themselves to cheat in a business deal or abandon in a crisis or
      smart-bomb in a war -- at which point their imaginative act, their
      fiction-making, will have turned his words into reality and they'll
      be saying with Mother Teresa, "I see Christ in every woman and man."

      Mahatma Gandhi insisted that he was a Christian and a Hindu and a
      Muslim and a Jew. He also blessed, while dying, the Hindu fanatic who
      murdered him. In the Middle East, the Balkans, Pakistan, India, New
      York, Bali, we begin to see why. True, the ability to love neighbor
      as self is beyond the reach of most people. But the attempt to
      imagine thy neighbor as thyself is the daily work of every literary
      writer and reader I know. Literature's sometimes troubling, sometimes
      hilarious depictions of those annoying buffoons, our neighbors, may
      be the greatest gift we writers give the world when they become
      warm-up exercises for the leap toward actually loving them. Ernest
      Hemingway made a wonderful statement about this. "Make it up so
      truly," he advised, "that later it will happen that way." This is, I
      dare say, Christ-like advice, not just to those practicing an art
      form known as fiction writing, but to anyone trying to live a faith,
      defend the weak, or love a neighbor.


      5. IT IS MY BEST GUESS, this fifteenth day of November 2002, that the
      civic grief I'm feeling and words I'm setting down will change
      nothing in the visible world. Americans in power, through a torrent
      of anti-literature, have turned twenty-two million of our Iraqi
      neighbors into a single psychopathic monster. Though I pray I'm
      wrong, and thank the international community for opposing the will of
      Bush/Cheney/Powell, I still fear that the U.S. may go to war soon,
      that this war will be brief but devastating, that many more children
      and civilians will die, that we will never be told their numbers,
      just as we were not told the numbers killed in Afghanistan or in the
      Gulf War, and that many Americans for this reason will pretend that
      no such dead exist. I fear that weapons of mass destruction will be
      discovered in Iraq, that the discovery will be hailed as the greatest
      victory yet in the war against terror, and that the U.S. will use
      this victory to justify occupying Iraq with a military force whose
      job it will be to cultivate international goodwill and protect us
      here at home by brandishing weapons of destruction all day every day
      at Muslims forbidden to brandish their own. I fear that as we shed
      more red liquid to ensure a flow of black liquid back to the United
      States, we will go on fighting for "homeland security," as we have
      for three years, by cutting funding to Superfund sites, prying open
      protected lands to industry, hamstringing laws created to protect
      vanishing species, reducing safeguards against pollutants, defying
      the Kyoto Accord, assisting in the corporate copyrighting of Earth's
      plant and animal species and America's fresh water, curtailing civil
      liberties, diverting money from education and human resources,
      excluding biologists, ecologists, humanitarians, and other voices of
      compassion and science from policy-making groups ruled by private
      business and greed, stonewalling clean energy legislation, and
      ignoring sustainable energy technologies that could prevent future
      oil wars. I fear these courses of action will lead to ever greater
      addiction to oil, ever more vicious foreign policy, ever more
      military actions, hence an ever-more-burning desire on the part of
      the world's disenfranchised to commit acts of violence against us. I
      pray no such acts occur, though they already have. I pray the next
      such act will not involve biochemical or nuclear weapons, though we
      lead the world in the ownership and production of both. I pray, I
      pray, I pray. But the only way I know to pluck from the hearts of
      enemies their desire to destroy us is to remove from their lives the
      sense that, for their own physical and spiritual survival, they must.

      This work will require tens of thousands of acts of atonement.
      Attempting one such act myself, I last year published two essays
      expressing my incredulity and grief over the U.S. destruction of
      Iraq's 1,400 water supply and sewage treatment plants. This
      destruction took place in defiance of the Geneva Convention after the
      Gulf War ended. Worse still, our Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
      predicted, in 1991 documents declassified in 2001, that the
      destruction of these systems would probably not harm Saddam and his
      armies but would lead to epidemic disease, especially among children.
      The documents go into surprising detail: they note that Iraq's rivers
      contain biota and pollutants which, unless treated with chlorine,
      cause cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, and other diseases. They note that
      chlorine was embargoed by the sanctions, as were medicines that treat
      such diseases. Knowing all this, the first Bush administration
      destroyed Iraq's clean water anyway. Safe drinking water vanished.
      Three hundred thousand tons of raw sewage began to flow daily into
      Iraq's rivers. The sanctions on chlorine and medicine remained in
      place.

      The DIA documents continued: they mentioned epidemic outbreaks of
      acute diarrhea, dysentery, respiratory ailments, measles, diphtheria,
      meningitis, and hepatitis B causing problems -- most notably death --
      in children. They describe a refugee camp in which four fifths of the
      population came down with such diseases: eighty percent of the
      resulting dead were children. When a team of Harvard doctors
      witnessed the epidemics in the mid-1990s and urged that sanctions
      barring medicine be lifted, the DIA said the Iraqi regime was
      exaggerating the incidence of disease and death for political
      purposes.

      This argument against mercy remains in place to this day. A
      now-world-famous UNICEF study estimates that 500,000 Iraqi children
      age five and under have died as a result of the combination of
      sanctions and purposefully fouled water.


      6. BY THE TIME I FOUND and cited the UNICEF study, I knew that many
      Americans had written it off as "flawed." With the help of an
      Internet-deft, altruistic (and Republican) scholar, I have researched
      the pros and cons of the study. I learned that the debate over the
      "500,000" number is the result of understandable confusion: the same
      number comes from two different sources. The first was a five-day,
      Iraq-controlled 1995 study of 693 households in Baghdad alone -- a
      study so shoddy that its conclusions were later withdrawn by its own
      authors. Its estimate of half a million "excess child deaths" due to
      U.N. sanctions became famous anyway, thanks to a 1996 Leslie Stahl
      Sixty Minutes interview with then-Secretary of State Madeleine
      Albright. When Stahl mentioned the flawed study's "500,000 dead,"
      then asked Albright if the sanctions were still worth it, Albright
      made the double mistake of responding as if the number were fact, and
      of answering yes. The 500,000 number was pounced upon and often
      exaggerated by humanitarians, inspiring what one might call
      "counter-humanitarians" to claim in magazines as diverse as
      Commonweal, The New Republic, and National Review that the number is
      "in dispute" and "leftist whining" and that all blame for the deaths,
      whatever the number, should be placed not on sanctions but on Saddam.

      There are two problems with the counterclaims. One is that,
      regardless of the number, it was the first Bush administration, not
      Saddam's regime, that blew up Iraq's water treatment facilities --
      and not as an act of war but as a carefully researched, postwar act
      that predicted the ravaging of children. The other problem is the
      findings of the 1999 child mortality study done by UNICEF.

      Based on interviews conducted in no less than 40,000 Iraqi households
      -- with local assistance but conducted with UNICEF involvement at
      every stage and technical support from the World Health Organization
      and independent analysts -- this study too concludes that roughly
      500,000 more Iraqi children than would have otherwise died in the
      1990s, died before reaching the age of five. To greet this finding
      with politically motivated denial requires an ostrich-length neck and
      a lot of deep soft sand. The report has been dissected endlessly. The
      best such analysis I've found, done by Richard Garfield in 1999,
      pares away numbers arrived at by shaky data but still concludes that
      between 1991 and 1998 there was a "likely sum" of 350,000 excess
      five-and-under child deaths in Iraq, that these deaths are "the tip
      of the iceberg among damages" yet to occur, that this disaster far
      exceeds any level of "acceptable damages according to the
      principles...used in warfare," and that "sanctions and regulations
      should be modified immediately."

      When I first read the UNICEF study my wife and I happened to be
      nursing our daughters through illnesses that without antibiotics
      could have killed them both. The number 500,000 destroyed me. The
      number 350,000 has not brought relief. When I am deeply troubled I
      fall back on a few trusted mentors. An Indian mentor named Eruch once
      said, "If you don't know how to take something, take it on the
      physical level." The closest I can come to following this advice,
      with regard to Iraq's children, is to rely on the physical senses,
      eyes, and heart of a woman named Gerri Haynes.


      7. GERRI IS A WOODINVILLE, Washington, nurse who heads a group called
      Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. She had already been
      on three missions of mercy to Iraq when, after reading my OrionOnline
      essay, "A Prayer for Water and Children," she invited me to join her
      on a fourth in May of 2002. She was not good at selling her proposal.
      "It will be sad," she promised. I was unable to join her in part out
      of fear, and in part due to other commitments. But in September 2002
      I telephoned Gerri, and we talked for two hours about her four
      journeys.

      The first thing that struck me about Gerri Haynes is how respectful
      she is toward those who've not been hearing about the kinds of things
      she has seen. "The psyche wants balance," she told me. "It doesn't
      want a sudden shocking awareness of things that would compel us to
      change our lives... In Iraq, children we saw everywhere had the
      distended bellies of the chronically malnourished. Twelve-year-olds
      looked like eight-year-olds... An already burdened person can hardly
      bear (such) news. Most Americans are kind-hearted. The plain sight of
      suffering and dying children would inspire almost any of them to
      realign their lives, change their work, their habits, their thinking,
      anything, if they saw they were contributing to thousands of
      children's demise. It's very, very hard to hear this kind of thing."

      I told Gerri that in the face of such nightmares I try to console
      myself with the fact that I am not the "We" who commits military and
      foreign policy atrocities. Very quietly, Gerri replied, "But we pay
      taxes. So we fund these disasters. And it's a bipartisan effort. The
      Clinton administration was terrible about this. It's not a
      party-specific problem. This is a government run, in both parties, by
      greed and multinational interests, a government that wants nothing to
      do with true humanitarian aims... Human beings are all made of the
      same delicate fabric. That's where my 'We' comes from."

      My small consolation vanished.

      We spoke of the 1999 UNICEF child mortality studies. Gerri's take:
      "The numbers vary widely, from somewhere around 300,000 to a high of
      maybe two million. Physicians in Baghdad, when I was there in '99,
      estimated that 100 to 150 kids were dying just there, every day. But
      it's a number that's impossible to prove for several reasons. One is
      that the mechanisms Iraqis had for gathering statistics have not been
      put back together since the Gulf War. Another is that, after it
      became apparent that there were limited drugs in the hospitals, many
      Iraqis stopped bringing their very sick children in. This was
      particularly true in Basra, where there's a large Bedouin population.
      These people just keep their kids home, and bury them at home.
      Gathering exact statistics is impossible.

      "We do know that the level of leukemia is greatly increased. We know
      that congenital malformation has greatly increased. In May 2002 we
      talked with a woman scientist, Souad Al Azzawi, who said that if the
      rise in leukemia had been due, as some U.S. politicians claim, to
      burning oil fires, the pollutants that have since cleared from the
      environment would have caused the number of leukemia cases to come
      down. Instead, leukemia levels began to rise five to seven years
      after 1991 -- the expected time-frame following radiation exposure --
      and have remained inordinately high. Many believe the answer is DU."

      I was impressed that Gerri did not accuse. She just said "many believe."

      "But this doesn't say anything," she added, "to the experience of
      going to hospital after hospital and seeing every bed with a child in
      it, sometimes two children per bed -- children that look to my eye as
      though they are very close to death. It doesn't speak to the
      experience of watching mothers and fathers feel hopeless and helpless
      to save their children. We live on hope. How can we not tell other
      Americans about what we have participated in creating?"

      In 2000, shortly before a planned fourth trip to Iraq, Gerri Haynes
      was diagnosed with breast cancer. When she mentioned this during our
      interview I was already so undone by all she'd been saying that I
      lacked the good grace to ask what she'd been through, or what her
      prognosis was. I only know that, whatever she endured that year, in
      September 2001 she was prepared to lead another humanitarian group to
      Iraq. Then 9/11 happened.

      She said, "The delegation had to wait for travel to again become
      possible. Then they had to try to reorganize. It was difficult. It's
      very expensive to go there. And time-consuming for people who have
      full-time jobs -- people who are using their vacation time to do this
      arduous, upsetting work."

      But in May 2002, Gerri returned to Iraq yet again.

      Before this recent trip -- amid all the flag-waving and war-rumblings
      -- Gerri's oldest daughter tried to persuade her to stay home. Gerri
      didn't describe their discussion, but she did say that, after finally
      accepting Gerri's sense of mission, daughter offered mother an
      old-souled piece of advice. "If you do go," she said, "be completely
      present, wherever you go."

      These words returned to Gerri in an Iraqi hospital virtually bereft
      of medicine and hope. While her group moved from bed to bed, Gerri
      approached a woman sitting next to her dying child. Gerri speaks no
      Arabic. The woman spoke no English. Trying to be "present" anyway,
      Gerri looked at the child, then at the woman, and placed her right
      hand over her own heart.

      The Iraqi mother immediately placed her right hand over her own heart.

      Gerri's eyes and the mother's eyes simultaneously filled with tears.

      The hospital was crowded. Gerri's visitation time was short. She
      started to move to the next bed, but then remembered her daughter's
      words: "Completely present..." She and the mother were already
      crying, their hands over their hearts. There was nothing Gerri could
      do, despite all her medical training, for the child. "How much more
      present," she wondered, "is it possible to be?"

      She stepped forward anyway. With no plan but vague allegiance to the
      commandment, "Completely present," the nurse without medicine stepped
      toward the bed of the dying child and inconsolable mother. She then
      put both of her hands out, palms up.

      The Iraqi mother fell into her arms.

      "If only this experience were unique!" Gerri told me. "But I can't
      tell you, any longer, how many mothers I"ve now held in this same
      way."

      Her voice grew faint over the phone. I heard: "...diseases that
      children would almost never die from in the U.S..."

      I heard: "Medicine so basic..."

      Then her voice faded, or maybe I drowned it out. I've never taken
      interview notes while sobbing before.


      8. IN 1967, during the Vietnam War, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have
      felt like a minority of one when he spoke up, at the Riverside Church
      in New York City, against the flag-wavers and public opinion polls of
      the day. He still had the courage to say, "A time comes when silence
      is betrayal. Men do not easily assume the task of opposing their
      government's policy, especially in time of war. We must speak with
      all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we
      must speak. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the
      darkness so close around us... We are called upon to speak for the
      weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it
      calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans
      any less our brothers."

      To abandon the words of Dr. King is to let the bullet kill him a
      second time. I believe, based on his call, that no matter what
      happens in the next war with Iraq, we lose. We lose because we have
      already lost. We lost when we flew 110,000 sorties over Iraq in
      forty-two days in 1991, dropping 88,500 tons of ordnance on an
      unsortable tangle of military installations, palaces, power plants,
      communications sites, mosques, schools, homes, civilians, soldiers in
      arms, soldiers in retreat, soldiers in postures of surrender,
      soldiers too shell-shocked to do anything but stand in the road and
      accept annihilation. We lost when we characterized our slaughter of
      the retreating Iraqi army as a "turkey shoot" and the incinerated
      bodies of fathers and sons as "crispy critters." We lost when Colin
      Powell, asked for the number of Iraqi dead produced by this
      blitzkrieg, responded, "Frankly that's a number that doesn't interest
      me very much." We lost when the first Bush administration researched
      the destruction of water systems, read predictions of death to
      children, and destroyed the systems anyway. We lost when we urged the
      U.N. to ban chlorine and medicines, witnessed the ensuing epidemics,
      and refused to ease the sanctions. We lost when we scattered tons of
      depleted uranium dust over Iraq that will go on fighting all life
      forms for eons. We lost when we were apprised of studies showing such
      cancer increases as lymphoma (four-fold), lung (five-fold), breast
      (six-fold), uterine (nearly ten-fold), skin (eleven-fold), liver
      (eleven-fold), ovarian (sixteen-fold), but still denied the
      connection, still make and deploy DU, and recently nixed, by
      pressuring the U.N., a World Health Organization study of DU in Iraq.
      We lost when, in the week following the November elections, we
      allocated $355 billion toward more such global "defense" activities
      in 2003. We will go on losing as long as we go on pretending to be
      preventing evil by inflicting these abysmal "strategies."

      There is no man or woman, no nation, no mortal power on Earth capable
      of "ridding the world of evil" as George W. Bush has vowed to do. The
      desire is preposterous. To act upon preposterousness with vast
      military might is evil. To acquiesce in such evil is somnolence.

      One and a quarter billion Muslims share this world with us. The Bush
      administration seems to be seeking their mass conversion and
      surrender to the values of corporate Texas. I seek to remember
      Gandhi's declaration that he was a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a
      Jew. I seek Dr. King's sense of brotherhood with people who surrender
      five times a day "to the Merciful, the Compassionate." I seek, in the
      face of my own or anyone's failure to live by the Gospels, the Koran,
      the sutras, to "make it up so truly that later it will happen that
      way."

      To define compassion as dissident does not alter the Compassionate.
      To define mercy as unpatriotic does not change the eternally
      Merciful. Gerri Haynes placing her palms out to the mother of a dying
      child, that mother falling into her arms, their joined tears -- this
      is a victory over evil.

      The child died even so.

      Jesus. Muhammad. Allah. God. Help our "strategists" and "patriots"
      make up our neighbors more truly.

      ............

      This essay has been abridged for the web. If you would like to read
      the full article, go to <https://ssl.crocker.com/orionsoc/freeom.cfm>
      to request a Free Trial copy of this issue of Orion magazine.

      ------------

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