Today the death toll of U.S. military in Iraq reached 3,699 and Afghanistan, which we tend to forget, 418 deaths http://icasualties.org/oif/ or http://edition.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2003/iraq/forces/casualties/.
That's how some of us in this Country measure each day, by a death toll. We can also measure our days by the cost of war.
Today it is estimated at $452 Billion http://www.nationalpriorities.org/Cost-of-War/Cost-of-War-3.html just for the war in Iraq. For some strange reason, the growing peace movement rarely, if ever, speaks about the death and destruction in Afghanistan where the poppy fields are supplying the drug market at an all time high. So much for the War on Drugs.
Citizens of this Country never really get to see the death and destruction, however. Thanks to corporate media, dead bodies, charred remains and coffins are hidden from view. But this week was a real eye opener for those of us who bore witness to the American Friends Service Committee's (AFSC) "Eyes Wide Open" Exhibit www.afsc.org/eyes. The Exhibit, for those who have never had a chance to see it up close and personal, is a memorial to the fallen marines and soldiers of Iraq. Again, forgetting Afghanistan. The Exhibit is a large display of combat boots and pictures donated by family members who want to honor their lost loved ones. You cannot look upon it without feeling so much sadness and hopelessness, that turns to anger and disbelief. The combat boots are lined up in "military formation" so as to give the appearance of these military members standing right in front of you, waiting for orders to be deployed to their death.
This year, the AFSC included in this Exhibit, shoes that represent dead Iraqi civilians. These shoes are tagged also with the name and age of the victim. They range from pink and green babies booties to male and female slippers and shoes of all ages and sizes. Accompanying these shoes, are large poster size pictures with crying Iraqi children and despondent families who again lost loved ones. You cannot look upon it without feeling so much sadness and hopelessness, that turns to anger and disbelief.
AFSC was kind enough to allow me, a military mom, to take the New York State combat boots and Iraqi shoes representing over 650,000 civilian deaths, to Staten Island, New York. Local peace activists decided to arrange this memorial in the middle of what has been a 23 year tradition of law enforcement gathering called "National Night Out Against Crime." http://www.nationaltownwatch.org/nno/history.html.
After a long drawn out battle with the New York Parks Department to have the Exhibit displayed at Midland Beach where there were at least 10 large permitted police exhibits dedicated to death and destruction, we were able to show the community what the true cost of war and weaponry is. http://antiauthoritarian.net/NLN/?p=321
Looking at these combat boots to someone like me who has sent a son off to war on 2 tours of duty, is a chilling experience. Nothing else means anything to you except that your child came home alive and in one piece, but there are all of these families out there that were not so lucky. I cared for those combat boots as if they were the soldiers themselves. However, on this one particular evening, that feeling changed in a direction I would never imagine. Nasreen and Bruce Wallace came to spend time with us on the beach and talk to people about the Exhibit.
Bruce Wallace is a retired teacher who taught High School in Brooklyn, Nasreen is an Iraqi teacher from Baghdad who teaches Middle School children. Their story is told at their website http://www.121contact.typepad.com/. The students of each of their classes corresponded over the last year or so, and got to know each other's culture. They discussed the war and what it meant to each of them.
Nasreen has lost 4 sons to the occupation of her Country. Kidnapped and murdered. She doesn't know by whom or why, just that they are gone. When I met her, it felt so awkward to look into her eyes, and explain that my son returned from fighting in Iraq. The emotional roller coaster was sickening to me. There were no words from my lips that could mean anything of significance to Nasreen. I was embarrassed to even stand with her. However, she was so kind and embraced me in an understanding way. I told her how sorry I was for whatever destruction my Country has caused. I told her that I was so sorry that my son went to fight in Iraq. I told her that I hoped she understood that I spend every single free moment of my time trying to end this war because I feel guilty when I look into her eyes.
She again was so gracious. Her eyes were strong and sad and she said "I cannot look upon these combat boots without feeling any anger or hatred." "To me, these boots represent the occupiers." But she also understood that we need to memorialize our dead. She was happy that we had shoes representative of Iraqi's lost in this war, but said it could not ever show the gravity of the death and destruction that has befallen her Country. She loves Iraq and her people. She also continued and said something so profound. "I see in your Country what I saw in my Country when Saddam was in power. You go and vote every 4 years, and you are still oppressed." "You may go out and protest, but it doesn't mean anything."
Nasreen knows about oppression, and still knows oppression, from our Country. But do we understand what it means to be oppressed? If she can spot it on her short visit here, why can't we? We are living under a fascist dictatorship. I faced it, and now, after my conversation with her, I completely understand it. We are not a democracy, we do not have the freedoms we think we have. It is all an illusion. So are you afraid of this revelation? What will you do about it? Unfortunately for us, we must rise up and overthrow this regime.
We have to stop the illegal spying, no more torture, no more war, no more stealing our rights one at a time and telling us it is for our own good. I decided to join in a campaign called "DECLARE IT NOW!" WEAR ORANGE. http://www.declareitnow.com/ Very simple, but powerful. Put on an orange ribbon if you are against the war. Put on an orange bandana if you are against torture. Put on an orange armband if you are against spying. Wear this every single day as if your life depended upon it, because it does. And show your orange ribbon, bandana or armband if you want to impeach this fascist regime. If we all did this one small act, not protest as usual, soon there would be millions of us in a sea of orange around the Country. It would be very hard to ignore.
Nasreen would approve.