|THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Words that Matter
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, April 8-14, 2007
Words are losing their power to convey the destruction we are creating in Iraq. The coverage of the war has slipped into superlatives: the deadliest, the most horrible, the worst, the bloodiest. These words, intended to help us understand the magnitude of the suffering in Iraq, have become routine terms in a tiresome litany.
The stark numbers are hard for us to grasp. Last year alone, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, 34, 452 civilians died. In the first full month of this recent surge, called Operation Imposing Law, 165 Iraqi policemen and 44 Iraqi soldiers were killed. The Associated Press reported that 81 U.S. soldiers were killed in the same time period. On average, every day in March, 67 people died in Iraq, compared with 64 in February.
There is no sign that this carnage is decreasing. And it is coupled with a frantic effort to round up and imprison Iraqi citizens who are somehow considered troublesome. More than three years ago, in much calmer circumstances, international organizations estimated that between 70% and 90% of the people arrested were innocent of any crime; instead they were the victims of vindictive neighbors, poor intelligence, or simply being in the wrong place. Nothing has been done to address the conditions that lead to such mistaken arrests. Instead, the arrests have escalated beyond the capacity of the Iraqi prison system to provide any semblance of justice.
An Iraqi monitoring group announced last week that detention centers have become severely overcrowded since Operation Imposing Law began six weeks ago. Most inmates are being held without evidence in horrible conditions. In one jail, on the western edge of Baghdad, 272 inmates were held in a facility designed for 75. In another, also intended for 75, there were reports of nearly 800 people being locked up.
Operation Imposing Law has clearly placed the U.S. into the position of an occupation army, confronting Iraqi citizens in their homes, neighborhoods, markets and places of worship. Those of us who live in urban America know only too well the fate of an occupation army. It will only engender distrust and hatred. Ultimately, its very presence provokes an anger that nothing can contain.
Forty years ago this week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous speech against the Vietnam war at the Riverside Church in New York City. It is a speech well worth reading today. Among the many important ideas he raised, Dr. King spoke directly to the cost of unjustly occupying the country of another by force. He said:
“I am as deeply concerned about our troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved.” /bigger>/bigger>
He went on to say that our nation our nation has moved step by step to the wrong side of the revolutions sweeping the world and that if we are to get on the right side,
“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
These words should still move us.