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War Is Not The Answer

Polls show that a majority of Iraqi respondents would like us to leave.

By PAM BERNS

If you're driving through Door County this fall, you might notice my parents' home. It's the one with the sign in the front yard, "War is not the answer."

My father died this spring. He was the wisest person I've ever known. As an officer during WWII he learned firsthand the sorrows that come with war. Although he was proud to be of service to his country while helping to defeat Hitler, he lost good friends in the war effort and never forgot that pain. Dad was heartsick when Bush chose to bomb Iraq; like many of us he looked to our government to prevent wars, not start "preventive" wars. He couldn't understand why we rushed into Iraq before the United Nations had completed their weapons of mass destruction investigations. My father felt that our bombing had something to do with the fact that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld never served in combat themselves.

Whole cities have been decimated by our bombs. Where did hundreds of thousands of civilian Iraqis go when we bombed Falluja? In many cities, with temperatures that hover around 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit, there are only a few hours of electricity a day. Some cities have no water. It's no wonder that tempers are explosive. Iraqi citizens and our soldiers are enduring hellish conditions. Our soldiers are not fighting an enemy in uniform. Like in Vietnam, they don't know where the enemy lurks.

Because Iraq is a country with a history of tribal--not national--loyalties, many Middle East scholars cautioned that our excursion into the country would be unwelcome and dangerous. Did anyone in this administration seek advice from a historian concerning the great likelihood that an insurgency would result?

According to Stephen Biddle in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, the "overwhelming majority of the insurgents in Iraq are indigenous Sunnis, and the small minority who are non-Iraqi members of al Qaeda or its affiliates are able to operate only because Iraqi Sunnis provide them with safe houses, intelligence, and supplies." Biddle writes that the insurgents are fighting for Sunni self-interest. "This is certainly not to denigrate the courageous efforts of U.S. and Iraq solders who have sacrificed much for a new Iraq. But these efforts may be in vain if the communal civil war in Iraq continues to be misunderstood."

What do the Iraqis want us to do? Polls show that a majority of Iraqi respondents would like us to leave. Even though the Shiites and Kurds were the victims of Saddam's terrible policies, they have also seen the violence resulting from our occupation of their country: Shock and Awe bombing, Abu Ghraib torture, rape and murder of innocent civilians and the massacre at Haditha. These atrocities do not represent the American ideals and principles.

The demeaning sexual abuse of detainees by unstable U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib appear to Iraqis as a lack of respect towards a culture we barely understand.

In an excellent new documentary, The War Tapes by SenArt Films, several American soldiers were given cameras to film their service in Iraq. The film reveals the huge gaps in our occupation and communication with the Iraqis. Something as simple as our soldiers gesturing for a car to stop is interpreted as exactly the opposite by Iraqis. This simple miscommunication explains how innocent fleeing families get shot by our troops. As American soldiers motion for them to stop, the families speed off, and our soldiers shoot. This film shows how these terrible things happen in war. The War Tapes also reveals that nearly all our troops cannot speak the language of the Iraqis. Mistakes in communication are assured when there is such a language barrier.

For how many decades will American forces occupy Iraq? We have created a hell hole by invading this country, and I, like many Americans, am doubtful we can ever win the hearts and minds of the many Iraqis who have lost their power, status, jobs and homes in this war. Self-preservation is motivating most of the insurgents. Many Sunnis are afraid that mass killings might result if Shiite factions control the military. Our invasion into Iraq has inflamed hostilities that have existed for thousands of years throughout the Mideast.

My dad was right. No one wins in a war. In this fall's election, voters will have a chance to elect Congressional candidates who advocate diplomacy over macho posturing and bombing to solve world problems.

In this issue of Chicago Life we salute philanthropists who are helping to make this a better world. No matter what our income levels, we all have the power to make this a more equitable, just world for those who are not as fortunate. A recent documentary aired on PBS, Frontline: The Age of AIDS, chronicles the history of the epidemic and tells the story of several people who made courageous decisions that saved the lives of millions of people worldwide. One of those people is Bono, the man who confronted Sen. Jesse Helms and convinced him to support the efforts of those trying to search for a cure, prevent the spread of AIDS and give treatment to the suffering.

Chicago Life interviewed several prominent figures about the challenges facing us today: columnist Nicholas Kristof; actresses Mia Farrow and Mira Sorvino; Ruth Levine, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development; and cancer researcher, Seema Singhal, M.D. They all relayed the importance of philanthropy in helping to solve the global crises we are confronting around the world. They speak of opportunities that await us to save lives and make our own existence more meaningful in the process. We've read about the efforts of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and how they're working to bring medical help to those who most need it. Even though we don't have the same financial power, all of us have the ability to save lives. One at a time.

Published: August 01, 2006
Issue: Fall 2006