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Iraq: One Year Later

Matt Bramanti | Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Editor’s note: This is the third in a five-part series examining issues in the Iraq War.Just over a year ago, the world watched as American bombers began their “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq, paving the way for the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of the country. But not everyone watched the Iraq War and its aftermath on television. Many figures with connections to Notre Dame have seen the situation in Iraq up-close. The PriestAmong them is Father Mike Baxter, who traveled to Iraq in December 2002 under the sponsorship of Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to ending the economic sanctions on Iraq. The group’s Web site boasts that it has organized “over 70 delegations to Iraq in deliberate violation of U.N. economic sanctions and U.S. law.”Baxter, an outspoken critic of the war, is a theology professor and a fellow in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.During the trip, Baxter and other representatives of religious, humanitarian and peace groups went to Baghdad, as well as the northern city of Mosul and Basra in the country’s south.Baxter said the trips’ purpose was to understand the potential effects of the increasingly likely war.”It was really to come to know some Iraqis personally, and to come to a better grasp of their situation,” Baxter said. “We wanted to see what their plight was probably going to be during and after the war.”He said that the collapse of the Saddam Hussein-led government has led to positive and negative consequences for the average Iraqi civilian.”People no longer live in the fear of him,” Baxter said. “But on the other hand it’s a much less secure place.”Baxter said he was concerned that sectarian disputes could lead to Muslim backlashes against Iraq’s small Christian population.”Just from being there, you could tell the country was going to split along certain factions,” he said. “[Christians] were concerned that by quickly taking away the Baathist regime, they would suffer.””Saddam Hussein put a quash to religious fanaticism of any sort, and that tended to benefit the Christians.” Baxter worries that the U.S.-led occupation could lead to a sort of religious imperialism, prompting violence from Iraqis.”Now you have American bible-thumpers in there who are telling Muslims they have to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior,” Baxter said. “There will be more [backlash] in the coming years.”He criticized the Bush administration’s attempts to justify the war in religious terms.”A lot of the Muslims there interpreted this invasion as a sort of Christian crusade,” Baxter said. “You have people like George Bush saying ‘God bless America’ and leading the invasion … you have neoconservatives thinking this was a just war.”He said the future of U.S. foreign policy should be rooted in peace, not war.”What we need are Christians who embody the peace of Christ, who live in such a way that the peace is not a sentiment or a thought, but an essential part of their lives,” Baxter said. “Part of my reason for going over there was to be part of that witness, even for a short period of time.”The SoldierCapt. Angela Hennessey has also seen Iraq firsthand, but in a very different capacity. She commanded the headquarters company of the 5th Engineer Battalion, part of the 4th Infantry Division, in Iraq. The unit, based in Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., was stationed in Taji, some 30 miles north of Baghdad.Hennessey said the lack of modern conveniences made her work difficult. Even things like basic hygiene became luxuries in the parched desert.”I didn’t get a shower for 84 days, and then it was a wooden stall with a garbage can full of water on top,” Hennessey laughed. “Before that, it was baby wipes and a bottle of water, huddled underneath a poncho.””Think about going back in time, but trying to accomplish the same missions you were trained to do,” she said.Those missions consisted of logistical support, providing supplies and utilities to her unit. At the outset of the war, Hennessey was tasked with setting up reliable supplies of food and water, without the benefits of electricity or refrigeration. Hennessey said the heat provided unique challenges.”Refrigerators just don’t work when it’s 120 degrees out,” she said. “And if you leave a bottle of water on the dashboard for 30 minutes, it would be hotter than a cup of coffee.”In addition to logistical work, her company also “adopted” four local schools, helping organize contractors to repair dilapidated facilities. The unit also delivered school supplies and basic medical provisions to local civilians.Hennessey said being a woman in a male-dominated society attracted helpful attention to her efforts.”The Arab men were just astounded,” she said. “They were so intrigued with women in the U.S. Army.” Out of the 163 soldiers in her unit, 23 were women, including mechanics, cooks, clerks and communications specialists. Under U.S. military policy, women are barred from serving in nearly all combat roles.”When I went out to the schools, everyone came out to see me. The sheik of the town even came out to shake my hand.”She said she hopes her work in improving Iraqi schools has a lasting impact on the children of that country.”If the kids grow up remembering the moment when a U.S. soldier gave them something, maybe they’ll grow up to like Americans,” she said. She recalled an instance when an Iraqi woman came to the soldiers, complaining of stomach troubles, and was handed a bottle of Pepto-Bismol.”They thought it was just the best stuff in the world, because they didn’t even have that,” Hennessey said.But not all the response was positive, however. Hennessey said the grandson of the sheik who had helped her efforts in the local schools was shot in an effort to intimidate the leader.But the thing she missed most was her family.”I missed talking to my husband and communicating with my family back home,” she said. “Being in that circumstance can be very lonely.” Her husband, Capt. Bart Hennessey, is also an instructor in the Fighting Irish Battalion.Hennessey had been married less than two weeks when her unit was deployed to Iraq. In the weeks leading up to the war, she didn’t know if she would even be able to make the wedding, held in Sacred Heart Basilica on campus.”By January, we were living week to week,” she said. “Every day, I was coming to work ready to go.””I had my family notified, my will written and my bags packed – all the things you do before you go to war.”Despite the sacrifices, Hennessey said she’s proud to have served. “Being back, I feel like time stopped for a year and now we’re catching up,” she said. “But that’s part of being in the army.”The PoliticianLast August, Rep. Chris Chocola viewed the effects of the war he voted for. The Republican, who represents Indiana’s 2nd District – including Notre Dame – traveled to Iraq with 10 other members of Congress.Chocola said he was interested to see if the media coverage surrounding the war accurately reflected what was really happening.”On my way over there, I had a little fear and trepidation,” he said. “All the news and TV stories looked like a bleak picture.”However, Chocola said he found a very different Iraq.”For every tragedy you see on TV, there are literally thousands of successes,” the first-term congressman said. “Schools were being reopened, power was coming on above pre-war levels, the economy worked.””The tragedies we see on TV happen … but there is another side of the story: We’re winning the war on terror.”He said the worst such tragedies came long before the war, wreaked by the Baathist regime.”In the Babylon area, we went to a mass gravesite where over 15,000 people were buried,” Chocola said. “Civilians were very happy that they were no longer under Saddam Hussein’s regime.”However, Chocola acknowledged that there are still dangers on the horizon. He said he was concerned about recent developments in Spain. Days after coordinated terrorist attacks killed 190 people on commuter trains in that country, Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was elected prime minister. Zapatero has pledged an immediate withdrawal of all Spanish troops from Iraq.”If terrorists think they can influence an election, that’s a cause for great concern,” Chocola said. “It’s yet to be seen how the new Spanish government reacts to this.”Chocola said he is confident that the U.S. will help transform the face of Iraq.”I’m very hopeful and optimistic about our success there,” he said. “The troops are doing a tremendous job.””Iraq can be a model for stability and democracy in the Middle East, where there isn’t a lot of that.”

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Iraq: one year later

Jacqueline Brogan | Sunday, March 21, 2004

Last year I wrote to The Observer about my anxiety over the looming war between Iraq and the U.S. – personally, yes, but also from the perspective of a professor of literature. As I said there, quoting Wallace Stevens, “It is a world of words to the end of it” – a statement that evokes the possibility of apocalyptic destruction but also the possibility of spiritual and constructive creativity in our actual world. For our actual world and the actions we choose to make within in it begins almost always with our words, with how we choose to describe our world.As we all know, the words with which the United States chose to describe itself and others were not words of constructive spirituality. While calling Hussein “evil” and while saying “God is on our side,” the country with the actual largest cache of weapons of massive destruction engaged in a huge media-marketing campaign labeled “Shock and Awe,” which really did shock me, but not in the way intended. And despite other rhetorical maneuvers, including the toppling of a statue, the temporary draping of the U.S. flag on the statue’s face, the pronouncement that the war is over, was justified, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum, the war does not appear to have been justified, the war is certainly not over, but escalating, and the polarized rhetorical positions continue to escalate – again, on both sides. On my worst days, I see no possible end in sight, merely the escalation of the words between supposedly civilized countries and supposedly terrorist renegades (our perspective) which will continue to fuel actual war in increasing geographical stretches across our globe. Indeed, that is happening now with specific details (such as Madrid) that I know other of my colleagues will catalogue.So, what can a professor of literature bring to this disturbing moment in time? Currently, I am teaching a course in Linguistics and another course in Critical Methodologies (focused on Ernest Hemingway and Alice Walker). The study of linguistics naturally forces us to see that at one point in human history, the ancestors of all the countries, religions and ethnicities involved in this crisis were literally of one family, speaking the same language on the family tree. What emerged as separate and now mutually incomprehensible languages were once mere dialectical variations. And the current privileging of what is called “White standard” English – over, let’s say, Southern English, Ebonics, Creole, etc., is merely the imposition of the language of the people economically and ethnically in power in our given region. So, too, the privileging of one language over another, one ethnic group over another, one religion over another (a salient point to remember when Judaism, Christianity and Islam each claims to be the “legitimate” heir of the same patriarch Abraham). The story of the destruction of the Tower of Babel – and the resulting splintering of people and languages into incomprehensible divisions – is indeed a real story of human history, human words, human wars. It is, finally, all entwined, including the gross destruction of the earth itself in addition to human and animal lives.The fact that it is, finally, all entwined is a lesson we learn in this Methodology course. After examining several possible ways of approaching literature, we are currently examining what I call an “eco-ethnic-feminist approach.” Such an approach seems obvious enough when considering Walker. But what about Hemingway? We had read his famous “In Our Time” from a formalist approach, then a genre approach, then a feminist approach – all with increasingly interesting ethical ramifications. But when we applied this eco-ethnic-feminist approach last Thursday, this generically complex work opening up in amazing ways that distressingly, disturbingly, but accurately described our own times – our current situation, including war as the extreme consequence of certain structures that breed gender and ethnic inequalities and discriminations, gross abuse and indifference to animals and plants, a poisoning of the earth itself which, in turns, doubles back on ourselves (as does war). Last year I urged our politicians and ourselves to summon creatively new ways of describing ourselves, new ways that would speak to our spiritual connectedness rather than encouraging division. In class we have struggled with words ourselves. For some, the word “feminist” evokes man-hating, a mere reversal of the “hunter vs. the hunted,” though that is far from what most feminists would ever say or do. But the word does provoke division in some cases. So we try others – when what we’re concerned with is genuine equality. Well? Civil rights advocates are what most feminists are, but of course that phrase has its own history. Humanism does too – it strictly described men during the Renaissance. How about some word of equality? Well, we’ve tried words like Socialism and Communism. And note that all these “words” become realized in our actual world. We try “Globalist,” but that smacks of a controversial economic situation and also ignores the rest of the universe (which we now have the capability of polluting with our various wastes). We’ve finally adopted a fairly recent word in theological discourse: not Theism (which traditionally views only God, angels, and “man” [sic] as having souls; not Pantheism (which means multiple gods everywhere with different levels of powers, etc.), but pan-en-theism: God in everything. Such a message is clearly Walker’s in “The Color Purple,” when presented with its positive and creative realization. Such a message is also Hemingway’s in “In Our Time,” which ruthlessly exposes the violations against women, minorities, animals, plants, the earth – and, yes, white men as well – when words and realized political structures deny our interconnected spirituality and insist on domination through the cliché (but rhetorically masked) “Might Is Right.”Linguistics and a needed methodology for seeing not only literature but also ourselves together suggest our own culpability in our current global crisis. Together they point to the need for real spiritual leaders everywhere – by which I do not necessarily mean Christian, Catholic, whatever. I do mean genuine spiritual leaders who can step beyond our historical differences in languages, religions and ethnocentric justifications to describe and create a future world as yet unrealized but in which we all can truly live.On my worst days since last year’s bombings, I think this dream is impossible. But on others, usually the days I’m genuinely interacting with my students, while teaching literature, I feel the qualified but nearly explosive joy in another line by Stevens when he says, “It must be possible. Possible. Possible. Possible.” Or, as he says in another poem, the need for “the sounds of right joining.”

Jacqueline Brogan is a professor of English, who also wrote a column last year on the impending Iraq war. She can be reached at jbrogan@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.

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Iraq: One year later

Peter Quaranto | Sunday, March 21, 2004

One year ago, the Bush administration claimed the Iraq war was justified to stop an Iraq that possessed weapons of mass destruction and aided al-Qaeda terrorists. Today, the Bush administration claims the Iraq war was justified because it liberated the Iraqi people and has made the world safer. Now as the fog begins to clear, it is apparent that most, if not all, of these perceptions were and are misguided. On this one-year anniversary of the war, we owe it to the hundreds of dead U.S. soldiers and thousands of dead Iraqi civilians to seriously evaluate the consequences and learn the lessons of this ongoing chapter of world history.In the march to war in the early months of 2003, the Bush administration claimed it knew that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had ties to al-Qaeda. These two assertions represented the foundation of the justification for war. On Dec. 4, 2002, then White House press secretary Ari Fleischer stated, “The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true.” One year later, the intelligence evidence has proven these claims were untrue.The failure of Bush’s claims to materialize raises substantial questions. Did the Bush administration intentionally mislead the American public? Would the American public have stood for military action if they had known the facts? What are the consequences for a president who misleads his people into war? No clear answers remain, but the lack of attention to these questions is appalling.Since such intelligence epiphanies, the Bush administration and others have shifted to other arguments for war, especially the liberation of the Iraqi people. There are two problems with this approach. First, making justifications for a war in its aftermath sets a dangerous precedent and undermines any ethical approach to war that would seek to establish criteria for entering war. Second, while these arguments may possess certain truths, they fail to completely reflect the available evidence.The most popular of these post-war justifications is that the Iraqi people have been liberated from a ruthless dictator. This is an indisputable gain, but to simply look at this gain, without evaluating the larger picture, is naive. Over the past year, thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed, with estimates ranging from 7,000 to 10,000. The war shattered an already devastated Iraqi economy. Iraq has a third less drinking water than before the war, the sewage of Baghdad continues to flow untreated into the Tigris River and many hospitals lack sanitary and basic equipment. The country’s future remains unknown and civil war threatens as the United States plans a hasty transition of power. To simply rejoice for the liberation of the Iraqi people is to ignore the current plight of most Iraqis, who live in fear and poverty.Yet, the costs of this war have not been bore solely by the Iraqis. The costs for the United States have been high. More than 560 U.S. troops are dead, and 2,700 are wounded. The U.S. army is extended as never before, with over 100,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq. These troops are facing a growing number of shootings and bombings. As for U.S. taxpayers, estimates suggest that the cost of the war has been $107,093,500,000. It is scary to think of positive measures domestically and internationally that could be undertaken with such an immense number.However, the question that is most pressing is this: Are we safer as a result of this war? The New York Times, in its general editorial, writes that the war has diverted scarce resources from the war on terror throughout the globe. Without doubt, the Iraq war has led to a less secure world, especially for the United States. According to the respected Pew Forum polls, support for the United States is at a record low, which provides a scary impetus for global terrorists. The United States has alienated itself from allies and the United Nations in an unprecedented way. The tragic bombings in Spain, as part of a tremendous increase in al-Qaeda attacks over the last year, suggest deterioration of global security. It is a mistake to suggest that the Iraq war and the war on terror are convergent.On this first anniversary of the Iraq War, we should be somber. And we must act. First, the thousands of troops that remain in flux need our support as they face a country where confusion and chaos are more often the order of the day. We must be prepared to help with post-traumatic stress disorder and healing when troops return home. Second and tied to this, we must not shy away from sober scrutiny of our intelligence, this war and the situation in Iraq. We must commit ourselves to never make the same mistakes again. We must learn from the past and the present, and use these lessons, both in November when we head to the polls and throughout our lives, to win the peace and secure our world.

Peter Quaranto is a sophomore political science and international peace studies major. He is a member of the Notre Dame Peace Coalition, which meets Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. at the Center for Social Concerns. Contact him at pquarant@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.