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Volunteering in the midst of war

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, April 22, 2004

I am a resident of South Bend, Ind., and Notre Dame alumna currently working with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Baghdad, Iraq. These are frightening days for the Iraqi people as well as for the Coalition soldiers.

A young friend of ours just came back from a harrowing trip to Fallujah. Jo Wilding, 29, sat on the couch in our Baghdad apartment, and, over the occasional roar of helicopters, told what she saw in the streets of that besieged city. She saw a hospital bombed by the U.S. Marines. She sat in a make-shift clinic (in a converted garage) and watched as an old man and two children were brought in with bullet wounds they received from snipers in the American-controlled part of the city. The children died. She tried to rescue a woman going into premature labor, until American soldiers fired, shattered the windshield of the ambulance and continued firing until the vehicle was disabled.

As of this writing, the hospitals report more than 600 deaths, two-thirds of which are women and children. One hundred forty-six are children under the age of 12. Forty-six of those children were under the age of five. One thousand, two hundred people have been injured. A newspaper article I read quoted that “700 insurgents have been killed.” How many of the 700 were women and children?

Terrorism and violence are frightening. But what is most frightening to me here in Iraq is that the good young men and women of the armed services – who come here out of a noble desire to serve their country – end up instead ordered to use tactics that both escalate the violence and compromise their own humanity.

This excessive and indiscriminate violence is creating a culture of hatred and revenge, and putting the entire country in much greater danger. I see it before my eyes – overwhelming force only makes matters worse. Please, please, urge our government leaders to exercise restraint in Iraq.

Last week, a CPA official and former Marine told me that a soldier has to become somewhat dehumanized so that he or she can actually kill another human being. Why do we accept this damage to the hearts, minds, and souls of our young men and women in the armed services? We are all responsible to respond to violence in ways that encourage transformation and dialogue, not dehumanization and escalation. Please, work for a new way, before it is too late.

Sheila Provencher

Christian Peacemaker Teams

Baghdad, Iraq

April 22