The Ugly American Occupation

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I learned that 16 marines from outside Cleveland had been killed in one attack. Suddenly in northeast Ohio at least, we were forced to picture with new eyes the toll this war is taking. When it is just one death here and one there, it is easy to pretend not to see the larger picture. Sixteen handsome young men, sons and brothers and fathers and husbands, with whom their families will never share ball games or weddings or graduations or reunions.

As I sat on an airplane reading an article in the July 25 issue of the New Yorker magazine by Seymour Hersh, I felt as though I might throw up.  It was a smooth ride, but the words in the article were making me physically ill.  They told the story of how the U.S. government covertly provided millions of dollars to make sure that “ourâ€? candidate would win in the January Iraq elections.

Then, after being out of the country for several days with limited access to news, I learned that 16 marines from outside Cleveland had been killed in one attack.  Suddenly in northeast Ohio at least, we were forced to picture with new eyes the toll this war is taking.  When it is just one death here and one there, it is easy to pretend not to see the larger picture.  Sixteen handsome young men, sons and brothers and fathers and husbands, with whom their families will never share ball games or weddings or graduations or reunions.  Along with the others killed in recent weeks as the insurgency in Iraq seems to be increasing, we have now long passed the 1800 mark of American deaths in Iraq.  Then there are the more than 13,000 American soldiers who have been wounded.

When these two stories sit side by side in my heart, I am forced to ask the question, are our young men and women in the service sacrificing their lives and their health so that there might be rigged elections in Iraq?  Is that the kind of democracy our nation is promoting?

At a church meeting this past week, a gentleman said that he believed the deaths of the Ohio marines might be a watershed moment for the American people, when we no longer could avoid the painful reality of the toll of the Iraq war.  My response was that I believe it is certainly a turning point for Ohio and were the presidential election to be held this fall instead of last, there might be a different outcome in Ohio and thus a different outcome for our country.
The New Yorker article raised painful and angering realities. 

Despite warnings to U.S. officials by non-governmental organizations working to ensure a free and fair election in Iraq, the administration seems to have chosen to funnel millions of covert dollars to the campaign of Iyad Allawi, the acting Prime Minister and close ally of the U.S. when it appeared his campaign was in trouble.  The article also raises the possibility that Iran and possibly other groups also provided money under-the-table in the Iraq elections.  But they are not democracies - we are.

The article also points out that a senior advisor in the U.S. occupation authority had cautioned our government about elections in a country with no history of democracy, and years of dictatorship and occupation.  He urged that the U.S. set up a transparent fund which would distribute operating funds to all political parties in Iraq.  But senior U.S. government officials, apparently fearful that those allied with Iran would win the election, chose to ignore that advice.

In the year before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began to speak out against the Viet Nam war.  One of the things which he said was, “In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to us that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution.  I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.â€?  Dr. King was right nearly 40 years ago and he is right today.  We need a revolution so that real democracy is valued by our nation, both Democrat and Republican alike.

As I write this, there is a mother of a soldier killed in Iraq camped out in front of the western White House, demanding a meeting with the Commander in Chief.  She wants to know from him personally why her son died.  If she knows about this rigged election in Iraq, she might also want to ask President Bush the most painful question -  whether her son died so that our covert dollars might be used to rig the election of which the world was so proud last January.

We need a revolution of values.  But it will only happen if we join that mother and ask the hard questions of our nation’s leaders.  We need a revolution of values.

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