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Peacemaker’s words from the crucible

The fixation of the Bush administration on Iraq and the apparent determination to have regime change is now blotting out all other considerations.

Whatever the debates in the halls of Congress, the Vatican or the United Nations, if history is any indication, the people of this besieged land, the ones who watched hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children under the age of 5 die of preventable diseases under the most severe sanctions the world has ever known, will suffer once more.

At this writing an invasion seems imminent. What’s left, it appears, is the massive upheaval of war and the last futile -- some might say mad -- gestures of those who still believe in acting for peace.

Among the most notable who have placed themselves literally in the crucible, in Baghdad as the war clouds roll in, is Kathy Kelly, who has taken her 20th trip to Iraq since her Voices in the Wilderness campaign to end the sanctions and avert further war in Iraq began in 1996.

Iraqis have a face to her. She knows them well enough to chitchat about the monstrous events that lie in wait.

In a recent missive home to friends, she wrote: “A novel sadness awaited us as we entered a country on the verge of being attacked. At breakfast, several hotel workers whom I’ve known for years greeted me warmly and then asked, timidly, ‘There will be a war?’ Another friend had a more dire view. ‘They are going to kill us,’ he said, matter-of-factly.”

It is clear that the presumptions of sanity -- of strategy, of what’s best for “our interests,” of (oddly enough) preserving the peace and saving our liberties -- always lie, in the popular understanding of things, with the war makers.

In that scheme, the matter of continuing to work for alternatives to mass violence become, to the popular glance, a kind of theater of the absurd.

“Our team members have met for long hours working out various details, e.g., how to operate an emergency backup generator, usage of the satellite phone that I carried in, emergency medical training, maintenance of files for individual declarations that, in the event of death, one prefers cremation rather than shipping a corpse back to the U.S.,” writes Kelly. “And a less dire list gives names of people who want to help set up an arts and crafts workshop for children hospitalized at a local cancer ward.” So it goes in a war zone when anything but war is the purpose.

“It is too soon to answer our friends who ask if there will be a war, too soon to declare that war is inevitable. Crucial days ahead offer people throughout the world a momentous opportunity to prevent bloodshed and destruction,” she continued. “The novelty of such a triumph would never wear off. It could usher all of us toward the political maturity required to survive our shameful capacity for annihilation.” And so let her words, the words of someone in a war zone committed to the seemingly absurd notion that peace is still possible, be placed on the record. If nothing else, let them simply show that someone was there, thinking such thoughts.

National Catholic Reporter, February 14, 2003