“You may say this to Théoden son of Thengel: open war lies before him… None may live now as they have lived, and few shall keep what they call their own.”— Aragorn, speaking to Éomer on the eve of the War of the Ring; from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers
A month ago, my wife attended a town meeting here in Hadley, Massachusetts, concerning prevention of war with Iran. The meeting was sponsored by a number of local organizations, including the Order of the White Oak. Given the events in the last few weeks, which appear to be bringing us closer and closer to war, we felt it essential to distribute this information as widely as possible.
These are the notes my wife took at the meeting.
At least 300 concerned New England citizens attended:
Preventing War on Iran: A Town Meeting
Sponsored by: The Pioneer Valley Coalition to Prevent War In Iran (which included the Order of the White Oak)
on Wednesday, February 20 at 7 pm
at the American Legion Post 271 in Hadley, MA
I sat with Saille and took copious notes. My hope is to faithfully report what was said on that evening of the lunar eclipse.
We were welcomed by Norma Akamatsu. She introduced all of the speakers as well as the agenda for the evening.
Blood and Oil
The first speaker was Professor Michael Klare, Peace and World Security Issues at Hampshire College. He has several books out, the latest of which is Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum. If you want more background information on him, you can visit Wikipedia’s article or the Coalition’s bio. His talk was entitled: Oil, Geopolitics, and the History of US Involvement.
His talk was a brief history of US involvement and interests in Iran and the Middle East:
We have a solid 60 years of bipartisan overt and covert interest in “US vital interests” as far as Iran is concerned. The Democrats and the Republicans have both been deeply involved with controlling Iran.
- After World War II, Saudi Arabia became our protectorate.
- From this base of operations, we ousted a democratically elected Prime Minister and put in a dictator–the Shah. He and his followers had been equipped and trained by the US.
- In 1979, the Shah was overthrown in a coup.
- Carter declared that any threat to US oil was equivalent to a threat to US vital interests, and that we will use force if necessary to defend our oil access. He did not personally use force against Iran, but his stated policy became the Cater Doctrine, and has been used numerous times since then to defend our use of force in the Middle East.
- CENT-COMM was set up as an independent branch of the US military, whose sole purpose is to make sure the oil keeps flowing.
- We had a “reflagging” program, where oil tankers were given the US flag instead of private company flags to mark them as ours.
- We formed a military alliance with Iraq (propping up Saddam Hussein, arming him and training his military), and together the US and Iraq gave Navy escorts for oil tankers through the region.
- Saddam, however, thought he could do no wrong (and that we needed him too much to do anything to him), so after he invaded Kuwait in 1991, we launched Desert Storm to get him back out again.
- But we stopped shy of regime change, because 1) it was not technically in our UN mandate, and 2) he was right, we would rather have him than anyone else in his leadership position. Instead, harsh sanctions were set up in the hopes that regime change would happen on its own (which just hurt the ordinary Iraqi citizens, not anyone in the government).
- Klare said that it is wrong to think of the current war in Iraq as a “second” war there; it is really one single war that started back in 1991 with a long interregnum.
- Anyway, W. Bush continued Desert Storm all the way through to Baghdad. Thus ends the history lesson portion of Prof. Klare.
Here is his analysis of Iran and our possible future involvement there:
- Our domestic oil supplies are in decline, and we as a culture are addicted to oil.
- The administration will want to attack Iran to protect our oil supply before Iran can acquire nuclear weapons to deter us.
- The CENT-COMM budget is $150 billion annually, which does NOT include the cost of the war in Iraq.
Public Health Consequences of an Iranian War
The second speaker was Dr. Ira Helfand, a past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility. His talk was called: Public Health Consequences of War on Iran. The research paper that he was presenting information from can be found here.
Given that between 150,000 and 600,000 Iraqi citizens have died as a result of the US invasion there, he and his team of researchers looked into what would happen should we attack Iran. Based upon reports of what US goals would be in such an attack, as well as what is known about the population centers and the nuclear program there, he gave the following analysis:
- The war would be primarily a war of aerial bombing, widely distributed throughout the country. This is because the nuclear research facilities are also widely distributed throughout the country. Instead of placing them in remote areas, they are in large population centers.
- As a result of such a bombing campaign, at least a million Iranians would die as a result of radiation (from nuclear facilities being blown up), fires, chemicals, and misfires.
- There is fairly strong evidence that some nuclear research is happening in fortified, underground bunkers, also located near population centers. The only way to break through these bunkers would be with nuclear weapons–the nuclear first strike that all of the politicians so casually talk about.
- There are three main bunkers, and each would probably take three warheads to successfully penetrate.
- Within one month of such an attack:
- 2.6 million people would die from the fall-out, spread out over Iran, Iraq, Afganistan, Pakistan and India (including our soldiers based in Iraq and Afganistan);
- 10.5 million people would be exposed to the radiation and would suffer medical consequences.
- A nuclear first strike has NOT been “taken off the table” by W. Bush, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
- He implored with us to keep in mind that such a human rights atrocity would be a crime in our names, and that we would condemn our children and grandchildren to a life of guilt and apology to those who were so badly wronged.
[It strikes me the extent to which every German — man, woman, and child — is still bearing the burden of Nazi atrocities, 60 years later. — JL]
He then went on to show that he is not very hopeful for the future:
- In January, the US fabricated an incident, both to try to engage Iran and to test the US citizens’ reactions.
- Many people in the administration use bellicose language when referring to Iran.
- W. Bush has been actively seeking allies on his (then current) world tour for the purpose of having backing for actions against Iran.
An Iranian Viewpoint
The third speaker, Amir Mikhchi, is a US citizen who emigrated here from Iran, and his talk was entitled: An Iranian Viewpoint.
Amir has always tried to live a life where he would only do unto others as he would have done unto him, and to take the time to walk in another’s shoes before judging. Because of this notion of fairness, he shared with us what the Iranians see of the US.
- First of all, there are 18,000 US troops on the Iranian border. There are another 150,000 in the rest of neighboring Iraq. The Iranians feel threatened by all this.
- Second, the US has attacked a passenger ship, killing civilians.
- Third is the talk, broadcast around the world: Bush said Iran was part of the “Axis of Evil”. Our talk of the threat of Iran has had a debilitating effect on the Iranian economy.
He then turned back to what is happening here: With all of the fear of security, our government has grabbed a lot of power and deprived US citizens of their Bill-of-Rights liberties. Now consider: we haven’t been threatened directly more than once, and our enemies have to cross a large ocean to get at us on our soil. He then reflected our thoughts back to Iran: How can democracy flourish in Iran if it is constantly under direct threat for years and years?
With great power comes great responsibility. He showed us that the US has wielded its power with poor judgment for many decades now.
The Disparities of War
The fourth speaker was former Marine Captain Tyler Boudreau, who went to Iraq as part of Desert Storm almost 20 years ago. He was an incredibly powerful speaker; I doubt that my report will give you enough of an idea of what it was like to hear him share his experiences and perspective. His talk was entitled: The Disparities of War.
His first comment was to disagree with Dr. Helfand about what a war in Iran would look like: while it would start with bombing, he is convinced (based upon his experience in the region), that a large presence of troops on the ground would inevitably follow the bombing.
Disparity. There are many places where disparity can be found in war.
- The first one is between stated policy and actions on the ground. Policy is sterile; battlefields, anything but.
- There is a disparity between the training and the realities of war.
- There is disparity on the battlefield, and disparity back home again.
Most people think of military training as a process of desensitization, to help the soldier to carry out his or her duties without remorse. Tyler disagrees; the desensitization gets you to the first kill, at which point, a soldier moves into uncharted moral territory, and is left on their own to figure out how to deal with the realities of the battlefield. Training doesn’t train soldiers; war trains soldiers. He shared with us his story of how he managed to desensitize himself to his daily horrors:
They were living in a deserted chicken farm. There were rats, big rats, millions of them, everywhere. He couldn’t sleep, it was so noisy with all of the rats. He made a ring of sticky tape around his bunk, to catch rats. He lay there, and heard one start to struggle, then he took out his knife and killed it with his own two hands. And he cried. Here he was, a big strong Marine, crying over a dead rat. A dead rat. He realized he needed to buck up, otherwise he wouldn’t last long out there. So he kept killing rats. After 20 or 30, he stopped feeling bad, and was able to take their lives, because they were just rats.
A soldier must degrade himself to survive. We at home must degrade ourselves to “support” them in their work.
Once a soldier gets past their own moral issues, it is thrilling to experience the elation of the kill. Going in and winning and coming back out again is joyous, not because they win, but because they have killed. Which brings us to the disparity of the battlefield: are the soldiers happy to be liberating an oppressed people or are they happy because they killed a bunch of them? Sadly, it is generally the latter emotion that the soldiers feel. And they can’t help it; and some little, repressed voice inside of most of them calls out, “Hey, this is wrong!” but they have to ignore it if they want to be able to go on and do what they have to do.
He told a story about a young man who came to him (as his superior) with a problem. He was having trouble sleeping, and he had flashbacks whenever he closed his eyes. This is what had happened to the young man: he was in a tank, on patrol, and a pick-up truck came too close, too fast. So he blasted through the windshield. When they went to check the wreckage, they found that it had been a middle-aged man and a baby, both blood-covered and dead, in the cab of the truck. So Tyler told him: Well, it could have been the enemy; you didn’t know who was in there; your whole group might have been dead if that had been a suicide bomber; you did the right thing; carry on. Soldiers don’t have time to think about dead babies. But after he retired from the service, he stopped thinking that this was such a good attitude to have. Especially since soldiers do have plenty of time to think about dead babies after they leave the battlefield, and then they are left on their own to deal with their overwhelming guilt and grief over what they had done.
He was once toasted in a bar for his good deeds as a Marine. He replied to the older man that innocent people are dying. And the man very fervently said, “Screw ’em!” He was trying to make Tyler feel better. But to do so is to deny the humanity of the soldier who feels guilt about all of the things that he has done.
The inner scars are so deep, that suicide is currently the leading cause of death among the soldiers in the current Iraq war.
The horrors of war are inevitable, for every war that happens. If we allow the US to attack Iran, more horrors are guaranteed to arise. The soldiers and the people back home are all affected.
The fifth speaker was Congressman Neal. I did not record most of his remarks for the very simple reason that there was not a whole lot of content to them. He spent some time bragging about his opposition to the president, as well as just generally sounding like a politician. But here is the useful content of his remarks:
- The propaganda used to sell the war in Iraq was a very skillful manipulation. We need to be wary of this as talk of Iran becomes more pronounced.
- Congress needs a spine.
- He has co-sponsored a bill to guarantee debate on the floor of Congress before the US can attack Iran (or anybody else).
Considering the fact that the Constitution stipulates that is illegal for this country to go to war without a formal declaration by Congress, it is sad that we need such a bill. There are several bills in the works all along those lines. They are: HJ Res 14; H Con Res 33; HR 770; and HR 3119. You can check each bill’s status on-line, and contact your congressional rep about it if you want to help these bills along.
The sixth speaker was Congressman Olver, from the district across the river. He spoke for longer and had a higher content-density.
He has bought Klare’s book about the history of the situation in the Middle East for several of his most open-mindedly-receptive buddies in Congress. He is on the Veteran’s Affairs committee and is deeply troubled by the effect that yet another war would have on the young men and women who serve.
He went to a briefing in March of 2003, just before we invaded Iraq. Condoleeza Rice was trying to convince the congressmen that the war was necessary, and he said that the number of suicide bombers would increase a thousand-fold if we attacked Iraq. The recruitment of new martyrs has certainly been high ever since the invasion; there is no way of knowing the exact amount of the increase.
He is a sponsor on all 4 of the bills mentioned above. He said that there are not yet enough votes for any of these bills to pass. None will be brought to the floor unless passage can be guaranteed.
A bipartisan committee has looked at all of the data and has declared that the best way forward with Iran is robust diplomacy, and to negotiate/talk without preconditions. An attack on Iran would be an act of military aggression, and we would be in the wrong under international law.
We all need to use constant vigilance, because Bush and his allies are not to be trusted.
Questions for the Congressmen
The session ended with a question and answer period. Some people just made statements, others asked off-topic questions. Some asked totally relevant questions, but were brushed off as being off-topic (such as impeaching Bush).
Olver said that a bill to eliminate profiteering during wartime by the military-industrial complex would not pass in the current congress.
About the 4 resolutions/bills: an audience member said that we would all feel a lot better if these bills were highly visible and talked about, so that regular Americans would know that they are being discussed.
There was some disapproval in the audience of Nancy Pelosi’s policy of only bring legislation to the floor that has a chance of pass. One of the congressmen said that we currently can’t override vetoes, so it is better to wait until the votes are there.
There was a quick overview of how to get votes for things: the democrats have to promise that they’d vote for something that the republicans want in exchange for the republicans to vote for something for them. The democrats spent their political capital in January, when they agreed to pass the Iraq spending bill in exchange for raising the national minimum wage.
My take on it: why did they blow their capital on minimum wage when something as critical as the situation in Iran has been looming up at them for months? How could they be so daft???
The Republican National Committee has been working very hard this primary season to eliminate all of the representatives that do not toe the neocon line. Any republican that has voted against Bush in the last year or two has had to face a well-funded primary opponent; most of these republicans have lost.
The session ended with a slide show by The Children of Iran. It was filled with pictures of Iranian children as well as drawings by Iranian children. It can be viewed here (along with other videos).
Update: March 16
The firing of Fallon, the only advisor of Bush to oppose any war in Iran, was done because of policy differences. Let’s face it, the administration intends to go into Iran, otherwise this difference of opinion would be irrelevant to Fallon’s continued employment. We have to speak out before this atrocity can be allowed to occur!
Update: March 30
Rumors coming out of Russia place a nuclear first strike on either the 4th or 6th of April. I certainly hope these are false! Meanwhile, Saudi newspapers are reporting that the kingdom has set out plans for dealing with nuclear fallout blowing over Saudi Arabia from Iran. The government announcement of these plans comes just days after Cheney’s visit, which hints at his tour being in part an effort to warn area allies of the coming attacks. Again, I fervently hope that this is not true.
But my faith in the Bush/Cheney regime has never been high, so having faith that they would not stoop to such a dangerously evil level is not founded on anything concrete.
According to the Constitution, there may not be an aggressive military act without a declaration of war by both chambers of Congress. If you are a US citizen, please contact your representative and your senators and let them know that you know the rules, and you do not approve of the possible actions against a country whose main crime has been to sit on top of a huge cache of oil.
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