Letter from the Road #12

Path of the Friend

Elias Amidon


To End the Scourge of War


A wonderful thing happened this morning at our vigil in a field across from U.N. headquarters here in Baghdad. We’ve made an encampment there with an open-sided tent and several large banners that read LET THE INSPECTIONS CONTINUE and INSPECTIONS YES, INVASION NO and LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH. There are TV and newspaper crews from around the world who interview us each day.

This morning while we were standing silently I read aloud the preamble to the U.N. Charter. “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…” When I finished we stood silently again. After a few minutes a man came out of the U.N. compound and crossed the road. He was a U.N. inspector. He approached us, rather shyly, and called out, “We, over there, just want to thank you all. You are a real encouragement to us. Your being here has greatly helped our morale. Well, that’s all…thank you.” And he turned and crossed back over the road. We applauded as he left.

There was something so human and generous about that particular encounter in a dusty field in Baghdad, with the tensions of the entire world bearing down on it. On each side of the road the people of the United Nations worked to end the scourge of war. We helped their morale, and they in turn helped ours. Even Hans Blix took part. At his news conference the other day he was asked if there was much support here for the continuation of the inspections. He said he believed there was, and described the “large demonstration at the airport” (ours) he saw upon his arrival. He said, “They had a banner saying ‘Inspections Yes, Invasion No.’ This is just what we want.”

But like Rabia in her last letter, I begin to wonder what’s the use of all these actions and appeals for peace. “Bush will have his war.” It may come very soon. We are scheduled to leave in a week and the idea of leaving, as well as the idea of staying, fills us with dread. How can we save our own skins while the Iraqi people around us, and our fellow Peace Team members, remain facing such peril?

Of the 50 of us here, about 18 members of the Peace Team intend to stay. I’ve been asking them why they are staying. Their answers suggest they are moved by a force more powerful than fear and violence. Here are a few examples.

Lisa, a 32 year-old woman from Rwanda, now living in Toronto, told me, “This is the first time in my life I’ve settled down. Here in Baghdad I fit in at last. It’s like my people in the refugee camps in Rwanda – we have to go home and get what’s ours. We have to get what belongs to us. And what is that? That’s the question. Here, in Baghdad, I’ve found what it is. It is the power I have. The power I have to say ‘this is unacceptable.’ It’s like people say ‘land mines are unacceptable.’ How can you unaccept something that is there? You can. This is the power I have here. I won’t stand for this war. I stand for something else. You have to position yourself in one way or another.”

Mike, a Vietnam vet, said something similar: “You know, most things in life are defined for us. We fit into somebody else’s definitions. The reasons for my staying here are something I can define myself. If I say my intention is for peace, it is. No one can say otherwise. I’m here to put my life where my truth is.”

Or Cathy, a 50-year old Catholic Worker: “I don’t want to be in the country that’s dropping the bombs. And if I’m here and am killed under those bombs, what difference does it make if it’s me or the Iraqis?” As she talks I feel her echo an early Christian ideal of self-sacrifice. I ask her if this is not her own “imitation of Christ.” She answers plainly, “I try to live a surrendered life.”

Or Cynthia, a 73-year old librarian from upstate New York: “I will stay because it’s the place for me to be. You know, we are one family on earth, no matter what. The Iraqi part of my family is in danger now. I must be with them. If you ask anybody in the world what they would do if their family was in danger, they would say they’d want to go be with them. That’s all I’m doing. I’m here to be with my family in their hour of danger. It’s simple. You act because your conscience tells you to act. Anyway, I’ve already had my three score years and ten. Every day now is a bonus for me.”

A full day has now passed since writing the last paragraph. Things have gotten very intense and busy. The press is paying a lot of attention to our actions and vigils – we’ve held dozens of interviews. Everyone awaits the inspectors’ report to the U.N. tonight. Some say the bombing could start in two days, others say not for another week, and a very few still say the war will be called off. There are more prayers, and deeper ones.

Last night Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, the special envoy from Pope John Paul II, celebrated Mass in St. Joseph’s Cathedral here in Baghdad. During his homily he said the following:

Peace? Who doesn’t talk about it today everywhere in the world without thinking about the huge threats that weigh on Iraq? Who does not desire peace? But how many among them think that peace is still possible? How many truly want it with all their weal? How many see in prayer something other than a refuge during hours of panic? Something other than a simple alibi from human engagement?

Today, tonight, here, we pray for peace in Iraq and in the entire Middle East. It is most certainly a test of faith and the harder for those of us who take seriously both prayer and peace. They go hand in hand.

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