Remembering the Dead In The Continuing Wars in Iraq and Afganistan

This is the reflection we lead at the New Haven, Connecticut War Memorial.  At the end of the reflection a stone is place on a memorial cairn with the number of the dead in the Iraq and Afgan warsm for the previous month.

We are here this evening to remember, to morn and to seek forgiveness for the wars undertaken in our name.  We are here to reinforce our resolve as we continue the hard work of building peace.

From Iraq: wars and casualties, 14 years on

By Lily Hamourtziadou – March 16, 2016 (Iraq Body Count)

“Cicero, Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer and political theorist wrote “in times of arms, the laws fall silent”.   Historians, philosophers and politicians write about war in terms of right and wrong, just and unjust.   Human and other casualties of war, including conditions that make life good, safe and worth living, receive less attention.

Since January 2016, 10,341 civilians have lost their lives in Iraq.  According to Iraq Body Count, that brings the total civilian death toll to nearly 190,000, with the total violent deaths including combatants up to 260,000. The dead are civilians, soldiers, insurgents, terrorists; they are Iraqi, American, British, Italian, Sunni, Shia, Yazidi, Kurdish; killed while fighting, shopping, walking, sleeping…

As the wars continue, more casualties become apparent. One of them is the Iraqi state, a failed state unable to control its territory and incapable of maintaining security. It is a state characterized by sectarian conflict, economic debilitation and violence, a state reliant on external intervention and support.

Moderation has been another casualty in this struggle for power. The wars have resulted in increased Muslim hostility, jihadism and radicalization. Hard-liners have prevailed, while moderates are marginalized and silenced.

As the wars reach their 13th year and a generation is coming of age, childhood is another casualty. Millions of children have grown up in daily violence, bombings and shootings, lack of education, poverty and fear, witnessing violent death as part of a ‘normal’ life. Some have even been recruited as child soldiers, featured in propaganda videos as they carry out executions. What adults are those children growing up to be? How will the trauma of war affect their lives?

A tragic casualty seems to be hope. The most frequently asked question on Iraq, for years, has been ‘How can the war end?’ So many are looking for the answer, the solution, the path to peace. Yet now, more than ever, no answer can be given. The continuing struggle for supremacy, the battle of interests and the battle of rival identities are once again raging, as hope is slowly dying, along with thousands of innocents.”

The cost of war beyond the body counts is beyond our comprehension.  ~13 trillion dollars, countless thousands injured, countless millions displaced or refugees. Hatred and intolerance, sectarian and tribal violence unleashed and spilling over to neighboring countries that will take decades to reconcile.  

We are at a reckless, immoral precipice wasting lives and treasure.  We have not come to this precipice for the first time.  Universal Soldier was written by Donovan and released in 1965 (Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group) during the Vietnam war.

He's five foot-two, and he's six feet-four,
 He fights with missiles and with spears.
He's all of thirty-one, and he's only seventeen,
He's been a soldier for a thousand years.

 He's a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain,
 a Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.
 And he knows he shouldn't kill,
 And he knows he always will,
Kill you for me my friend and me for you.

And he's fighting for Canada, 
He's fighting for France,
 He's fighting for the USA,
 And he's fighting for the Russians,
 And he's fighting for Japan,
And he thinks we'll put an end to war this way.

And he's fighting for Democracy,
 He's fighting for the Reds,
 He says it's for the peace of all.
He's the one who must decide,
Who's to live and who's to die,
And he never sees the writing on the wall. 

But without him,
 How would Hitler have condemned him at Labau? 
Without him Caesar would have stood alone,
 He's the one who gives his body
as a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can't go on.

He's the Universal Soldier and we really are to blame, His orders come from far away no more, They come from here and there and you and me, And brothers can't you see, This is not the way we put an end to war.”

While preparing for today’s service, I found resources that were new to me like the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the American Friends Service Committee’s report SHARED SECURITY: Building peace in an interdependent world.  This is a quotation from the American Friends’ report:

“As a global community, we have wasted too many lives and too much money under the misguided notion that we must always be ready for war and that violence is inevitable.

The simple truth, based on evidence spanning centuries, is that violence does not work to create safe and secure communities.

Yet peace can grow in the most surprising of places, with leadership from those one might least expect.

Just like war, peace requires preparation, strategy, investment, and ongoing practice. Building a global community grounded in shared security will require serious commitments to transforming political, economic, and social relationships; respecting human rights; and mending the harms caused by injustice and war.

We do not expect such a world to emerge easily, but we are convinced that it is possible. “

The report reminded me of the words of The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.  Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.  Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.

In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is also a great peacemaking resource.   I found these two quotationas among many in their Peace Discernment Process Facilitator's Guide.

 Dwight D Eisenhower - anticipating the words of American Friends - in a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. ….. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.“

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Peace Prayers: Meditations, Affirmations, Invocations, Poems, and Prayers for Peace, ed. Staff of Harper San Francisco (New York: Harper Collins), p. 23.

A Woman’s Prayer for Peace

“When I think of peace, I think of a world where human beings are no longer brutalized on account of such accidents of birth as sex, race, religion, or nationality. For me, peace is a way of structuring human relations where daily acts of kindness and caring are tangibly rewarded. It is a way of thinking, feeling, and acting where our essential interconnection with one another is truly honored.

I pray for a world where we live in partnership rather than domination; where “man’s conquest of nature” is recognized as suicidal and sacrilegious; where power is no longer equated with the blade, but with the holy chalice: the ancient symbol of the power to give, nurture, enhance life. And I not only pray, but actively work, for the day when it will be so. “

Riane Eisler, Peace Prayers, p. 108.

 Today’s stone records the carnage, terror, agony and despair in August 2016: Iraq US military 1, civilians 1363; Afghanistan US Military 2, civilians ~200.

 In closing, we pray together: [please repeat after me] may peace be so - and may my efforts - help make it so.


Art and Mary Hunt, Activist Council Members