Iraq War Memories

Posted on 01/16/2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

In the fall of 2002 my wife and I spent many hours on the Minneapolis Lake Street bridge with signs protesting the buildup to invade Iraq. We joined hundreds of other people on the bridge over a period of several months in this effort.  We were a varied group, college students, senior citizens and everything in between.  The Lake Street bridge crosses the Mississippi River and  is approximately a quarter of a mile long and with walkways on both sides. Those walkways would be filled with people demonstrating their opposition to the idea of invading a sovereign nation for specious reasons. Unfortunately, the protests on the Lake Street Bridge and many other protests around the country were ignored by those with the power to involve the United States in a war that resulted in a terrible loss in human lives, resources and the image of our nation around the globe.  I am including  the content of a letter  sent to First Lady Laura Bush by Sharon Olds in 2005 that encapsulates the tragedy of the decision to invade Iraq.

Sharon Olds writes to First Lady Laura Bush

From the October 10, 2005 issue of The Nation: The poet Sharon Olds has declined to attend the National Book Festival in Washington. Olds and some other writers were invited by First Lady Laura Bush to read from their works.

Dear Mrs. Bush,

I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on September 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or the breakfast at the White House.

In one way, it’s a very appealing invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000 people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is exciting for a poet in personal terms, and in terms of the desire that poetry serve its constituents–all of us who need the pleasure, and the inner and outer news, it delivers. And the concept of a community of readers and writers has long been dear to my heart. As a professor of creative writing in the graduate school of a major university, I have had the chance to be a part of some magnificent outreach writing workshops in which our students have become teachers. Over the years, they have taught in a variety of settings: a women’s prison, several New York City public high schools, an oncology ward for children. Our initial program, at a 900-bed state hospital for the severely physically challenged, has been running now for twenty years, creating along the way lasting friendships between young MFA candidates and their students–long- term residents at the hospital who, in their humor, courage and wisdom, become our teachers. When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and almost nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion and essentialness of writing. When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for the eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until you get to the first letter of the first word of the first line of the poem she has been composing in her head all week, and she lifts her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self-expression, accuracy, honesty and wit–and the importance of writing, which celebrates the value of each person’s unique story and song.

So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture and another country–with the resultant loss of life and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their home terrain–did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made “at the top” and forced on the people by distorted language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism–the opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.

I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness–as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing–against this undeclared and devastating war. But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration. What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting “extraordinary rendition”: flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.



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Predicting The Future

Posted on 12/25/2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

As I looked through old files for a short story I had written a number of years ago I came upon a letter-to-the-editor I had submitted to the Minneapolis Tribune in April of 2002.  The letter hadn’t been accepted for publication and I forgot about it until I came upon it today. When I read the letter I thought, how preconceptive was that?

A short review of the Iraq situation in April of 2002 will be helpful.  The United States had established and maintained  a no fly zone in southern Iraq for an extended period and had more recently established a no fly zone and in the north Kurd areas. The UN had inspection teams in Iraq searching for weapons of mass destruction.

The letter read as follows:

Justifying War with Iraq

There are powerful people in the Bush administration that make no secret of the desire to make war on Iraq, more specifically on Saddam Hussein.  The justification for such action would be that Saddam is producing,  or wants to produce weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States.  It would be more convenient to have proof that Iraq had been a major player in the 9/11 terrorism, but apparently, that is not the case.

A problem with the weapons of mass destruction scenario is that there probably is not a worse place on earth at this time to attempt to covertly produce weapons of mass destruction than Iraq. Our spy satellites and planes have the country under a microscope, and the United States has or should have if they don’t, an army of agents in the country. It is likely that a vehicle can’t move, a building constructed, a message sent,  without our knowledge. Our warplanes control and patrol the airspace over the country, and can, as they have in the past, with the help of cruise missiles, destroy anything deemed suspicious going on in the country.

There would be little doubt about the outcome of any war that the United States super power  would conduct against Iraq, a crippled third world country.  A lot of Iraq’s people  would be killed,  much of what remains of the Iraq infrastructure would be destroyed, and Saddam would be deposed.  Then what?

We would be  in control of a country that has three strong factions, the Kurds, the Shi’is,  the Sunnis,  vying for power.  We would be morally obligated to repair the infrastructure, feed the hungry, house the homeless, get the country running, maintain order for an unpredictable period of time,  set up a government.   What government?  Remember, Saddam was one of our boys in the 80’s.

What would be a better solution?  How about maintaining our current tight control over what happens in  Iraq, and let time help us solve the problem?  Saddam is mortal,  he will eventually become history, either due to natures inexorable toll, the actions of his own people, some other incipient incident, none of which would  require any overt action on our part.

In the mean time,  the Mideast and its seemingly intractable  problems will continue on into the foreseeable future.  War sometimes may be necessary, but it cannot solve all of the problems in that region,  and excessive use of military power could make more enemies than friends,  generate more terrorists than it eliminates. If we have a choice, wouldn’t it be preferable for us to use our super power in constructive, not destructive ways, mediate when needed,  assist when necessary, and strive to  provide a positive influence in the world and in the Mideast?


One error I did make in my assumptions had been to give our intelligence community more capability than they later demonstrated. I hope that is the case and the data had not been intentionally skewed.

In any case the letter demonstrates that I have clairvoyant powers and therefore attention should be given to my vision of the state of the union in 2033 as described in the PushBack book!  Actually, it didn’t take much vision to see what would be the result of our country taking military action in Iraq in 2002.

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