Approaching 1,600

Every Thursday, almost without fail, I join my friends from the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice in holding a one-hour “peace presence” on one of the busy corners in our town. (Right outside the local office building maintained by the federal government, actually.)
A few weeks ago I was making a few new signs to replace the ones that had become so tattered over the past three years. One I made says at the bottom “U.S. deaths in Iraq”. Above that there are spaces for four large single-digit numbers, and little velcro squares to which I attach the relevant digits each week. (This is all done with environment-hostile foamcore. Sorry ’bout that.)
Today the number was 1,591. I get the number out of the WaPo every Thursday. I realize it doesn’t mention the much great number of Iraqi deaths. One of our other signs says “We mourn all the victims.”
Preparing the digits each week is a horrible thing. Somehow it’s a very physical way of seeing how quickly that number rises.
In ‘Nam, the proportion of Vietnamese deaths to US military deaths was roughly 50 to 1. I believe something like the same proportion (or something even higher, given the US mil-tech “advances” since then) must apply today. But how, actually, do you count? What do you count? All the infants and sick people who died because of the war-caused degradation of what was once a fairly efficient modern safe-water system? All the sick people who died because of the war-caused chaos in the medical system in general, or because they couldn’t get to the hospital because of the rampant public insecurity?
… Anyway, my favorite sign to hold is still the one that says on one side, “Honk 4 peace” and on the other, “Rebuild our communities.” It’s a good intersection to stand at, since the lights are timed to allow only one of the four approaching streams of traffic to go through it at a time. So drivers in the other three approach roads all have to wait a while.
This means that all of us with the signs can focus on turning toward the approaching stream of traffic and trying to interact with those drivers. We wave and make peace signs to them.
You wouldn’t believe the number of honks we get.
In the past six weeks the number of honks has definitely been increasing– and also the intensity with which people do it. Several times today it felt like a veritable cacophony of different honkings, all competing with each other. Sometimes one or two of the drivers waiting at the light really feel they want to express themselves, and then that can set almost everyone else going as well.
The way I see it, it’s become not just an interactive thing– between us demonstrators and the drivers– but almost a community thing among the drivers themselves, as well.
Anyone who hates this war and who, sitting waiting in her or his car at the light, hears another driver “honking 4 peace” will know that she is not alone. That’s why, sometimes, the honking just seems to spiral almost out of control there.
To me, that’s incredibly valuable, to be able to “connect” all those people in a single symphony of honking, even if only just for a couple of minutes, in today’s unbelievably fractured US culture. (However, if you’re down on the pavement right in front of some of those big old honking pick-up trucks, it can really hurt your ears.)
About how to count all those war-related deaths of Iraqis, though…

I believe that yes, all of the deaths of the types described above should absolutely be laid at the door of the Bush administration. Under international law, as the occupying power, the US government is the responsible power inside occupied Iraq today. Also, antecedent to occupying the country, the US voluntarily and gratuitously launched the war against Iraq.
At the end of the U.S. Civil War (or was it during it?) Abraham Lincoln made a point of expropriating from leading secessionist Robert E. Lee most of the lands Lee owned that faced onto Washington DC from the Virginia side of the Potomac River. And there, Lincoln started burying the Union Army’s war dead. Field after field after field of them, in rows of neat white grave-markers…. Arlington National Cemetery. Reaching right up to the gates of Robert E. Lee’s plantation home.
I’d like to see something similar to that happen in this case, too. Burying the war dead right up to the gates of one of President Bush’s homes. Either the White House, or his place in Crawford, Texas. In a concerted attempt to bring home to him the real, terrible costs of this war he started.
He seems to be a man of very limited life experience, and even more limited imagination. It would be nice to find some way to show him the enormity of what it is he has done.
Any ideas?

8 thoughts on “Approaching 1,600”

  1. Helena-
    Nice job on this site! This is my first visit.
    About our Dear Leader, you said: “He seems to be a man of very limited life experience, and even more limited imagination. It would be nice to find some way to show him the enormity of what it is he has done.”
    You can’t educate a turnip, Helena. It’s a waste of time to try. What we need to figure out is how to stop it from growing. The right wing spent decades thinking over this same problem from the other side. The strategy they ultimately settled on was “starve the beast.” They have damn near succeeded. Let’s think about how we can turn this tactic to our advantage!
    Keep the faith.
    John C.

  2. Actually, Helena, such an approach has been tried. Military Families Speak Out put together 100 coffins and spread them out on the lawn across from the White House on October 2, 2004. Pictures from the event are here:
    MFSO March For Peace
    [This, by the way, is from Casey’s Peace Page, a website devoted to Cindy Sheehan’s son Casey who died in Iraq in April 2004.]
    Alas, George Bush isn’t just a turnip … he’s also walled off from reality by layers and layers of police, secret service, private retainers, etc. etc. He doesn’t HAVE to look at anything you want to show him. One of the pictures in the above collection is of some of the 100 patrolmen backed by 10 mounted police who were detailed to keep representatives of the group (obviously dangerous folks!) from approaching the White House. Sad.
    The vigil I try to attend weekly out in Benicia, CA, is experiencing the same as yours … easily 20 positive responses for every negative. And the negative responses are growing ever more furtive as the Iraq quagmire grows worse. I have to believe that there is hope in that. And yet I see no end to the carnage in sight. Makes you wonder what good are horn honks if they’re not somehow translated into political action …
    Pat K.
    Iraq Coalition Casualty Count

  3. George Bush, in fact, has a few things in Common with Saddam Hussein. One of those things is that he is consistently shielded from having to see or hear what he does not wish to see or hear. Another is that both me are, in my opinion, sociopaths who are not capable of caring about anything that does not affect them. That includes destruction, carnage and death caused directly or indirectly by their decisions, choices, or actions. You could bombard Saddam Hussein 24 hours a day 7 days a week from now to the end of his life with the harm he has caused to his country and its people and he would never get it. Likewise with George Bush. The only difference is that George Bush has people who will instruct him in the best way to put a positive spin on it all.

  4. Friend Helena
    If you excuse me to note this just to give a picture how much the Arab suffer from the occupation by Britt

  5. I am so sorry, salah, for all the death and loss. It is not fair, it is not right, and all I can do is speak my truth to those who may have some power to stop all this violence.
    I wish I could stop all the violence in the world. Decent people deserve better.

  6. Hi, Salah, Susan, friends–
    Thanks to you, Salah, for reminding/informing us about the massacre of Setif.
    By an amzing coincidence last week I was at dinner with a dear, dear old friend, Landrum Bolling, the former President of a Quaker college in Indiana called Earlham College. During WW2 Landrum was a correspondent in Europe for a wire service (I forget which), and as we sat over dinner last week he told the riveting story of how he was the first– or perhaps even the only– western journalist to get into Setif in the days immediately after the massacre…
    He told how the diplomats in Algiers had said it was only “something small” but he decided to go and investigate anyway. And on the way he met a British military attache who told him it was not small at all. So it was really difficult drive up a narrow valley valley to get there… but all along the way were burned-out villages… And when he got back to Algiers he was the only person telling the diplomats there (and the world) what had really happened.
    If I have time I’ll make a separate post about this, with the Babelfish translation into English of that Yahoo article. I have some commentary on it, too…

Comments are closed.