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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Musing on the End of the Iraq War.

"It's hard not to think of my war as a bizarre camping trip that no one else went on."
                       – Alex Lemons, Iraq-war veteran (taken from Time Magazine Nov 21, 2011)

Since food seems to be a big part of our celebrations, it's natural to gather frequently during the holiday season around our dinning room tables and share our gratifications and remember the less fortunate. This year while gathering around the table and celebrating the season there will be a surge of relief knowing that American troops will be back from Iraq. We will rejoice that many families around the nation will spend the holidays with their loved ones returning home from half-way around the world.

On October 21, President Obama officially announced the end of the war in Iraq and the planned return of all U.S. troops by the end of the year 2011.  It boggles the mind that a war that should never have begun has lasted almost nine years, and has drained our coffers of hundreds of billions of dollars that was badly needed at home.

The cover story of Time Magazine's November 21 issue was dedicated to the homecoming of the troops.   Mark Thompson, who penned the story, writes: "As the nation prepares to welcome home 45,000 troops from Iraq, most Americans have little or nothing in common with their experiences or the lives of the 1.4 million men and women in uniform." I found that comment to be very true.

When was the last time I watched a documentary about the war in Iraq or read a book about it?  I cannot recall.  I know there were a few documentaries made about the war and I remember, in particular, one that tracked the lives of soldiers returning home with lost limbs. But Generally speaking, I haven't seen any dramatic documentaries or heard a strong public outcry about the war, nor any movies depicting the atrocities of the war.

When I look back to the Vietnam War era, when I was a teenager in Tehran, it seems to me that I was more aware of U.S. war policies than I am today.  I have a small memory from that time that has stayed with me for all these years.  One day during the early stages of the Vietnam War, we were at a family gathering where my dad and uncles were gathered around the table discussing politics. I, the curious kid, was drawn to their conversation and I was in shock when I overheard one of my uncles saying, "Wars are waged to make wealth." After so many years this statement has proven true.

I'd like to finish this musing by visiting a corps of dedicated people who come together every Friday – rain or shine – from 5 to 7PM at the south-west corner of Brand and Broadway in Glendale, to demonstrate their opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

They call it the Glendale Peace Vigil.  Those who participate say war makes our lives less safe because it creates enemies for America, it brings terrorism, and it depletes our coffers with consuming money that could be spent on badly needed infrastructure in the country. Julianne Spillman and Nancy Kent spearheaded the group in September of 2002, six months before troops were deployed in Iraq. 

Kent recounts how the Vigil was started, “There were a lot of protests against the war of Afghanistan already underway and people were against the upcoming war in Iraq. The main Vigil was in front of the Federal building on Wilshire Blvd in LA.  Julianne and I thought that instead of driving to Wilshire, why not to start our own group? That’s how we formed the Glendale Peace Vigil.” She continues, “At the beginning, before the war in Iraq got on its way, there were more people, but after the war started, the number dropped. At the beginning we were getting 20 to 40 people, but the number has gone down and now only eight or ten regularly show up. In case of rain we get protection under the overhang of the Glendale Galleria.”

"Now that the troops are called back are they going to continue their vigil?" I asked.  Kent responded, "We have no plans to stop this vigil – we're still in Afghanistan and we want to show our solidarity with the demonstrations of the 99%."  I noticed a black button on her jacket and 99% printed in white.  I asked her about their plans for joining with the 99% demonstration.  She said that they don't have plans to fetch tents, however they're supporting the movement.

After talking to them I returned to my car, reflecting on how many people are sacrificing because of these wars, and on how little the rest of us are aware of it. 

The following comments is by Kelly Hayes-Raitt:

Catherine, great post!  I agree with your uncle's observation that "wars are waged to make wealth."  When I was in Iraq in June 2003, 3 months after the US-led invasion and occupation, I sneaked into a Bechtel meeting and witnessed how the American company set the bar too high for Iraqis to get contracts to rebuild their own country.  See my blog post at:

And as we Americans rightfully celebrate the return of our soldiers, let's hold the Iraqis in our hearts.  Estimates of civilian deaths range from 100,000 (documented civilian deaths as a result of the war) to 1 million (based on epidemiological studies).  Every Iraqi has been touched by violence.  I have several posts of detailing my first-hand interviews with Iraqi refugees in Syria:

I am currently writing a journalistic memoir about these experiences. A chapter appears in "Female Nomad & Friends" (Random House, 2010) and "Best Women's Travel Writing 2011" (Travelers Tales, 2011).

Thank you for your wonderful writing!

Kelly Hayes-Raitt

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