This past Monday marked the 4th anniversary of the war in Iraq. The weapons of mass destruction did not exist. The oft-touted “mushroom cloud” was never possible. Iraq had no nuclear capability. The yellowcake from Niger proved to be a myth from a forged document. We were told we would be greeted as liberators. The welcome wagon still hasn’t been rolled out, 4 years later. Iraqis, who don’t agree on much of anything these days, are united in their wish that we get the heck out of there. We were told the war would pay for itself, with all that Iraqi oil. Instead, the US treasury is shoveling more than $1 billion a week at a war we aren’t winning. Many Iraqis still don’t have electricity or running water. The road from Baghdad to the airport is still not safe. The cost in lives is immeasurable.
As I write this, the US military death count is 3, 228. We don’t count the numbers of dead Iraqi civilians. We hear a lot of phony concern about the Iraqis, from our war president. Remember the purple fingers, and all of the talk about making life better for Iraqi women? It’s hard to believe that we really sincerely care about the Iraqi people, if we don’t respect them enough to count their dead. The Bush administration knows that if we the people had the full count of the dead, that our opposition to the war would be too strong to ignore. I can’t begin to fathom that kind of cynicism, combined with that kind of censorship.
This past Monday, a small peace vigil, planned at the last minute, was held in Conway, at the intersection of 16 and 153. I held a sign that read simply,“PEACE.”
During the last four years, I’ve participated in numerous peace marches, demonstrations, and vigils. I’ve watched public opinion, as expressed by motorists, change. Four years ago the one fingered peace salute was very common, as were all manner of crude epithets. Four years later, the motoring public has changed its tune. Support for ending the war is overwhelming. On Monday, the traditional peace sign was much in evidence, as were honking horns, and thumbs up gestures.
There were gestures of disapproval. A few angry young men burned rubber going around corners in the intersection. There were a few one finger gestures. Most puzzling of all to me, as I stood holding a sign reading “Peace” were the thumbs down gestures.
I’ve been thinking about them all week, trying to interpret what message they could be sending. Were they war supporters? Maybe. Were they just reacting to what they no doubt perceived as a bunch of “hippies” standing around with signs? Maybe. The most frightening possibility is that they believe peace is a bad idea, under any circumstances.
Much has been written about the ideological polarization that has taken place in this country. It’s been carefully created, and nurtured, in fact. “You’re either with us or against us” was a bit of propaganda that insured a deep division between those who believed the facts being presented before the invasion of Iraq, and those who did not. Many, who believed what they were told at the time, have come to understand that the US invasion of Iraq was based entirely on lies and manufactured evidence. That still leaves a population of folks who are so bound to their ideology that they can’t admit that the war is a disaster. They’re the ones who use terms like “cut and run” – another propaganda sound bite. Apparently “stay and die” is preferable to these folks.
Our president once said that he was “a uniter, not a divider.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Right after 9/11, when we needed a national focus, he advised us to go shopping. We had a window of opportunity to heal some of the polarization that’s taken place. The Uniter chose to continue that divide, pitting us against one another with his rhetoric. The division keeps us from working together, to move forward, and work to rectify the mistakes of the last 6 years of this administration. That divide causes people to defend and justify criminal conduct, because they can’t admit the people on their side are wrong. That divide creates anger, hate, and violence. That divide is hurting our nation, our state, and our communities.
A neighbor in Jackson recently commented that in the old days, people would get together at town meeting and hash things out – sometimes fighting tooth and nail, but at the end of the meeting, everyone walked out and went back to being friends and neighbors. It’s different, now, she told me. People simmer and resentments fester. Those simmering resentments mean that it’s difficult for folks in the community to join forces and do what’s right for the town… as well as the state, and the country.
How do we end this polarization? How do we become more united, in these United States? How do we begin to work together, for the common good? I don’t have the answers to those questions, but one thing I am certain of is this: we must start with peace.
“The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.