From a speech I'll give tomorrow as part of the anti-war demonstrations on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately – we’ve known war was imminent for these past few days, and I thank God for that time to prepare, to think, to contemplate. As I walked back to my dorm last night someone stopped me on the street, and asked me what I thought now that the bombs were falling, and it was just then that I looked around and I saw that people in restaurants all up and down Franklin Street were huddled around television sets – I realized that it had begun. I realized that, much as I hope history will vindicate us – much as I am absolutely sure history will vindicate us; this anti-war movement failed last night, in the most concrete of senses. There are people being blown up – being exploded as I speak these words, and in no small part we failed – the democratic ideals on which this country was founded and the ideal of peaceful cooperation on which the United Nations was founded failed – to prevent a great atrocity from taking place.
The question now for me, the big question, is what that failure means. What now does it mean to run through the streets and chant “No War in Iraq”? What now does it mean to yell “Hell no, we won’t go, we won’t go for Texaco!”, what does it mean to say “Inspections work – don’t attack Iraq” – when we’ve already attacked Iraq; when our brothers and sisters in the military are already shedding their blood (when Texaco and Halliburton and GE have already begun to profit off that blood); in short, when THERE IS NOW A WAR IN IRAQ.
We, as people who care deeply about peace and justice in our society cannot simply go back to our dorm rooms and admit defeat. To do so would be to allow a great evil to take place. But at the same time, as people who care deeply about justice, we can not simply call for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. You see, the bombs have already begun to fall, and with them the last hopes for a peaceful resolution of the situation in Iraq. If we pull out now, leaving a carpet of devastation behind us, we will only compound the harm we have visited on our brothers and sisters in Iraq. Now that our nation has begun to undertake the process of dismantling the regime of Saddam Hussein, we are in it for the long haul. As people who care deeply about peace and justice we must then work for three things in the immediate future.
First – President Bush must be held to his promise to rebuild the nation of Iraq into a just, democratic, and prosperous society. The oil resources of Iraq must be returned to the people of Iraq, not to American corporations. The Kurdish people in Northern Iraq and Southern Turkey, and the Shiite Muslims in Southern Iraq must be ensured an equal role in the rebuilding of their society. Further, we must not undermine the tremendous gains made by the Kurds in achieving independence by forcing them to submit to the rule of a US puppet. As citizens of these United States and as citizens of the world, we must act as inspectors of the rebuilding of Iraq. We must force our legislators to commit the necessary funds to rebuild Iraq, funds which the Bush administration does not seem prepared to spend. We must follow the money trail and make sure that no one profits unjustly from this conflict. We must, with our sisters and brothers across the world, make sure that the rebuilding of Iraq is a process which involves all members of the global community.
Second – the United States government must support its troops. After the first Gulf War, thousands of United States servicemen and women came home afflicted by a multitude of symptoms – as a result of chemicals they were exposed to while they risked their lives for our nation. Our nation did not repay their sacrifice – thousands of veterans were forced to deal on their own with the unexpected consequences of their service. Just a few days ago, our government refused to intervene as Louis Jones, Jr., a decorated Gulf War veteran, was executed for crimes committed as a result of brain damage from nerve gas he was exposed to in Iraq. We must work to ensure that the veterans of this Gulf War do not have the same fate.
Last, the government officials and world leaders who organized this war must be held accountable. The pre-emptive invasion of Iraq without prior UN approval was, according to many experts, a violation of international law. Further, President Bush in his unwillingness to take seriously the sentiments of a substantial number of his people, and of the majority of the people of the world, demonstrated that he is unfit to lead this democratic nation. We must mobilize at the polls next year to show that the American people do not support this regime of military force and of fear, and we must ensure that, where appropriate, charges are brought against the leaders of this war in the International Criminal Court.
It is said that as Julius Caesar led his troops across the Rubicon river, willfully disobeying the civil government of Rome, he said “Alea Iacta Est” – the die is cast, there is no going back. Last night, the die was once again cast. Much as we might like to, there is no going back on this war. We cannot simply continue to chant the same empty slogans of peace, for there is now no peace. We must devote our energies to ensuring that what our administration has undertaken – the use of military force to depose an oppressive regime – is done in as just a manner as possible, is done as humanely as possible, and is never again repeated.