Sunday, November 28, 2004

Specks on the Sea

A pacifist writes a polemical eulogy entitled A Coward's Tribute to Margaret Hassan. Tom Nagy introduced himself to Hassan when he traveled to Baghdad in the shadow of a "looming American invasion".

My passport held my credentials: letters identifying me as a reporter for the Progressive Magazine and as a researcher for the Canadian affiliate of the Nobel Peace Prize awardee, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. I was travelling to Iraq to estimate the level of child mortality that would result if the US government unleashed its threatened war of "Shock and Awe". I had also come to Iraq as a member of a group of ageing pacifists called the Iraq Peace Team.

Nagy, who wrote "The Secret Behind the Sanctions: How the US Intentionally Destroyed Iraq's Water Supply" believed that the US had intentionally targeted Saddam's water supply system to create "increased outbreaks of disease and high rates of child mortality". He hoped Hassan would provide further evidence to help him uncover this diabolical plot.

Margaret confirmed to me that the machinations of the US-dominated UN Sanctions Committee had denied and delayed many items indispensable for the rehabilitation of Iraq's water system. But nothing prepared me for what followed next. Margaret handed me a section of pipe of huge diameter. The pipe, however, was so clogged that only a trickle of water could pass through it. What prevented the necessary maintenance of such water treatment pipes? Margaret explained that any items which the Sanctions Committee did, from time to time, permit to be imported were paid for in hard currency generated by the Oil for Food programme. Nevertheless, Iraq was required by the US-dominated UN to pay 100 per cent of the cost of these shipments at the border, before being allowed to inspect even these life-saving articles for usability or completeness. And, according to Margaret, the shipments were almost invariably incomplete and of unusable quality.

This must have been a remarkable scene, one which would have put the best efforts of Wile E. Coyote in the shade. But if it happened, then here is evidence, if any were needed, that the entire Oil-For-Food-Programme investigation is on the wrong track. Kofi Annan and Saddam had nothing to do with it. The thing was secretly run by the Pentagon.

Such cruelty by officials of my own country shattered me. That night sleep was impossible. The next day I could not leave my bed. I recalled the warning of a Canadian psychiatrist who had worked extensively with ex- refugees like me, that the experience of the first five years of my life as a refugee/displaced person increased my risk of "falling apart" in Iraq. The Canadian doctor warned me that if I could no longer function, I should leave the country at once. Following this medical advice, I took the next flight out of Baghdad. In my dazed condition, I mistakenly thought the Jordanian airliner taking me to Amman was travelling through the "no-fly zone". I remember looking out the window for US fighter planes and their heat-seeking missiles. Curiously I felt no fear. I was beyond caring. A part of me wanted to die.

Fortunately for Nagy, no US fighters were scheduled to shoot down commercial airliners that day and he lived. But when he came to himself Nagy understood the true meaning of his entire journey.

Now, I realise that I should have followed Margaret's example and stayed in Iraq, even if I remained bed-bound, to share the fate of the Iraqi people. ... If Margaret is dead, then are we not compelled to ask who benefits by her death? And are we not compelled to memorialise her dauntless heroism by racing to any country threatened by future invasions and staying there to try and avert war by sharing the fate of the innocent? Can there be any more fitting memorial to Margaret than to make wars and invasions impossible by interposing our bodies between their child-victims and the terror weapons of our own governments? Let us call future pacifist groups who take on this mission Margaret Hassan Peace Teams. If the current invasion of Iraq has killed Margaret Hassan, then may the example of Margaret Hassan inspire us to slay war itself.

In James Michener's The Bridges of Toko-ri an American naval aviator comes to the same moment of existential realization as he awaits death from North Korean soldiers who are closing in on his position as his squadron make one final protective pass with their F2H-Banshees before their fuel state compels them to return to the carrier. Michener rhetorically asks, "Where do we get such men? They leave this ship and they do their job. Then they must find this speck lost somewhere on the sea. When they find it, they have to land on its pitching deck. Where do we get such men?" Nagy would know.