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.