Acts of Peace

The American-led war in Afghanistan is not getting better. One report found that,  “The human cost of the armed conflict in Afghanistan is escalating in 2010. In the first six months of the year civilian casualties – including deaths and injuries of civilians – increased by 31 per cent over the same period in 2009” (source). Since the beginning of the war, over 70,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, and hundred of thousands more have been injured (source). Here are a couple of examples.

Zeriba Taj, Age 3

When the U.S. bombed the caves of Tora Bora in search of Osama bin Laden in December 2001, nearby villages were struck as well. Zeriba Taj, age 3, was hit in the head by fragments of a U.S. bomb. Zeriba’s father and three sisters were killed.

Amina Khan, Age 8

It was the morning of November 17, the second day of Ramadan, when bombs struck the small village of Khanabad. Amina was in the kitchen preparing tea and food for the children who were not fasting. Suddenly, the entire building came crashing down around her. She found herself squatting under a few intact beams. The entire room was dark and filled with rubble. Following a light shining through the wreckage, Amina managed to crawl out of what was left of the kitchen only to find her house, which had once stood a few yards away, in complete ruins.

Amina ran quickly to her uncle’s house for help. Her uncle and the neighbors who came with him could hardly grasp the horror of the scene. There were dismembered body parts strewn around the yard. Amina’s father, Jama Khan, was the only one found alive under the rubble, pinned down by two beams. The neighbors dug him out. Digging deeper, they found his wife, Bibi Gul, his seven other children, his mother, and his brother and wife and their five children: in all, sixteen family members gone in an instant. Now Amina and Mr. Khan have only each other. It is questionable who takes care of whom. Amina says her father is very ill, emotionally and physically, often unable to sleep at night. Amina also complains of headaches and stomachaches and thinks of her mother all the time. Their house was hit by U.S. warplanes in a battle to chase Taliban forces toward their last stronghold in Kunduz.

These stories are tragic. And it is also tragic to see the fatality number for coalition forces.

Noam Chomsky has pointed out that the attack on Afghanistan must have been Osama bin Laden’s greatest dream come true–it is exactly what he hoped would happen after the Sept. 11th attacks. Terrorism has significantly risen since the expanded involvement of the U.S. in the Middle East (see chart to the left). Fight hatred and war with more war is never the answer. Since Sept. 11th, U.S. foreign policy has only made matter worse.

Yet, in spite of the horrors of war, we can still find stories of hopeful stories in all of this tragedy. Here are just a couple of stories that are worth reflection.

1. [On April 3rd, 2005] A small unit of American soldiers was walking along a street in Najaf [en route to a meeting with a religious leader] when hundreds of Iraqis poured out of the buildings on either side. Fists waving, throats taut, they pressed in on the Americans, who glanced at one another in terror…The Iraqis were shrieking, frantic with rage…It appeared that a shot would] come from somewhere, the Americans [would] open fire, and the world will witness the My Lai massacre of the Iraq war. At that moment, an American officer stepped through the crowd holding his rifle high over his head with the barrel pointed to the ground. Against the backdrop of the seething crowd, it was a striking gesture—almost Biblical. “Take a knee,” the officer said, impassive behind surfer sunglasses. The soldiers looked at him as if he were crazy. Then, one after another, swaying in their bulky body armor and gear, they knelt before the boiling crowd and pointed their guns at the ground. The Iraqis fell silent, and their anger subsided. The officer ordered his men to withdraw.

2. In an effort to humanize the suffering of innocent Afghan civilians, September 11th victims’ family members wanted to establish personal connections with Afghan citizens who had lost loved ones in the U.S. bombing campaign. The delegates spent ten days meeting with Afghans impacted by the U.S. attack, helping document their stories in order to share them with the world. The delegates were extremely affected by the devastation the bombing had inflicted on a people who already experienced 23 years of war. They were disturbed by the lack of information about Afghan victims reported in the and by the lack of assistance offered to Afghan victims. The delegation pledged to publicize the plight of the Afghan victims and to investigate the cases of innocent Afghans killed, injured or harmed by U.S. attacks. This report is one attempt to fulfill that pledge.

On October 7, 2001 the United States military initiated aerial bombing of Afghanistan as part of its campaign to unseat the Taliban regime. From October through mid December, U.S. and Allied aircraft flew around-the-clock missions over Afghanistan, striking hundreds of locations. While targeted at Taliban military sites, the air strikes sometimes went astray and hit non-military, civilian settlements and structures. On many occasions, the bombs hit their targets, but still had devastating impacts on the civilian population.

For the most part, the U.S. media portrayed the bombing campaign as bloodless, a flawless use of sophisticated weaponry. September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows initiated a survey to determine how many civilians were killed during the U.S. bombing campaign. The investigation was conducted to reveal the faces and stories of these largely unacknowledged Afghan victims. It was intended to disclose the human costs of the conflict and to generate support for programs to aid those people whose families were harmed by the U.S. military campaign.

According to our survey at least 824 Afghan civilians were killed between October 7 and January 2002 by the U.S.—led bombing campaign. However, it was impossible for our survey to be exhaustive and comprehensive. Continued bombing and inaccessibility prevented our surveyors from reaching many of the affected provinces. What we were able to document, are some of the circumstances of those 824 civilian deaths and the tragic repercussions they had on families. Indeed, this survey was initiated as a way of showing the commonality of all human suffering. Even though an important distinction must be made between actions intended to harm civilians—such as the September11 attacks in the U.S.—and actions, like the U.S. bombing, where civilian casualties are an unfortunate accident, the result of any death is the same. Parents, children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and friends suffer and grieve whether they live in New York or Kabul. When we experience the death of a loved one, sorrow makes no distinction of nationality, language, race or ethnicity.

Results: (1) The delegation helped connect these families with existing aid organizations; (2) Volunteers secured a sewing machine for a seamstress who had lost her family, so that she could start to generate income; (3) Volunteers also organized a series of workshops for victims’ families to help parents cope with the trauma their children are experiencing; (4) Much more was achieved in creating this global dialogue.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

It is interesting to me that many in our country who scream the loudest for war are the same people who think we should be considered a “Christian nation.” Wasn’t the message of Christ about “turning the other cheek,” and of forms of peaceful resistance? Liberals and conservatives should unit to help end the immoral military interventions that we are currently engaged in. It is the courage of individuals, who stand up to the madness of corruption and war, who bring peace to our world.

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