The new book by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and her brother David is entitled Standing up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times.
Listeners and viewers of Democracy Now! -- and readers of Real Change -- are unlikely to ask: What madness?!
Our president is working to circumvent Congress to create a treaty with the Iraqi government to keep U.S. troops in Iraq forever; he claims authority to bomb Iran whenever he chooses; he appoints political supporters to censor senior scientists and justifies it on the grounds that the facts they report contradict the policies he wants to pursue. And torture! And Gitmo! And illegal spying! And on and on.
This is madness!
Who are the ordinary heroes -- and the not-so-ordinary ones -- who stand up to this madness?
One not-so-ordinary hero is Hans von Sponeck, former head of the Oil for Food Program in Iraq. He resigned his 33-year UN career as Assistant Secretary General to protest the deadly impact of U.S. and UN economic sanctions on the Iraqi people. On April 3 he comes to Seattle to present a European Peace Plan for Iraq. He'll be joined by some other heroes who've visited Syria and will report back on the Iraqi refugee crisis there.
Congressman Jim McDermott is another not-so-ordinary hero. In 2002 he went to Iraq to try to stop the Congressional rush to war. He went knowing there would be political fallout; it reappeared March 28, when the Seattle Times featured a front-page photo showing him below a large poster of Saddam Hussein. Again he's called a dupe of Saddam because, unknown to him, $5,000 for the trip allegedly came from Iraq.
These two men are heroes. Hans von Sponeck tried to prevent deaths in Iraq due to economic sanctions. Jim McDermott tried to prevent deaths from an impending war in Iraq. The intensity with which both men were attacked and called dupes of Saddam -- along with many others who questioned the official story about sanctions and war -- is a measure of the serious truth their attackers were unwilling to consider.
The truth is harsh: We contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children because we demonized one man. Saddam ruled Iraq for 24 years, 12 with U.S. support, 12 with U.S. efforts to overthrow him. The excess deaths of at least half a million Iraqi children represent the difference of that latter period. But we kept repeating our comfortable mantra: It's all Saddam's fault.
And we ignored the facts. Even when they came from our doctors at Harvard and Johns Hopkins and were presented in The New England Journal of Medicine. Even when they were later substantiated by UNICEF. And even when our UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright said on national television in 1996 that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were "worth the price."
A further indication of madness is news coverage given to $5,000. Compare $5,000 to $3,000,000,000,000 for a war that Jim McDermott tried to prevent. Compare that to the deaths of 5,000 Iraqi children every month for 12 years, caused by waterborne diseases resulting from U.S. bombing of Iraqi civilian infrastructure and the sanctions. Where is THAT story?
But what about you, in this time of madness? If you don't own a newspaper, a radio or TV station, what can you do?
I suggest that the first thing is to recognize the great amount of apathy, despair, and indifference that pervades our culture today. In the face of this, to do anything at all is an act of ordinary heroism.
Then look for examples of people you think are persistent, skillful, effective. Like Joe Colgan. After his son was killed in Iraq, he did not become bitter. He organized a weekly vigil every Tuesday outside the Federal Building, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. He's known and respected inside (Change Agent, March 12).
Joe would like the Iraq war to end. So would I. So would many who'll read this. If we take no action, we succumb to the despair or indifference of our culture. If we take any action and expect the war to end in a month or even a year, we will likely become embittered and burn out. But if we act with persistence, creatively, and keep at it with kindness, that's heroism. We become the ordinary heroes. And inspire others to act.
Doing that, I think, is our only real chance to make our world more peaceful. And in the process, to become more peaceful ourselves.
Thank those who do good. Speak truth, kindly, to those whose actions cause suffering. And remember all the times and ways that each of us has also acted out of our ignorance.
Bert Sacks has been to Iraq 9 times; the U.S. government fined him for violating sanctions. In turn he sued the government with a case that went up to the U.S. Supreme Court. He still has not paid any fine.