Peaceful Tomorrows statement on recent events in Iraq Peaceful Tomorrows statement on recent events in Iraq After our family members were killed on 9/11 we, individually and as a group, said that violent revenge for their deaths was not what we were calling for. We wanted justice; we wanted the perpetrators and their supporters identified, tried and legally punished. We feared that military retaliation would only serve to escalate violence causing other families to lose precious loved ones. And from there the cycles of retaliation and violence would spiral out of control.
Recent events make us heartsick. Our worst fears about the outcome of the War on Terrorism have been realized. A 26-year-old American has been beheaded by violent men who claim they are avenging the brutal, dehumanizing abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.
War does this. It takes every lesson you’ve learned and turns it on its head. “Respect the lives of others.” “Treat people as you yourself would like to be treated.” In war every coping skill necessary for survival surfaces in both the soldier and the civilian in harm’s way. The military are trained to deny their common humanity with the enemy. How else could they psychologically survive?
War does this. It takes ordinary, people and turns them into human beings capable of murder, pillage, rape and other torture. Consider the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971. Volunteers were divided into groups of prisoners and jailers. The jailers went berserk. Ordinary college students became tyrants, capable of abusing other college students. The lead investigator was forced to halt the experiment because of the jailers’ sadistic behavior and the extreme stress that the prisoners experienced.
And now Abu Ghraib. The behavior by our military and intelligence personnel in their treatment of Iraqi prisoners has cast a pall on our claim that we Americans are different from Saddam Hussein. Yet it was precisely the brutal behavior of the Baathists that was one of a multitude of reasons given for going to war in the first place. We are sadly reminded of Representative Barbara Lee’s warning, “Let us not become the evil we deplore.”
The evil we deplore is the denial of all human dignity. Nineteen hijackers and their supporters subscribed to an ideology that denied their common humanity with the 3000 people whose lives were lost on 9-11. American soldiers were able to torture Iraqi prisoners because they viewed the prisoners as less than human. Mr. Berg’s murderers viewed him as means for retaliation, not a man with feelings, hopes and beliefs that deserved respect.
We are sickened by the beheading of Mr. Berg and vehemently condemn this atrocity. Indeed, we denounce in the strongest language possible any behavior that employs violence to settle the conflicts of this world.
The Iraqis were denied their humanity two years ago, when their entire nation was cast as part of an axis of evil. This dehumanization, this inability to acknowledge individual realities of struggle, family, joy, and life, allowed 26 million Iraqi people to be lumped together in the “evil” column, while being falsely linked to the 9/11 attacks.
We all lost a piece of our humanity on September 11th. We’ve lost another piece in the prison blocks of Abu Ghraib, and in the concrete room where Nick Berg was murdered. Our task now is to reclaim the humanity. We ask you to join us in rejecting further violent revenge and in breaking the cycles of violence and war once and for all.