Paul Harris (The Observer UK )
December 29, 2002
A convoy of anti-war activists, likely to include dozens of British volunteers,
will leave London next month to act as human shields protecting strategic
sites in Iraq. The convoy to Baghdad is being organised by former US marine
Kenneth Nichols, who served in the first Gulf war and won a combat medal
but has now become a vociferous opponent of another Gulf conflict.
British protesters are also heading for the country in advance of any Anglo-American
Nichols, 33, aims to gather scores of volunteers together in London and lead
the convoy on 10 January. It will drive across Europe, holding rallies in
various capital cities and collecting other human-shield demonstrators along
the way. It plans to travel via Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Zurich, Milan,
Sarajevo, Istanbul and Syria to Baghdad.
He is hoping that the convoy will arrive in the Iraqi capital around 24 January,
three days before President George W Bush is to make his decision on whether
Iraq has complied with the UN weapons inspections, potentially triggering
a US-led invasion.
Nichols is willing to put his own life on the line to stop a war. 'In going
to Iraq, I understand that I will likely not survive a US invasion,' he said.
Once in Iraq, members of the convoy will identify infrastructure targets
for bombing, such as power stations, key bridges and roads, and deploy themselves
as human shields in the glare of the international media.
'I don't think anyone will be happy about bombing somewhere they see being
protected by North Americans or Europeans,' he said.
In the 1991 conflict, Nichols was serving in the 2nd Battalion of the Marine
Corps. He was an infantryman on the road to Basra, where heavy Allied bombing
killed hundreds of retreating Iraqi soldiers. He left the Marine Corps a
His experience of war left him disillusioned with American foreign policy,
and he is now a vociferous opponent of US foreign interventions. 'Part of
the reason I want to go back is to apologise to the Iraqi people for what
I was doing there the first time I was in their country,' he said.
Part-time law student Jo Wilding, 28, is one Briton who is heading for the
region. She expects to fly to Baghdad on 10 January and then go to the southern
city of Basra. 'There is something I can do there just by being a foreigner,'
she said. 'If something does start when we are there, we will be able to
Today's Observer reports plans by peace activists to go to Iraq as human
shields. In this online commentary, protest organiser and former US veteran
Ken Nichols O'Keefe explains why he believes that this is the most effective
way to oppose the war.
Ken Nichols O'Keefe
Sunday December 29, 2002
Day by day, the latest headlines tell us that we are moving ever closer to
war with Iraq. So many people around the world are ashamed and outraged by
this prospect and yet feel powerless to make their voices heard. Large rallies
for peace have been held in cities around the world. Yet the bulletins quickly
return to the war drums beating ever faster for what must be one of the most
choreographed and longest-planned wars in history.
Those who suffer most will of course be the innocent and victimized men,
women and children in Iraq who are set to endure yet another war and unknown
loss of life. Their crime? Simply to be the powerless citizens of an oil
rich nation with a violent dictator who no longer fulfils the needs of Western
powers who supported and armed him in the past.
Yet we need not be powerless. Gandhi said that "peace will not come out of
a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the
face of odds." So what would happen if several thousand Western citizens
migrated to Iraq to stand side by side with the Iraqi people? Along with
at first just a few hundred people - from hundreds of millions in the west
- I will be going to Iraq to volunteer to act as a human shield in the interests
of protecting human life. We will join our fellow citizens of the world in
Iraq to bear witness for peace and justice.
We will run the risk of being maimed or killed - but it is simply the same
risk that innocent Iraqis will themselves face. I would rather die in defense
of justice and peace than "prosper" in complicity with mass murder and war.
This is not about supporting Saddam Hussein, as our governments did in the
past. It is about saving the lives of those in our human family. We will
be expressing to the Iraqi people the reality that most people in the West
do not support this criminal war. And we will bring home to western publics
the human cost of war because, unfortunately, the death and destruction faced
daily by countless millions of our fellow human beings seems somehow an unfathomable
abstraction unless western lives are at stake as well.
For me, this is also an act of personal penance. In 1989, at the age of nineteen
I committed the most ignorant act of my life, I joined the United States
Marine Corps. In 1991 I went beyond ignorance into criminal participation
in a war against the Iraqi people which ultimately included the use of depleted
uranium against the civilian population. My reward as an "American Hero"
was to be used by Bush Sr. as a human guinea pig along with several hundred
thousand other "heroes". We have still not been told the full story about
"Gulf War syndrome" or how many of my fellow soldiers died as a result, but
we do know the value our own leaders put on our lives. When a nation's leaders
do not even respect the lives of their own "sons and daughters," the enemy
will never enter into the realm of consideration. The hundreds of thousands
killed by sanctions against Iraq are seen as a price worth paying. The human
costs of another war in Iraq barely seem to register with our political leaders.
But, as I understand it, we the "citizens" are responsible for the actions
of "our" governments. It is we who are privileged to live in so-called "democracies"
and so we are collectively guilty for what we allow to be done in our name,
to both to the civilian population of Iraq and to others around the world.
Ignorance is no defence. The existence of other tyrants, worse or not, is
In 1999 I renounced my US citizenship in shame and disgust having arrived
at the logical, albeit belated, conclusion that my government was not worthy
of my funding - through taxes - and certainly not my allegiance. Paying for
roads and schools is one thing, paying for "Weapons of Mass Destruction"
to the point of insanity and nurturing global oppression is another thing
all together. No moral being can be compelled to fund war, death and murder.
Only the most indoctrinated can not see the irony in the United States, with
its long record of intervention and around the world, prosecuting this war
on terrorism. A leader of a nation with thousands of nuclear weapons - and
who has declared his right to use them - is ready to pulverize one of the
poorest nations on the planet on the grounds that they may be planning to
develop similar weapons themselves.
This "War on Terror" is becoming the ultimate "War on Freedom", in the United
States and around the world. George Bush has said that "every nation, in
every region, now has a decision to make, either you are with us, or you
are with the terrorists."
But we do not only have two choices, For the record, I am not with George
Bush or with the terrorists. And that is why, when this war finally begins,
I will be in Iraq - with the people of Iraq. I invite everybody to join me
in declaring themselves not citizens of nations but world citizens prepared
to act in solidarity with the most wretched on our planet and to join us
or to support our efforts in other ways. In doing so I honour the principles
and laws of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And if I should die
in Iraq, it will be as a man at peace with himself because he saw the truth
and acted on it.
* Ken Nichols O'Keefe of the Universal Kinship Society is leading the volunteer
mission of peace activists who will be acting as human shields in Iraq. See
www.uksociety.org for more information.
All information posted on this web site is
the opinion of the author and is provided for educational purposes only.
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