Friday, March 04, 2005

War and Peace and Elections...

It’s been over 18 months since the United States and several allied nations invaded Iraq. The military pulled Saddam Hussein out of a hole under a house and have had him in custody for months. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers have been killed or imprisoned as a result of this operation. Sadly, many civilians have lost their homes, livelihoods, and even their lives; war doesn’t just affect the soldiers. Coalition forces worked hard to stabilize much of Iraq, and the first free elections in that nation’s history were held just over a month ago. Bravo for the Iraqis; I continue to hope and pray that they will someday know lasting peace, that the suicide bombings would stop, and that stability would prevail in that strife-torn land. Although the weapons of mass destruction were never found, the initiative has been considered a success by the government of the United States.

Everywhere I go I see bumper stickers and car magnets that remind me of the need to pray for our troops. I receive emails with photos of soldiers sleeping in the mud, in sand trenches, and I pray for their soon and safe return as often as I think about them. I know people whose cousins, sons, husbands, brothers, sisters, mothers, aunts, and friends have died in, returned from, or are still serving in Iraq. I know that I am not alone in my prayers that this conflict would end soon, that the Iraqi government would be established, and that all the coalition soldiers, Americans, Polish, Salvadorans, Italians, and from every other nation represented there – that they would all go home soon. I think the best way to support our soldiers is to bring them home, run them a good hot bath, feed them well, and let them sleep for about two weeks – with full pay. Everyone wants the war to end and for peace to reign.

Almost exactly a year ago, on March 11th, blood once again flowed from the bodies of innocent civilians when bombs exploded on several trains in Madrid killing over 200 people and wounding more than 1,000 more. Soon after that attack, it was discovered that the bombings were carried out under the direction of Al-Qaeda, the same group held responsible for the horrors of September 11th. Being that I have good friends in Spain, I immediately wrote to them and called them to make sure they were okay and to ask whether they or anyone they knew had been directly affected. The people of Spain took to the streets by the thousands to protest the violence, to call for peace, and they pleaded once again with their President to withdraw the troops from Iraq.

I say “once again” because before the war in Iraq began, the Spanish people had protested for weeks against the planned invasion. Like many of their American counterparts, the vast majority of Spaniards disagreed with the decision to go to war against a nation that had no direct link to the terrorist acts of September 2001. But Aznar went against the will of the majority of his people and made the decision to join President Bush’s coalition and sent Spanish soldiers to fight. I remember how angry my friend Leticia was at the time; she told me, “He will lose next election; the Spanish people won’t forget this.”

The bombings of March 11, 2004 occurred only two or three days before their national election, and just as Leticia promised, Aznar was voted out. The main campaign promise of the man who took his place was that he would bring the troops home. He carried through on his promise within months of taking office. Much of the American press about the Spanish election was critical of their choice to replace Aznar. Many critics said that by withdrawing the troops, Spain was giving credence to the terrorists. Although the number of people lost in Spain was not as great as that of September 11th, their personal and national sorrow was no less acute. For the parents and siblings and children of those soldiers, none of the political arguments mattered. For the families of the Spaniards who lost their lives in Iraq none of the arguments mattered. For the millions of people who had protested the war long before those bombings, the opinion of foreigners didn’t matter; they never wanted to be a part of this war and they opted out as soon as they could. For many of their countrymen, however, it was already too late.

As I think of my Spanish friends preparing to commemorate the one-year anniversary of their nation’s single largest act of terrorism in decades, my heart goes out to them. My mind cannot fathom the horror of how that beautiful and elegant city was torn apart that fateful Friday, and a few days later was draped in silence as its citizens raised their hands in symbolic surrender to the perpetrators of the terror. I so wish I could have been there to see them as they painted the palms of their hands white and walked in silence for hours, not only in Madrid but also in towns and villages all across that land to show their solidarity and their commitment to not draw blood anymore, to stop the killing, and to seek peace.

So why was it that last month when President Bush, Condoleeza Rice, and other representatives of our nation visited Europe to rebuild broken lines of communication between the US and nations there, no one went to Spain? Why would preference be given to nations who made a sovereign decision not to join the conflict, but the one nation that sent its troops, saw them killed in action, had their nation attacked, and then made the sovereign decision to withdraw them – that nation is ignored in this new round of coalition building? The Spanish people did what many American soldiers - and what their own soldiers - died to bring about in Iraq: they voted. They voted freely and fairly. They went to the polls and let their voices be heard. And for that they have been ostracized by the United States. I just don’t get it.

Aren’t free elections and democracy the point of all this bloodshed?

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