March 18, 2008
By Mike Ferner
March 19, 2003: a date that will live in infamy.
Perhaps not in the minds of many of our fellow citizens, but surely to
most people around the world. On that date, U.S. military forces
Almost a year later I was in a small farming village some miles north
of Baghdad, accompanying members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams.
They were recording the stories of the common people of Iraq who had no
access to news media or decision-makers in the Green Zone. One of those
stories was from a village sheikh who recounted his weeks of horror as
a detainee under the control of the U.S. Army.
He and a dozen others were held in, or rather, on, a patch of open
ground, surrounded by concertina wire, exposed to the sun, huddled
against a two-day rain, and with a hole dug with their hands for a
toilet. After several days he finally was given at least a blanket.
With his humanity and graciousness somehow still intact, he quickly
added that he understood the difference between the American people and
their government. But then he uttered the words that haunt me to this
day: "But you say you live in a democracy. How can this be happening to
As we arrive at the heartbreaking fifth anniversary of the invasion of
Iraq and begin Year Six as that nation's occupier, it is a good time to
reflect on the words of that sheikh.
We might, for example, reflect on this democracy business and whether
we have it in such surplus that we can drop quantities of it from
military aircraft to those we deem need it most; or whether shoveling
additional billions into the treasuries of Exxon, Texaco, Shell,
Halliburton, and Blackwater ultimately will make our society more or
less democratic. We might reflect on the 1 million-plus Iraqis we have
killed, the likely 5 million wounded, the more than 4 million
displaced from their homes, the untold millions desperate for clean
water, electricity, food, work, security, and sanity in an unending
madness. We might reflect on whether we are more or less safe following
such a holocaust against our fellow human beings.
We also could reflect on some numbers painfully close to home - at
least 3,984 U.S. troops killed and 29,320 wounded, according to
President Bush. His definition of "casualties" conveniently does not
include more than 100 suicides and 31,325 "nonhostile" injuries - such
as getting hurt in a traffic accident racing down the road to a
firefight. That is somehow not considered "wounded in action."
We could reflect on all the doctors, teachers, scientists, and loving
parents whose communities will never benefit from their skills and
compassion because their blood drained into the sands of Iraq. We could
reflect on how much healthcare or schooling or public transit we might
have bought with the $3 trillion plus this war is likely to cost, or
the $390 million it has already taken from taxpayers in the city of
Toledo, or the $18 billion vacuumed out of Ohio.
For generations, graveyards have been traditional places to pause and
reflect. One particularly stirring and poignant portrayal of a
graveyard, called Arlington Midwest, will be erected on the lawn of the
Lucas County Courthouse today through Saturday. It consists of some
5,000 small, wooden tombstones, painted white and arranged in precise
rows like its namesake in Virginia. Each marker bears the name, rank,
branch of service, hometown, and place and date of death for every U.S.
soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unique to the dozen or so
"Arlingtons" that Veterans For Peace has inspired around the country,
Arlington Midwest also has a section memorializing the Iraq and
Afghanistan veterans who have taken their own lives, and a moving
tribute to the Iraqi dead.
An unusually broad coalition of religious, labor, civil rights, and
peace groups across Northwest Ohio is sponsoring these fifth
anniversary events. A full list and calendar can be seen at
Just as that mystified village sheikh wondered - "But you say you live
in a democracy. How can this be happening to us?" - so might we stand
silently for a moment in Arlington Midwest and ask ourselves, "How can
this be happening to us?"