Friday, November 24, 2006

My Mother and the War in Iraq

This Monday my mother was on the phone when she heard on the TV that the U.S. government might send 50,000 more troops to Iraq and she fell to the floor. My mother has been against the war from the beginning. At 81, she hadleft me to do the active demonstrating. Now at 84 she is quite frail and even more against the war. We both voted this November hoping to signal our being against this war and were happy when the Democrats won. But hearing the news of a possible troop buildup she fell.

Hearing this, I immediately drove over there. She has severe osteoporosis and a fall could mean a broken bone. She had, thank God, only bruised herself.

Driving to my mother's house all those protests I went to before the war started: the two street corner vigils at Friday twilight at Sunset, Hollywood, and Virgil intersection to hold up signs to the oncoming cars to say "No War in Iraq." I remembered a young couple who brought their two toddlers, gave them two signs, so mom, dad, and the two toddlers held up anti-war signs to the cars of Los Angeles. I was afraid that any war would have a devastating effect on the health care system of Iraq as well as stop us in the United States from improving our damaged health care system. Next I went to the huge protest of 40,000 down Hollywood Boulevard believing up god just maybe we could stop this war. A week later when I joined the candlelight march on Echo Park Lake, one of thousands of anti-war candlelight marches around the world, it was obvious that we global protestors weren't going to stop this war. I took photos of these marches because I knew we were making history.

The day the war started I taught my classes, and then went to the Federal Building in Westwood since there is always an anti-war building at the Federal Building in Westwood. Yes, demonstrators stood on all four corners of this huge intersection on Wilshire with young people sitting down in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard. Immediately cops arrested them to clear the intersection. I had my camera, but it was twilight and my camera without a telephoto lens couldn't get enough detail for decent photos so I merely watched: our last gasp, our new beginning of protest.

After the war had started, the U.S. troops had got to Baghdad and President Bush had delcared victory; then I visited my good poet friend Carol Tarlen in San Francisco. Carol had Type I diabetes since she was a teenager and also heart surgery. In 2003 her heart was clearly worsening: it was difficult for her to walk up two flights of stairs to her apartment. Still, she marched 3 miles with me in a big peace march down Market Street that spring. Two days later in North Beach she, I and 5 other poets got together for another candlelight vigil in Washington Square Park. Of all my protests and vigils this tiny gathering was my all-time favorite. We seven stood in the darkening park trying to light our seven candles in the wars wind and sai a poem or a thought.

Carol's a Quaker, and we spoke spontaneously Quaker style. My mother for many years sent money to the Quakers though she is Jewish. Both my mother and Carol are near-pacifists. Both of them were horrified by the war. Both of them were ill.

Winter, 2003, I went to the Modern Language Associationg(MLA) convention in San Diego, the biggest U.S. academic association of professors in the modern languages--English, French, Spanish, German etc. I have long been a member of the radical caucus of the MLA, and for this convention I had promised to introduce the anti-war resolution asking for the MLA to call for an end to the Iraq war and transfer of war funds to health and education. Right before I left my brother who has Parkinson's was given at his Safeway the wrong drug that almost killed him; he was taken to this small country hospital in Northern California, but twice the hospital didn't look at the perscription he was taking and sent him hom to continue taking the wrong medication. Finally, he flown in a helicopter to the hospital in Redding in northern California. I dropped everything, flew up to Redding to see my brother over Christmas, and then went to San Diego to the MLA where I argued for our anti-war resolution saying the MLA should endorse a call for ending the war and switching the monies to health and education.

Yes, I told the members of the resolutions committee I want better health care for my friend Carol, my brother, my mother, and all other Americans. Yes, I've taught 14 years in higher education, and have seen the free higher education system I enjoyed privatized and tuitution gone up and up. In the fall of 2003 I and my co-presenter of the MLA resolution Pat Keaton had laboriously documented the rise in U.S. military spending and the decline in U.S. health care spending and cuts in funding U.S. education, particularly higher education, over the last two decades. From 1980-2004 federal government had cut 20% of its monies to higher education, causing huge raises in tuition. I argued that health of U.S. citizens, documented by statistics such as longevity and infant mortality, was worsening. We have worse health care statistics than all other industrialized countries. I argued we will pay for this war in worsening health care and more expsenive education.

Well, the Delegates Assembly, the MLA legislature body, passed the Radical Caucus's anti-war resolution. We were elated! We did it! But a few months later the MLA Executive Committee led by Michael Berube threw out the anti-resolution, saying our documentation was insufficient. We hadn't proven exact correspondances between the increase in Iraq War spending and a specific decrease in federal health or education spending. We lost in spring 2004. June 2004 my friend Carol Tarlen died in San Francisco: her heart gave out.

I still went on anti-war marches in Hollywood Boulevard, but instead of 40,000 in 2003, 2004, and 2005, they were only a few thousand people. The war in Iraq has worsened over these years. All my fears about the war harming the health care system of Iraq has horribly come true. On November 23, 2006, Juan Cole on his blog quotes a health care educator who fled Iraq saying that Iraq now has no neurosurgeons, no cardiac doctors, and few pediatric doctors--all have fled or been killed. At one time Iraq had one of the best health care systems in the Middle East but no more. If a person in Iraq had heart problems like my friend Carol had, there are no cardiac doctors for her in the whole country. That is a catastrophe. The U.S. came to Iraq to "save" the country, but the war our country started has destroyed most of its health care system. Iraq had never threatened us, but this war is making us less secure, shredding our security net of hospitals and schools in both U.S. and Iraq.

As a minor note, in 2006, the Bush Republicans cut college student loans--clearly a result of the bankruptcy of the U.S. government as a result of the Iraq War. At long last I could stay there is a clear correspondance in increase in war spending and decrease in federal education spending. But I think it's too late. The MLA should have stood by the anti-war resolution that the Delegate Assembly passed December, 2003, but the Executive Committee refused.

I am daily horrified reading about the violence in Iraq. I think the U.S. clearly blundered again and again: first by starting this totally unncessary war and then by its incompetent handling of the war and occupation. Nearly 3000 U.S. soldiers have died as well as 600,000 Iraqi civilians. On Thanksgiving Day in Iraq Juan Cole says 233 Iraqis died. Iraq has a much smaller population than the U.S. , so if a similar amount of U.S. citizens would die it would be 2563, close to the 2971 U.S. citizens killed on 9/11. That is just one day in Iraq!

After my mother's fall, I told her that we can't hope for any immediate changes in Iraq policy because the Democrats won't even take office until January. Even then, the President makes foreign and war policy, but the Congress controls the budget. What the Democrats do is control the funding for the war, and they can if they want cut off the funding, but I don't see the Democrats cutting funding now. I don't have a crystal ball and can't predict the future. I told her can't expect miracles, but we can only write our Congresspeople that we want the funding cut off the war. Congressman Waters is my Congresswoman, and I will write her.

On Monday, when my mother heard people talk on the TV about the U.S. government sending 50,000 more troops my mother fell. I have a whole list of gifts I want this holiday 2006. I want a heart patient like my friend Carol to be able to go to a cardiac doctor in Iraq or the US. I want the cardiac doctors to be back in Iraq. I want no more Safeway pharmacists giving the wrong medications throwing U.S. patients into the hospital. I want the pharmacies improved. I want the hospitals rebuilt and improved in Iraq and U.S.

I want the tuitions reduced in the all the colleges in the U.S. I just saw the video "Arlington West" about Veterans for Peace putting up crosses each Sunday on Santa Monica Beach for all the soldiers dead in Iraq. Many of the soldiers and veterans who came to pay respects at Arlington West said they had joined the military to get G.I. benefits to go to college. They risked their lives for a college education. I want the school system in Iraq to be rebuilt. Once the war is ended I don't want the war monies to go to for more arms and missiles but for nurses, hopsitals and schools. Lastly, I don't want any more of my friends to die during this war. I don't want my mother getting so upset from the war she falls again.


Lyle Daggett said...

I live in the congressional district (Minneapolis and some of the suburbs) that elected the Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress. He ran on a strong anti-war position, and is pretty solid on social and economic issues.

I'm also not holding out huge hopes -- the Democrats have shown themselves, mostly, as beholden to corporate money and agendas as the Republicans.

So we keep struggling, as you've said here. We managed to stop one war after long terrible years, and -- though I don't want to think what it will ultimately cost in human terms -- I believe we will stop this war too.

Thanks for posting this.

California Writer said...

Congratulations for living in the district that elected Keith Ellison to Congress- That was a positive sign.

I agree with you that the Democrats alone won't do much, but if people urge them to take stands against the war, I think, as you say, we will stop this war too.