At our Multifaith Call for Peace on March 21st, 2004, our featured speaker was Ms. Susan Galleymore, a mother of a U.S. soldier currently serving in Iraq. Ms. Galleymore is also an author and traveled to Iraq herself this past January to visit her son Nick and to interview Iraqi mothers for an upcoming book giving voice to mothers affected by the War on Terrorism.
Read the text of her speech...
Good evening and thank you inviting me to speak tonight about an important matter, the matter of war and occupation, our soldiers, our people, and the people of Iraq. I'm not going to speak about geopolitics, or good and evil, or right and wrong. I'm going to tell you a simple story of a mother seeking her son, of seeking the truth that wasn't appearing in the mainstream news, and of seeking support from other mothers. I'll touch on how and why I traveled to Iraq what I saw and heard there. Keep in mind I was in Baghdad eleven days so what you'll hear is a snapshot of life as seen through the eyes of a non-expert who doesn't speak Arabic but whose heart speaks the universal language of motherhood and compassion.
But first, I'll read an excerpt from the writings of his Holiness the Dalai Lama.
"People want democracy, and they want freedom. It is human nature. And the way of changing our current situation is not by force but by popular movement, through non-violence. Non-violence is much closer to basic human nature, and violence is against human nature."
Everybody is praying, wishing, as well as trying to have world peace. World peace is very important, especially in this nuclear age. In order to achieve peace, just making a few slogans is not sufficient. I firmly believe that we have to think in some different way and to discover the real obstacles to peace.
Sometime weapons and military establishments are prepared or organized in the name of world peace. But so long as weapons as there, and so long as soldiers are there, I do not think there is genuine peace. During the last forty years, under the threat of nuclear weapons, a kind of relative peace has happened. But it is not genuine peace, because it comes from fear, and fear comes from distrust. So I think the time has come to think seriously about how to reduce military forces on this planet. As soon as weapons are produced, they are used for killing, because weapons cannot be used for any other thing than to shoot. They cannot be used as musical instruments.
In 1999 my son, Nick, dropped out of three years of college studying Mandarin Chinese to join the Army. I wasn't very happy with his decision. I'd spent my youth in Apartheid South Africa - a land of legalized racial segregation as well as a land whose military regularly invaded sovereign nations and attacked groups of people believed to be terrorists. I didn't want my son participating in similar activites. But, I discovered there was little I could do to dissuade a 22 year old man.
Nevertheless, Nick did well and has continued to do well in the military. He's an Army Ranger, a Scout, even a Sniper. He's passed all the tests and, in June, he joins a program to train as a Special Forces operative - this is the group formerly knows as the Green Berets.
In 2003 Nick was deployed to Afghanistan and I looked the other way. After all, there was the tragedy of 9/11; there was the onerous Taliban, and their was the wretched treatment of Afghani women. Nick's 6 months in Afghanistan were extended to almost nine months. He returned to the US only to be deployed to Iraq in January of this year.
The day before Nick left for Iraq he told me about a briefing he'd attended at Ft. Bragg. He explained about Improvised Explosive Devices, IEDs, and how they were blowing off the limbs and faces of American troops.
I was terrified for my son's life. I'd watched the images sent back by embedded reporters and it didn't look good. I couldn't get them out of my mind. When I realized I couldn't spend the next several months worrying I turned to other mothers to learn how they dealt with their children's deployment to the infamous Sunni Triangle. I met wonderful mothers in organized groups as well as other brave individuals. Then it occurred to me that Iraqi mothers also had a story to tell. So I created a project called Mother Speak, packed my bags, joined a women's delegation, and traveled to Iraq to visit my son and talk to Iraqi women.
The delegation met up Amman, Jordan and we drove across the desert. Outside Fallujan, one of the vehicles in our convoy was hijacked at gunpoint by the notorious Ali Baba highway thieves. Before entering Baghdad the US military detoured our convoy from the highway due to an unexploded IED in the road. We reached our hotel just before curfew.
Next morning I awoke to a bomb blast. It was the blast that killed two CNN reporters. I saw military helicopters overhead and heard the pop, pop of automatic gunfire.
After breakfast we visited Dr. Ali Rasheed Hameed, a psychiatrist at the University of Baghdad's National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Program.
Dr. Ali works with children and admits that its tough to measure their current psychological health as Iraq's children have been traumatized by war since the beginning of the 1980s: the Iran-Iraq war, Desert Storm (the Gulf War) UN sanctions, and the current war and occupation. Iraq has children traumatized from earlier wars growing up to parent children traumatized by the current wars. Dr. Ali said that, no matter how adults viewed Saddan Hussein, may kids were taught in school that he was a hero, a great man, and someone to look up to. After the war they saw this man vilified, his images and statues defaced, his reputation blasted. Those were traumatizing events for children. Now they see the military in their streets, arresting their fathers, their male relatives, and their heads of household.
Dr. Dr. Hameed also worked under an umbrella group including the Ministry of Health and UNICEF to create a basic PTSD program with the US military and Coalition Provisional Authority, the CPA, to reduce combat stress in troops. He's not convinced of the potential success of this program since he observed stressed troops merely moved from one stressful situation to another. Dr. Hameed pointed out that stressed soldiers were likely to over react to minor incidents involving Iraqi civilians. Military leadership stated they had no alternative but to recycle troops.
After Dr. Ali we met Anwar Jeward who lost her husband, her 18 year old son, and her 14 and 8 year old daughters to a random shooting incident. This occured when jittery gunners mounted on humvees fired at their car one dark night. Anwar's 10 year old daughter, Abir, survived although the child's gold ear rings were stolen by a female GI when Abir was left for dead in the roadway.Anwar is not eligible for compensation under the Foreign Claims Act as the incident is considered a non-combat event.
That was our first day in occupied Iraq.
Next day, we visited Al Mansour Teaching Hospital for Children's Medical City. Iraqi hospitals were once the envy of the Middle East, well-equipped, well-financed, attended by highly trained medical staff. Al Mansour is one of the better hospital in Baghdad but, since UN sanctions and the added burden of the current war it is now poor in resources (understaffed, under funded, under equipped) but rich in patients. Unfortunately, the pediatric wing is rich in young patients dying of various cancers: Acute Leukaemias, Lymphomas, Neuroblastomas, Non-Hodgkins Lymphomas. Dr. Mazan Faisal, oncology pediatrician, is also finding a high incidence of once-rare malignancies and solid tumors in infants. UN sanctions banned many chemotherapy drugs as potentially aiding the manufacture of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The drugs that are obtained are so expensive that families sell cars, belongings, even homes, to pay for one 8-day round of chemotherapy treatment; frequently, two to three years of treatment is required.
I talked to mothers living with children in bombed out buildings without running water or faciliites because inflation and unemployment are so high thay cannot afford to pay the rents of their homes anymore. And to wealthier women who are afraid to go outside because they may be kidnapped by people who apologize but need the ransom money to save their families from starvation. In a country with over 70% unemployment, some desparate men agree to shoot PRGs at GIs for payment on the spot to support their families.
As I searched for my son I talked to many GIs. Two young Rangers said they were bored guarding gates and would rather be "smashing in doors and blowing things up" I talked to Staff Sgt Juan whose wife is also stationed in Baghdad while their children, 2 and 3 years old, are living with his parents in San Francisco. He told me he'd lost an 18 year old soldier when an IED blew up in his face, and the nineteen year old who replaced that kid died when an RPG struck his humvee. I read of Battalion commander Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman of the Sunni Triangle, who said, "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them."
With no help from the military I found my son on an airbase, about an hour north of Baghdad. We walked and talked for about 2 hours and he showed me the direction from where the heaviest mortar attacks came at night. The whole time I was there young GIs were in and out the base in heavy armoured vehicles to patrol the highways and be shot at by insurgents.
In the US I've talked to mothers who've told me their sons' hazard duty pay of $200 per month is discontinued as they're considered to be in an area where it's unnecessary.
Marianne Brown told me that in her town of South Haven, Michigan, there is high unemployment and kids have few options but the National Guard, the Reserve, or the military. Military recruiters are swarming around her town and state; they're very persuasive and tell the kids anything they want to hear to get them to sign on the dotted line. The Methodist minister of Marinanne's local church is very anti-war and recruiters managed to sign up his son! Her step son Michael has scoliosis - its clearly evident in his military physical x-rays and he was still sent to Iraq. Another mother said, "My son has a fractured arm and they sent him to Baghdad."
Other mothers asked me if I knew that our troops are purchasing their own gear? One son was told not to show anyone his shopping and, "You won't have to wash your own laundry but you will have to buy a year's supply of socks and underwear." By now many civilians know that the military contractor, Kellog, Brown & Root, KBR, subsidiary of Halliburton, is supplying laundry, catering, and other services in Iraq but do we know that our kids are given shopping lists to buy their own supplies?
Another mother told me her daugher, a dedicated military cook, was taken from her cooking duties and put into clerical work as KBR now cooks and caters. KBR's contacts cost taxpayers much much more than the previous form of an unprivatized military.
And I talked to Sandy, a mother in Joplin, Missouri, on March 2nd, a bloody day in Iraq when simultaneous bombs exploded into crowds of Shite Moslems celebrating a religious holy day: over two hundred people were killed and hundreds wounded. Victims were desperate for blood and Sandy suggested her son US military son, David, donate his blood - especially as he's a rare blood type. He said he didn't know if that would be acceptable but that he'd try. Sandy ended her interview by sayingl, "Life is so precious and war is so dumb!"
Today I haven't talked about US military's midnight searches of civilian homes for insurgents. Or the arrests of civilian men who disappear into jails for at least four months before family members find out where they are. Or weapons tipped with depleted uranium because it allows deeper penetration of metals - despite its being lethal to the fragile bodies and lungs of our troops. Or of the traumas that are surely affecting our troops even as I speak. Those boys and girls will soon come back to our communites and they'll need our understanding and compassion to overcome this war and occupation.
I encourage you to learn more. Besides the main stream media, read alternative souces of news. The internet is a good place to start. Try my website, www.motherspeak.org. But learn as much as you can. And let's take the advice of the Dalai Lama. Refuse to be fearful and distrustful. And, "think seriously about how to reduce military forces and weapons on this planet." Remember, weapons cannot be used for any other thing than to shoot. They cannot be used as musical instruments.