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Eyes Wide Open: A Brief History of Women Affected by War From Chicago to Baghdad

At the Eyes Wide Open display put on by MVPJ in 2013, Eric Sableman read the following speech on behalf of Jason Matherne.

Jason Matherne is the Peacebuilding Program Associate at AFSC San Francisco and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.  Mr. Matherne is also a Navy veteran who served from 2004 to 2009.  In 2008, Jason deployed to Qatar in support of the Global War on Terror.

I've been asked to write something about the history of the Eyes Wide Open.  The project was started by American Friends Service Committee in Chicago in January of 2004 in response to the growing number of United States service members killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  With the tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War on March 19 and with March being women's history month, I would be remiss to not write about the women involved in these wars, particularly the Iraqi women. 

When the first U.S. bombs dropped as part of "Shock and Awe" on in 2003, the women of Iraq had suffered through nearly 13 years of U.S.-led economic sanctions that killed untold numbers of their children through starvation and lack of adequate medical care.  Eight years later by the time the war ended with the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement expiring on December 31, 2011, hundreds of thousands of more of their countrymen would be dead as a result of the bombs, bullets, and raids that accompanied the invasion.  Their national museums and archives were decimated, leaving much of their recorded history lost.  Many were still without homes, stuck as refugees in foreign lands without a place to call home.

With the imprint of the boot heels of U.S. service members firmly imprinted on their doors and minds, women in Iraq today find their infrastructure and society in disarray.  The soil and sand they walk in is filled with toxins from depleted uranium from the shells of U.S. bombs. They and their children struggle to survive without adequate health care or clean water, while unemployment remains high.  Prisoners in their jails are executed in mass without trials.  Domestic violence in their households is rising as political leaders scramble in a sea of chaos.

Out of this abyss, women in Iraq have chosen to not be victims but instead to be conscience leaders and organizers.  They are rallying their people to fight for their basic human rights through civil resistance.  Groups such as the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq are asking that the United States be held accountable for the atrocities committed in their country.  They are also demanding the same equal rights as their countrymen.  Despite being kidnapped and tortured, women like Aya Al Lamie and Houzan Mahmoud are leading the feminist cause forged by their own will and based in their culture, traditions, and ingenuity.  Through their efforts, a brighter future may be possible in Iraq, especially if international solidarity with other groups can be built with them leading the way.

Without the solidarity of women on American soil, the boots you see before you today would not be gathered here.  Eyes Wide Open (EWO) has been cultivated because of the efforts of American women, who were troubled by the lack of awareness about the human costs of the war in Iraq amongst Americans.  Started in Chicago in 2004, EWO was created so Americans could no longer be shielded from the consequences of the war, as they gazed at the empty boots and shoes of dead U.S. service members and Iraqi and Afghan civilians respectively.  Thousands of volunteers like Erin Polley, a mother and AFSC activist in Indianapolis, committed their hearts and time to this project.  Erin became engaged in this work after being one of about a thousand arrested in March of 2003 protesting the Iraq War.  In jail, Erin discovered a group of 30 women are so who banded together with spirit and song to persevere through their imprisonment.  This bonding experience led her to become a part of an exhibit that has been present in 46 states, including of course California.

Much like the women of Iraq and Chicago, California's women service members have paid a stiff price for being a part of Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.  17 of them in fact have left empty boots behind for their families, friends, and us to ponder.  Thousands of others came home or will soon be coming home to us bearing the trauma of war. They will be coping with the aftermath of Military Sexual Trauma, with Traumatic Brain Injuries and with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as the moral injuries of participation in war.   In this year of 2013, when we have seen women officially gain access to combat jobs and been made ever more aware of the invisible war of sexual assault and harassment they face in the ranks, a question or two must be asked:  how many more women in Mosul, Kabul, Chicago, or Fresno must suffer in the face of U.S. militarism?  How many eyes must be opened wide before we the stop the madness that is the Global War on Terror? 

Let's end the racket that is war. I ask you to examine your head and heart and think of how you can change the culture of militarism in the United States that leads to working class American women and men of all colors perpetuating war on people of color aboard, so the rich and powerful can get richer and more powerful.  As a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, I and my fellow anti-war veterans are building community and solidarity amongst ourselves and other organizations both at home and aboard to change the culture of militarism in the U.S. and to help improve the conditions of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.  We tackle issues of oppression such as racism, sexism, and homophobia that are the cause of militarism in the United States and war aboard.  Won't you join me in this worthy cause?

On March 19, please visit ivaw.org for new details about how you can join our campaign to ensure that Iraqis, Afghans, and Americans affected by these wars have a chance to heal.  Thank you. 

 



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