On a sunny and unseasonably warm Wednesday afternoon, March 21, some 100 people gathered at the Bloomington Courthouse Square to honor Iraq on the ninth anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation and to express their demand for diplomacy, not war, with Iran.
The rally was sponsored by the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition, the Just Peace Task Force of Bloomington's Unitarian Universalist Church and the Bloomington chapter of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
Jim Pennington, of Martinsville, said he was there for "the simple reason that I'm against war, and this is the only way I have to vent. And I hope somebody listens."
Deborah Robinson, of Bloomington, said it had been two or three years since she'd attended a peace vigil on the square.
"I felt as though I had to be here today," she said. "The reason I haven't been here is part of the reason I am here. I care passionately about the well-being of my two children, my three grandchildren and the well-being of everybody else's children and grandchildren."
She had been busy with her two young grandsons, aged 1 and 3.
When her ex-husband was of military age, she said, boys were often referred to as cannon fodder. "Not these boys and nobody else's boys," Robinson stated emphatically.
"What is going on is utterly insane," she said. "It's psychotic. I hope very much that enough people will wake up. I think people are smart enough to figure it out if they would just allow themselves to connect some of the dots, if they would think. But there seems to be so much resistance to thinking."
She said people can keep working to learn what is true and speak, act and write in light of that truth.
"I want right relationships among all beings, human and animal and plant, and with all places -- no mountaintop removal, for example. No fracking."
Robinson added that of necessity she regards herself as a consumer but, more importantly, as a "citizen of the world."
Greg Haas, also of Bloomington, said it's unbelievable that government would be thinking it's even a remote possibility that military action with Iran would yield positive results.
"It seems like we haven't learned anything since Vietnam," he said. "With all the wars we've had since then, you'd think that we would know that violence doesn't really accomplish too much. So I'd like to lend my small voice to the effort here of protesting any consideration of some sort of military action in Iran."
Carl Rising-Moore, a member of Veterans for Peace, came from Indianapolis to attend the rally.
"I'm against all wars against other countries, like Syria or Iran, and we need to end this idea of a war really quickly," he said. "Otherwise our great-great grandchildren will still be paying for these wars, and our society is going to be totally broke. Our domestic expenses will be gutted in terms of our safety here in America while we promote war all around the world. It's got to end."
Linda Windforest, of Bloomington, described her opinion simply.
"I'm sick of all this suffering and killing and dying," she said. "I'd like to see our taxes go for health care and education, jobs and housing, human needs."
Rally organizer and Bloomington resident David Keppel gave an introductory speech.
"We need to end this idea of a war really quickly. Otherwise our great-great grandchildren will still be paying for these wars, and our society is going to be totally broke." - Carl Rising-Moore, Indianapolis
"The tragic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be repeated in Iran," he said. "It is almost inconceivable today that it is nine years after the beginning of the tragedy in Iraq, nine years after we gathered in this Courthouse Square to express our anger and outrage that President George W. Bush had taken this nation to an unnecessary and disastrous war. Today we are facing war of an even greater scale, with a nation of 77 million people - a war that could prove more disastrous than Iraq and Afghanistan."
In 2003-2003 Bush had a messianic certainty in war, he said. "Today President Obama ... is not the determined opponent of war that we need him to be."
In 2002, Keppel said, the military supported war, perhaps reluctantly. Today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warns that an attack on Iran would result in an escalation that would not only involve many lives but could consume the Middle East in regrettable conflagration and conflict.
"Joint chiefs of staff chairs Admiral Mike Mullen and General Martin Dempsey have warned of the severe unintended consequences of war on Iran," Keppel contended. "How then do we find ourselves on a track to war?"
Israel, more precisely its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is part of the answer, he said. But only part.
"Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that a precondition to any Israeli attack on Iran would be at least passive acceptance, a wink and a nod, from the United States," he said. "Let there be no doubt where that wink and nod are coming from. They're coming from the U.S. Congress, including and very notably, our representative, Todd Young."
Resolutions repeatedly supported by Young increasingly restrict the possibility that Obama could find a diplomatic solution to these conflicts, Keppel went on to say.
"How is it that President Richard Nixon, a Republican, went to China, but in the last 30 years there have been only two meetings between the U.S. and Iranian officials?" he asked. "Former Joint Chiefs Chair Mike Mullen has called for an open channel of communication between the U.S. and Iran, and he has warned that in the absence of such a channel, there are many possibilities for miscalculation and escalation."
The shape of a diplomatic solution is clear and within reach, Keppel said. It involves the U.S. acknowledging Iran's right, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, as well as its accepting inspections, which it does already but which could be improved.
"It involves the U.S. accepting the obvious, that Iran is a major regional power, and ending the isolation to which we have subjected the country for 30 years," he said.
The government of Iran, Keppel said, is distasteful to us and many people in Iran. But history shows that harsh sanctions hurt people, not regimes.
"Joint chiefs of staff chairs Admiral Mike Mullen and General Martin Dempsey have warned of the severe unintended consequences of war on Iran. How then do we find ourselves on a track to war?" - David Keppel, Bloomington
"You cannot starve people into democracy," he said. "And if we want to empower the Iranian people, the best thing we could do is to open up normal relations with that country and let the Iranian people, not the U.S., choose Iran's future."
Keppel urged the United States to terminate the nuclear double standard, which is expressed by shock at the possibility that Iran might be acquiring technologies, which just might be applied toward a nuclear weapon, with a wink and nod to the Israeli's 200 nuclear weapons and the United States' thousands.
"Only one country has ever used nuclear weapons," he said, "the United States of America."
Rep. Young has done his best to block diplomacy, Keppel said. On January 19, upon returning from a trip to the Middle East in which he obtained "secret briefings," Young said, "I am not optimistic that without military action we can stop Iran's nuclear weapons program."
This is despite the national intelligence estimate that Iran does not have a specific nuclear weapons program, Keppel said.
"If we want to make a difference," he concluded, "let's remember this is an election year, a year in which we have a choice to take a pledge ... that you are a peace voter, that you will support candidates and only candidates who consider it a priority to pursue diplomacy, not war, with Iran."
Rabbi Steven Balaban spent 17 years in the Navy as a chaplain during Desert Storm.
"We thought that war was a grand adventure, something exciting, like a football game or a basketball game," he told the crowd, adding that he did not leave the United States and spent several weeks in Camp Lejeune.
"After the war," he said, "I started visiting soldiers who were in the psychiatric unit at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. They had at the time battle fatigue, now [called] post traumatic stress disorder. They described to me the things that they had seen and that they had taken part in, and slowly I became more and more sick to my stomach as I realized war is not an adventure."
War is not something that should be undertaken callously or lightly, he said, particularly because so many people claim a religious basis for their belief that war is inevitable, acceptable or necessary.
He then read aloud "The War Prayer," Mark Twain's sardonic essay.
"Civilians are 80 percent or more of the casualties in any war in the modern era." - Rabbi Steven Balaban, Bloomington
"In the 20th century war claimed the lives of over 200 million civilians," Balaban said. "Civilians are 80 percent or more of the casualties in any war in the modern era. A war with Iran doesn't just mean regime change. It means dead fathers, dead mothers, orphaned children, grandparents starving in the street, children with no medical care, no hospitals, no food, no clean water, no safety, no security."
Iraqi American Kadhim Shaaban said he was going to convey some of the pictures that have been distorted in the U.S. media about how wonderful the war in Iraq is.
"Unfortunately, nine and a half years ago we were at this corner fighting, trying to convince the government not to attack Iraq because an attack on Iraq would be a disaster [for] the people of Iraq and [for] the reputation of the United States," he said.
But the neocons took over, and the war was handed to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department.
"We ended up in a war that was not the plan, was not prepared for, but was built on emotion," he said.
The plan was to move from Iraq in a few weeks and then to Iran and Syria and finish off the "axis of evil," Shaaban said. Instead, it ended with the total destruction of Iraqi society.
"What we have now [is] a regime that was installed [by the] U.S. government, hoping to establish some kind of a democracy, human rights and respect for human dignity," he said. "But in reality what we have is the opposite."
And it has wrought total destruction of Iraqi social life, Shaaban said.
"Schools are ruined," he said. "Up to now people in Baghdad don't have water running except for two hours. They have electricity for four hours, corruption at the highest level. In fact, Time magazine last year announced that in a list of the most corrupt governments in the world, Afghanistan was No. 1 and Iraq No. 2."
Universities were emptied of intellectuals, Shaaban continued, saying he has lists of academics who were killed in Baghdad between 2008 and 2009.
"We ended up in a war that was not the plan, was not prepared for, but was built on emotion." - Kadhim Shaaban, Iraqi American
"Either they were forced out because they were threatened, or they were liquidated," he said. "Who's doing it? I don't know."
The Green Zone, which Saddam Hussein established as a small enclave for his palace and a few of his relatives, is now a walled city for the new government and has no connection with the Iraqi people, Shaaban said.
"This is a good example of the results of a war that we started and don't know how to end," he said.
The U.S. government can't do anything about it because it's a sectarian war that the U.S. is tired of fighting.
Iraqi Prime minister Nouri al-Malaki is becoming as bad a dictator as Saddam Hussein, Shaaban said. "He has his own security. He refuses to appoint a minister of defense. He's the prime minister. He's the secretary of defense. He's secretary of the interior, and he's the director of security. He has his own police, his own security, his own jails."
Shaaban noted, "This is an example of what the war is going to bring, and if you look back at our own country, we see how much we lost. At least 4,000 Americans killed in Iraq. Young people who went there to have a job, to defend the country, were killed. We have 30,000 wounded, half of them seriously. Those are statistics from the U.S. Defense Department. And now we [have] a war in Afghanistan."
Congress is controlled by corporations, while the defense industry and neocons profit from the war, Shaaban said. Americans need to elect a new Congress. Last year $72 million were spent in contributions by lobbyists.
"We need to have ... our representatives ... promise us that they are no longer going to be agents of corporations and lobbyists," he said. "We need congresspeople who represent the interests of the people, and once we get them, we will end up with less war and destruction.
"We need a Congress who has the boldness to seek diplomatic solutions and not war. We need a Congress who has the courage to imagine the possibility of peace and not resort to war." - Shelli Yoder, candidate, Ninth District U.S. RepresentativeShelli Yoder, one of five Democratic candidates running for U.S. representative in Young's ninth district, followed Shabaan and began by saying, "We need a Congress who has the boldness to seek diplomatic solutions and not war. We need a Congress who has the courage to imagine the possibility of peace and not resort to war."
War is easy to get into and very hard to get out of, she said. The costs of war are carried on the backs of the poor and the middle class.
Yoder's three children, all of whom are 7 or younger, have not lived in a country not engaged in war.
"That is not the kind of country that I want to be a part of long term," she said. "We need to find peaceable solutions, and we have the opportunity to elect a Congress that will seek peaceable solutions."
The greatest challenge we have today is seeking a revolution of the heart, she said, citing Dorothy Day, a 20th century journalist and social activist.
"This candidacy is about seeking that revolution," she said. "It's a bold, bold pursuit, and I hope that we can join together, hang onto each other, seek that bold solution and have that revolution of the heart."
Linda Greene can be reached at .