Up until the Iraq war/invasion/occupation started on March 20, 2003, local National Guard units used to volunteer in Tucson public schools like the one where I worked--helping kids stay off drugs, learn sports and increase self-esteem.
I tried to call and see if they were still doing such programs, but there isn't a published number any more for the Silverlake Armory (Homeland Security regulations). My guess is they're up to their eyeballs in combat preparation.
On this fourth anniversary of the Iraq War--a war that's killed hundreds of thousands, maimed many more and "displaced" millions--I want to talk about the dire warnings I heard when, as part of a peace delegation last June, I visited Jordan and Syria to meet with Iraqi refugees. At the time, more than a million terrified people had fled to Syria, and that many and half again more to Jordan.
These numbers continue to skyrocket, but the Weekly has requested I focus my comments on local effects of the war. In that spirit, I begin with a short memorial:
Spc. Alan E. McPeek, Lance Cpl. Joshua E. Lucero, Lance Cpl. Robert P. Zurheide Jr., Master Sgt. Kenneth E. Hunt, Sgt. Sean K. Cataudella, Sgt. Aron C. Blum, Pfc. Sam W. Huff, Cpl. Jeffery D. Lawrence, Hospitalman Chadwick T. Kenyon, Spc. Scott J. Mullen, Sgt. Tina S. Time, Spc. Robert Oliver Unruh, Sgt. Mark Vecchione.
If a Tucson soldier falls in Iraq, and nobody in Tucson hears him or her fall, does that make this war less real?
The 13 Tucsonans listed above gave their lives believing they were protecting us. Yet no one I talk to knows why we're fighting, and Congress has yet to start debating its way to any clarity.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has been to Iraq with Sen. Jon Kyl, but only Rep. Raúl Grijalva seems adamant about getting us out of there. Recently, I read that Rep. John Shadegg, of Phoenix, was advising fellow Republicans not to debate the war because of political fallout: It's the career, stupid.
The war remains painfully unvetted. Local papers rarely provide analysis, and front pages are reserved for more pressing crises: "Hippie Band Bans Military at Hotel Congress gig." If more of us knew even one of those 13 Tucsonans who have died, perhaps this war would hit home.
When I got back from the Middle East, I felt an urgent need to share what every frightened Iraqi refugee told us: Please get your military out. I spoke at libraries, house parties, Democratic clubs, retirement homes and churches. Most people disapproved of the war and were counting on the Democrats to stop it.
Some groups that turned me down promised to call after November when they weren't so busy getting Democrats elected. Five months later, the new majority seems barely able to even discuss withdrawal, as the president's caissons keep rolling along.
In late January, I attended Tucson's smallest peace demonstration. Holding up signs in front of the federal building, I was introduced to the new education director of the local United Nations Association (UNA) chapter, who apologized that no one had ever called me back about my request in June 2006 to speak at a UNA gathering about my interaction with Iraqi refugees. Thanks to his help, a UA Mideast professor and I will address the issue in a luncheon meeting at the Viscount Suite Hotel, 4855 E. Broadway Blvd., on Wednesday, March 21, at 11:45 a.m. The public is welcome.
Here are a few more of the many ways this war keeps affecting the Old Pueblo: Business is booming for our biggest employer, Raytheon Missile Systems; the Women in Black peace vigil continues, rain or shine, every Friday at 5:15 p.m., on the southwest side of Euclid Avenue and Speedway Boulevard; my friend Esther's son Carlos, who was in the first wave of Marines to enter Baghdad, is back home, with a new baby, about to buy his first house; the "A" has not been painted black for almost four years.
My deepest condolences to the families of the 13 Tucsonans who have died thus far in Iraq--and to us all, for a woeful lack of peacemaking, on this fourth anniversary of an inexplicable war.