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I Was Wrong! A Human Shield's Strange Case for War
by Murray Soupcoff, The Iconoclast
30 March 2003

Simply put, those living in Iraq, the common, regular people, are in a living nightmare. From the terror that would come across the faces of my family at a unknown visitor, telephone call, knock at the door, I began to realize the horror they lived with every day.

As we've seen lately, the mainstream media gloatingly revels in any non-military resistance to the Allied invasion of Iraq -- whether it's Saddam's criminal cronies trying to hang onto their prosperous drug smuggling sinecures by sabatoging Alliance efforts to pacify southern Iraq, or fanatical al-Qaeda religionists attempting to win an all-expenses-paid trip to paradise (and 72 willing virgins) by blowing themselves up with car bombs, along with any "infidels" in the vicinity.

"Look," the media fifth column immediately points out triumphantly, "the Iraqi people don't want to be liberated. Life under Saddam can't be that bad."

Oh sure. And Hillary Clinton is a selfless public servant -- not the egotistical, mean-spirited, self-serving crook that veteran Washington journalists know she is.

In the service of some additional, much-needed reality testing, I would suggest anti-war journalists and activists read a recent, moving autobiographical essay by Ken Joseph, Jr., a former human shield. It's called, not inappropriately, I Was Wrong!

Mr. Joseph starts out his commentary by rhetorically asking, "How do you admit you were wrong? What do you do when you realize those you were defending in fact did not want your defense and wanted something completely different from you and from the world?"

He explains how as a minister, and due to his strong anti-war convictions, he journeyed to Baghdad as a human shield to "do all I could to stop the current war in Iraq."

As an Assyrian, he tells of his excitement and pleasure of metaphorically "coming home" to Iraq. He talks about how he was especially impressed and moved by the kindness of border guards when they learned he was Assyrian, as well as the receptiveness of emissaries of the Iraqi regime to "a stranger" like himself.

The first order of business, though, was to go to Church -- as arranged by his Iraqi hosts. And here's where reality began to impinge on the idealistic young clergyman. Let's pick up the narrative as related by Ken Joseph Jr.:

Following a beautiful "Peace" [ceremony] to welcome the Peace Activists in which even the children participated we moved to the next room to have a simple meal. Sitting next to me was an older man who carefully began to sound me out. Apparently feeling the freedom to talk in the midst of the mingling crowd he suddenly turned to me and said, "There is something you should know."

"What," I asked surprised at the sudden comment.

"We didn't want to be here tonight," he continued. "When the Priest asked us to gather for a Peace Service we said we didn't want to come."

"What do you mean," I inquired, confused.

"We didn't want to come because we don't want peace," he replied.

"What in the world do you mean?" I asked. "How could you not want peace?"

"We don't want peace. We want the war to come," he continued.

"What in the world are you talking about?" I blurted back.

That was the beginning of a strange odyssey that deeply shattered my convictions and moral base but at the same time gave me hope for my people and, in fact, hope for the world.
Slowly, Mr. Joseph relates, he began to realize that all foreigners in Iraq are subject to 24 hour surveillance by government "minders" who arrange all interviews, visits and contact with ordinary Iraqis. But "through some fluke either by my invitation as a religious person and or my family connection," he was not subject to any government handlers at any time during his stay in Iraq. In his words, "As far as I can tell I was the only person, including the media, Human Shields and others in Iraq without a Government 'minder' there to guard [him]."

So not having a government "minder" to influence the response of ordinary Iraqis he talked to, what did this idealistic clergyman, and would-be human shield, learn? Here's how he puts it:

Simply put, those living in Iraq, the common, regular people, are in a living nightmare. From the terror that would come across the faces of my family at a unknown visitor, telephone call, knock at the door, I began to realize the horror they lived with every day.

Over and over I questioned them "Why could you want war? Why could any human being desire war?" They're answer was quiet and measured. "Look at our lives! We are living like animals. No food, no car, no telephone, no job and most of all no hope."

Then, finally, this naive foreign visitor began to catch on: "Having been born and raised in Japan where in spite of 50 years of democracy still retains vestiges of the 400 year old police state, I quickly began to catch the subtle nuances of a full blown, modern police state."

As Mr. Joseph notes, the scales from his eyes began to recede and "with great difficulty and deep soul searching I began little by little to understand their desire for war to finally rid them of the nightmare they were living in."

And what did that nightmare consist of? "The terrible price paid in simple, down to earth ways -- the family member with a son who just screams all the time, the family member who lost his wife [and has been] left unable to cope anymore, the family member going to a daily job with nothing to do, the family member with a son lost to the war, a husband lost to alcoholism, the daily, difficult-to-perceive slow death of people for whom all hope is lost."

Forget the confident, reassuring pictures of Saddam -- all seeing, all knowing, all encompassing -- adorning every building, wall and street corner, asserts the author. The reality in Iraq is this: "'Life is hell. We have no hope. But everything will be ok once the war is over." Or to put it another way: "Look at it this way. No matter how bad it is we will not all die. We have hoped for some other way but nothing has worked. Twelve years ago it went almost all the way but failed. We cannot wait anymore. We want the war and we want it now."

In the end, after much soul searching, Ken Joseph, Jr. could only come to one inescapable conclusion about his role as a "peacemaker" and human shield: "How dare I claim to speak for those for whom I had never asked what they wanted!"

Mr. Joseph's experience, observations and emotions are also echoed in a Daily Telegraph opinion piece, by another former human shield, Daniel Pepper, entitled, "I Was a Naive Fool to be a Human Shield for Saddam." (Read it here.)

Mr. Pepper's first moment of truth came when a taxi driver tentatively spoke his mind to this idealistic, anti-war passenger. As Daniel Pepper puts it, " I explained that I was American and said, as we shields always did, 'Bush bad, war bad, Iraq good.' He [the taxi driver] looked at me with an expression of incredulity."

As the taxi driver began to realize that this naive young passenger was totally serious, he slowed down the taxi "and started to speak in broken English about the evils of Saddam's regime." Previously various "minders" had only spoken of Saddam "with respect." But relates Daniel Pepper, "now this guy was telling me how all of Iraq's oil money went into Saddam's pocket and that if you opposed him politically he would kill your whole family."

Eventually, disillusioned by his experience in Iraq, and with the way the Iraqi regime was restricting the movement of the shields, Daniel Pepper and five other Western human shields hired a taxi to take them to Jordan. And again an ordinary Iraqi -- temporarily free from the constraints and intimidation of Saddam's secret police -- started to unload. As Mr. Pepper tells it, "We just sat, listening, our mouths open wide. Jake, one of the others, just kept saying, 'Oh my God' as the driver described the horrors of the regime. Jake was so shocked at how naive he had been. We all were. It hadn't occurred to anyone that the Iraqis might actually be pro-war."

According to Daniel Pepper, the driver's most emphatic statement was: "All Iraqi people want this war."

Perhaps instead of filling our TV screens and newspapers with gruesome pictures of children purportedly "slaughtered" by errant American missile and bombs, our media might occasionally counter such images with the first-person experiences of anti-war activists like Ken Joseph Jr. and Daniel Pepper -- innocents who stumbled into the heart of darkness that is Saddam's Iraq and woke up to the hard truth about the need, sometimes, for just wars.

After all, no matter how gruesome such wars might appear, they are often welcomed by those most immediately and negatively affected.

Murray Soupcoff is the author of 'Canada 1984' and a former radio and television producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also was Executive Editor of We Compute Magazine for many years, and is now the Managing Editor of the popular conservative Web site, The Iconoclast.

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