|What are you willing
to die for? The question provokes a hard answer.
It cuts through the Beast of Terror's shield of Complacency and forces
us to look deep inside and decide between selflessness and
selfishness. It is easy to scoff at Jordanians who claim
they will rally 100,000 live shields to ring Baghdad in protest to
U.S. military attack. It is easy to discount them as
politically or religiously motivated. But what about all the
thousands of others who have given their lives to protect peace?
What about Martin Luther King, or Congressional of Honor Winner Vince
Capodanno? Read this provocative article and find out
where you stand on your "willingness to die."
30, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 474
100,000 "Live Shields" Planned
Around Iraq To Stop U.S. Attack:
What Are You Willing To Die For?
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, Dec. 30-- Fighting
war comes down to sacrificing one's life--at least that's the goal of
the Jordanian National Committee In Defense of Iraq (JNCIDI).
According to the committee's chairman, Hakam al-Fayez, up to 100,000
Jordanians are being recruited to serve as "live human shields" to
thwart a U.S. attack on Iraq.
The decision to send volunteers to
Baghdad to form a human ring around the city and defy the U.S. to kill
innocent civilians came out of a Middle East solidarity conference
held this week in Cairo. Secretary General of the Conference of
Arab National Force, Saad Qassem Hamudi, said Saddam Hussein
would supply all the food and shelter necessary for the "live shield"
I found the two stories relating to
the "live shield" proposal on Pravda, the Russian news agency, and at
www.arabicnews.com, a Middle East on-line news format.
At first glance, the idea of 100,000
people leaving their homes and families in one country to form a human
shield around another is a bit incredulous, if not bordering on the
insane. But there are some people who are willing to give
their lives, or risk them, to help others--despite any political or
ethnic differences. Valuing human life sometimes transcends all
Rather than scoff at the idea, I gave
it some considerable thought. My older daughter was a
"live shield" in El Salvador a number of years ago during the war in
that country. She joined a small band of Internationalists
who took residence in a village the military had vowed to "eliminate."
The villagers were exercising their rights to perform a "land take,"
to squat on land the government had taken from them and reclaim it as
their own. My daughter and five others from a variety of
countries including Germany, France and the U.S., formed a human
shield around the villagers. Reluctant to "kill Americans
or foreigners," the El Salvadorian militants who held machine guns
pointed at the group and threatened to kill them if they didn't
disband, ultimately conceded and didn't fire. But it
wasn't without great tension and attempts by the military to grab my
daughter and pull her out of the ring of villagers who squeezed around
her to protect her in a circle of vigilance.
I remember taking her to the airport
in Los Angeles for her to make that trip, and having that empty, queasy feeling she was walking
into the Beast of Terror's jaws, and there was nothing I could do
about it. The best I could do was pray for her safety.
My politics evaporated when I thought of her safety.
friend of our family is in Iraq. She's a peace activist, a
member of the Catholic Worker whose headquarters is located here in
New York City. She traveled with the Iraq Peace Team a
branch of the Voices in the Wilderness. I'm not aligned with the
Catholic Worker politically except through my older daughter's association with the group. I tend to be
a Conservative hawk, former combat Marine in Vietnam, who has a
tendency to see violence as a quick solution to solving about any
problem--at least temporarily. While I respect varied
viewpoints on how to seek and secure peace, I'm the kind of guy who
keeps his right hand free to draw my sword and cut down the Beast of
Terror in the blink of an eye. Yet, I respect those
who don't believe in armed conflict, and will kneel and pray as tanks
run over them--kind of the like the Christians and Lions back in Roman
My other daughter, a year and a
half younger, serves peace through violence. She's a federal
special agent who travels about heavily armed and arrests "bad guys"
all day. She and her fellow agents frequent the firing ranges to
keep their "killing skills" sharpened in case the "bad guy" decides to
use deadly force to avoid arrest.
In my own experience, I'm well
aware of the conflict that civilians present when you attack military
targets. In over 100 combat missions in Vietnam, we were daily
faced with the dilemma of how to conduct a full force "search and
destroy" mission when innocent women, children and old men were in the
midst of the target zone.
Military planners laying out attack
strategies to blow Saddam Hussein's strongholds to kingdom come have
to face the fly in the ointment--what if bands of civilian "human
shields" ring such targets? Do you bomb them anyway?
Regarding enlisting 100,000
Jordanians to form a "live shield" around Baghdad, I find the
numbers not the intent hard to swallow. The committee
rallying subscribers to be "live shields," have set a deadline for
January 17 to fill their ranks. It just seems implausible to me
that such a number of people would stick out their naked chests in
defiance, and offer their lives to stop the inevitable once it begins.
In April of this year, Adam
Shapiro, 30, became a "live shield" for Yasser Arafat during the
Easter siege of the Palestinian leader's compound. He
entered Arafat's headquarters to symbolize his willingness to die to
protect the leader from Israeli assaults on the compound.
Many called the Brooklyn New Yorker a traitor and threatened his
family for supporting Arafat. Shapiro is one of the founders of
International Solidarity Movement, a volunteer group that has helped
to bring nonviolent activists from the world beyond into besieged
In another instance, my son-in-law,
who is married to my peaceful protesting older daughter, went to
Israel with a group to protest the war against the Palestinians.
He enjoyed pizza at the same restaurant the day before it was brutally
bombed killing several Americans. He and a group of other Catholic
Worker volunteers also arranged for a young Palestinian girl to be
transported to the U.S. for brain surgery to remove an errant bullet
that had lodged in her skull.
My point is that it is easy to
scoff at those who are willing to risk their lives to protect others.
Such human shields can be considered puppets of the "enemy," people
used to protect the "bad guy's lair." They can also be
called "idealists," people who have no "common sense" when it comes to
risking their lives, for they often offer their bodies as symbols of
peace in the face of war--mere fodder for war's brutality.
Martin Luther King is one
example. He was well aware of the hatred he created in
many who called him a communist. Even J. Edgar Hoover claimed he
was working for Moscow, trying to undermine the U.S.
His call for "peaceful protest" ended in his death, a bloody reminder
that those who advocate peace often die by the sword.
I often wear a T-Shirt my
gun-toting daughter gave me. On the front is a shield of the
federal agency she works for, and it has a black slash across it,
symbolizing the death of an agent in the line of duty. On the
back are printed the words: "One cannot answer for his courage
when he has never been in danger."
Fire, police and
military personnel agree to this when they join the ranks of the public
service is the willingness to "die for others." It's
a subtle vow, unspoken, yet it rings loudly during the taking of the
Oath. The implicit agreement is that "my life is not as
important as the safety and security of other lives, and therefore, I
am willing to offer mine to protect society as a whole."
That's a big Oath, one few people
think about when they see a law enforcement officer, a fireman, or a
military man or woman. Each has agreed to face the Beast of
Terror and give his or her life if necessary to corral and detain it.
Basically, such a person has signed a pact with society with their own
blood, willing to spill theirs to save others less inclined to make
such a commitment.
Ultimately, law enforcement, firemen
and the military are every nation's "live shields" against the Beast
of Terror's rampages both within and without the country. Their
Pledge of Vigilance has been signed with their lives, not just the ink
of their pen.
In these same ranks go the
non-violent protestors of violence. He or she, without a
gun or fire hose, stand ready to die for principles of peace.
They are equal in their stature as any "armed" Sentinel of Vigilance,
for they relinquish their own importance for that of present and
future generations. Giving their lives is an act of security for
Living Shield Wall in Battle of Hastings 1066
Unlike the suicide bombers or
terrorists, such peaceful protestors do not support the taking of
life--but instead, the giving of it. When they become
"live shields" they don't do it to promote a particular politic, but
rather to shout to the world the willingness they have to die for the
children's children's s children--for the future safety and security
of the world regardless of race, color, creed or religious preference.
humanitarian aid from Morocco
In Vietnam, my greatest hero was a
peaceful protestor named Vince Capodanno. He was a Navy
Chaplain, a Maryknoll priest, who walked with us on combat operations
without a weapon, offering us spiritual strength in the face of Fear,
Intimidation and Complacency. He would crawl out amidst a
hail of bullets to a young, scared Marine, touch him on the shoulder
and tell him, "It's okay, son. It's okay."
He wasn't endorsing the killing of
the enemy. He was salving the soul of the frightened, preparing
one to die with dignity should that be destiny's decision.
Vince was killed crawling out in
battle to help wounded Marines. He was shot many times as he
dragged himself from one wounded Marine to another, pulling them back
to safety and then going out again and again until he was finally cut
down. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, not for
killing people, but for showing Courage, Conviction and Right Actions
despite the fact he was unarmed, and a virtual non-combatant.
One can be brave without a weapon, or thirst for killing. Vince
was a "live shield," one who died for peace not war.
I could scoff at my daughter's
friend, Kathy, who is in Iraq as a "living shield." I
could scoff at the idea that 100,000 Jordanians are being mustered to
serve as "living shields" around Baghdad. I could scoff at
a war protestor who holds up a sign for peace not war. That's
the easy part. Scoffing is cheap.
On the other hand, I could fly to
Iraq and stand in front of Saddam Hussein's palace with a big bulls
eye on my chest. I could wait for the first "smart bomb" to make
a mistake. I could offer my life as a symbol of my belief in the
future of peace, and that someday the names of all the peaceful
protestors would garner as much acclaim as the firemen and police who
died in the World Trade Center attack, even though they were paid to
die, even though it was part of their daily job to be willing to give
their lives for others.
The trouble is, living shield
protestors don't get the same spotlight.
In our rush to judgment,
we belittle them.
It's easy to scoff at
those who are willing to give their lives for others than to ask
the brutal question: "What am I willing to risk for the children's
their lives for their fellow marines
Someone once told me,
"Cliff, you never know what you really believe in until you are
willing to give your life for it. When you are willing to die
for what you believe, you have arrived at the core truth of your
Few of us ever have such
an opportunity to know that answer.
I was fortunate to learn
it long ago in Vietnam. I know what it's like to crawl out in a
hail of fire to drag a wounded Marine to safety, without ever knowing
his name. Marines are trained to give their lives for
their buddies. It's not an act of heroism, it's an act of
loyalty to one another, one that binds people together in a far deeper
and richer matrimony than an oath or vow, for it is measured by one's
willingness to risk one's life to seal the compact.
I also have no doubt of
my willingness to die for my children's safety and security, or for my
grandchildren's. But the question of whether I am willing
to die for your grandchildren, or their grandchildren's
grandchildren's is yet an unanswered question. So is
the question of whether I am willing to die for Saddam Hussein's
children, his grandchildren, their grandchildren.
That's why the Pledge of
Vigilance has such power when one lives within its words.
It challenges each of us to live for the children's children's
children--far beyond our own selfish circles of "family."
It asks us to be aware of the "rights of the children's children's
children to be free from the Beast of Terror, and there is no greater
Terror for a child than to feel abandoned, alone, disenfranchised from
the safety of guardians.
If we scoff at the
"living shields" we scoff at protecting the children.
support for the United States after Nine Eleven terrorist attacks
We should be
cautious in this area.
The Beast of Terror
would like us to depreciate the Jordanians as being politically
motivated or religiously committed to protecting Saddam Hussein if and
when they form a living shield around Baghdad. If we do
discount their presence, it will be easier for us to accept their
deaths not as pure acts of love for the future of peace, but as
political fodder we can sweep under the rug as part of war's
We can become
Complacent about those who are willing to die for peace. We can
subtract from their presence the idea that they chose to put
themselves in harm's way for a far higher reason than we can or are
willing to admit. I can do that very easily. I can
scoff at the Jordanian goal of 100,000 living shields as just a bunch
of protestors flaunting their politics as anti-Western propaganda,
anti-American sound clips.
Or, I can put them
in the same ranks as Navy Chaplain Vince Capodanno, or Martin Luther
King, or my daughters and son-in-law, or Kathy from the Catholic
Worker, or any peace protestor who is willing to walk into the jaws of
death and risk his or her life to make a statement for peace.
I go back to that
principle: "What are you willing to die for?"
When I do, I realize that
there is really only one thing that justifies death, and that is the
safety and security of the children's children's children.
When one can examine a situation and come up with the answer--giving
our lives today will promote the safety and security of future
generations of children--then that decision is on the right path.
If the decision for
taking life is anything less than that, then we are not subscribing to
the Principles of Vigilance--Courage, Conviction and Right Actions for
the benefit of the children's children's children--but rather acting
in concert with the Beast of Terror's Principles--Fear, Intimidation
Vigilance at Ground Zero Anniversary Ceremony
Whether there are two
Jordanians or 100,000 who volunteer for the "living shields" program,
those who do will rank high with the Sentinels of Vigilance.
They will be welcomed into the Circle of Vigilance without
So the question is--What
are you willing to die for?
To whom do you give your
life as a living shield?
If you subscribe to the
Pledge of Vigilance, you will know the answer.
If you don't know the
answer, perhaps the Beast of Terror has blinded you to what Courage,
Conviction and Right Action is all about.
Dec. 29--Koreans, Clones, 9-11 Fuel Terrorism's Complacency
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