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."


Monday--December 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?
Cliff McKenzie
   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" participants.
      I found the two stories relating to the "live shield" proposal on Pravda, the Russian news agency, and at,  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 other barriers.
        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.

The Catholic Worker

       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.

       Currently, a 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 days.

        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.

Adam Shapiro

      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 Palestinian communities.
        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 the future.

The Saxon 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.

Iraqis unload 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 children's children?"

Marines give 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 existence."
          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.

Jordanian 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 collateral damage.
           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 and Complacency.

Circle of 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 reservation.
          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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