A small group of students and peace activists attended the first Richard T. McSorley, S.J., Peace and Justice Lecture last Thursday to hear Rev. G. Simon Harak, S.J., speak about the effects of war and sanctions on Iraq. Harak urged listeners to view the world through “peace eyes,” and consider the effects another war would have on an already ravaged country.

Rev. Harak founded Voices in the Wilderness seven years ago with other activists in the peace movement. Nominated three times for a Nobel Peace Prize, Voices promotes an end to U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Iraq. Harak has traveled to Iraq three times, in violation of U.S. and U.N. sanctions, to provide medicine and toys to Iraqi hospitals.

Showing a film and pictures taken on his last trip to Iraq, Harak spoke about the disastrous effects of war and sanctions on the Iraqi people. “Is this how we want the world to see us? Will this turn goodwill toward us?” Harak asked the audience as he showed a video of refugees and bereft families that testified to both the short and long-term effects of the previous war in Iraq. Audience members cringed at pictures of dismembered bodies killed by depleted uranium bombs and soldiers buried alive in trenches.

The uranium bombs, derived from nuclear production and spend rods from nuclear power plants, were first used during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Because of their density, malleability and ignitability, these bombs could penetrate anything, even tanks, turning the people inside into “crispy critters.” The U.S. dropped 300 metric tons of these bombs on Iraq, mainly in the south, killing thousands and leaving behind radioactive waste that seeped into the ground and into the water and plants.

“Most damage occurs in cell mitosis, in the reproductive system,” Harak explained to the audience. “This has resulted in massive deformity; in other words, the making of monsters.”

Harak went on to discuss the effects that continued U.S. bombing of Iraq over the past 12 years has had. Claiming that the cluster bombs that the U.S. has been dropping every week since the Gulf War are not deadly, but rather debilitating, Harak asserted that this results in a greater burden to society because Iraqis are maimed, unable to work and probably won’t marry.

Furthermore, because the bombing specifically targeted the electrical grid and clean water system, hospitals and decontamination plants were rendered useless. This resulted in immediate deaths of people on life support or other such machines, as well as the accumulation of sewage in the streets. Because chlorine is banned by sanctions, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A and B and E. coli are rampant. According to Harak, a Defense Intelligence Agency report addressed the release of these diseases, stating that the diseases would reach epidemic proportion within six months of the start of bombing. “That was 12 years and six months ago,” Harak said.

Turning to the effect of sanctions on Iraq, Harak gave figures from the U.N. 1999 review of sanctions that showed that in 1989 the primary problem facing Iraqi children was obesity. In 1999, 500,000 children under age five died, with 5,000 children dying each month from preventable disease. Harak claimed that U.N. estimates anticipate that three million people will need therapeutic feeding, which is impossible without accessible hospitals and equipment.

“No matter how legal, approved, profitable, it was wrong to do,” Harak said. “It is time to stop the genocide on these people.”

Advocating for military sanctions and inspectors, Harak assured the audience that a “slower but surer way” to resolve the problems with Iraq exists. “Pursuing the countries and companies that sold Iraq weapons in the first place, 19 of which were in the U.S., is one way,” he said. Harak asserted that the U.S. excised 8,000 pages from the Iraqi arms report before handing it over to the U.N., including the removal of all the names of American companies who sold them weapons.

“Blindness was enforced on us during the first Gulf War by the media. The public was never allowed to see more than one dead Iraqi at a time, even though 80,000 to 100,000 were killed,” Harak said, referring to statistics from the Physicians for Social Responsibility. “All the bombing showed on TV was smart bombing. Yet, of the 60,000 tons of bombs dropped by the air force alone, only seven percent were smart bombs, and 25 percent of those missed the target,” Harak said, referring to statistics from a military report.

Comparing the United States to the empire of ancient Rome, Harak drew parallels between the “lone superpowers” in terms of unemployment, hunger, sickness and “demons of violence and retaliation” in the time immediate prior to its destruction. “What would happen if you didn’t want to be part of the Roman Empire?” Harak asked. “Rome responded by destroying cities, military occupation and repression of people – what we now call human rights violations.”

Using the work of Jesus Christ as a lesson in peaceful defiance of authority, Harak challenged the audience to view the world through “peace eyes” and practice civil disobedience. A group of students attending the lecture left immediately afterwards for New York, where they were going to participate in the anti-war rally on Saturday.

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