More Things to be Said
For background info, Thorne Anderson was a journalism professor
in the US, has a graduate degree from the University of Missouri in
photojournalism and has lived and worked in the U.S., Far East and
Eastern Europe. He is now living in Belgrade with Kael Alford, who
is also a photojournalist.
They have both been published widely in publications ranging from
charity newsletters to Newsweek to the New York Times. I give you
this background mainly to show that he is not just some lefty liberal
who doesn't know what he is talking about and/or is easily led by
Subject: Home in Belgrade
From: Thorne Anderson
February 12, 2003
Sorry to unload just one long letter on all of you. I didn't intend it
that way, but this is what spilled out. I am writing to let friends and
family know that I am home in Belgrade after spending a month in
Kael was in Belgrade with me last week. She just returned from 10
days in Albania with the NY Times. Before that, she was in Bosnia
with US News. We were lucky we could both be home at the same
time. She's back in Bosnia with the NY Times this weekend.
Some of you have written to me with concerns for my safety in Iraq,
but this was easily one of the safest assignments I have taken. In all
my time in Iraq, in spite of an intense awareness of the threat of an
impending attack by the United States, I never met a single Iraqi who
had a harsh word for me. *Iraqis are very good at diing [sic] why I would
want to go back to Iraq, as I am committed and already anxious to do.
It just seems to me that as a photojournalist, Iraq is where I might best
play a role in making a small difference.
I did some work for Newsweek and Time magazines while in Iraq ,
but that kind of work has really become secondary for me. I do what I
can to influence (in admittedly small ways) what kinds of stories
those big magazines do, but *ultimately their stories are nearly
worthless at confronting the inhumanity of American foreign policy
in the Middle East[.] I will continue to work with Time and Newsweek
(and with other corporate media) on stories that I don't find
offensive, but the bulk of my efforts are now going into reaching
alternative media and in supporting anti-war groups in the states. I
hope I can find some time soon to come to the states for a speaking
tour of sorts.
There's a lot of talk about whether or not the U.S. will go to war with
Iraq . *What many people don't realize is that the U.S. is already at
war in Iraq . *I made two trips last month into the "no-fly zone"
created by the U.S. with Britain and France in southern Iraq . Actually
it would be better named the "only we fly" zone or the "we bomb"
"We" refers to the United States who does almost all of the flying and
bombing (France pulled out years ago, and Britain is largely a
nominal participant). There is another no-fly zone in the north,
which the U.S. says it maintains to protect the Kurds, but while the
U.S. prevents Iraqi aircraft from entering the region, it does nothing
to prevent or even to criticize Turkey (a U.S. ally) from flying into
northern Iraq on numerous occasions to bomb Kurdish communities
Turkey's bombing in Iraq is dwarfed by that of the U.S. *The U.S. has
been bombing Iraq on a weekly and sometimes daily basis for the past
12 years. *There were seven civilians killed in these bombings about
two weeks ago, [a]nd I'm told of more civilians last week, but I'm sure
that didn't get much or perhaps any press in the U.S. It is estimated
that U.S. bombing has killed 500 Iraqis just since 1999. Actually I
believe that number to be higher if you take into account the effects of
the massive use of depleted uranium (DU) in the bombing. The U.S.
has dropped well in excess of 300 tons of this radioactive material in
Iraq (30 times the amount dropped in Kosovo) since 1991. Some of
the DU is further contaminated with other radioactive particles
including Neptunium and Plutonium 239, perhaps the most
carcinogenic of all radioactive materials, and these particles are now
beginning to show up in ground water samples.
I spent a lot of time in overcrowded cancer wards in Iraqi hospitals.
Since U.S. bombing began in Iraq , cancer rates have increased nearly
six fold in the south, where U.S. bombing and consequent levels of
DU are most severe. The most pronounced increases are in
leukaemia and lung, kidney, and thyroid cancers associated with
poisoning by heavy metals (such as DU). *But the most lethal
weapon in Iraq is the intense sanctions regime. The toll of the
sanctions is one of the most under-reported stories of the past decade
in the U.S. press. *I have seen a few references to the sanctions
recently in the U.S. press, but invariably they will subtly discredit
humanitarian concerns by relying on Iraqi government statements
rather than on the statistics of international agencies. My careless
colleague at Time magazine, for example, recently reported that "the
Iraqi government blames the sanctions for the deaths of thousands of
children under the age of five." That's simply not true. The Iraqi
government, in fact, blames the sanctions for the deaths of *more
than a million* children under the age of five. But lets put that figure
aside, for there's no need to rely solely on the Iraqi government, and
let's refer instead to UNICEF and WHO reports which blame the
sanctions directly for the excess deaths of approximately 500,000
children under the age of five, and nearly a million Iraqis of all ages.
We all have an idea of the grief borne by the United States after the
September 11 attacks. Employing the crude mathematics of casualty
figures, multiply that grief by 300 and place it on the hearts of a
country with one tenth the population of the United States and
perhaps we can get a crude idea of what kind of suffering has already
been inflicted on the Iraqi people in the past decade.
The greatest killer of young children in Iraq is dehydration from
diarrhea caused by water-borne illnesses which are amplified by the
intentional destruction of water treatment and sanitation facilities by
the United States . *The U.S. plan for destroying water treatment
facilities and suppressing their rehabilitation was outlined just before
the American entry into the 1991 Gulf War. The January, 1991, Dept.
of Defense document, "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities," goes
into great detail about how the destruction of water treatment
facilities and their subsequent impairment by the sanctions regime
will lead to "increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease." I can
report from my time in Iraq that all is going to plan.
Cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid (previously almost unheard of in Iraq)
are now quite common. Malaria and, of course, dysentery are
rampant, and immunities to all types of disease are extremely low.
Even those lucky children who manage to get a sufficient daily caloric
intake risk losing it all to diarrhea. Around 4,000 children die every
month from starvation and preventable disease in Iraq -- a six-fold
increase since pre-sanctions measurements.
Treatment of illnesses in Iraq is complicated by the inability of
hospitals to get the drugs they need through the wall of sanctions. In
a hospital in Baghdad I encountered a mother with a very sick one-
year-old child. After the boy's circumcision ceremony, the child was
found to have a congenital disease which inhibits his blood's ability
to clot, which results in excessive bleeding. The child encountered
further complications when he took a fall and sustained a head
injury which was slowly drowning his brain in his own blood. In any
other country the boy would simply take regular doses of a drug
called Factor 8, and he could then lead a relatively normal life. But an
order for Factor 8 was put "on hold" by the United States (prohibited
for import), so the doctor, the mother, and I could only watch
the child die.
Much is made of Iraq 's alleged possession of weapons of mass
destruction, but it is the sanctions, the use of depleted uranium, and
the destruction of Iraq 's health and sanitation infrastructure that are
the weapons of greatest mass destruction in Iraq.
The situation is so bad that Dennis Halliday, the former
Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN in Iraq, took the dramatic step
of resigning his position in protest at the sanctions. "We are in the
process of destroying an entire society," Halliday wrote. "It is as
simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral." And Halliday
isn't alone. His successor, Hans Von Sponeck, also resigned in protest
and went so far as to describe the sanctions as genocide. These are not
left-wing radicals. These are career bureaucrats who chose to throw
away their careers at the UN rather than give tacit support to
unethical policies driven by the United States.
Being in Iraq showed me the utter devastation U.S. policy (war and
sanctions) has wrought there and has given me a vision of what
horror a new war would bring. And, of course, an attack on Iraq
would be just the beginning of a terrifying chain of [r]eactions
throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world. Having worked
in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel and Palestine in the past year, I am
intensely aware of how the fragile politics and powers outside Iraq
can be dramatically unsettled by a U.S. invasion within Iraq.
It's easy to imagine an impending tragedy of enormous proportion
before us, and I ask myself who must step up and take responsibility
for stopping it.
Clearly the U.S. government is the most powerful actor, but it is
equally clear that we cannot turn aside and realistically expect the
U.S. government to suddenly reverse the momentum it has created for
So I feel the weight of responsibility on me, on U.S. citizens, to do
whatever we can with our individually small but collectively
powerful means to change the course of our government's policy. I
try to picture myself 10 or 20 years in the future, and I don't want to
be in the position where I reflect on the enormous tragedies of the
beginning of the 21st century and admit that I did nothing at all to
recognize or prevent them.
I don't know how this letter will sound to my friends and family who
are living in the U.S., in a media environment which does very little
to effectively question U.S. policy and almost nothing to encourage
ordinary people to participate in making a change. I imagine this
letter may sound like the political rant of some kind of extremist or
anti-American dissident. But that's not how it feels to me. This
doesn't feel like a political issue to me so much as it feels like a
personal issue. I am appalled on a very human level at the suffering
which U.S. policy is already inflicting and I am terrified by the
prospects for an even more chaotic and violent future.
And let's be honest about U.S. policy aims. Those in the U.S.
government pushing for war say they are doing so to promote
democracy, to protect the rights of minorities, and to rid the region of
weapons of mass destruction. But is the U.S. threatening to attack
Saudi Arabia or a host of other U.S. allies which have similarly un-
How many of us would advocate going to war with Turkey over the
brutal repression of its Kurdish minority and of the Kurds in Iraq?
And do we expect the U.S. to bomb Israel or Pakistan which each
have hundreds of nuclear weapons? Let's remember that leaders in
the previous weapons inspection team in Iraq had declared that 95%
of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities were destroyed.
And let's not forget that in the 1980s, when Iraq was actually using
chemical weapons against the Kurds and the Iranian army, the U.S.
had nothing to say about it. On the contrary, at that time President
Reagan sent a U.S. envoy to Iraq to normalize diplomatic relations, to
support its war with Iran, and to offer subsidies for preferential trade
with Iraq . That envoy arrived in Baghdad on the very day that the
UN confirmed Iraq's use of chemical weapons, and he said
absolutely nothing about it. That envoy, by the way, was Donald
While Iraq probably has very little weaponry to actually threaten the
United States, they do have oil. According to a recent survey of the
West Qurna and Majnoon oil fields in southern Iraq , they may even
have the world's largest oil reserves, surpassing those of Saudi
Let's be honest about U.S. policy aims and ask ourselves if we can, in
good conscience, support continued destruction of Iraq in order to
control its oil.*
I believe that most Americans -- Republicans, Democrats, Greens,
Purples or whatever -- would be similarly horrified by the effects of
sanctions on the civilian population of Iraq if they could simply see
the place, as I have, up close in its human dimensions; if they could
see Iraq as a nation of 22 million mothers, sons, daughters, teachers,
doctors, mechanics, and window washers, and not simply as a single
cartoonish villain. I genuinely believe that my view of Iraq is a view
that would sit comfortably in mainstream America if most
Americans could see Iraq with their own eyes and not simply
through the eyes of a media establishment which has simply gotten
used to ignoring the death and destruction which perpetuates
American foreign policy aims.
While the American media fixates on the evils of the "repressive
regime of Saddam Hussein," both real and wildly exaggerated, how
often are we reminded of the horrors of the last Gulf War, when
more than 150,000 were killed (former U.S. Navy Secretary, John
Lehman, estimated 200,000). I simply don't believe that most
Americans could come face-to-face with the Iraqi people and say from
their hearts that they deserve another war.
I believe in the fundamental values of democracy -- the protection of
the most powerless among us from the whims of the most powerful.
I believe in the ideals of the United Nations as a forum for solving
international conflicts non-violently. These are mainstream values,
and they are exactly the values that are most imperiled by present
U.S. policy. That's why, as a citizen of the United States and as a
member of humanity, I can't rest easily so long as I think there is
something, anything, that I can do to make a difference.
* * * * * * *
Those who desire to give up Freedom in order to gain Security,
will not have, nor do they deserve,
* * *
All truth passes through 3 stages:
First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
--- Arthur Schopenhauer