An Open Letter to Condoleezza Rice
Regaining My Humanity: A Soldier's Tale
April 3, 2005
An Open Letter to Condoleezza Rice
|Former Canadian Minister Lloyd Axworthy.|
Lloyd Axworthy /
Winnepeg Free Press
On February 24, 2005 the Canadian government formally refused to participate in the controversial US missile-defense shield being pushed by George W. Bush. The announcement was met with an immediate US warning threatening Canada's sovereignty. Although Prime Minister Paul Martin said Canada would insist on maintaining control of its airspace, US ambassador Paul Cellucci warned that Washington would not be constrained. We will deploy. We will defend North America, he said.
This brand of imperial arrogance inspired Lloyd Axworthy (Canada's Former Minister of External Affairs, and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Chretien Government) to pen a scathing open letter to the US Secretary of State.
Axworthy's now-celebrated "Dear Condi" letter has been referenced in passing by various US media but not even the New York Times has found the Axworthy letter "fit to print." The-Edge is pleased to present the complete, unexpurgated version of Axworthy's letter.
(March 3, 2005) -- I'm glad you've decided to get over your fit of pique and venture north to visit your closest neighbour. It's a chance to learn a thing or two. Maybe more.
I know it seems improbable to your divinely guided master in the White House that mere mortals might disagree with participating in a missile-defence system that has failed in its last three tests, even though the tests themselves were carefully rigged to show results.
But, gosh, we folks above the 49th parallel are somewhat cautious types who can't quite see laying down billions of dollars in a three-dud poker game.
As our erstwhile Prairie-born and bred (and therefore prudent) finance minister pointed out in presenting his recent budget, we've had eight years of balanced or surplus financial accounts. If we're going to spend money, Mr. Goodale added, it will be on day-care and health programs, and even on more foreign aid and improved defence.
Sure, that doesn't match the gargantuan, multi-billion-dollar deficits that your government blithely runs up fighting a "liberation war" in Iraq, laying out more than half of all weapons expenditures in the world, and giving massive tax breaks to the top one percent of your population while cutting food programs for poor children.
Just chalk that up to a different sense of priorities about what a national government's role should be when there isn't a prevailing mood of manifest destiny.
Coming to Ottawa might also expose you to a parliamentary system that has a thing called question period every day, where those in the executive are held accountable by an opposition for their actions, and where demands for public debate on important topics such a missile defence can be made openly.
You might also notice that it's a system in which the governing party's caucus members are not afraid to tell their leader that their constituents don't want to follow the ideological, perhaps teleological, fantasies of Canada's continental co-inhabitant. And that this leader actually listens to such representations.
Your boss did not avail himself of a similar opportunity to visit our House of Commons during his visit, fearing, it seems, that there might be some signs of dissent. He preferred to issue his diktat on missile defence in front of a highly controlled, pre-selected audience.
Such control-freak antics may work in the virtual one-party state that now prevails in Washington. But in Canada we have a residual belief that politicians should be subject to a few checks and balances, an idea that your country once espoused before the days of empire.
If you want to have us consider your proposals and positions, present them in a proper way, through serious discussion across the table in our cabinet room, as your previous president did when he visited Ottawa. And don't embarrass our prime minister by lobbing a verbal missile at him while he sits on a public stage, with no chance to respond.
Now, I understand that there may have been some miscalculations in Washington based on faulty advice from your resident governor of the "northern territories," Ambassador Cellucci. But you should know by now that he hasn't really won the hearts and minds of most Canadians through his attempts to browbeat and command our allegiance to U.S. policies.
Sadly, Mr. Cellucci has been far too closeted with exclusive groups of 'experts' from Calgary think-tanks and neo-con lobbyists at cross-border conferences to remotely grasp a cross-section of Canadian attitudes (nor American ones, for that matter).
I invite you to expand the narrow perspective that seems to inform your opinions of Canada by ranging far wider in your reach of contacts and discussions. You would find that what is rising in Canada is not so much anti-Americanism, as claimed by your and our right-wing commentators, but fundamental disagreements with certain policies of your government.
You would see that rather than just reacting to events by drawing on old conventional wisdoms, many Canadians are trying to think our way through to some ideas that can be helpful in building a more secure world.
These Canadians believe that security can be achieved through well-modulated efforts to protect the rights of people, not just nation-states.
To encourage and advance international co-operation on managing the risk of climate change, they believe that we need agreements like Kyoto.
To protect people against international crimes like genocide and ethnic cleansing, they support new institutions like the International Criminal Court -- which, by the way, you might strongly consider using to hold accountable those committing atrocities today in Darfur, Sudan.
And these Canadians believe that the United Nations should indeed be reformed -- beginning with an agreement to get rid of the veto held by the major powers over humanitarian interventions to stop violence and predatory practices.
On this score, you might want to explore the concept of the 'Responsibility to Protect' while you're in Ottawa. It's a Canadian idea born out of the recent experience of Kosovo and informed by the many horrific examples of inhumanity over the last half-century. Many Canadians feel it has a lot more relevance to providing real human security in the world than missile defence ever will.
This is not just some quirky notion concocted in our long winter nights, by the way. It seems to have appeal for many in your own country, if not the editorialists at the Wall Street Journal or Rush Limbaugh. As I discovered recently while giving a series of lectures in southern California, there is keen interest in how the US can offer real leadership in managing global challenges of disease, natural calamities and conflict, other than by military means.
There is also a very strong awareness on both sides of the border of how vital Canada is to the US as a partner in North America. We supply copious amounts of oil and natural gas to your country, our respective trade is the world's largest in volume, and we are increasingly bound together by common concerns over depletion of resources, especially very scarce fresh water.
Why not discuss these issues with Canadians who understand them, and seek out ways to better cooperate in areas where we agree -- and agree to respect each other's views when we disagree.
Above all, ignore the Cassandras who deride the state of our relations because of one missile-defence decision. Accept that, as a friend on your border, we will offer a different, independent point of view. And that there are times when truth must speak to power.
In friendship, Lloyd Axworthy.
Lloyd Axworthy is president of the University of Winnipeg and a former Canadian foreign minister.
Regaining My Humanity: A Soldier's Tale
Camilo Mejia / http://freecamilo.org/
Camilo Mejia spent more than seven years in the military and eight months fighting in Iraq. Returning home for a two-week furlough, he decided that he could not -- in good conscience -- return to Iraq. When the US military rejected his appeal for Conscientious Objector status and imprisoned him on a charge of "desertion," Amnesty International adopted Mejia as a Prisoner of Conscience. Sentenced to serve a one-year prison sentence in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Mejia was released from prison on February 15, 2005. This is an edited version of a statement he wrote from his jail cell.
I was deployed to Iraq in April 2003 and returned home for a two-week leave in October. Going home gave me the opportunity to put my thoughts in order and to listen to what my conscience had to say. People would ask me about my war experiences and answering them took me back to all the horrors -- the firefights, the ambushes, the time I saw a young Iraqi dragged by his shoulders through a pool of his own blood or an innocent man was decapitated by our machine gun fire. The time I saw a soldier broken down inside because he killed a child, or an old man on his knees, crying with his arms raised to the sky, perhaps asking God why we had taken the lifeless body of his son.
I thought of the suffering of a people whose country was in ruins and who were further humiliated by the raids, patrols and curfews of an occupying army.
And I realized that none of the reasons we were told about why we were in Iraq turned out to be true. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. We werent helping the Iraqi people and the Iraqi people didnt want us there. We werent preventing terrorism or making Americans safer. I couldnt find a single good reason for having been there, for having shot at people and been shot at.
Coming home gave me the clarity to see the line between military duty and moral obligation. I realized that I was part of a war that I believed was immoral and criminal, a war of aggression, a war of imperial domination. I realized that acting upon my principles became incompatible with my role in the military, and I decided that I could not return to Iraq.
By putting my weapon down, I chose to reassert myself as a human being. I have not deserted the military or been disloyal to the men and women of the military. I have not been disloyal to a country. I have only been loyal to my principles.
When I turned myself in, with all my fears and doubts, it did it not only for myself. I did it for the people of Iraq, even for those who fired upon me--they were just on the other side of a battleground where war itself was the only enemy. I did it for the Iraqi children, who are victims of mines and depleted uranium. I did it for the thousands of unknown civilians killed in war. My time in prison is a small price compared to the price Iraqis and Americans have paid with their lives. Mine is a small price compared to the price Humanity has paid for war.
Many have called me a coward, others have called me a hero. I believe I can be found somewhere in the middle. To those who have called me a hero, I say that I dont believe in heroes, but I believe that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
To those who have called me a coward I say that they are wrong, and that without knowing it, they are also right. They are wrong when they think that I left the war for fear of being killed. I admit that fear was there, but there was also the fear of killing innocent people, the fear of putting myself in a position where to survive means to kill, there was the fear of losing my soul in the process of saving my body, the fear of losing myself to my daughter, to the people who love me, to the man I used to be, the man I wanted to be. I was afraid of waking up one morning to realize my humanity had abandoned me.
I say without any pride that I did my job as a soldier. I commanded an infantry squad in combat and we never failed to accomplish our mission. But those who called me a coward, without knowing it, are also right. I was a coward not for leaving the war, but for having been a part of it in the first place. Refusing and resisting this war was my moral duty, a moral duty that called me to take a principled action. I failed to fulfill my moral duty as a human being and instead I chose to fulfill my duty as a soldier. All because I was afraid. I was terrified, I did not want to stand up to the government and the army, I was afraid of punishment and humiliation. I went to war because at the moment I was a coward, and for that I apologize to my soldiers for not being the type of leader I should have been.
I also apologize to the Iraqi people. To them I say I am sorry for the curfews, for the raids, for the killings. May they find it in their hearts to forgive me.
One of the reasons I did not refuse the war from the beginning was that I was afraid of losing my freedom. Today, as I sit behind bars I realize that there are many types of freedom, and that in spite of my confinement I remain free in many important ways. What good is freedom if we are afraid to follow our conscience? What good is freedom if we are not able to live with our own actions? I am confined to a prison but I feel, today more than ever, connected to all humanity. Behind these bars I sit a free man because I listened to a higher power, the voice of my conscience....
To those who are still quiet, to those who continue to betray their conscience, to those who are not calling evil more clearly by its name, to those of us who are still not doing enough to refuse and resist, I say come forward. I say free your minds.
Let us, collectively, free our minds, soften our hearts, comfort the wounded, put down our weapons, and reassert ourselves as human beings by putting an end to war.
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