Like most veteran antiwar activists, I'm no stranger to the literature on Agent Orange and Depleted Uranium, the Japanese casualties still mounting more than half a century after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and other long-term forms of murder and misery—all inflicted in the name of democracy. But a January tour of Vietnam with fellow peace-activist-poet-translators from The Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts was an encounter with clear-and-present firsthand reality. Besides visiting a number of Buddhist temples and participating in literary events, we conducted interviews with families ravaged by Agent Orange, learning about second- and third-generation victims born with horrifying physical and mental handicaps and often doomed to early death by various forms of cancer.
Among the many places we visited was a children's hospital near Hue. There I met fifteen children who were being educated as deaf despite the probability that hearing aids could provide them with enough hearing to be mainstreamed. But the health problems associated with Agent Orange are so many and so devastating and Vietnam is so poor that there was no money for hearing aids. I promised the children that I would find funds, and once I returned home, contacted friends who are fellow members of Poets Against War and we each wrote a check, and in the next few months, all fifteen children will be fitted with hearing aids and enter another world.
I have often been reminded by the smarmy and the cynical alike that “Poets Against War can't stop this war” or any other. I disagree. I believe that working with others we can and will stop this and other wars. My faith lies not in the gods, but in human reasoning and human love. The children in Vietnam will know that their hearing was a gift from Poets Against War. They will be encouraged to read and learn to listen to poetry. They will doubtless encounter our allies, Vietnam Poets Against War, and perhaps one or two of them will become writers themselves. Small acts of compassion and generosity sustain all that we stand for—as poets, as human beings.
Agent Orange continues to devastate our veterans of that stupid, brutal war as well—as it continues to plague the Vietnamese countryside. Meanwhile the Depleted Uranium we continue to use in Iraq will also infect generations to come—U.S. veterans of this war as well. I envision a day when I can go to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi poet friends and survey the damage and mourn our actions in a peaceful, civil Iraq. But I have no rational reason to believe I will live that long, not under the conditions being set forth by our imperial government. Nor by the conditions propagated by the murderous religious extremists presently slaughtering their own neighbors in Iraq.
Hilary Clinton, the “leading liberal candidate,” according to current polls, has stated that she would have U.S. Armed Forces occupying Iraq “for many years to come, to protect our interests.” I have never been enamored of the Clinton family form of liberalism. Bill was the best Republican president since Ike. But unlike Ike, neither Bill nor Hilary is prepared to take on the military-industrial complex Ike warned us about. No one poses any serious threat to that very military-industrial complex that presently rules these United States and gets us into merciless war after war, and no one in our government is seriously addressing the consequences of using Depleted Uranium in our warfare.
The War in Vietnam is not over. The War on Iraq will not be over in my lifetime—or in yours. Children who are not yet born will suffer horribly all of their lives from this war's evil consequences.
I am grateful to the dozen generous, compassionate souls who contributed to my Vietnam Hearing Project. They are ambassadors for another side of America, one that is kind, decent, generous and often over-looked. The children were visibly excited by learning about my hearing aids. And even more excited when I promised to help. They will never forget what a few poets have tried to do for them. We make this world more peaceful by engaging in peacemaking, each by each. Small personal acts of engagement and charity may be a drop in the ocean, but they create long waves. If additional funds are needed for the Hearing Aids Project, I will send an email asking for contributions. You can help by making a contribution to Poets Against War today.
With your support, Poets Against War will continue to find and engage in small one-on-one acts of compassion. We will continue to align ourselves with the activist peacemakers everywhere in this war-torn world. How much we can do depends almost entirely on your support.
This edition of the Poets Against War Newsletter presents a thought-provoking essay/memoir by Clayton Childress, son of a Vietnam veteran; a report on recent activities in Washington by D.C. Poets Against War; an invitation to participate in the April 19 call for the impeachment of George W. Bush on the capital steps; a featured poem by Jirí Orten; a statement from Yanar Mohammed , President of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, and other important information.
The PEN Reader Privacy act would strip from the FBI authority given in the Patriot Act that allows the FBI to investigate your reading habits by forcing librarians to open records. We ask you all to support this project. And we ask you to join us in supporting actions to close the torture/prison site at Guantánamo. For more, go to: www.avaaz.org/en/close_guantanamo
We also endorse the “million signatures campaign” for human rights for the women of Iran. For details go to: http://weforchange.net/english/spip.php?article61
Alan Fox, Editor of Rattle, has set up a site for supporting Barack Obama: http://my.barackobama.com/page/outreach/view/main/ALAN This is a good place for poets to donate. Since Obama doesn't accept donations from lobbyists, every small donation is significant. If we all donate through Fox's site, we can speak more forcefully as a group. This is an opportunity to bring to an end the era of perpetual war. (This endorsement is my own; it does not represent an official position by the Board of Directors of Poets Against War.)
Some recommended reading:
We Begin Here: Poems for Palestine and Lebanon edited by Kamal Boullata and Kathy Engel
The Pages of Day and Night by Adonis (translated by Samuel Hazo)