by Kathy Kelly
April 15, 2003
Twenty five years ago, I was arrested for the first time when I joined Karl Meyer and a small band of friends from our neighborhood for an action protesting draft registration at the main Post Office in Chicago. We were charged with disturbing the peace when we went to the window where young men submitted their draft registrations and sang an Irish ballad "Johnny, I Hardly Knew You." The verses narrate a widow's sorrow as she beholds her Johnny, a maimed soldier conscript whose arms, eyes and legs are gone. "Where are your legs that used to run? I fear your dancing days are done. You haven't an arm, you haven't a leg. You'll have to be put with a bowl to beg."
The widow concludes: "They're rolling out the guns again, but they'll never take our sons again. No they'll never take our sons again. Yes, Johnny, I'm swearing to you."
I spent a little time today with Jamilla Abbas, the aunt of 12 year old Ali Ismayal who lies in a ward of the Al Kindy hospital, armless, with third degree burns covering his torso and abdomen. Today he awakened, crying, and asked his aunt, "Am I going to stay like this all my life?" Jamilla is now his closest relative. She is the one who must help him understand that his mother and father, his brothers and sisters are all dead.
Dr. Hameed Hussain Al-Araji told us that Ali's prognosis is grim. Septicemia (full body infection) has set in, and he won't be able to sustain the anesthetics necessary if doctors are to perform needed plastic surgery.
Dancing days are also done for the doctors who tend Ali and other patients at the Al Kindy hospital. Dr. Al-Araji said, "I've spent a quarter of a century as a doctor working under war."
"Speak for yourself," interrupted his colleague, Dr. Mohammed. "For me, even longer."
Dr.Al-Araji nodded, and continued. "Psychologically, emotionally, we are adjusted. We ourselves are not frightened. Just our families and our children. I will bring my family here, to be with me, so that I can work." Dr. Al-Araji was on the front in the Iran-Iraq war for four years, when he was in his 30's. He did his post-graduate work in Basra, helping heal handicapped survivors of that war. He was in Tikrit, during the Gulf War in '91. "There were many casualties, many died," he said. "In 98, I was here. It becomes like usual for us, and this is abnormal. Certainly it affects our psychology. If you take me now to the United States and invite me to a dancing party, I cannot accept."
President Bush and his advisors envisioned Iraqis dancing in the streets, bearing flowers, to welcome the US liberators. Do they need background music to expose the contradictions in their claims? My suggestion, the traditional Irish ballad "Johnny, I hardly knew you."
Kathy Kelly is co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness (www.vitw.org) and the Iraq Peace Team (www.iraqpeaceteam.org), a group of international peaceworkers pledging to remain in Iraq through US bombing and occupation, in order to be a voice for the Iraqi people in the West. The Iraq Peace Team can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org