When Oprah Says
No To War…
by Leah C. Wells, March 4, 2003
On September 19, 2000, Danny Muller and Andrew
Mandell, both of Voices in the Wilderness, went to the Oprah show.
Her guest that day was presidential hopeful George W. Bush. They
had come to ask important, unscripted questions and to find out
if our future 43rd President would toe the same line on the Iraq
issue as the administrations of his father and Bill Clinton.
Other Voices in the Wilderness members handed out
roses to the other audience members before they were seated in
remembrance of the 5,000 Iraqi children who die each month due
We didn’t see those roses on television,
however, because before each audience member could enter the studio,
they had to hand over their rose.
Halfway through the show, impatient for the canned
question period from the audience, Mr. Muller stood up and asked
Bush, “Mr. Bush, would you continue the Democrats’
policy of bombing and sanctions that kill 5,000 children a month
The show immediately cut to commercial.
Mr. Mandell then stood and asked what the children
of Iraq could expect. Bush stared directly at him. Both Muller
and Mandell were escorted out of the audience for their acts of
More than two years later, the children of Iraq
know what to expect.
For many Americans, Iraq had disappeared from the
map since the last Gulf War. The economic embargo remained in
place, routine bombings dotted the landscape, and Iraqis suffered
In September 2001, Thomas Nagy, a professor at
George Washington University, released a report detailing the
U.S. government’s foreknowledge of the devastating effects
of sanctions and the impacts of the Gulf War on civilian infrastructure.
The document, published in The Progressive, outlined the outcomes
of impure water and insufficient sanitation on the most vulnerable
members of society: the children. He cites the Geneva Convention
as precedent for why these actions are illegal and punishable
under international law.
As history repeats, a country considerably less
prepared is bracing for another invasion.
“There will be no safe place in Baghdad,”
the U.S. Department of Defense declares. Only now the country
is dependent on the U.N. programs which keep the cycle of food
and humanitarian goods in motion. Were that to be interrupted,
there will be major problems for the Iraqi people.
The pipeline for humanitarian goods for Iraqi civilians
is potentially jeopardized by an invasion. In the event of a massive
conflict, who will take responsibility for the unfulfilled contracts
for humanitarian goods? Governments and private companies enter
into contracts under the current conditions the Oil for Food Programme
and the current Iraqi regime, but if a major war occurs, the agreements
to fill orders for wheat and rice, or to transport those goods
into Iraq, may fall through.
This would mean that the people of Iraq would be
forced to buy their food at market prices. Currently they pay
the equivalent of $.12 for their monthly ration which includes
rice, lentils, baby formula and flour. The market price is $3.50
and the international price is $8.50. Most Iraqis have a monthly
salary equivalent to $2-4 USD. Even government employees only
make an average salary amounting to $12 USD. Iraqis could not
afford to pay the market or international prices for food, and
thus the alternative is starvation if the food basket under the
Oil for Food Programme were interrupted due to war.
Mr. Mandell and Mr. Muller doubtfully could have
predicted the catastrophic global events which have transpired
since their appearance on the Oprah show. The events of September
11th changed the face of modern geopolitics, of civil liberties
and of human interaction.
But rather than recognizing the human capacity
to transcend hateful acts of extraordinary desperation, our leaders
have called for retributive justice smeared across a global canvas.
Afghanistan was not enough revenge. The detainees at Camp X-Ray
were not enough. Peaceful Tomorrows, a group comprised of the
families and loved ones of those killed on September 11th, calling
for an end to war has not been enough. The unprecedented international
dissent and the street protests in nearly every country have not
Unfortunately, short of Oprah taking a stand against
the war or adding Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Peace Is Every
Step” to her book club list, those with something to gain
from waging this war will continue to do so at the expense of
those who have everything to lose.
Wells serves as the Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear
Age Peace Foundation. This piece also appears at http://www.electroniciraq.net.