Posted by CODEPINK Staff
By Diane Wilson
I was raised in a small coastal fishing town in Texas where concealed handguns are legal and hunting is equated with ritual. But I developed a total aversion to killing during my time as an army medic in the Vietnam War.
I joined up—a 19-year-old girl—because I was enthralled with Life Magazine’s early war photos of injured Army medics caring for the wounded in Viet Nam. Those black and white photos were grisly but I couldn’t get away from the all- American-hero mentality that it offered up to me. I would go to Viet Nam and be a Florence Nightingale!
I didn’t go to Viet Nam. I was sent to Brooks Army Burn Center and Fort Sam Houston Medical where Vietnam casualties were evacuated. In the wards where I worked, patients were constantly swiping the needles to shoot up and a pot haze hung in the air like smoke from a lingering fire. To show gratitude for my F.Nightengale-like care, the guys showed it in the only way they knew how: filing my nurse pocket with every pill known to mankind. There was enough dope to float a battleship. The medical administration knew about the situation but they turned a blind eye. The drugs kept the guys quiet.
This was a lost generation of boys and I will never forget their faces. It’s not hard to do when the same lost look is on the face of the vet I married. Several years ago, this same Vet I was now divorced from was diagnosed with 100 percent PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)--forty years after the Viet Nam war that defined our generation.
Another war wasn’t something I wanted to see again. So before the invasion of Iraq, I went with Medea Benjamin to Washington, D.C., and we disrupted a House Armed Services Committee hearing where Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, was stating his case for war with Iraq. It was a spontaneous moment spurred by our wish to do something to stop the war, and it made national news because we did it while the TV cameras in the room were rolling.
Then, weeks before the US invasion in March 2003, I went to Iraq with a group of CODEPINK women. Before I left, I had heard a lot about how the Iraqis hated Americans and envied our lifestyle and freedom. With that in mind, I was totally surprised with what I experienced in Baghdad—instead of hatred and suspicion and grudges galore, I met people who were open and curious and generous. When I asked them if they were angry about the Americans on the verge of bombing their country, they all said, “We know it isn’t the American people at fault, but the administration.” Unlike so many people in the United States who think all Arabs are terrorists, Iraqis understood the difference between the American people and U.S. government policies. During my entire stay in Bagdad, there was never a time when the Iraqis were not unfailing gracious.
At the end of our trip, it was quite clear the Iraqis were afraid of the U.S. invasion. I was afraid, too, so how could they not be? The waiters in our Baghdad hotel begged us not to leave. The children who met us every morning after our coffee—and who charmed us with their sales of pastries and scarves and shoe shines—hung on to our arms on our last day there and cried tears of desperation. They acted as if somehow, if we remained, the bombs wouldn’t fall. I remember giving my coat to a little nine-year-old boy and he clutched it like it would protect him from a falling bomb.
The Iraqi people had no idea what to do to protect themselves and one gesture, in particular, reminded me of the futile things we resort to in my own hometown when a hurricane threatens the Gulf Coast: they taped their windows. It was almost surreal. A monumental thing is fixing to happen and there’s not much you can do to prepare for it, but you know it’s going to change your life. Tape your window.
One month later, a group of women from across the nation staged a hunger strike and vigil at Lafayette Park in front of the White House. We remained in the park, in the dead of winter, protesting the war and promoting peace for several months. During one protest, I scaled the fence in front of the White House with an antiwar banner and stayed up there dancing for about five minutes until I was shoved to the ground by the Secret Service. For that action, I was arrested, jailed, and banned from Washington for an entire year. The Secret Service felt so threatened by our nonviolent antiwar protests and my dancing on a White House pillar that they followed me to my hometown in Seadrift! They visited my neighbors and even the Seadrift Elementary School!
Still, I felt compelled to do more than just sit in Seadrift and grieve. So on the day before half a million Americans took to the streets of New York and people around the globe protested the invasion, a delegation of CODEPINK women assembled before the UN gate to protest. I climbed the fence and chained myself to it. I was then arrested and sent to trial. Later, back in Texas, two other protesters and I stood in the state capitol and shouted down a resolution supporting the war. For that I got four days in a women’s correctional facility outside Austin.
But still, I didn’t do enough. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted any failure as much. A war rages, children die, families are blown apart—and we are all too well behaved. I’m a fourth-generation commercial fisherwoman, born and raised in Texas and baptized in a river by a Pentecostal preacher. I’ve also been an environmental activist fighting the destruction on the Texas bays for years. My environmental activism flowed into the peace movement, and that flowed into CODEPINK. Just like the ecosystem where I shrimp, it’s all connected. The corporations like Formosa and DuPont and Dow are destroying the Texas bays and killing small communities like my town, and the federal government bombs a whole country to control its oil. It’s the same destructive mentality at work.
This is why I’m going to the People’s Response of the Bush Library in a few weeks: we must never never forget the face of The Destroyer just as we must never never forget the faces of those destroyed.
Diane Wilson is a shrimper, anti-toxics activist and author of An “Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas”. She is one of the co-founders of CODEPINK: Women for Peace.