Dear President Obama, from A Neighbor

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

Dear President Barack Obama,

When you spoke in North Dakota last April, I was the one boo-ing as you called the Afghanistan war “the good war.” Writing today, I feel some compunction to apologize. The trouble is, I don't know how else to be heard by my leaders.

I have called the White House innumerable times to register outrage about your Afghanistan plans. When the phone lines weren't busy, the mailbox was full. When I did break through the White House telephone traffic, I was asked to await volunteer operators.

Frankly, I wanted to boo again. And frankly, there are endless reasons why the war in Afghanistan should never be called “the good war.” These reasons have names, and these reasons have faces.

But their stories aren't mine to tell. What I can tell is a story of Chicago. In 2001, I moved from Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood (on the south side) to the Rogers Park neighborhood (on the north side). During this move, on September 11, the World Trade Center was attacked by self-proclaimed terrorists from overseas.

As I was grieving, a young girl was shot to death in the lobby of her apartment building, caught in Chicago's gang crossfire. I spent many nights hollering into the wind. Today, I still grieve, though in 2009, I have a bit more clarity.

The child who lived on the south side was murdered by a gang. Let's say this gang was from the north side, where I lived. Certainly, someone in the south-side gang might have known this child and grieved for her. The south-side gang might have declared war against the north side.

This wouldn't have been fair, of course. Just because a gang sought refuge in my neighborhood didn't mean that I was giving refuge. I didn't even want the gang in my neighborhood.

Similarly, there is a gang known as al Qaeda. According to their statements, they entered the United States' neighborhood and killed people. They represented no particular government, no particular country, and hence, no particular people. To attack the country in which they have taken refuge – to harm their innocent neighbors – is to behave as a gang.

For 8 years I have wondered –  Is the United States behaving as a gang or a government? A government, in collaboration with the U.N., could make use of a police force, trained in precision, to find the alleged attackers, bring charges against them, and serve the greater justice. A government, unlike a gang, has a degree of public accountability. By design, it represents the people.

Thankfully, the south side never bombed the north side. But let's say, the south side did attack us. Let's say, after 8 long years, the south-side folks grow weary of this war.

Then – a south-side visionary! “Yes, we can!” he says, even if he borrows that phrase from Delores Huerta of UFW. He speaks of hope, the audacity of hope, a future of promise for the children. He offers the people renewal, railing against his predecessors' warring predilections. Yes, he calls the north-side war “the good war.” But here is a person who listens. He would never drown his people in endless war.

So he's elected.

But suddenly, this leader's phone is busy. His mailbox is full. Has he forgotten we're all neighbors? Has he forgotten “Yes, we can”? Does he think he was elected to kill people?

This is my greatest fear: The audacity of hope has truly become an audacity – especially for the children of Afghanistan.

Karen Van Fossan,
a neighbor

Karen Van Fossan lives in the snowy winterlands of North Dakota, where she is a recent recipient of the Archibald Bush Artist Fellowship (no relation to George) as a playwright. She directs the Dragon Jane Theater Company, rescues abandoned animals, and blogs at

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