Scott Ritter, the ex-Marine and former U.N. arms inspector, peppered his Veterans Day talk at the University of Maryland with the kinds of questions and challenges that are known to fire up an audience.
“The average age of a lance corporal is 20,” Ritter said. “The average age of a college student is 20.” Calling the students in the audience “just kids,” he asked who among them could wake up the next morning, look in the mirror and honestly say that “what’s going on in Iraq is worthy of my life.”
At the same time, did the students really know enough about Iraq to sit back silently while others go off to die for them? And did they really understand that war is not the Nintendo game that we see on television, that it is, in fact, about “terminating life” and nothing more?
Hundreds of people had filled a ballroom inside the Stamp Student Union to hear Ritter, a military man turned anti-war advocate who has been denounced by hawks as unpatriotic for his views. He was invited to speak by a campus organization, and his appearance drew a wide range of students from dozens of countries.
Ritter contended that it was ridiculous for an uninformed Congress to give President Bush sole power to wage war: “It’s like going to a doctor who says you have a brain tumor and that he needs to chop off your head so he can dig it out. You say, ‘Wait, that’s kind of extreme. May I see the X-rays?’ And the doctor says, ‘Don’t worry about X-rays. Just trust me on this.’ “
The students laughed, but Ritter cut them off, saying: “Don’t blame Congress or Bush. You are the government. They just represent you. What they are doing is happening in your name.”
Drawing on his experience as an intelligence officer during the Persian Gulf War and on his seven years as a U.N weapons inspector in Iraq, Ritter painted a disturbing picture of what has been happening in that country since the Gulf War and the imposition of economic sanctions.
He talked about babies drinking water contaminated by sewage because purification plants have been bombed. Mothers carry them to doctors and are told that nothing can be done. Medicines have gone bad because refrigerators don’t work; bombs have knocked out electric power plants as well.
“Keep this in the back of your head: About 3,000 Iraqi children are starving to death each month — outside the view of American heartstrings,” Ritter said. “Suppose every month 3,000 Iraqi children were lined up and we threatened to shoot them if Saddam Hussein didn’t do what we wanted. Suppose we gave orders for the Marines to shoot them. Well, nothing would happen because Marines don’t shoot kids. But that doesn’t mean America doesn’t kill children. We just starve them to death.
“But we’re only talking about dead brown people,” Ritter added sarcastically. “Don’t let that little fact get in the way. If 250,000 white babies were going to starve to death, this sanctions policy wouldn’t last long at all. But somehow a child’s death doesn’t hurt brown mothers as much as it hurts white mothers.”
Ritter made the case that America is hellbent on war with Iraq no matter what U.N. arms inspectors find if readmitted to that country. Why? We want to control Mideast oil.
“We see the world as one big grocery store,” he said. When the United States needs another country’s natural resource, he said, we will make friends with oppressive regimes to get it, steal it or take it by force.
Ritter said we obtain copper “by propping up African dictators who send their people into copper mines where they die by the thousands just so our lives can be made more comfortable.”
Instead of hunting down terrorists with Predator drones, only to see them replaced by more terrorists, better to ask why and how people become terrorists in the first place, Ritter said.
“The anti-American sentiment is out there, and it’s not because people are jealous of us,” he said. “People don’t like us because we’re a bunch of obnoxious, ignorant bullies.”
He closed by asking the students whether they really wanted such oppressive, undemocratic practices carried out in their names.
“Hell no!” came the response.
“Then it’s not too late to send a message that this is not a war that we will stand for,” he said, bringing many students to their feet in applause.
Courtland Milloy’s e-mail: email@example.com