Whenever I see you on the sidewalks, or on television, holding up your anti-war placards, I admire your courage. It takes special commitment to speak out against a policy favored by 80 percent of the country. You who protest the gulf conflict symbolize what makes America special. There are no war protesters in Baghdad.
Many of your chants have been noble ones. "Peace," you cry. "Bring the troops home." You questioned the morality of spilling blood unnecessarily sacrificing U.S. soldiers, harming innocents - all worthy sentiments.But I have a question for you: Where were you six months ago?
Where were you when Saddam Hussein sent his armies across the border of Kuwait, placing a peaceful people beneath a dictator's boot? Why did you give no cry against immorality then?
Where were you in mid-December, when Amnesty International, winner of the Nobel Peace prize, issued a report on what has happened in Kuwait since that invasion? It is hard to speak of some of things in that report, but important. It spoke of Iraqi soldiers dumping dozens of premature babies onto a hospital floor, leaving them to die, so the incubators could be taken. It spoke of soldiers taking resisters to their homes, executing them as their families watched, then demanding payment for the bullets. It spoke of the cutting off Kuwaitis' tongues and other body parts, the gouging of eyes. Where were you then?
And where were you a month before, in November, when witnesses came to the United Nations to speak of a Kuwait looted of its wealth, of free speech crushed, of leafletting being met with execution. They spoke of doctors tortured and nurses raped. They spoke of children as young as one year old taken to hospitals with gunshot wounds to their bodies. "They don't shoot at the legs or the arms," said one doctor, "they always aim at the chest."
And where were you in October when more tales of torture were told to a congressional caucus? In one story, Deborah Hadi, an American married to a Kuwaiti, spoke of taking a cousin to a maternity hospital when she saw another pregnant woman at the front door, screaming because she was refused entry. "When she continued to scream," testified Hadi, "they put a bayonet through her stomach, pinning her to the wall."
When the witnesses were finished that day, Rep. Thomas Lantos of California said, "In the eight-year history of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, we have never had the degree of ghoulish and nightmarish horror stories coming from credible eyewitnesses that we have had this time."
I'm not writing this to encourage hostility at you who protest. I know that in your hearts, you are acting out of patriotism, that you truly believe it would help America, and its soldiers, to stop this war. To those who say your marches give comfort to Saddam, I say he'd draw greater comfort from seeing clashes on our streets. So it's important that those who back this war tolerate those like you who march out of principle.
But I still ask: Where were you?
Where were you in 1988, when the U.S. Senate issued a report chronicling how Saddam launched chemical gas attacks against tens of thousands of Kurds, his own citizens, to punish them for wanting independence? Why did you never protest the dropping of cyanide and nerve gas on at least 50 villages, inhabited not by guerrillas, but families - an estimated 20,000 civilians caught in the fumes, bleeding from the mouth, turning black and blue and dying.
Where were you in the years before that when Saddam started another war, this one with Iran, leaving over 1 million dead? And when earlier reports by groups like Amnesty chronicled how Saddam's regime was one of the world's worst practitioners of torture of dissidents, using truncheons, electrodes, hot irons, mutilation - sometimes upon children as parents watched? And today, why are you carrying no signs decrying Saddam Hussein for sending missiles into civilian neighborhoods, for spilling oil into waters, for violating the laws of nations by forcing bruised and broken prisoners of war to criticize their own countries on television?
Even as I ask this, I continue to admire your courage as you march. To those who think you should get less attention in the press, I offer them a thought from a letter I just received from a soldier in Saudi Arabia, Capt. Paul Astphan, whose family I had written about. Astphan said he is proud to be in the desert, part of a cause he believes in, but he also said this: "You will find as much debate and differences of opinion among the soldiers here as in the civilian population back home, and therein lies our greatest strength: the freedom to think and speak freely."
So keep marching if that is your belief, because liberty should not be a casualty of this war. But as you do, perhaps you might ponder a final observation, this one from Peter Galbraith, the Senate Foreign Relations staffer who documented Saddam's gassing of his own people. He told me that the deaths of this war will never come close to the deaths Saddam Hussein has caused in the past, and would likely cause in the future if he was left unchallenged.
Which brings up a final question. Where will you be five years from now, if America agrees to your plea to stop, and withdraw, and leave Saddam in place, to continue his terror, and killing, perhaps in time to develop a nuclear weapon, and in time to use it in a far more horrible war?
Where will you be then?