When Will We Ever Learn?
By Cindy Sheehan
r u t h o u t " -- --
If public opinion would frown against violence, it would lose
its power. - Leo Tolstoy Our American culture is permeated with
violence. I don't think anyone would dispute that fact. A recent
tragedy that occurred in a family who is close to my family in
Vacaville, California, is horribly bringing this fact literally
home to many people in that community.
My friend, who was one of my first friends in Vacaville when our
family moved there almost 15 years ago, gave her 11-year-old
daughter an overdose of prescription medication, killing her. I
have known the mom since before she became pregnant with her
daughter and celebrated with her when she finally had the baby.
By all accounts, and the last time I saw her, the mom seemed
healthy and whole. The daughter was a popular honor student at
the same elementary school that my younger two attended years
Why? We have all been asking ourselves why. There are wild
speculations going around of course, but none of us know for
sure. The mom also allegedly took an overdose of pills. Was it a
murder-suicide; or a murder with a pretend suicide? I saw a
picture of my friend at her arraignment in the local newspaper.
She is lost. She is haunted. She was not there. She is without
hope. Small wonder.
I know this feeling of being without hope. There were the long
days and the endless nights that I was in a black pit of despair
and hopelessness, the days when the only thing that stopped me
from taking my entire bottle of sleeping pills was the fact that
I would hurt my family even more. No matter how much agony I was
in (a broken heart is not just a metaphor) I could not bring
myself to commit that easy, ultimate act of selfishness. But, oh
how I wanted to. How I longed for that permanent sleep that
would free me from pain.
Even without the added stress of burying a child, when I think
of the violence that can start early in the morning when we
switch on the TV and attack us all day with one image and
experience or another until we fall into restless sleep,
stressed-out and exhausted from another day of hatred, it is
easy to dismiss what is going on in our society as "normal."
When we realize that violence is not normal, and not give the
cop-out excuse that we as humans are somehow "hardwired" to be
violent and non-violence is abnormal, then our society and
culture will change.
Violence begets violence and killing begets killing. All we have
to do is notice how our leaders consistently use their votes or
their signatures or their orders to beget and condone violence,
and we shouldn't be shocked when our soldiers in the field
commit acts of atrocity that I am sure go against their very
fundamental core of humanity. Our soldiers are just copying
their leaders and fulfilling their training, which dehumanizes
them and the "enemy." Violent is as violent does.
However, I believe that using violence is not like opening a
Pandora's Box where the evil escapes and cannot be stuffed back
in. Violence is a cycle that can be broken. Violence is like
that proverbial can of worms that slither and roil, but any
2-year-old with basic motor skills can control the can of worms
and put the lid back on.
I often have to ask myself why we, as Americans, so blindly
follow our leaders down this path of violent destruction, and it
has always been so. From the genocide and virtual extinction of
our native population to dehumanizing black people so that they
could be used as human chattel and still be oppressed, even
today, to still be the only so-called "civilized nation" that
executes people. Why do we allow our leaders to kill and oppress
people in our names? Is it so we won't have to look at our own
Are we as a nation so devoid of hope that we are ready to live
our lives in "quiet desperation" watching BushCo destroy Iraq,
destroy the USA and destroy the world for their own wicked ends?
Do we see any difference in jumping in our huge, gas guzzling
and polluting SUVs to go to a job we hate to be able to buy
things we don't need in contrast with invading a country to
control its oil reserves to give the people who run companies
that profit from death and destruction more money so they can
buy their jets and build palaces that they don't need?
Are our visions of a future that is one endless war after
another in competition for resources and for a dwindling planet
so bleak that we are condoning the destructive behavior of the
Bush administration because we are competing with our neighbors
to have the best and brightest new thingamajig that Madison Ave
tells us that we need?
Before we can change the world, we have to look in our hearts
and change ourselves. Before Casey was KIA in Iraq, I led this
life of rampant consumerism that wreaked havoc on my soul and
the environment. I had a mortgage (death pledge) and I couldn't
leave the anchor of my home for long, because something might
happen to it or my stuff! However, I did leave my home every
work day before 7:00 in the morning, fought traffic and cussed
out other drivers and extravagantly used my middle finger to
ward off the evil eyes of my fellow commuters who were also
trapped in their encumbered and heavily insured mini-prisons.
Then I would arrive at my job, work all day in a solitary
office, listen to the constant bad news, skip out of work at the
appointed time, then fight the same battle going home, in
reverse, that I had so frustratingly fought on the way to work.
This was no way to "live" and I had little to show for it except
a healthy sailor's vocabulary and neck spasms. Things changed
after Casey was killed. Priorities sharpened and came into
Since I have been traveling all over the world for peace, I have
discovered how little a person can live on. I have a teeny-tiny
aparment in Berkeley and I carry my belongings from airplane to
airplane in one suitcase and an obscenely heavy shoulder bag
(ask anyone that has had to shlep it for me) that contains the
computer I am writing this from and other essentials for a life
on the run. I don't have to worry about my stuff in my
apartment, because I don't have that much stuff there and it is
replaceable anyway. Despite the personal attacks against me and
the exhausting travel and loneliness, I am a much happier,
freer, and less-stressed person.
To lose hope is so devastating and destructive that we follow
the path of least resistance, which has led us and leads us to
this place in history where our leaders are such destructive and
devastating forces themselves. No one is asking anyone to be a
nomadic, practically monk-like person for peace; however, we can
all change a little something in our lives that can have an
enormous impact in the world. How about coming to Camp Casey in
The Camp Casey experience has given so many of us back our hope.
Veterans who fought in Vietnam and in Iraq said that coming to
Camp Casey restored their hopes of living a near normal life.
Families who, like mine, tragically have had a loved one killed
in war found hope in the fact that so many Americans cared about
our sons and daughters and were willing to sacrifice something
to come out and show solidarity in our struggle to ask: "What
Noble Cause?" Many Americans who haven't had personal experience
with loss had their hope restored seeing that the naked Emperor
was exposed and there are people working for peace. The Camp
Casey movement led us all (over 15,000 visitors to date and
thousands of supporters all over the world) to what Gandhi
called "heart unity" with our fellow human beings, who deserve
enough, if not the comparatively opulent lifestyle of most
It's time to join us to stop allowing our government to give
those orders to kill innocent Iraqis in the name of fighting a
"global war of terror" - which is just another name for
"corporate colonialism" (honestly, instead of patriotic emblems
on their uniforms, our troops should have corporate logos all
over them, like NASCAR drivers. Tanks should have a big "Exxon"
symbol painted right on their sides, this would make more
sense!). It's time to look at our country's knack for arming and
training dictators and terrorists like Saddam and Osama and
oppressing other countries for profit and demand that this
violent behavior stop.
When and only when we frown, protest, yes demand that our
leaders quit committing acts of violence on our heart family
members and change our own personal wasteful lifestyles,
violence will stop and then we will have something to live for:
a hopeful future.
Like Martin Luther King Jr. said, we can't wait for our leaders
to change their beatitudes. They won't. It's time we make them
live up to ours.
for peace and hope is dedicated to my little friend:
Jennifer Elizabeth Corral
October 19, 1994 to June 3, 2006
May she Rest in Peace
May her family find comfort and hope.
Jennifer passed away unexpectedly on June 3,
2006, in Children's Hospital in Oakland.
October 19, 1994, in Vallejo, she was a lifelong
resident of Vacaville. She was a student at Browns
Valley Elementary School, was student of the year,
and was also a writer for the school's newspaper and
took an award for her interview with Andy Sheehan
regarding his brother, Casey Sheehan, killed in
action in Iraq. She was a lover of music and enjoyed
playing the viola, was a great drawer and loved to
Sheehan is a co-founder of Gold Star Families for
Peace and the mother of Casey Sheehan, who was
killed in Iraq.
for Peace is a joint project of Gold Star Families
for Peace, Democracy Rising, Peace Action, Code
Pink, United For Peace and Justice, and more,
working to bring the peace movement together to
think and act as voters this election year. Please
join me and sign the
Voters Pledge and spread the word far and wide.
Our goal is to get 2 million voters to sign the
pledge - so we can go back to these
legislators and candidates and say "We will no
longer tolerate your wars!"
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