Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Late Update From Ansbach

After the march on the 19th, I went to the internet café to write my post about the day’s activities. The name of the place was, “Ali-Baba Internet Café.” I shit you not. The woman behind the counter did not look particularly Arabic, but was wearing a hijab. It just so happened that her English was a lot better than my German, but I thought it might be presumptuous to speak in Arabic. She gave me a number and I sat down in my assigned slot.

While browsing after taking care of business, I overheard two men speaking Arabic behind me. I leaned back in my chair and when their conversation ended, introduced myself in Arabic. I explained that I had worked in Civil Affairs and so on, and he told me that he was from Baghdad. This whole time I’ve been trying to revive my German, and Arabic words come to mind when the German words escape me, but suddenly the opposite was the case. We ended up having a crazy tri-lingual conversation, but he made a really interesting point that I had never considered about Iraq.

He said that the sectarian violence was a new phenomenon, to which I objected, “No, it’s thousands of years old.” But he meant in recent history. He said that there had been no sectarian violence under Saddam (except by the government of course) and none in the years before Saddam came to power. His theory about the sectarian violence is that it came out of the racial balance requirements by the US government for the interim Iraqi government. He said these criteria made Iraqis think that they had to compete on racist terms. Now, he has family in Iraq, but hasn’t been there for ten years so he might not be the best-informed Iraqi, but it’s an interesting theory to consider.

The next day we all had our big interviews with Nightline. Look for them to do an eight-minute segment on the IVAW German Expeditionary Team. In the evening, we attended the Memorial for Iraq War Victims in Burgerpark, followed by a religious service led by Reverend Hansjörg Meyer. The theme of the sermon was, “Turn Swords into Plowshares!” but it was in German, naturally, and most of it beyond my vocabulary. It was a beautiful outdoor service with some great singing, which included, “We Shall Overcome,” and acoustic guitar performances.

Berlin, baby, Berlin!

As I write this, I am in very full nine-seater van as the IVAW German expeditionary team makes its way back to Ansbach after a successful excursion to Berlin. On board are the four members of the team, (Chris Capps, Jeff Englehart, Thomas Cassidy, and myself) Boris Meyer of the Ansbach Peace Coalition, Darnell Stephen Summers of the Stop the War Brigade, Chris’s wife Meike Schubert, their son, Leon, and Yana, a Czech reporter who has been tagging along since we left Ansbach. We’re stuck in traffic on the autobahn.

Our first event yesterday was a press conference with two German reporters a woman from the Associated Press. By the time we got back to Darnell’s friend’s home that evening, it was already on the homepage of Military.com. This morning, there were four pages of comments on the article. Unfortunately, AP forgot to mention any one of the three reasons for us to be in Germany. And on top of that, Military.com ran the story next to a picture of a group of CodePinkers protesting in front of the White House with a big peace sign. No offense to CodePink of course, but IVAW is trying to portray a different image. This morning I posted a reply and you can see it here.

After the press conference, Darnell treated us to an exclusive tour of an incredible archive of antiwar and military resistance books and documents. The archive was originally compiled by the author of Resistance in the US Armed Forces, but he has passed away, and passed the archive on to another caretaker who was more than happy to share it with a few of the guys who will help to “write the next chapter.”

Then we met with a representative of a member of the German Parliament over dinner.
We discussed German politics as they relate to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and German policy towards the US forces stationed in Germany. He is looking for information that may affect that policy. I am not at liberty to discuss any more of the specifics of that conversation, but if you have any information that may be relevant, the point of contact on the matter is Tom, and he can be reached at thomas.j.cassidy@gmail.com.

Then it was time for the big press conference/panel discussion arranged by the American Voices Abroad Military Project. The crowd was very receptive, and we got a chance to really make a connection with people. I read my statement in German, which gets better every time. My proficiency has also progressed to the point that I was able to answer parts of many of the questions in German. It might not seem like a big deal when you have translators, but if you have ever worked with one, you know it’s a lot more effective to be able to communicate directly.

I’ve been doing my best to prepare for my impending legal battle from here, but in the van, it’s a bit tricky. And soon we will be at the protest at the Katterbach base in Ansbach.