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Janis Karpinski

Janis Karpinski

Posted: September 28, 2006 08:14 PM

The Lessons of Shame


Stand proud for true patriotism and hold a screening of Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers during Profits Over Patriotism week.

One of the questions I am asked most often in speaking at locations in the US and international locations relates to complacency. The question cuts across all ethical, religious, age, sex and income brackets. People want to know why Americans accept the way things are and the direction this country is moving - why aren't Americans living up to the right to free speech and the right to disagree? Our history is replete with incidents of famous, infamous and anonymous Americans speaking up and speaking out against opinions, decisions and laws especially those affecting the way we live and think. Why not now?

I am asked this question often and repeatedly and I hear the frustration and fear in Americans' voices. I am never really sure if they want the answer because it is all too obvious to me. We are complacent because we are afraid and we are ashamed. Our actions, this administration's actions, raped Iraq of every chance of freedom and democracy. We are the invaders. We are the occupiers. We are the torturers. And we are ashamed.

While serving in Iraq, I had an opportunity to speak to the leaders in the Khurdish Region of Iraq. It is a beautiful and peaceful area of Iraq. The Khurdish population knows what democracy is and what it feels like to lose it. They were never counted amongst Saddam Hussein's favorite citizens; however they certainly consider themselves to be Iraqis. They are very patient people. We were discussing the improvements around the different regions of Iraq and at the time, Baghdad was the most resistant area in terms of accepting democracy and the new road ahead for all of Iraq. It was easy to recognize this in comparison to the other regions, but nobody was able to offer an explanation as to why. The leaders in the Khurdish Region offered a clear explanation when I asked them about it. They explained the people who lived in and around Baghdad were considered as Saddam's "privileged" class; they were the cream of the Sunni crop. The people of Baghdad were considered to be the most loyal and fervent in their support so they were rewarded with privilege, higher salaries and more benefits. As such, they told me, they undoubtedly heard the tell tale signs and disturbances of the Saddam Fedayheen units, visiting dissenters or alleged dissenters, in the middle of the night - the screams and pleadings of the targeted individuals whose names were provided to the Fedayheen as orchestrates of plots to overthrow Saddam.

It mattered very little if there was truth in the reports, the Fedayheen would pay a visit and they did not play nice. The pleas of the victims were often heard through the walls of the adjoining houses in the villages. The Fedayheen were responsible for ferreting out and eliminating the disloyal and unfaithful in an effort to maintain loyal and ardent support for Saddam.

They were silenced in their lust for privilege, for more, for better, and for greed. They sold out their neighbors and friends and kept quiet about what they heard and what they knew. They continued their silence and refused to join in the efforts for creating a new democracy and way of life for all Iraqis largely because they had the most to lose. They are ashamed of what they did and did not do. So too, are we.

We are ashamed because we let our elected officials fool us and lie to us and mislead us. Members of this administration have become our Fedayheen and they are trying to silence us. Our silence will beget more of the same and worse. We must find courage. We must stand up. One of the ways to do this is by screening and sharing a new documentary I appeared in called Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers - which calls for a stop to the shameful war profiteering this administration has allowed to occur. We must speak up. We must because we are Americans and we know better than this. We can move beyond the shame only when we stop this from getting worse and participate in making it better.