My son recently chose Mairead Corrigan, a secretary from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and cofounder of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement (Peace People), as the topic for a school paper. He chose her because we share the same last name, but she was an excellent choice anyway. Corrigan won the 1976 Nobel Prize for her courageous stand against political and religious violence. Her story was still fresh on my mind this week when I read the story of Irene Vandas and Jennifer Ziemann on the CBC News website. Vandas and Ziemann, of Vancouver, British Columbia, recently volunteered to be human shields in an effort to stop the Bush administration and its allies from attacking Iraq. The courage and common sense of woman like Corrigan, Vandas, and Ziemann should be a lesson to all of us. We can stop the insanity. We can make a difference.
In 1976, the police killed a member of the Irish Republican Army. In doing so, they sent his vehicle out of control, and severely injured Corrigan's sister and killed her three children. Corrigan responded by calling for an end to violence. Along with Betty Williams, Corrigan led 10,000 women, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, on a peace march. The march led to a movement to bridge the divide between Catholics and Protestants. Corrigan urged Protestant-Catholic integration in order to build trust and peace.
Twenty-six years after Mairead Corrigan made a difference, women are again taking the lead to prevent the devastation that war brings to children and communities. Despite the drumbeat in support of the war constantly played out on American television, much of the rest of the world appears ready, willing, and able to just say no to being bullied into supporting war. And, unlike the Democrats in Congress and much of the American public, they are willing to take personal risks to prevent war. Vandas, a 32-year-old registered nurse, and Ziemann, a 30-year-old home-care worker, are joining citizens from Canada, Britain, and the United States who stay with Iraqi civilians in hopes of preventing American-led forces from attacking Iraq.
The goodwill the United States received after September 11 has disappeared faster than our country's budget surplus. The administration that told Americans that it would run the country like a corporation has done the equivalent of destroying the balance sheet, the income statement, and the company brand in two short years.
The global opposition to war against Iraq has been self-censored by much of the American media. In 1989, the American media championed opposition to Chinese authority by constantly replaying video footage of the lone solitary figure standing defiantly in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. They were right to do so. Today, that same media is too busy profiting from sound bites like "Showdown With Saddam" to tell the story of a grassroots anti-war movement that questions American authority.
History tells us that if the people lead, the leaders and the media will follow. Of course, the media is now controlled by conglomerates that care more about product placement than independence and integrity in their news divisions. The opposition to war exists. The anti-war heroes are out there. Will the American media tell their story?
No article on antiwar heroes can be written this week without mention of the passing of Philip Berrigan, an antiwar activist who never stopped working to make our world a better place. Phil not only brought attention to the atrocity of war he helped us believe that we could bring it to an end. Philip Berrigan is an American hero.