The sun was shining in Washington D.C. as PSR-LA staffers, Jonathan Parfrey and Sharmeen Premjee, and I traveled by cab past the city’s monuments, museums and stately marble buildings. It was impossible not to think of Rome. But this was America’s Capital, fat with prosperity, blessed with peace and untouched by war since 1864.
Other capitals have not been so fortunate. In the past century America has brought war to the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Afghanistan, and Iraq—to name a few. And after these interventions—at times decades later—people struggle with the war’s residual impacts on the economy, social infrastructure, environment and public health.
On May 21-22 this year, Peace Action, United for Peace and Justice and Physicians for Social Responsibility sent representatives
to Washington D.C. to lobby against the continued U.S. occupation of Iraq and the administration’s threat to bomb Iran.
We were provided a day of training on how to speak to representatives and best frame our argument—that the medical consequences of the war in Iraq have been far more devastating to Iraqi civilians and American service personnel than the administration has led the public to believe. At the time of our lobbying efforts, the Lancet had published an epidemiological study estimating 98,000 deaths over the first eighteen months of the Iraq war—a far greater number than what the President had been telling America. The most recent Lancet study, however, estimates 655,000 deaths have resulted from this war.
Our delegation met with security advisors in the offices of Henry Waxman, Diane Watson, Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi. Before these representatives, we forcefully communicated the impact of the war on returning young veterans and the real burden of the war on the Iraqi people. Our health-based messages were very well-received—especially in House Leader (soon to be Speaker of the House) Pelosi’s office.
As we lobbied from the downtown United Methodist Church, mere steps from the Senate office buildings, we shared news of a JAMA study which showed that Iraq war soldiers are being diagnosed for mental disease in alarmingly numbers—portending great need for improving VA services. We also distributed PSR’s superb study Medical Consequences of a Nuclear Attack
on Iran (available at www.psrla.org) which describes the fallout from dropping nuclear weapons on Iranian uranium enrichment
facilities.The study estimates 2.6 million deaths within 48 hours, and 10.5 million exposed to significant radiation fallout, if the U.S. drops nuclear bombs on the Isfahan and Natanz nuclear enrichment facilities.
It was sobering to travel to Washington D.C. to witness the aligned forces of the arms industry, Pentagon, Congress, White House, Supreme Court and their Republican base. Though our small gathering may have seemed like tilting at windmills, I nonetheless thought our effort very worthwhile.
Each of us has a voice if we choose to use it.
Though the brutal war and occupation continue, in many ways the political landscape is slowly but surely being transformed. The mid-term election results confirm that a majority of Americans now agree the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.
I am proud to have been able to participate in this effort as a representative of PSR-LA and I encourage every PSR member to participate in future meetings with our elected representatives.