Last year, protesters were informed that they would be punished severely for their act of conscience. After Ms. Gerard and her fellow protesters stepped across the line, our government made good on its promise and sentenced Ms. Gerard and others to three months in federal prison.
After CBS aired photos of American military personnel torturing Iraqi prisoners, it has become apparent to the entire world that the refusal to end our militarys commitment to terror techniques not only makes a mockery of our so-called War on Terror, but only serves to perpetuate a cycle of meaningless violence. Ms. Gerard submitted the following letter while incarcerated at the Danbury Federal Penitentiary in Connecticut.) April 19, 2004
The blues and pinks of the early morning sky rested softly above the bluish-gray of the distant hills. Despite the fact that I now reside in a minimum-security federal prison, my world felt serene and hopeful, full of peace and promise. All was calm. I watched an orange globe peer out from behind the hills. I wondered if the whole world might be watching the sun, taking turns throughout the time zones.
But my peaceful world was a bubble that quickly burst and fluttered away. The news was full of explosions, gunfire, violent death and destruction. The Israeli military destroyed the house of a Hamas leader. The bloody fighting in Iraq continued unabated. I was back to a world in which gunshots drown out the melodious twitter of bird songs. The words of U.S. Military personnel, however, were far from melodious. One was quoted as saying something about violence begetting violence. I agree completely with that comment. This worlds sad and sorry state is due, in large part, to the anger, hatred, and fear that causes all of that violence to continue, perpetrated by ever- younger participants. When one is killed, there are always many willing replacements. But the military representative wasnt finished. He proceeded to discuss the value of controlled violence in Iraq. Controlled violence? To my ears, that made no sense, whatsoever. Like fire, violence is hard to control. It isnt something that you can turn on and off like a spigot. The hatred and bitterness instilled in persons whom violence has touched personally dont magically turn into feelings of love and forgiveness, once hostilities have ceased.
It doesnt work that way, and it never has. Memories of past cruelties linger for months, years, decades and even centuries. Osama bin Laden is a good example of a never-dying search for revenge. In his world, revenge must be exacted for the bloody excesses of the crusades which occurred hundreds of years ago. In his world the crusades could have happened yesterday. He calls his actions, revenge for past wrongs. We call them, terrorism.
In my world, violence cannot be controlled, and revenge is pointless. According to one of my favorite books, Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten, author Bob Fulghum advises us to apologize when we hurt someone. He also counsels, Dont hit people. In my world Dont hit people, means, dont launch preemptive wars and justify violence as controlled. In my world governments, like individuals, must take responsibility for their actions.
When I chose to force the issue at Fort Benning, Georgia, I was objecting to the U.S. Government training thugs, assassins and dictators in such skills as psychological operations, torture, and coups detat. The U.S. Government calls its actions, protection of U.S. Interests. I call them terrorism. I was objecting to the U.S. Governments response to mounting criticism of the School of the Americas: a name change to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, a slick public relations campaign, and lots of denial. Apparently, saying that youre sorry when you hurt someone never occurred to those who fund and or run SOA/WHINSEC. I have discovered, though, that the U.S. Government objects strenuously to being called to account for its actions. The U.S. Government certainly objected when I called its actions to account.
The government must have believed that it was teaching me a lesson by sending me to federal prison. After two weeks in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, I have learned a lesson, but probably not the one the government wanted to teach me. Ive learned that the more the government wants to cover up and distract the public from the wrongs it has committed, the more it tries to crush those who expose those wrongs and who seek to confront the government, the bigger its crimes must be.
Ive also learned that, for the government to effectively crush me, I have to give it my permission to do so. By continuing to write critically of the governments conduct, I do not give the government permission to crush me.
I do feel, however, that it is the government that so desperately needs to be taught a lesson. Its the governments behavior, not mine, thats out of control. It was just target practice, not a war at home, that I heard today. But the sound of that gunfire reminded me that there is war elsewhere, in such countries as Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan, and Columbia. It reminded me that there are foreign troops being trained by the U.S. Military, both in the United States and abroad. It reminded me that all is not right in this world.
But the pinks, blues, and grays of the early morning sky were a sign of hope. My moment of the quiet peace felt right. I wanted everyone in the world to experience such a moment, free of the fear of serious injury and violent death, inflicted by other human beings. For just a moment, that sort of goal felt attainable. Even after the reality of the worlds violence soaked back into my consciousness, I still felt that it is possible for ordinary people willing to put forth hard work and to make sacrifices to make a difference in this world.
By being willing to confront power with truth and by being willing to resist being crushed by a government that is not yet willing to give up its addiction to violence, it is possi (Editors Note: On Nov. 24, 2003 Alice Gerard, a longtime Alt Press staffer and copy editor made a decision that would change her life forever. She chose to commit an act of civil disobedience by stepping across a line in Ft. Benning, Ga.