|What are you willing
to die for? The
question provokes a hard answer. It cuts through the Beast of
Terror's shield of Complacency. It forces us to peer deep
inside and decide between ultimate selflessness and temporal
selfishness. It is easy to scoff at Jordanians who claim they
will rally 100,000 live shields to ring Baghdad in protest to
U.S. military attack. It is easy to discount them as
politically or religiously motivated. But what about all the
thousands of others who have given their lives to protect
peace? What about Martin Luther King, or Congressional of
Honor Winner Vince Capodanno? Read this provocative article
and find out where you stand on your "willingness to die."
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
Thursday September 18 - Ground Zero
FROM THE ARCHIVES
30, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 474
100,000 "Live Shields"
Planned Around Iraq To Stop U.S. Attack:
What Are You Willing To Die For?
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, Dec. 30--
Fighting war comes down to sacrificing one's life--at least
that's the goal of the Jordanian National Committee In Defense
of Iraq (JNCIDI). According to the committee's chairman,
Hakam al-Fayez, up to 100,000 Jordanians are being recruited
to serve as "live human shields" to thwart a U.S. attack on
The decision to send volunteers to
Baghdad to form a human ring around the city and defy the U.S.
to kill innocent civilians came out of a Middle East
solidarity conference held this week in Cairo. Secretary
General of the Conference of Arab National Force, Saad Qassem
Hamudi, said Saddam Hussein would supply all the food and
shelter necessary for the "live shield" participants.
I found the two stories relating to the "live shield"
proposal on Pravda, the Russian news agency, and at
Middle East on-line news format.
At first glance, the idea of 100,000
people leaving their homes and families in one country to form
a human shield around another is a bit incredulous, if not
bordering on the insane. But there are some people who are
willing to give their lives, or risk them, to help
others--despite any political or ethnic differences. Valuing
human life sometimes transcends all other barriers.
Rather than scoff at the idea, I gave it some
considerable thought. My older daughter was a "live shield"
in El Salvador a number of years ago during the war in that
country. She joined a small band of Internationalists who
took residence in a village the military had vowed to
"eliminate." The villagers were exercising their rights to
perform a "land take," to squat on land the government had
taken from them and reclaim it as their own. My daughter and
five others from a variety of countries including Germany,
France and the U.S., formed a human shield around the
villagers. Reluctant to "kill Americans or foreigners," the
El Salvadorian militants who held machine guns pointed at the
group and threatened to kill them if they didn't disband,
ultimately conceded and didn't fire. But it wasn't without
great tension and attempts by the military to grab my daughter
and pull her out of the ring of villagers who squeezed around
her to protect her in a circle of vigilance.
I remember taking her to the airport in
Los Angeles for her to make that trip, and having that empty,
queasy feeling she was walking into the Beast of Terror's
jaws, and there was nothing I could do about it. The best I
could do was pray for her safety. My politics evaporated
when I thought of her safety.
Currently, a friend of our family is in Iraq.
She's a peace activist, a member of the Catholic Worker whose
headquarters is located here in New York City. She traveled
with the Iraq Peace Team a branch of the Voices in the
Wilderness. I'm not aligned with the Catholic Worker
politically except through my older daughter's association
with the group. I tend to be a Conservative hawk, former
combat Marine in Vietnam, who has a tendency to see violence
as a quick solution to solving about any problem--at least
temporarily. While I respect varied viewpoints on how to
seek and secure peace, I'm the kind of guy who keeps his right
hand free to draw my sword and cut down the Beast of Terror in
the blink of an eye. Yet, I respect those who don't believe
in armed conflict, and will kneel and pray as tanks run over
them--kind of the like the Christians and Lions back in Roman
My other daughter, a year and a half
younger, serves peace through violence. She's a federal
special agent who travels about heavily armed and arrests "bad
guys" all day. She and her fellow agents frequent the firing
ranges to keep their "killing skills" sharpened in case the
"bad guy" decides to use deadly force to avoid arrest.
In my own experience, I'm well aware of the conflict
that civilians present when you attack military targets. In
over 100 combat missions in Vietnam, we were daily faced with
the dilemma of how to conduct a full force "search and
destroy" mission when innocent women, children and old men
were in the midst of the target zone.
Military planners laying out attack strategies to blow
Saddam Hussein's strongholds to kingdom come have to face the
fly in the ointment--what if bands of civilian "human shields"
ring such targets? Do you bomb them anyway?
Regarding enlisting 100,000 Jordanians to form a "live
shield" around Baghdad, I find the numbers not the intent
hard to swallow. The committee rallying subscribers to be
"live shields," have set a deadline for January 17 to fill
their ranks. It just seems implausible to me that such a
number of people would stick out their naked chests in
defiance, and offer their lives to stop the inevitable once it
In April of this year, Adam Shapiro, 30,
became a "live shield" for Yasser Arafat during the Easter
siege of the Palestinian leader's compound. He entered
Arafat's headquarters to symbolize his willingness to die to
protect the leader from Israeli assaults on the compound.
Many called the Brooklyn New Yorker a traitor and threatened
his family for supporting Arafat. Shapiro is one of the
founders of International Solidarity Movement, a volunteer
group that has helped to bring nonviolent activists from the
world beyond into besieged Palestinian communities.
In another instance, my son-in-law, who is married to
my peaceful protesting older daughter, went to Israel with a
group to protest the war against the Palestinians. He
enjoyed pizza at the same restaurant the day before it was
brutally bombed killing several Americans. He and a group
of other Catholic Worker volunteers also arranged for a young
Palestinian girl to be transported to the U.S. for brain
surgery to remove an errant bullet that had lodged in her
My point is that it is easy to scoff at those who are
willing to risk their lives to protect others. Such human
shields can be considered puppets of the "enemy," people used
to protect the "bad guy's lair." They can also be called
"idealists," people who have no "common sense" when it comes
to risking their lives, for they often offer their bodies as
symbols of peace in the face of war--mere fodder for war's
Martin Luther King is one example.
He was well aware of the hatred he created in many who called
him a communist. Even J. Edgar Hoover claimed he was working
for Moscow, trying to undermine the U.S. His call for
"peaceful protest" ended in his death, a bloody reminder that
those who advocate peace often die by the sword.
I often wear a T-Shirt my gun-toting daughter gave
me. On the front is a shield of the federal agency she works
for, and it has a black slash across it, symbolizing the death
of an agent in the line of duty. On the back are printed the
words: "One cannot answer for his courage when he has never
been in danger."
Fire, police and military personnel agree to this
when they join the ranks of the public service is the
willingness to "die for others." It's a subtle vow,
unspoken, yet it rings loudly during the taking of the Oath.
The implicit agreement is that "my life is not as important as
the safety and security of other lives, and therefore, I am
willing to offer mine to protect society as a whole."
That's a big Oath, one few people think about when
they see a law enforcement officer, a fireman, or a military
man or woman. Each has agreed to face the Beast of Terror and
give his or her life if necessary to corral and detain it.
Basically, such a person has signed a pact with society with
their own blood, willing to spill theirs to save others less
inclined to make such a commitment.
Ultimately, law enforcement, firemen and the military
are every nation's "live shields" against the Beast of
Terror's rampages both within and without the country. Their
Pledge of Vigilance has been signed with their lives, not just
the ink of their pen.
In these same ranks go the non-violent protestors of
violence. He or she, without a gun or fire hose, stand ready
to die for principles of peace. They are equal in their
stature as any "armed" Sentinel of Vigilance, for they
relinquish their own importance for that of present and future
generations. Giving their lives is an act of security for the
Saxon Living Shield Wall in Battle of Hastings 1066
Unlike the suicide bombers or
terrorists, such peaceful protestors do not support the taking
of life--but instead, the giving of it. When they become
"live shields" they don't do it to promote a particular
politic, but rather to shout to the world the willingness they
have to die for the children's children's s children--for the
future safety and security of the world regardless of race,
color, creed or religious preference.
unload humanitarian aid from Morocco
In Vietnam, my greatest hero was a peaceful protestor
named Vince Capodanno. He was a Navy Chaplain, a Maryknoll
priest, who walked with us on combat operations without a
weapon, offering us spiritual strength in the face of Fear,
Intimidation and Complacency. He would crawl out amidst a
hail of bullets to a young, scared Marine, touch him on the
shoulder and tell him, "It's okay, son. It's okay."
He wasn't endorsing the killing of the enemy. He was
salving the soul of the frightened, preparing one to die with
dignity should that be destiny's decision.
Vince was killed crawling out in battle to help
wounded Marines. He was shot many times as he dragged himself
from one wounded Marine to another, pulling them back to
safety and then going out again and again until he was finally
cut down. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor,
not for killing people, but for showing Courage, Conviction
and Right Actions despite the fact he was unarmed, and a
virtual non-combatant. One can be brave without a weapon, or
thirst for killing. Vince was a "live shield," one who died
for peace not war.
I could scoff at my daughter's friend,
Kathy, who is in Iraq as a "living shield." I could scoff at
the idea that 100,000 Jordanians are being mustered to serve
as "living shields" around Baghdad. I could scoff at a war
protestor who holds up a sign for peace not war. That's the
easy part. Scoffing is cheap.
On the other hand, I could fly to Iraq and stand in
front of Saddam Hussein's palace with a big bulls eye on my
chest. I could wait for the first "smart bomb" to make a
mistake. I could offer my life as a symbol of my belief in
the future of peace, and that someday the names of all the
peaceful protestors would garner as much acclaim as the
firemen and police who died in the World Trade Center attack,
even though they were paid to die, even though it was part of
their daily job to be willing to give their lives for others.
The trouble is, living shield protestors don't get
the same spotlight.
In our rush to judgment, we belittle them.
It's easy to scoff at those who are willing to give
their lives for others than to ask the brutal question: "What
am I willing to risk for the children's children's children?"
Marines give their lives for their fellow marines
Someone once told me, "Cliff, you
never know what you really believe in until you are willing to
give your life for it. When you are willing to die for what
you believe, you have arrived at the core truth of your
Few of us ever have such an opportunity to know that
I was fortunate to learn it long ago in Vietnam. I
know what it's like to crawl out in a hail of fire to drag a
wounded Marine to safety, without ever knowing his name.
Marines are trained to give their lives for their buddies.
It's not an act of heroism, it's an act of loyalty to one
another, one that binds people together in a far deeper and
richer matrimony than an oath or vow, for it is measured by
one's willingness to risk one's life to seal the compact.
I also have no doubt of my willingness to die for my
children's safety and security, or for my grandchildren's.
But the question of whether I am willing to die for your
grandchildren, or their grandchildren's grandchildren's is yet
an unanswered question. So is the question of whether I am
willing to die for Saddam Hussein's children, his
grandchildren, their grandchildren.
That's why the Pledge of Vigilance has such power
when one lives within its words. It challenges each of us to
live for the children's children's children--far beyond our
own selfish circles of "family." It asks us to be aware of
the "rights of the children's children's children to be free
from the Beast of Terror, and there is no greater Terror for a
child than to feel abandoned, alone, disenfranchised from the
safety of guardians.
If we scoff at the "living shields" we scoff at
protecting the children.
Jordanian support for the United States after Nine Eleven
We should be cautious in this area.
The Beast of Terror would like us to depreciate the
Jordanians as being politically motivated or religiously
committed to protecting Saddam Hussein if and when they form a
living shield around Baghdad. If we do discount their
presence, it will be easier for us to accept their deaths not
as pure acts of love for the future of peace, but as political
fodder we can sweep under the rug as part of war's collateral
We can become Complacent about those who are
willing to die for peace. We can subtract from their presence
the idea that they chose to put themselves in harm's way for a
far higher reason than we can or are willing to admit. I can
do that very easily. I can scoff at the Jordanian goal of
100,000 living shields as just a bunch of protestors flaunting
their politics as anti-Western propaganda, anti-American sound
Or, I can put them in the same ranks as Navy
Chaplain Vince Capodanno, or Martin Luther King, or my
daughters and son-in-law, or Kathy from the Catholic Worker,
or any peace protestor who is willing to walk into the jaws of
death and risk his or her life to make a statement for peace.
I go back to that principle: "What are you willing
to die for?"
When I do, I realize that there is really only one
thing that justifies death, and that is the safety and
security of the children's children's children. When one
can examine a situation and come up with the answer--giving
our lives today will promote the safety and security of future
generations of children--then that decision is on the right
If the decision for taking life is anything less
than that, then we are not subscribing to the Principles of
Vigilance--Courage, Conviction and Right Actions for the
benefit of the children's children's children--but rather
acting in concert with the Beast of Terror's Principles--Fear,
Intimidation and Complacency.
Of Vigilance At Ground Zero Anniversary Memorial, NYC
Whether there are two Jordanians or
100,000 who volunteer for the "living shields" program, those
who do will rank high with the Sentinels of Vigilance. They
will be welcomed into the Circle of Vigilance without
So the question is--What are you willing to die for?
To whom do you give your life as a living shield?
If you subscribe to the Pledge of Vigilance, you
will know the answer.
If you don't know the answer, perhaps the Beast of
Terror has blinded you to what Courage, Conviction and Right
Action is all about.