In my professional life I am the Director of Development for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive economic policy think tank in Washington DC.
I’ve always been politically aware, and proudly liberal. A died in the wool Democrat (later Unitarian) from a pro-labor working-class background. Came of age in the 70’s: wanted to be a hippie but was too young; wanted to be a punk rocker but was too old. Have always been against aggressive US policy both at home and abroad. Was raised in Catonsville, MD and was (and still am) proud of the Catonsville 9. Got in trouble in 8th grade for sewing a crooked flag on my jacket. Protested apartheid and anti-abortion policy. Was horrified when George W. Bush was elected, more horrified to watch what became of my country after 9/11 and even more horrified to see the march to war in Iraq. I, along with most everyone I knew, was 100% against the war. I went to every protest I could, one in New York and every single one in DC, both before the war started and after. Joined Code Pink. Gave money to peace groups. Was hopeful when Obama was elected (FYI: am not anymore).
So that was me, fairly active…when it was convenient. Willing to sign petitions and 100% behind the activists in principle. Anti-war, from Vietnam to Iraq and beyond. Occupied Baltimore a few times, for a few hours. But, like most people, I’ve always been more on the sidelines cheering others on.
And honestly, I have to admit that I am still more of a follower. But I have been touched to my core, and moved to tears and anger and emotion, after learning about what is happening in Fallujah. I am always indebted to Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!, for it was from her show that I first learned about the increase in horrific birth defects and cancer in Fallujah. Here is the story:
I went on the internet and I saw the pictures and cried and cried, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard about increase of horrific (some never before seen) birth defects in Fallujah since the war. Where was the major media? ABC/CBS/NBC News? CNN? I needed to know more…surely, someone somewhere was doing something for these families, for these babies? Surely the US government was and is doing something, the major aid organizations…NGOs…someone? I felt haunted by those babies. I wanted to reach out to help.
I contacted the reporter of the Democracy Now! story, Dahr Jamail, who was so gracious in his reply. He put me in touch with a brave doctor in Fallujah, who confirmed that no, she’s pretty much on her own. I googled Fallujah and came across the Justice for Fallujah Project and contacted the founder, Ross Caputi, an ex-marine who was involved in the battle for Fallujah and who now works tirelessly to try to raise awareness of the situation there. He was helpful and so informative, and I reached out to others in the peace movement and I talked to many other people, trying to find an “easy” way to raise some money for the families. At first I just wanted to help those babies.
But the more I researched and the more I communicated with the few people with an interest in or knowledge of Fallujah (there are sadly few), the more I came to understand that nothing can really be done for those babies without a huge full court press on the US government, by the people (and for the people). And the US isn’t making it easy. Neither is the mainstream US media…the one story on a major network on the birth defects included a Department of Defense spokeswoman who denied US responsibility, suggesting that perhaps the birth defects were caused by people “marrying their cousins”. Um, yeah. How insulting.
OK, birth defects worse than Nagasaki and Hiroshima and hardly anyone knows? Why aren’t we studying this? Why is the mainstream media so silent? This is the bigger issue. The word needs to get out, and that brought me right back to Ross, and the Justice for Fallujah Project. I came to see that the mission of his organization: “We are a group of veterans, students, and working people dedicated to raising awareness about the suffering of the people of Fallujah, promoting solidarity with the victims of U.S. war crimes, and ultimately ending all U.S. wars and occupations.” was one I fully believe in, and support. The more I read about his project, and his motivation, the more I felt compelled to try, in some way, to help him and the JFFP. Because if he succeeds in getting the word out, and helps people to see that we need Americans to call on our government to take responsibility for what is happening in Fallujah, if that happens, then there will be a way to ensure that those babies are helped. Awareness needs to be raised before any real aid for Fallujah can be raised. I would be honored if I can help do that. I want to do whatever I can to get the word out. And take it from there.
And so, all these many words to say that I’m not even sure that I can help. I feel ignorant, and naive, and pretty powerless, and on the other hand I hope that I am not so self-delusional to think that I’m going to somehow save the babies. But I am dedicated, and I do hope that I will be able to help the Justice for Fallujah Project raise funds, first for a documentary, and later who knows? Fundraising is what I can do; it’s a skill that I can offer. And I can talk and write and plead and be fearless. I can offer my passion for justice.
When I was talking about this to a friend she asked “Why Fallujah? Why those babies, when there are so many problems all over the world, not to mention in the US?” And there’s part of me that can’t answer. Who can explain what moves us to take action beyond our own worlds, beyond ourselves? But one part of the answer is that my country caused this. Not me directly of course, but as Americans we are all complicit. And our government needs to accept responsibility and we need to push them to do that, and make them help. The truth is that we can afford what we value. We need to value those babies as we value our own.
This blog is my first step in trying to DO SOMETHING. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m doing it. Baby steps for those babies, who deserve better from us, all of us. Thanks for reading til the end. I hope that you join with me in this hard, but necessary, journey.
A September 2012 study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology that focused on maternity hospitals in the cities of Basra and Fallujah recorded a devastating number of birth defects in the past decade. The study also indicated that childhood leukemia and other types of cancers are on the rise.
Between October 1994 and October 1995, the number of birth defects per 1,000 live births in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital was 1.37. In 2003, the number of birth defects in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital was 23 per 1,000 livebirths. Within less than a decade, the occurrence of congenital birth defects increased by an astonishing 17-fold in the same hospital.
As David Kenner notes in Foreign Policy, the numbers of miscarriages and birth defects are much higher than before the start of the war and are also “wildly out of proportion” to numbers collected in the rest of the world.
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the lead authors of the 2012 study and a toxicologist at the University of Michigan, told The Independent in 2012 that there is “compelling evidence” to connect the growing number of defects at birth to the military assaults in Basra and Fallujah.
And, here are several other links to articles about the increase in birth defects in Fallujah: