AFSC Letter to President Bush (September 20, 2002)

With 'Prayer and Faxing' AFSC Letter to President Bush
September 20, 2002

Dear President Bush:

The Board of Directors of the American Friends Service Committee has instructed me to tell you how deeply troubled we are by the impending war with Iraq. As Quaker pacifists we do not presume to instruct you in tactics or strategy, for we are not experts in making war, but we know from experience war's consequences. For 85 years the American Friends Service Committee has worked with helpless victims on all sides in war --feeding children, helping to rebuild bomb-shattered houses and communities, and working with homeless refugees. Since 1948, we have been actively engaged in humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, and in peace-making between Palestinians and Israelis.

Service Committee workers have gone in harm's way and seen war face-to-face. It is from that knowledge we address you. The aftermath of war in Iraq, where thousands upon thousands may die or spend the rest of their lives in pain and wretchedness, will be greater unrest in the Middle East and hatred of America for generations to come. A hasty decisiveness is no virtue.

"Collateral damage" is a benign-sounding euphemism for warfare's accidental, unintentional harm. But our children and grandchildren, who will live with the collateral damage done to our constitutional rights and to the fabric of trust which sustains public life, will not forgive us because we did not mean to do harm. Harm penetrates no less deeply into our souls and our institutions for being unintended. And it perpetuates no less damage to civil society.

We are relieved that you have turned to the United Nations as an instrument for reducing the danger of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and we pray that the Iraqi leadership will cooperate fully with renewed and unfettered weapons inspection. We urge you to give the United Nations time to work, not try to make it a blunt instrument of American power. We are told you want the United Nations to "show some backbone". We respectfully remind you that Jesus always addresses the human heart as the true center of courage, not the backbone.

Time, you say, is not on our side, but we believe time is in God's hands and "to redeem the time" means to free the captives and the oppressed, to feed the hungry, relieve the poor, restore justice and practice the arts of reconciliation. In this period of grave peril to the world's safety and to our nation's very soul, many of your most experienced military advisers and statespeople -- even the most hard-headed "realists" -- are warning against a war with Iraq.

Each stanza of our great national hymn "America the Beautiful" turns from celebration of the bounty and strength which God has granted us to a prayer of thanksgiving and petition. In that hymn we pray: "America, America, God mend thy every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law." That prayer is the burden of this letter.

The mark of a truly great power is that it exhausts every opportunity of negotiation and diplomacy and bears even the most excessive frustrations and challenges, rather than resorting to its military might. For the great power, war is the very last resort, not the exercise of a preemptive option. We urge you, Mr. President, to show us the self-control, patience and long-suffering appropriate to a great power. Use the good instruments of international law -- international institutions such as the United Nations, World Court and International Court of Justice -- to resolve our conflict with Iraq.

We would welcome the opportunity to explain our views in more substantive detail, if you could grant us that privilege. We are also writing to President Saddam Hussein, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, and Prime Minister Tony Blair under this same concern.

In friendship, Paul Lacey, chairperson
American Friends Service Committee