Throughout 2002-2003 I had been raging against the Iraq war, often rallying under the fire-red Calder sculpture at Federal Plaza hanging hope on words—sometimes from Reverend Jesse Jackson, sometimes from local organizers and sometimes from State Senator Barack Obama who told us, “I’m not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”
In March 2003, after the US bombed Baghdad, I scrummaged up North Lake Shore Drive with 10,000 irate activists steeling ourselves against the Lake Michigan hoarfrost. Mayor Daley wanted no disruptions to the shoppers on the Magnificent Mile, so when we turned west toward non-permitted Michigan Avenue, the police herded us into a group near Walgreen’s. Troublemakers were handcuffed and hustled out of the crowd into police buses. My grey hair and down coat disguised the incendiary in me so I was not singled out. I crossed Michigan Avenue and watched from the sidelines before walking home to ice my smoldering knees.
The Invasion of Iraq was a response to the terrorist group al-Qaeda’s attack on September 11, 2001. Heavily influenced by Neoconservatives, Bush Administration officials Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld announced Iraq not only possessed weapons of mass destruction but also colluded with the terrorists. Experts unleashed from the very recent Clinton Administration disclosed no evidence of either. After the invasion, they were proven correct but the Bush Administration kept fanning the flames of war.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who Richard Nixon once called, “a ruthless little bastard” was accused by his generals and officers in the field of having “abysmal military planning and lack of strategic competence.” Insufficient high-level support as well as the highly publicized exposure of Rumsfeld’s policy to detain enemy combatants and use enhanced interrogation techniques to torture them led to his ouster by the end of 2006.
And then one Sunday I found Rumsfeld sitting alone in the pew in front of me under the pulpit at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Chicago is his hometown. I had never seen him at Fourth Pres before but knew he was a member of the church. Church members had wanted him thrown off the rolls, banned, shunned. Pastor John Buchanan, a true statesman who had denounced the Iraq war in every sermon, once had to announce to the congregation, “Donald Rumsfeld is a member of this church and that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
All through the service that Sunday I fumed, formulating what I would say to Rumsfeld after the closing benediction. Perhaps I’d ask him if he regretted what he did, or perhaps I’d ask how many civilian deaths he’s responsible for. I settled for one word which I intended to deliver with samurai precision, swift and deadly.
Buchanan stepped down from the pulpit just before the service ended. He didn’t stand at the center to recite his usual benediction. He came over to Rumsfeld instead, greeting him with a handshake while escorting him out the side exit. I half rose from my seat and could see myself chasing after him with a clenched fist sputtering “Murderer!”. Thank God the pastor saved me from that embarrassment. I missed my chance but I trust Buchanan delivered a more dignified but just as pointed message. And who knows? Maybe Rumsfeld confessed culpability for the deaths (at that point) of 12,000 soldiers, 25,000 Iraqi civilians and the countless maimed and injured of his phony war.