They arrived as Saddam apologists willing to die for the despot—but they left Iraq weeks later with changed hearts and a determination that Saddam must go. Many of the human shields who had arrived with much fanfare to “stop” the United States and Britain were swayed by the strongest supporters of Saddam’s ouster: the Iraqi people.
Particularly powerful is the story of an American group from the Assyrian Church of the East, who went with a Japanese human shield delegation and recently crossed over into Jordan with 14 hours of uncensored video footage. Out of the presence of Iraqi secret police, Iraqi people talked about how desperate they were for the U.S.-led war to begin. Rev. Kenneth Johnson told United Press International that Iraqis he interviewed on camera “told me they would commit suicide if American bombing didn’t start. They were willing to see their homes demolished to gain their freedom from Saddam’s bloody tyranny.”
After talking with the Iraqi people—not the propagandists on Saddam’s payroll the outside world sees—Rev. Johnson realized that Saddam is “a monster the likes of which the world had not seen since Stalin and Hitler.” He explained: “Their tales of slow torture and killing made me ill, such as people put in a huge shredder for plastic products, feet first so the [torture masters] could hear their screams as bodies got chewed up from foot to head.”
Showing that Rev. Johnson’s group was not alone, a self-described “23-year-old Jewish-American photographer,” Daniel Pepper, detailed his conversion in a column in The Daily Telegraph of London. He wrote that he, like the other human shields, was “less interested in standing up for [Iraqis’] rights than protesting against the U.S. and U.K. governments.” But five weeks in Baghdad and repeated contact with ordinary Iraqis left him with “a strong desire to see Saddam removed.”
What caused this former do-gooder to see the light? The same thing that shocked Rev. Johnson’s group back to reality: conversations with the Iraqi people. Pepper recounted a conversation he had with the taxi driver who took him and five other former human shields to Jordan. Free to speak his mind without fear of reprisal from one of Saddam’s omnipresent secret agents, the cabbie understood perfectly what the young idealists originally did not: “Of course the Americans don't want to bomb civilians. They want to bomb government and Saddam’s palaces. We want America to bomb Saddam.” Pepper and his pals were stunned. “It hadn’t occurred to anyone that the Iraqis might actually be pro-war,” he wrote.
War in Iraq has not been solely about liberation of the Iraqi people—disarmament is a key driving force—but to them, that is what matters. And it matters to the rest of the world, too. For if Saddam were to stay in power indefinitely, there is no telling when he would turn against the world. Look at Stalin, the man upon whom Saddam has modeled himself, right down to the creepy moustache. Although he had never directly engaged America, scholars now believe that shortly before his death—which many suspect involved foul play—“Uncle Joe” intended to start World War III. Had he done so, untold millions would have perished—and the world would be a radically different place today.
Soldiers fighting in Iraq are fighting for nothing less than our freedom—and our children’s freedom. They are fighting to topple a man who ritualistically tortures his own people, who has used weapons of mass destruction, and who had invaded two of his neighbors. Because he refused numerous opportunities to disarm or simply choose exile, this is a war of Saddam’s choosing—and the brave men and women from America, Britain, and elsewhere have not backed down from the fearsome challenge. They have not just the prayers and support of their countrymen, but of the Iraqi people as well. As the Iraqi taxi driver told Pepper, the former human shield: “All Iraqi people want this war.”