A tale of two American antiwar activists

Posted: Apr 03, 2003 12:00 AM

Ryan Clancy, a Milwaukee resident, substitute teacher and business owner, traveled to Iraq to serve as a human shield. So did antiwar activist Ken Joseph Jr., an Assyrian Christian who, too, traveled to Iraq to protect the Iraqis against the allegedly unwarranted American aggression.

First Clancy, whom I interviewed. The following is my excerpted interview with him:

Elder: Ryan, why did you do it?

Clancy: I think the Bush administration has made it pretty clear that they're not going to be swayed by more traditional ways of voicing one's opinion, like free protest, letter-writing, etc . . . I felt like that was the only way that I could get my point across.

Elder: How does one become a human shield?

Clancy: There are organizations that routinely go over to Iraq. . . . You didn't have to apply to be a human shield, a label that we never applied to ourselves. It very loosely defined a huge range of people, and the only characteristic that we all shared was that we wanted to support the Iraqi people and stop the war . . .

Elder: Were you allowed to freely move about the country?

Clancy: Most, if not all of the journalists who were going into Iraq had "minders," and we'd follow them around under the auspices of translating for them . . . we had free rein in Baghdad . . .

Elder: Many people I've interviewed, including Iraqi exiles, tell me that most Iraqis welcome Americans as liberators, not as occupiers. Is that your opinion?

Clancy: There is no great love for Saddam. There's a tremendous hatred for the 12 years of sanctions and for U.S. foreign policy, but there is no hatred whatsoever for individual Americans. I did speak to a handful of Iraqis who . . . were willing to acquiesce to that (war) as a price for not living under this terrible brutal regime.

Elder: It seems to me that you're saying the majority of Iraqi citizens with whom you came in contact do not like the Saddam regime, and would welcome being liberated.

Clancy: No, the vast majority were not in favor of an American invasion. There was a small minority that was.

Tell that to Ken Joseph Jr., an Assyrian Christian from Chicago who also traveled to Iraq to stop the war. In an article entitled "I Was Wrong" (found at assyrianchristians.com), Joseph describes a vastly different experience.

"How do you admit you were wrong? What do you do when you realize those you were defending in fact did not want your defense and wanted something completely different from you and from the world?

"As far as I can tell I was the only person including the media, Human Shields and others in Iraq without a Government 'minder' there to guard.

"Those living in Iraq, the common, regular people, are in a living

nightmare. From the terror that would come across the faces of my family at an unknown visitor, telephone call, knock at the door, I began to realize the horror they lived with every day.

"Over and over I questioned them 'Why could you want war?'

"I wept with family members as I shared their pain, and with great difficulty and deep soul searching began little by little to understand their desire for war to finally rid them of the nightmare they were living in.

"Over and over again I would be told 'We would be killed for speaking like this' and finding out that they would only speak in a private home or where they were absolutely sure, through the introduction of another Iraqi, that I was not being attended by a minder.

" . . . When allowed to speak freely, the message was the same -- 'Please bring on the war. We are ready. We have suffered long enough. We may lose our lives but some of us will survive and for our children's sake please, please end our misery.'

"But what of their feelings towards the United States and Britain? Those feelings are clearly mixed. They have no love for the British or the Americans but they trust them. 'We are not afraid of the American bombing. They will bomb carefully and not purposely target the people. What we are afraid of is Saddam Hussein and what he and the Baath Party will do when the war begins. But even then we want the war. It is the only way to escape our hell.'"

Mr. Clancy left Iraq because, as he put it, he "ran out of money."

Mr. Joseph left Iraq to smuggle out tapes of interviews with Iraqis and to tell the world of their plight.

So, a tale of two antiwar activists who traveled to Iraq. Whom to believe?

Assuming the allied-led war continues to proceed successfully, expect the truth to emerge soon enough.

My money's on Mr. Joseph.