A group from Wellington Catholic Peacemakers visited the American embassy last month in a bid to discuss the US military presence in Iraq and make their protests known.
Fr Gerard Burns gives his thoughts on the visit.
The great impression that I had after the visit to the US ambassador to discuss the Iraq war was of the sense of fear that emanated from the embassy.
This came through right from the beginning of the visit – from the refusal to allow the group to be photographed in front of the embassy through the two security checkpoints before entering the building to the remarks of the ambassador about the presence of terrorists all over the world – fear was everywhere.
This is not to say that fear is unreasonable given the events of recent years but there seemed very little understanding of what might have caused resentment towards the USA.
The Wellington Peacemakers Group did not seek a meeting with the ambassador because the group is anti-American but because we deeply felt that the war was unjust and the continued occupation of Iraq was bringing great evils upon the people there.
This was where our initial concern arose about the use of white phosphorous (an agent like napalm which gives horrifying burns if it lands on flesh) as a weapon and against civilians.
The group also wanted to discuss how the occupation could come to an end and how Iraq could be further assisted. In this we used some of the statements of the US Catholic bishops as well as the NZ bishops and religious leaders before the war and more recently to help in our ethical reflection.
The discussion with the ambassador was lively but we did not find much to agree on.
Meanwhile, one member, seven-year-old Lakan Beech, who was initially barred from the embassy because he had no identification card, wrote to the ambassador:
‘I’ve had two burns one on my foot from when I was a baby, which was the year 1998, and a burn on my arm that was from last year from a iron.
A burn really stings. So when I learnt about the phosphorus bombs I felt so sad for those people.
‘I did some research on the web and this is what I learnt.
‘Phosphorus burns on the skin are deep and painful. These weapons are particularly nasty because white phosphorus continues to burn until it disappears. It could burn right to the bone.
‘Why does America use phosphorus bombs on children?’