Wednesday, March 23, 2005



Op-Ed, ManilaStandardToday/

March 23, 2005

Blue is the color of heaven. A long time ago, it was more expensive than gold and "used only for the holiest parts of paintings, usually the Madonna's robes." Legend has it that Marco Polo brought ultramarine, a luminous deep blue whose very name means "from beyond the sea," to Italy from Afghanistan, where the color was derived from powdered lapis lazuli.

The Afghan lapis mines have been all but exhausted, which is a shame. According to the writer Victoria Finlay, who visited the mines in 2001, the mineshafts were like "a whole art history in one little pathway."[1]

But history has hardy hues, and blue memories are not easily depleted.

Perry O'Brien is from blue-eyed, Blue State Maine. In January 2003, he was deployed as a medic of the 82nd US Airborne Division to Kandahar, Afghanistan. From an initial Peace Corps-with-guns perspective, Perry soon confronted hard questions. Really hard questions.[2]

One day Perry heard of reports that up to 3,000 Afghan civilians had been killed by American bombs. Perry found the figure striking: 3,000 was "about the number of people that were killed on 9/11." He asked himself - "Were we getting even?" Perry "started to feel like an Army mechanic, fixing things that my comrades in the Air Force and Infantry hd broken. But they weren't 'things' of course, they were people, and after they left our clinic they were going home to their families."[3]

In June 2003, Perry filed a case with the US Army to become a conscientious objector. Months later, his case was approved. Perry recounted asking himself what they were doing in the foreign country: "I used to accept the idea of a war on terrorism, but isn't war a form of terrorism? Are we just laying the groundwork for another attack, and another war, and on and on?"

Brown is the skin of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia.

Originally from Nicaragua, Camilo moved to the US in 1994 and soon became a permanent resident and green card holder. In 1995, at age 19, lured by, among other things, the offer of free college education, Camilo joined the US Army.

As he entered his final semester of college in January 2003, Camilo's army unit was activated. By April, Camilo and his unit were in Iraq - where even children carried long arms and everyone appeared to have an ugly stare. Soon they were killing gunmen, civilians and children.

The "fear of dying has the power to turn soldiers into real killing machines," said Camilo. In Iraq, it was "almost impossible for us to consider things like acting strictly in self defense or using just enough force to stop an attack." Camilo commanded an infantry squad, which never failed to accomplish its mission. Thus did he see first hand "the suffering of a people whose country was in ruins and who were further humiliated by the raids, patrols and curfews of an occupying army."

In March 2004, Camilo speaks out against the war and refuses to do further service. He surrenders himself to the US military to take the consequences of his decision and is imprisoned soon after for "desertion" - for not deserting a higher calling.

"Behind these bars I sit a free man, because I listened to a higher power, the voice of my conscience," writes Camilo in prison. In his letter, Camilo apologizes to the Iraqi people: "To them I say I am sorry for the curfews, for the raids, for the killings. May they find it in their hearts to forgive me."[4]

White is the skin of Mike Hoffman. Hoffman has a red goatee and moussed dark hair; he is American.

When Hoffman arrived in Kuwait in February 2003, his mission was explained to him by his commanding officer in vivid terms: "You're not going to make Iraq safe for democracy. You are going for one reason alone: oil. But you're still going to go, because you signed a contract."

It was evident "we couldn't force democracy on people by force of arms. After being in Iraq and seeing what this war is, I realized that the only way to support our troops is to demand the withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq," said Hoffman, who returned to the US in August 2003 after his honorable discharge.

Soon after, Hoffman forms the group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and emerges as one of the most visible members of a small but growing movement of soldiers who openly oppose the Iraq war.[5]

"Boys are dying in Vietnam for something they don't believe in," said the great Muhammad Ali in 1970 as he rejected the American military draft. "What's wrong with me going to jail for something I believe in?"

Conscience knows no color. Right and wrong is black and white.


[1] "The colour of heaven," Jane Szita, Holland Herald, November 2004. Blue paint first appeared "around 3,000 BC in ancient Egypt, nearly 400,000 years after humans first began using pigments." Anthropologists believe that blue was one of the last colors to be named in any language."

[5] "Breaking ranks," David Goodman,, October 11, 2004.

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