Hinder not the Children         by Larry Kerschner

     I’ve recently been thinking about the million Iraqis, half of them children under the age of five, who died as a result of the sanctions the U.S. sponsored through the U.N. against Iraq.  In the current madness and killing going on in Iraq and Afghanistan we have forgotten about these victims of our policies. 

     The United Nations adopted economic sanctions in 1945 as one method of maintaining global order.  The economic sanctions imposed on the people of Iraq August 6, 1990 were the most comprehensive of the fourteen times sanctions have been imposed.   The U.N. reported that after several years of the sanctions 5,000 children were dying each month as a direct result.   The predominant cause of death was and is diarrheal diseases caused by drinking fecally polluted water.  The sanctions prevented the importation of supplies and equipment to clean the waters. 

       A document from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency on the second day of the first Gulf War was sent to CENTCOM.  CENTCOM was the Central Command of the allied forces attacking Iraq in 1991.  The document was entitled “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities”.  The document focused on the fact that Iraq needed to import supplies from outside Iraq to purify it’s water supply.  It further stated “failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population.  This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease…”.  The million deaths over the next twelve years fulfilled this prophecy.  

       Since its founding in 1996, Voices in the Wilderness has campaigned non-violently to end the economic and military warfare against the people of Iraq.   Voices has sent over 70 delegations to Iraq to witness to the devastation first of the sanctions against and now of the military occupation of Iraq.  

        I was a member of a delegation to Iraq in August 2000.  We spent ten days visiting hospitals, the national orchestra, families and orphanages in Baghdad and Basra.   By the time we were in Basra I had seen many children dying in what was left of the hospitals.  These children for the most part were dying of diseases easily cured with the proper medication. 

        Basra sits right on the Shatt al Arab and in August the humidity is often almost as high as the temperature. Electricity was sporadic so there were no fans or air conditioners.  I understand from friends who are in Iraq that the electricity is actually even less available now under the Occupation. 

        We were sitting together in a room of an Iraqi family who were hosting a Voices delegation for a month.  Each one of our group was speaking about how they felt about the visit to Iraq.  When my turn came I was struck by such a profound sense of helplessness that I could only cry.  The waste of lives and futures that I as an American was responsible for filled me to overflowing.


my tears

fall to mix in the desert earth

with the tears of the mothers

I hope for

a miracle

a sudden rising up and

blossoming in the wasteland

of the rose of Sharon


but my tears

are dry

and salt


     Recently my wife and I attended a commemoration of the 59th anniversary of the nuclear wasting of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The conference was co-sponsored by the Nevada Desert Experience and the Center for Action and Contemplation.  Fr. Richard Rohr, ofm entitled his discussions Hope Against Darkness: the transforming vision of Franciscanism in an age of anxiety.  His talks brought to my mind the children of Iraq and Viet Nam who I’ve seen dying, the children of Japan who died in atomic blasts in 1945 and the children who have been betrayed by those in positions of power in the Church.

      As Richard spoke of a ‘way of tears’ as a necessary stance of vulnerability for spiritual growth in men in particular I could only remember that hot day in Basra.  Apparently Francis of Assisi would go away for weekends to cry.  The young man who cannot cry is a savage; the old man who cannot laugh is a fool.       

     Richard also spoke of Sadako and the thousand paper peace cranes.   Sadako Sasaki was a young Japanese girl who developed leukemia in 1955 as a result of the Hiroshima atomic bomb ten years earlier. While in the hospital, her closest friend reminded her of a Japanese legend that said that if she folded a thousand origami paper cranes, her wish to be well again might be granted.  She began folding cranes and continued to fold them until her death on October 25, 1955.  Her courage and determination inspired many of her school mates and a peace park dedicated to all the Japanese children who died in the atomic bombings was erected in 1958.  She has inspired people all over the world and there is a Sadako Peace Park in Seattle.   

      In 1542 firearms were introduced into Japan by the Portuguese.  Francis Xavier landed in Japan in 1549.  By 1552 when he left Japan his teachings and life helped develop a vibrant Christian community in Nagasaki.    By 1552 the Japanese had also developed better weapons than the Europeans.  In the usual imperial pattern soon the Portuguese were using the Church to undermine local authority by trying to develop allegiances to the Portuguese crown.  In 1597 Paul Miki and 26 others were martyred at Nagasaki by a Japanese government in response to the efforts to undermine their authority.  By 1614 all Christianity was banned and in 1641 all but the Chinese and the Dutch are banned from Japan. 

      Over 200 years later American Matthew Perry steamed into Edo Bay and demanded trade.  A treaty was signed which limited Westerners to Nagasaki and a church to be only used by Westerners was built.  On March 17, 1865 several Japanese women knocked on the door and talked to the priest.  It seems that during the 200 years of no priests and no outside contact the Christian community in Nagasaki had a remnant of 30,000 believers.  They had all been baptized and the Japanese society had been totally unaware of their existence.  

     When news spread about these Kakure Kirihitan there was another persecution by the Japanese government but it was soon stopped by pressure from the West.  In 1894 the Japanese Christians were for the first time allowed to build a church on the hill in Nagasaki where the martyrs had been crucified in 1597.  After 23 years of building St. Mary’s Cathedral was dedicated in 1917.   It was the largest church in Asia.  

       On August 9, 1945 Catholic and Protestant chaplains blessed the all Christian crew of an airplane just before it took off from Tinian Island with “Little Boy” an atomic bomb.  The target was Kokoro on the Japanese mainland.  When the plane arrived over Kokoro the foggy weather prevented them from clearly seeing their target.  They moved on to their secondary target which was Nagasaki.  Nagasaki was also fogged in but a brief clearing allowed the bombardier to see the most distinct building in Nagasaki.  St. Mary’s Cathedral became ground zero for the second atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese people.  In this case the Christian crew wiped out the largest Christian community in Japan in a matter of seconds.   The Christians were only about 1% of the population of Japan but most of them lived in the Nagasaki area.


little boy little girl

in defiance of current

theories of the physical universe

on August 6, 1945

ten thousand paper peace cranes

flew out of a black hole

in the sky



overcoming Death,

the destroyer of the worlds


      Sadako Sasaki and many other Japanese children were our target that day.   The children of Viet Nam and Iraq have been our targets more recently along with the children in our churches.  Albert Einstein not long before his death said the central question that needs to be answered is “Is the universe a safe place for a human being to be?”  We might ask “Is the world we have made a safe place for a child to be?”

        We as Christians and adults should believe that God has truly created a universe in which we are safe.  However, as long as we are willing to rely on evil (fear, greed, ambition, nation, religion, military might, etc.) to provide an illusion of protection there is no safe place for the children.  In that reliance we are clearly saying that we do not believe what we profess and we are willing to victimize the children.  How can the children feel or be safe if they see that we live in fear?

         It is only from that stance that we can change our world and stop making the children the victims of our fear and lusts.   It is only from that stance that we will stop killing our children. 

         Jesus asks us to trust in Abba and to be willing to be the victims ourselves.  We are to magnify God with our lives as Jesus did with His.  Just like Jesus our task is to bear witness to God as a loving parent who has created a universe that is safe for all of us.


Larry Kerschner
POB 397
Pe Ell WA 98572