Peace Mom

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We print eclusive extracts from Dario Fo's new one-person play about Cindy Sheehan, translated by Tom Behan.

Part One

Many times I've found something my son once said echoing around my head: 'I want to go to university, and the only chance I've got is to join the United States army. It'll be the army that'll pay my fees. There's no other way I can do it.'

A month after he left for his zone of operations an army cheque came through payable to Casey Sheehan - this money would pay his first round of fees. Three days later another letter: 'Today, 4 April 2004, your son Casey was killed during disturbances in Iraq.'

The cheque was of no use now.

It was as if everything had flown away - the house, his room, his civilian clothes, his games, his bike. All dead.

His friends called round to ask for news - they stammered and mumbled their condolences. His girlfriend was as white as a ghost but couldn't bring herself to cry. I prodded her a bit, but still she wouldn't burst into sobs.

I saw an article in a local paper that listed all the dead in my area. I traced some of the families and spoke with other mothers. Two of them kept on asking me the same question: 'Why did they send my son over there? Why did he die in a country that I didn't even know existed?'

I left home on 4 August, taking with me everything I needed to sleep in the open, as if I was going camping. Two days later I was in Texas, getting off a bus near the entrance to George W Bush's ranch.

I opened up the camping chair I'd brought with me and sat down, right in front of the two big cattle horns supported by some huge wooden beams that marked out the entrance to the estate.

After a while a car that was truly worthy of a president arrived and stopped in front of me. The driver asked me if I needed anything: 'I'd like to speak with the president. I'm the mother of Private Sheehan, killed in Iraq.'

The driver didn't answer. He pressed the accelerator and was gone. I moved to the side for a second to avoid the cloud of dust that was heading in my direction.

I took out a scrapbook, sat back down and started to write. Later on, at dusk, the sun had created two huge shadows of the cattle horns.

A policeman on a motorbike arrived and I signalled for him to stop, and he drew up right between the cattle horns: 'Officer, would you mind delivering this letter to the president?'

'I'll see what I can do!' the policeman replied. 'Ma'am, do you think you're going to be here for a long while?'

'No! Just until I get a reply. It's not illegal, is it?'

'No, I don't believe it is. This is public property - as long as you stay outside the ranch nobody should bother you. Goodbye and good luck.'

Another cloud of dust, and he was gone.

I got ready to sleep. I put my tent pegs in the ground and raised the tent up.

Another two policemen stopped with their lights flashing. They asked for my ID: 'Ma'am, what are you doing here?'

'I'm waiting for the president to reply to a letter I've had delivered.'

'Wouldn't it be more comfortable to wait in your own home? You put your address on it, right?'

'No. All I wrote at the end was that I was out here underneath the cattle horns, waiting for a reply.'

It got dark. A huge light came on between the cattle horns, spraying rays of yellow light all around. To shield my eyes from the light that penetrated inside the tent I wrapped a scarf around my head.

In the morning I was woken up by children singing. I pulled the scarf off of my head and stuck my head out of the tent - a troop of Scouts, boys and girls, was passing by. They were going to see the president. A journalist who was following up behind them stopped and asked me very politely what I was doing there. I told him about the letter.

'Excuse me for being blunt,' he commented, 'but I don't think your provocation is going to have a lot of success.'

'It's not a provocation. George Bush is our president, and I think I've got the right to ask him about my son. It was he who declared war on Iraq and sent my son Casey off to fight.'

The way the journalist looked at me now he seemed almost upset. Then he said, 'You remind me of an old Tibetan monk who once said, "Together, frankness and belief can move mountains. But getting a bigoted man to take just one step is much more difficult".'

Two girls came across and grabbed his jacket to drag him away. He quickly collected a bunch of wild flowers and put them on my sleeping bag. 'We'll be meeting the president soon,' he said, 'and I'll try to mention your case to him.' And then he was gone, following the Scout troop.

Throughout the day cars, motorbikes and groups of visitors were going in and out of the ranch. Those on foot would walk back to the buses parked on the highway. Few of them took any notice of me. Hardly anybody stopped to ask me a question.

I had taken my portable computer out, and I was balancing it on my knees and writing to all the websites I knew, telling people what I was up to. Thanks to some bloggers, the appeal I launched was being relayed to an incredible number of sites.

The following day some boys from Houston came to visit me. They brought me stuff to eat and drink. They also showed me some newspapers that, even though what they had written was a bit inaccurate and sloppy, had mentioned my protest. They stayed with me the whole day.

I never stopped sending emails. And every day the number of visitors was growing. People came as delegations to show all the solidarity they could with me...

A week passed. Even important newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times realised I was here, under those two enormous cattle horns. Journalists come to interview me, and they're followed almost in tandem by television crews from CNN and CBS. I'm feeling really embarrassed: 'I've got to be cool, detached. I can't let myself play the part they want to give me - a kind of Joan of Arc mixed up with a bit of Batman's mother.'

I realise that when they ask me dumb and obvious questions my answers come across as empty and contrived. But as soon as I meet somebody with a bit of life, who has done their homework, oddly enough my answers sound intelligent - sometimes even original.

By now there is an avalanche of television coverage every day. They've already got a couple of nicknames for me, and there is a kind of competition to stick even more labels on me, like 'Peace Mom', 'Mother Courage', 'The heroic woman from California', etc, etc. The New York Times gave me a full page...

More than a month has gone by.

The number of friends coming to visit me is bigger every day. A few friends have decided to establish themselves alongside me, in an area that is now called 'Camp Casey'. Two peace activists, who want to remain anonymous, have bought a house a few hundred yards away from the ranch entrance which they have renamed 'The House of Peace'. That is now my home.

There's no reply from the president, so I decide to send him another letter. I send it out to all the websites I'm in contact with, asking them to distribute it as widely as possible. Here it is:

'I have waited five weeks for a reply. Perhaps my first message got lost in the mountains of mail you must receive every day. Therefore I have decided to send you a second letter, which will be distributed over the internet and published in newspapers. Hopefully this time it won't get lost.

'I am writing to you because I want to ask your help in filling a very painful gap in my knowledge that has been worrying me since I heard the terrible news that my son had been killed in Iraq.

'I have a very simple question to ask you - why? For what reason have you, and your Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, repeated in almost all your speeches that young Americans who have lost their lives in Iraq have sacrificed themselves for a "noble cause"? Could you explain to me what "noble cause" means? Where is the nobility in deaths such as these?

'You assured us that fighting this war was a sacred duty to save the world. You and your political and military advisers said you were certain that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The evidence was there, and you declared to the press and television that you had photos from satellites and spy planes - there were heaps of photos of weapons factories.

'You said it was certain that within a year Saddam Hussein would have developed nuclear weapons with which he would have been able to attack and destroy both America and the entire world.

'But the United Nations had a few doubts about the authenticity of your accusations. This is why they sent out their own observers who didn't find a thing.

'What kind of response did you make to the UN's negative findings?

'You assured us that the UN were unable to trace the weapons for the simple reason that long before Saddam's intelligence services had hidden away his secret weapons in inaccessible and well-hidden underground bunkers.

'And again you stated, "We have photos of them being transported."

'But after having launched your attack and defeated the enemy, when you were able to occupy all of Iraq and search wherever you wanted - why were neither weapons of mass destruction nor even bits of them ever found?

'Our generals were forced to admit that these terrible weapons, which you had categorically assured us about, had never existed.

'Therefore I ask you, "How can you destroy something that has never existed?" And once more I ask, "Why did you send my son over there to die?"

'Where is the noble cause for which my son and 1,800 other American citizens have sacrificed themselves?

'I have noticed in newspapers and television reports that my continuous presence outside your ranch has caused you some irritation. A journalist told me that you, Mr President, and your staff were going to take action to counter my presence and cancel out my "petulant" questions. With this in mind you have tried to find - among the many mothers who have lost a child in Iraq - somebody who was willing to oppose my protest.

'Perhaps it was malicious, but one newspaper wrote that this was a very difficult operation. Out of the 1,800 mothers you approached, it appears that nobody was prepared to give you a hand. Then finally you found somebody who declared, "I am proud to have sacrificed my son for this country".'

I really didn't like that phrase, and it's hardly credible. But after all, I'm biased...

An opinion such as that seems hysterical and false in the face of an illegitimate and illegal war, based on a pack of lies, in which you can't breathe the oxygen of truth but only the smoke of oil wells burning in the distance. I'm increasingly certain that that image is the real reason behind this war - that oil is ours, ever since the day we decided to go and get it.

Part two

We packed away our tents outside the president's ranch today. Bush isn't here any more - he's moved back to the White House. But we can't just leave him on his own...

We made our own way to Washington. It wasn't a big demonstration. There were no more than 1,000 people - there were many more policemen on duty than demonstrators.

We arrive in front of the White House and stop. Then the cops, as if they are following a script, move in on us.

I feel four arms literally raise me off the ground. Hundreds of camera flashes are going off, and I hear a voice telling me I'm under arrest. Another hundred demonstrators are told the same thing, and they push us all onto some buses which are round the corner and we're taken to the main precinct. We're released the following day, after telling us that we will be put on trial within a couple of months.

There's a tidal wave of emails which either recount what's happened or comment upon it. Heaps of people call for a bigger demonstration, maybe in New York.

At almost the very same time a counter-demonstration is organised in Washington by pro-government organisations. Some of those marching are Vietnam veterans, but naturally nobody gets arrested...

Over the last few weeks I've discovered that my knowledge of American life, history, politics, truth, is virtually zero. To be blunt, I've discovered I'm an ignoramus.

I've always called myself a progressive and a democrat, but today I know that to be a democrat you have to be one in practice. And you need to be well informed - because democracy is a very complicated mechanism.

I've read and commented on a huge number of articles and statements from the newspapers or on the internet. It was like going back to school.

I had always believed that the decision to launch the war against Iraq was born from shock at the 11 September massacre, and the growing threat of new terrorist attacks. But then, thanks to these discussions, I discovered that in the neo-cons' programme dated September 2000 - 'The Project for a New American Century' - they were already insisting that the US had to use its strength as the world's only superpower, and ensure access to the Middle East's huge oil reserves.

In the same period an article came out in a famous economic journal which analysed the world oil market:

'We would like to point out that three quarters of the oil extracted from the planet comes from areas controlled by Arab sheikhs, who in practice control its price and distribution. Therefore, all that would be needed was a sudden change in the economic and political policies of a group of sheikhs to create an unimaginable and terrifying crisis. Our reserves are already down to the minimum, and production in our continent is far too inefficient to satisfy our primary needs. This is the reason which forces us to obtain new fields outside of Opec, such as the very large ones in Iraq'...

Four months have gone by since August, and we've held a lot of demonstrations. More than one expert has tried to explain why Bush is silent, why he is determined to ignore me. One explanation is that my straightforward question over the war has derailed all the president's plans. Somebody even says I'm responsible for his sudden drop in the opinion polls over the last few months. So wouldn't it be better for the president to end his damaging and embarrassed silence?

The director Michael Moore has given his own explanation: 'Bush can't answer. He's created a huge web of lies - each bit is connected to another just like the architecture of a cathedral. If you just take one bit out the whole lot will come down on his head. Although we're really talking about a house of cards, in the real world the vacuum that would create would be disastrous.'

And somebody who talks about god couldn't stand not living in a cathedral, even if it is a fake one.

As a good Christian I want to make it clear that I don't hate him... All I feel is contempt...

Mr President, I watched you once on a live broadcast, when you were hunkered down among some schoolchildren. You were trying to be friendly, fatherly, but you couldn't do it - you were clumsy and embarrassing to watch.

But you don't hate kids. You're even worse - you ignore them. The thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the bombings don't exist - they're just collateral damage... Nothing out of the ordinary. Predictable murders, inevitable... What kind of numbers will create just a slight sense of guilt in you?

When this anger and pain build up inside me and it gets too much I say to myself, 'Forgive me, forgive me!' I can't stand it any more.

But it's your arrogance, Mr President, which has been damaged by the irritation that I've caused you, that keeps me going... because when it's all said and done you haven't just wiped out my son, but through him something else I was waiting for anxiously - a child of his own. Yes, next year Casey and his girlfriend were going to get married. And I just know they would have had a baby.

I dreamt about it. I still dream about it. And I wake up crying.

You, and your war, have killed my dreams as well!

Damn you!

Mr President, I've got one image of you fixed in my mind. You're dressed in a pilot's jumpsuit and you're getting off a fighter plane which has just landed on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. There's a big crowd of soldiers and sailors around, cheering and slapping each other on the back. You're climbing out of the cockpit with your pilot's helmet and saying, 'Mission accomplished!'...

But then, Mr President, I found out that you never fought in the Vietnam War. Oh no, you were nicely hidden away in a safe little office, Stateside. And now you're wearing military uniforms and talking to us about heroic actions.

You really shouldn't have started putting on this kind of show - missing your lines and missing your part has now become a habit to you...

Not long ago Hurricane Katrina attacked our coastline, destroying New Orleans and the whole of Louisiana. Everybody knew beforehand what was going to happen - that hurricane was going to destroy the poorest and most undefended part of America.

Yes! The duty of a president, so keen on decisive and quick responses, was to be in the eye of the storm, or at least close to it. Instead you, Mr President, weren't there. Where you were there wasn't even a breath of wind. You spent the weekend on your ranch - where the skies are not cloudy all day.

You decided to visit the disaster zone later - and by now all, or nearly all, of the survivors had been evacuated. Everything had become a swamp, and you were being driven about on this amphibious truck as if you'd launched a military invasion.

The wrong place at the wrong time - again. This time around it looked like you were wearing a camouflage jacket... That was a wise precaution, as a few of the survivors up on the roofs might have recognised you and...

I can remember an old farce set in the civil war. There's a scene where some brave mayor up in the North was encouraging all the young people from his county to go and join the Union army. He was talking about duty, defending civil rights, freedom from slavery. But when these kids went into battle he wasn't there.

It seemed a caricature of you, Mr President...

But I have to say that you're in good company with your government... The tendency of your staff and senators to hide away has been commented on all over - them and their families. Out of the 535 members of Congress - the very people who became nearly delirious about the American army's duty to go to war - just one of them can boast about having their own son in a combat zone!

There's only one thing to say to that - you're just a bunch of General Custers who never rode out to the Big Horn!

© Dario Fo