If We Could Poll the Dead Iraqis-Poem, Music, and Interview with Thich Nhat Hanh

I wrote this poem this week after listening to an American soldier talk about his deep regret over his part in the Iraqi war and his sorrow over his role in the destruction and loss of so many lives.

After the poem, please have a listen to John Gorka’s powerful song, “The Road of Good Intentions.” This is followed by a short audio interview with Thich Nhat Hanh on the unseen and hidden costs of the Persian Gulf war—or any war.

If We Could Poll the Dead Iraqis

The war justifiers
no matter what mistakes were made
Iraq is a better place without
Saddam, the people better off.

I wonder…
if you could somehow take a poll
of the 100,000—some say 600,000, some say even more—
dead Iraqis
I wonder what they would say?
I wonder if they would be feeling “liberated”
now that “mission’s accomplished?”

I wonder…
if you could go back to 2003
and take a poll
telling the Iraqis they would be “free,”
well, except for 100,000 of them—
or maybe half a million of them—
who would be bombed, machine gunned, incinerated,
dismembered, vaporized,
and sent to Allah, with “shock and awe”
I wonder, then, how the vote would go?

How would you vote?
One-hundred thousand dead—half a million—what are the odds
you and your loved ones will be the among the lucky?
Would you look around at your family,
think of all your neighbors,
and say, “Let’s go for it! What have we go to lose?”
Would you choose Sadam, or US?
I wonder what you’d choose.

I wonder…
do countless mourning Iraqi fathers and mothers,
and daughters and sons
and sisters and brother
lie in bed at night,
cursing us with, with every breath,
for the sheer hubris of our thinking that we, as a nation,
could decide for them,
that hundreds of thousands
of mothers, father, sisters, brothers,
would die
in a war of our choosing,
in the name of a “freedom”
that we decided they must have
despite the Iraqi cost?

I wonder…
I think about the Iraqi dead
I think about the American dead
…and I weep.
There is such a price to pay.

Iraq Family Health Survey: 151,000 violent deaths.
March 2003 to June 2006

Lancet survey: 601,027 violent deaths out of 654,965 excess deaths.
March 2003 to June 2006

Opinion Research Business survey: 1,033,000 violent deaths as a result of the conflict
March 2003 to August 2007

Associated Press:
110,600 violent deaths
March 2003 to April 2009

Iraq Body Count 95,888 – 104,595 violent civilian deaths as a result of the conflict.
March 2003 to April 2010

Click to play “The Road of Good Intentions” by John Gorka from Writing in the Margins


The Road of Good Intentions, John Gorka

Click to hear an excerpt from a prophetic interview with Thich Nhat Hanh from his audio book Peace Making, given not long after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.  Still ahead lay the Iraq War and thousands more US casualties and hundreds of thousands more Iraqi casualties.  


Making Peace with Thich Nhat Hanh


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

2 Responses to “If We Could Poll the Dead Iraqis-Poem, Music, and Interview with Thich Nhat Hanh”

  1. Hi, Steve–

    Enjoyed this posting and look forward to reading the others. Any chance we can catch a glimpse of you when we head out to SF at the end of the month? I’d love for my daughters to meet you and vice versa. Every night my older daughter (age 10) and I say her favorite prayer: “May all beings be peaceful. May all beings be happy. May all beings be safe. May all beings awaken to the light of their true nature. May all beings be free.” At which point, she repeats three times “May all beings be free!” with an increasingly high-pitched voice interspersed with the nonsense exclamation “Gocki!” You’ll have to hear it in person!

    Anyway, let me know if there’s room in you schedule for a little face-time in late July.



  2. Let’s end all wars.

    Let’s stop the suffering.

    Let’s learn from these mistakes.

    Thank you Steve. I see this came straight from the Heart, and I bow to the Buddha in you for speaking the Truth.

    michael j

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