It was the night before the invasion.
The sabre rattling had gone on for some time.
The lies had been spread.
The nationalist fervour enflamed.
The military forces put in place.
And the children knew.
We didn’t hide these things.
This was their world,
this was their history being played out.
So we prayed.
On their bunk beds,
mom and dad snuggling one kid each,
I began as I always began.
I began in gratitude.
“God we thank you …”
“No!” seven year old Madeleine
“That is not how we pray tonight.”
How do we pray tonight?, I asked.
And my wise and passionate seven year old prayed:
“God we pray that not too many children will die in Iraq,
and that you will judge George Bush for what he is doing.
And God bless Bud Osborn. Amen.”
We lay in silence for a few moments,
and kissed the kids good night.
Maybe we spoke a little more about the war,
but I don’t recall.
What was there to say?
What could a parent possibly say
to a seven year old uttering such a prayer?
The realism of it was devastating.
She prayed that “not too many children would be killed.”
Not too many.
How many is too many?
One is too many!
But this child knew that children,
just like her,
would be killed in this war.
She knew that there was no point
in praying that there would be no war,
or that the children would be spared.
But she had enough faith
to pray that “not too many” would die.
And she knew where the blame lay.
She had heard her parents ranting about George Bush.
She knew, somehow in her seven year old mind,
that a deceitful rhetoric of war,
had captured the imaginations of America.
Somehow putting the words
“Saddam” and “Al-Qaeda”
together enough times would make the connection
between Iraq and 9/11 firm,
and justify an invasion.
Somehow saying “Weapons of Mass Destruction”
enough times would strike fear in America
that Iraq was a real threat
to national security.
Somehow evoking righteous rage
at the horrors of 9/11,
–horrors experienced around the world daily–
would justify retribution,
even if Iraq had nothing to do with it.
Madeleine knew that there
were liars in high places.
She knew that there
were other things going on here.
She knew that this violence,
and specifically the death
of these children,
was a sin that had to be judged.
And she knew that George W. Bush
was the Liar-in-Chief
long before anyone could have
imagined Donald Trump taking the mantle.
So a seven year old prayed
that God would judge George Bush.
A devastating prayer.
A prayer to take a parent’s breath away.
A prayer no one wants to hear from a seven year old.
A prayer that should have made Bush quake in fear.
And yet, a prayer that seems unanswered.
According to UNICEF half a million Iraqi children
had already died because of
sanctions imposed after the first Gulf War.
No one knows how many civilians
died in the war, but the number is in the
hundreds of thousands.
Thousands of those were children.
And when we consider the violence
that the US invasion sparked
throughout the Middle East,
especially in Syria,
then the number of children killed
is, literally so horrific, that it is unspeakable.
“We pray that not too many children will die,”
prayed my child.
And “that you will judge George Bush
for what he is doing.”
In 2004 Bush and Cheney were re-elected,
while also winning the popular vote.
There’s something about a war
that is good for sitting politicians.
When leaving the White House
at the end of his second term,
Bush acknowledged regret at the failed intelligence
that led to the invasion of Iraq,
but he has never said that he regretted the invasion itself.
I guess he just wishes that the intelligence
proved him right,
rather than murderously wrong.
And, as far as I can see,
he’s never said anything about the children.
Today he lives in happy retirement
as a portrait artist,
neighbourhood barbecue guy,
and buddy to Michelle Obama.
Of his post-presidential life
he had these insightful words:
“I think part of having a fulfilling life
is to be challenged.
I’m challenged on the golf course,
I’m challenged to stay fit,
and I’m challenged by my paintings … I am happy.”
That this is trite and vacuous
is unsurprising for George W. Bush.
He can be forgiven,
for not being too bright,
not being a very reflective kind of guy.
But can he be forgiven
for the death count in the Iraq war
and its deadly aftermath?
Twenty years later,
I can tell you that this doesn’t cut it
with the woman who was the child
praying for Iraqi children.
Madeleine’s prayer for the children
seems to have been unanswered.
So also was her prayer for judgement
on George Bush.
But this seven year old
did not end her prayer in judgement.
She moved on to blessing.
And God bless Bud Osborn.
How about this prayer?
Was it answered?
Did God bless Bud Osborn?
Well, if blessing is to grow old
to live a life of contentment
in suburban comfort, then, no.
Bud Osborn was an activist poet
of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
We had become friends
during speaking tours in Toronto,
and he usually stayed with us.
And the kids loved him.
Constantly climbing into his lap,
they gave him the kind of love and acceptance
that was not his experience as a child,
nor the kind of thing that he knew
through decades of addiction and homelessness.
So we ended every bedtime prayer
with “God bless Bud Osborn.”
Bud lived another eleven years after that prayer.
After years on the street,
years of addiction,
years of activism,
Bud told me that all he wanted
was a small cabin and a dog.
He never got that cabin and dog.
But he left behind a legacy
of powerful poetry.
He was the voice of pain and hope
for the most marginalized of our neighbours.
He was a pioneer in harm reduction
as one of the founders of Insite,
the first safe injection site in Canada.
While Bush has his
the Strathcona Public Library in
the Downtown Eastside has
the Bud Osborn Creation Space.
The kindly older gentleman,
has to live with the legacy of deceit,
the blood of the children,
a world that is much more dangerous,
and a generation of broken veterans.
The broken down, often angry, Bud Osborn
left a legacy of activism for justice,
the love of many children,
and a world of stubborn and insistent hope,
in the face of the ongoing violence.
I don’t know,
maybe Madeleine’s prayer
[Empire Remixed has posted a number of other pieces on Bud Osborn here and here.]