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The Philadelphia Inquirer

Conversations On War: Catalina Rio

An Attack On Iraq Would Distract From The Many Problems At Home

By Murray Dubin

February 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Philadelphia Inquirer. All rights reserved. 

As our nation moves toward war with Iraq, we set out to talk to people about war and peace, their families and their world. This conversation with Catalina Rios is one in a weekly series.

I'm not convinced that our government is putting its full energy and attention on the problems we are having here at home. I feel that it is evasive in a way, this obsession with the war.

We can certainly win the war. I don't think that's the issue. It's more difficult to win the peace.

Another thing that's been disturbing is the way 9/11 has been used in this whole discourse. Originally, when our President talked about Iraq, he did not talk about al-Qaeda being a piece of the landscape. Now it is. Is this really based on facts?

I listened to the State of the Union address, and it almost seemed like a church sermon. He said, "There's power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people." That's from a church hymn that goes like this: "There is power, power, wonder-working power, in the precious blood of the lamb."

Tell me about yourself.

I was born in Hartford. I came to [the University of Pennsylvania] in 1985 as a graduate student in romance languages. I left to teach full time. I've been teaching 15 years.

My parents came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico in the early '50s to work on the tobacco plantations. A lot of the broadleaf tobacco that's used as a wrapper comes from the Connecticut [River] Valley.

The men generally did the picking and the women would sew the leaves onto these big long rods that got hung in the shed to cure and dry. That's where they met.

I grew up in a low-income housing project. I have three brothers and two sisters. All my brothers have served in the armed forces. They were not drafted, they chose to go - as an opportunity to get an education, to escape poverty, and, in one case, to deal with his addiction. The military is still an option for a lot of poor young men and women. I would like there to be more options.

My brothers returned to civilian life, but I have a dear, close cousin who was in the Gulf War and is still in the military. I have talked to him about his choices, and it's a tense, difficult conversation. He is very open-minded, but convinced that the United States needs to show aggression, needs to have a certain degree of hegemony in the Middle East.

What happens if we go to war?

I think what happens, happens on a psychological level. You are pressed to be for or against. What that creates is a tension. Now, with our increased patriotism, speaking against the war is seen as being something threatening. So it can get tricky.

This war is a way of evading responsibility for taking care of things that are domestic - unemployment, a lack of equal access to educational opportunity and schools.

Would you feel better if an attack were U.N.-sanctioned?

Yes. It means we are working in a united manner. At present, what I hear from my government is that we are determined to go this alone. I don't believe we can work in isolation.

Since 9/11, we are living in a very different world. It confirmed that our country is a part of a global community. And I would like to see us behave and function as a member of a global community.

Is invading Iraq talked about?

I talk with my family, I talk with my students. Some are very concerned. They're afraid. I work with children 4 to 11. The older ones are rather eloquent - either being pro-fighting and justice by dismantling [Saddam] Hussein's government, or very much against war. Because I work in a Quaker school, there is a stance of pacifism and war resistance and dialogue about the possibility of war.

Do you feel powerless?

I do not, because I believe in democratic discourse and in informing my representatives and my President about what I feel. I've written letters, I've called the hotlines.

I worry more about vulnerability than anything. I worry about building closer links across nations so that we can get information to protect ourselves. I worry about another attack, I do.

Will there be a war in Iraq?

Our government is going to invade. The determination is fierce. Under better circumstances, I would hope for Saddam Hussein to volunteer to leave. And then, I would like to see what role would we take in the reorganization of Iraq.

The Gulf War was devastating - not for Saddam Hussein, for the Iraqi people. That was the solution we put on the table for the first go, and we're proposing the same solution.

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