When we arrived at the museum on the northern edge of Tehran’s Shahr Park on a drizzly late October morning, we were greeted by the museum’s director, Mohammad Reza Taghipoor Moghadam who, I couldn’t help but notice, had no legs. As he wheeled himself into the museum, my companions and I followed closely behind.

After entering the compact round building, we gathered in a small room where Moghadam introduced us to his colleagues, Mr. Mohammadi, who was wearing dark sunglasses even on the dreary morning, and Mr. Roostapour who wore no glasses but, like Mr. Mohammadi, suffered from damage to his eyes and lungs resulting from chemical warfare.

As veterans of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), all three men bore grave injuries more than 30 years after the war had ended. Today they welcome visitors to the Tehran Peace Museum where they discuss the history of the brutal war, describing how Iraq, under Saddam Hussein who was aided with intelligence and arms provided by the United States, used chemical weapons against Iranians and Kurds.

Three veterans of the Iran-Iraq war talk about the effects of war on soldiers and civilians at the Tehran Peace Museum with a group of visiting Americans.

Jon Letman

One museum display states that some 65,000 Iranian civilians and military veterans still suffer chronic health problems from those attacks. Standing before exhibits detailing how civilians were victims of the war, the three veterans spoke about the suffering caused by nuclear weapons, poison gas, nerve agents, incendiary munitions, cluster bombs, conventional rockets, missiles, mortars and artillery used in wars waged from the air, in the sea, and on the ground by militaries around the world.

As the veterans recounted the human and environmental damage caused by chemical warfare, I thought about Hawaii’s own role in testing and training for war.

I recalled how in 1967 the Army conducted Operation Green Mist in which it tested the deadly nerve agent sarin in the Waiakea Forest Reserve on Hawaii Island.

That reminded me of a 2012 Civil Beat report about how some 16,000 bombs filled with mustard agent were dumped by the military in waters off Oahu during World War II.

When Moghadam spoke of the harm from depleted uranium and the environmental damage it causes, Hawaii popped into my head again, specifically the DU previously used at Schofield Barracks and Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii Island.

Although the Iran-Iraq war ended more than 30 years ago, murals depicting soldiers killed in battle are found throughout Iran today.

Jon Letman

As the three men spoke, I thought of the decades of Navy bombing carried out on Kahoolawe which, in turn, made me think of RIMPAC, the international war games Hawaii hosts every two years. I thought of the ships used as target practice in sinking exercises off Kauai, the artillery fired between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, the amphibious assaults rehearsed and the urban warfare training drills carried out across Hawaii.

When Moghadam talked about the death, destruction and squandered resources resulting from nuclear weapons, I thought of the Sandia National Laboratory’s Kauai Test Site where technology is tested for use in America’s next generation of nuclear weapons, part of a $1.5 trillion modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

War Is Business

This comes as Iran continues to suffer under punishing U.S. sanctions, a policy of maximum pressure, and the threat of war despite Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (i.e., “Iran nuclear deal”).

Moghadam explained how Iranian civilians, not Iran’s government, are the primary victims of sanctions that have greatly expanded into a complex spider web-like network that isolates ordinary Iranian citizens from global commercial and financial systems. Intensified U.S. sanctions restrict almost everything coming into Iran including life-saving medicines and medical equipment — things like respirators, air purifiers, and wheelchairs that these veterans rely on.

“Civilian people who are not politicians do not deserve to be affected by sanctions,” Moghadam said, adding “war is a great business for countries.”

Indeed, war is good business. In Hawaii’s case, the business of war — often called “defense” — is central to Hawaii’s economy. Military, weapons and war are Hawaii’s second largest sector of its economy with Hawaii ranking second in the nation for its defense spending as a percentage of state GDP, and third highest for defense spending per resident. In 2017, more than 81,000 military personnel and civilians were employed by the defense sector, reported to generate over $14 billion for Hawaii’s economy.

From our congressional delegation who proudly announce securing military contracts, to our local leaders who are almost universally on board with military projects, to our families who have become dependent on military-related jobs, to our schools which cooperate with the military and are eager to expand STEM programs that will train Hawaii’s youth to pursue careers in the military, intelligence, or security, Hawaii is steeped in war.

We remain complicit in the suffering of the victims of war.

We all know what war is and what it does. As former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee so crudely said in a 2016 GOP presidential debate, “the purpose of the military is kill people and break things.”

All too often in Hawaii, we not only support but also celebrate our own role in wars fought in someone else’s country. As long as we accept or encourage Hawaii to be a place that facilitates the business of war, we will remain complicit in the suffering of the victims of war.

Even when we talk about “living aloha” and “the cost of war,” unless we are sincere in our opposition to supporting Hawaii’s war industry, we are the ones who don’t have legs to stand on.

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