Dulcie in Australia | 11.01.2003 07:29
Also, on Thursday 9 January, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation television network re-broadcast a BBC feature (narrated by the BBC's Kate Clark) about the proposed expedition. See:
You can find out even more about the expedition by typing the phrase "Ken Nichols O'Keefe" (including the inverted commas) into the Google search engine.
Following is the January 10 story from the Sydney Morning Herald website:-
In harm's way
Sydney Morning Herald, January 11, 2003
by Paul Daley, SMH correspondent in London
Some time in the next two weeks hundreds of people hope to board a rag-tag collection of buses, vans and cars in London and head off on what promises to be the trip of a lifetime.
Led by a 33-year-old, heavily tattooed American Gulf War veteran, self-styled philosopher and peace activist who has renounced US citizenship, the convoy aims to be in Iraq "before the war starts".
There the participants will join ordinary Iraqi citizens close to potential bombing targets in the (arguably naive) hope that their presence will deter allied pilots from delivering payloads in their direction.
Every day ex-veteran Ken Nichols O'Keefe - an intense, charismatic, highly articulate man with "EXPATRIOT (USA)" tattooed on his right fist - is receiving hundreds of emails from people who want to join or support the peace convoy. The project has, Nichols O'Keefe concedes, become far bigger and more unwieldy than he'd planned. But the upside is, he believes, the greater the number of "human shields", the greater the project's likelihood of success.
He says: "I believe that we as people could stop this war but in order for us to stop it we have to have a massive amount of people - in the thousands I would argue ... I don't see why that's an impossibility at all when we're talking about hundreds of millions of people who live in the West, the vast majority of which are against this war."
In 1991, the then 21-year-old Nichols O'Keefe served in the 2nd Battalion of the US Marine Corps as an infantryman on the road to Basra, where the US military killed hundreds of retreating Iraqi soldiers.
He left the Marine Corps, disillusioned and angry with America, a year later to become - through study and introspection - an energetic opponent of American foreign policy and military intervention-ism, issues about which he felt passionately enough to renounce his citizenship.
Through his web-based organisation, the Universal Kinship Society, Nichols O'Keefe had little trouble attracting people from all over the world - including Australia - who wanted to join his "We The People Justice and Peace Mission to Iraq".
They are people like Christiaan Briggs, a 26-year-old architectural draftsman from Napier, New Zealand.
Briggs arrived in London on a four-year ancestral visa a year ago for his big "OE" (overseas experience). But on arrival in outer north-west London, where he is staying with his pregnant sister and her husband, Briggs says the experience was not all he thought it would be. "I was over here on my OE - you know I'd dreamed about this Kiwi tradition as a teenager - and when I got here I was a bit disillusioned about it because travellers didn't really own this tradition. Businesspeople did. The travel industry did," he says.
Briggs travelled a little. But mostly he read. And it was a book called Free to Be Human by David Edwards which, he maintains, "changed my life" and set him on what could be a one-way path to Baghdad. "I learnt two major lessons from the book - you must be the change you want to see in the world and if you want to be truly happy, then you must centre your life around making others happy," he says.
"A few days later I came across an article by Ken [Nichols O'Keefe]. I was a few paragraphs into it when I knew what I was going to do with my life - I knew straight away I was going to Iraq."
Briggs and Nichols O'Keefe have clicked since meeting. Briggs is now one of the organisers of the mission and Nichols O'Keefe was at the New Zealander's London house when the Herald visited recently. Briggs seems unfazed by the danger and believes his death would be for a just cause.
"This is something I need to do and I'm not doing it to be brave or for ego. I just need to do it to live a sane life. Although I want to go and help the Iraqi people and try and save lives, the other major thing I want to do is influence my friends, family and community. If I can just affect those people then I'll be happy."
As a former marine, Nichols O'Keefe is perhaps less fearful of death than some. "Clearly a lot of people who are coming are not going to have the same attitude about death that I do. And some of them are going to be stupid, too, and are maybe going to look at this as some big social gathering. But I'm not a babysitter and I can't make people think in a mature fashion," he says.
Nichols O'Keefe had planned to leave London next week. He now plans to leave around January 25, about the same time the US will decide if Iraq has complied with the weapons inspectors. By the time they get to Iraq, via Turkey, the war might have started.
Nichols O'Keefe says all participants should write their wills and make written statements outlining their reasons for joining the peace mission. The statement must specify that they are not going in support of the Iraqi regime.
In recent weeks he has been criticised for negotiating with the Iraqi Government for entry to the country. He angrily rejects suggestions that his mission supports Iraq, but he is none the less unrepentant if the mission benefits the regime.
"You know, it's to their advantage that they have thousands of people from the West coming. But does that mean that's why we're doing it? The point is that people are going to have bombs dropped on them and ... it's not okay with me and it's not okay with the people who are going down there," he says.
Dulcie in Australia