Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) is known as the “conscience of the House.” He was the young civil rights leader who was beaten, nearly to death, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on the infamous “Bloody Sunday” that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. John Lewis is a civil rights and Christian hero. As the House of Representatives began debating the war in Iraq this week, here are John’s remarks on the House floor. His voice is one we need to hear.
Mr. Lewis of Georgia: “Mr. Speaker, I rise with deep concern that on this very day 4 years ago, our Nation inaugurated a conflict, an unnecessary war, a war of choice, not a necessity.
The most comprehensive intelligence we have, the National Intelligence Estimate and the latest Pentagon report, tells us that Iraq has descended into a state of civil war. Over 3,000 Americans have died, and hundreds of thousands, some even say up to 1 million citizens of Iraq, have lost their lives in this unnecessary conflict.
And while we are telling our veterans of this war, the elderly, the poor, and the sick that there is no room in the budget for them, the American people have spent over $400 billion on a failed policy. We cannot do more of the same. Mr. Speaker, violence begets violence. It does not lead to peace.
President John F. Kennedy once said, ‘‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’’ My greatest fear is that the young people of Iraq and of the Middle East will never forget this war. My greatest fear is they will grow up hating our children and our children’s children for what we have done. Mr. Speaker, the Bible is right. Even a great nation can reap what it sows.
Nothing troubles me more than to see the young faces of these soldiers who have been led to their death.
Some are only 18, 19, 21, 22, 23. It is painful; it is so painful to watch. Sometimes I feel like crying and crying out loud at what we are doing as a nation and what this administration is doing in our name. Our children do not deserve to die as pawns in a civil war.
They do not deserve to pay with their lives for the mistakes of this administration. They never had a chance.
When I was their age, when I was 23 years old, I was leading the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, soon to speak in Washington on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but then we were involved in a nonviolent revolution to transform the soul of America, to create a beloved community.
Forty years ago, I was there in New York City in Riverside Church when Martin Luther King, Jr., gave one of the most powerful speeches he ever made against the war in Vietnam. If he could speak today, he would say this nation needs a revolution of values that exposes the truth that war does not work. If he could speak today, he would say that war is obsolete as a tool of our foreign policy.
He would say there is nothing keeping us from changing our national priority so that the pursuit of peace can take precedence over the pursuit of war.
He would say we must remove the causes of chaos, injustice, poverty, and insecurity
that are breeding grounds for terrorism. This is the way towards peace.
As a nation, can we hear the words of Gandhi, so simple, so true, that it is either nonviolence or nonexistence? Can we hear the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., saying that we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish as fools?
Tonight I must make it plain and clear that as a human being, as a citizen of the world, as a citizen of America, as a member of Congress, as an individual committed to a world at peace with itself, I will not and I cannot in good conscience vote for another dollar or another dime to support this war.”