There is a wonderful movie, Amazing Grace and Chuck, which came out in 1987. It tells the story of a star Little League pitcher, Chuck, who, along with other youngsters on a field trip visits a missile silo in his home state of Montana. Chuck is an unusually sensitive and decent young person with wisdom beyond his years and the experience makes him aware of the threat to humanity posed by nuclear weapons. Instead of remaining complacent in the face of this threat, like most Americans, Chuck commits himself to doing something about the situation. He decides to give up the most important thing in his life, baseball, in protest of nuclear weapons. He stops pitching for his Little League team until the world is on the path to eliminating these weapons.
A lot of people in Chuck’s community become upset with him because his protest jeopardizes his team’s chances in the Little League championships. There is considerable pressure on Chuck to conform, get back to his pitching, and just get over it. Chuck is committed, though, and doesn’t capitulate to the pressure. He thinks that nuclear weapons are a real problem, not only because Americans are threatened but also because by their existence tens of million, perhaps hundreds of millions, of innocent people could be annihilated with our nuclear weapons.
When a small article about Chuck and his protest appears in the national media, a professional basketball star, Amazing Grace, reads about it, and is sympathetic to Chuck and his courageous position. So Amazing Grace decides to join Chuck in Montana, giving up basketball in protest of the threat of US nuclear policies. He announces that he will not be rejoining his team until the problem of nuclear weapons dangers is eliminated and Chuck is willing to go back to pitching. This starts a movement among professional athletes, and pretty soon professional stars from all major sports are showing up in Montana to join Chuck in protest.
With so many big-time athletes gathered in support of Chuck, the media has little choice but to pay attention to Chuck’s demands. Before long, Chuck’s simple wisdom has captured the imagination of people across America. He has meetings with the President, and forces the President (Gregory Peck) to implement policies leading to global nuclear disarmament.
Chuck’s fictional story, one that every American should know about, has a lot in common with the story of Cindy Sheehan. Chuck responded to the dangers of US nuclear policies after becoming aware of them. Cindy responded to the tragedy of her son’s death as a US soldier in Iraq. Both wanted answers from the US President and both aroused interest and concern throughout the country. Chuck got his meeting with the President and the President agreed to new policies. So far, Cindy, who is camped out outside the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, has gotten the cold shoulder from Mr. Bush, while he tries to get on with his vacation and fundraising.
But Cindy has put the eyes of the world on Mr. Bush and his Iraq War policies. Mr. Bush has said that US troops are dying for a “noble cause” in Iraq. Cindy Sheehan wants Mr. Bush to tell her what the “noble cause” is that her son, Casey, died for in Iraq. Cindy’s presence in Crawford reminds her fellow citizens that Mr. Bush and many of his top officials lied to the American people, the US Congress and the world about nuclear weapons in Iraq. Her presence in Crawford reminds her fellow citizens that the President is on another of his long vacations while US soldiers continue to die in Iraq. Her presence in Crawford challenges the President’s veracity, his competence and his compassion. Her presence in Crawford reveals a President lacking in the courage to answer a grieving mother’s questions about what purpose her son died for in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Cindy Sheehan’s stand in Crawford is sending a powerful message to the American people, just as Chuck’s fictional protest did. Cindy’s protest is forcing Americans to probe deeper and to not accept the facile responses of the administration in the increasingly deteriorating situation in Iraq. Cindy Sheehan is a true American hero, reminding us of the power of one. She is forcing Americans to wake up and pay attention to a war that is continuing to spill the blood of young Americans, drain our resources, and stretch our military to its limits. She is forcing Americans to face her grief, and that of other soldiers’ relatives, who suspect that there is no nobility in fighting and dying under the false pretenses of this war – a war that appears to many Americans to be for oil and military bases in an oil-rich country rather than for any noble cause.
Mr. Bush owes Cindy an honest answer to her question, and the rest of America should be standing shoulder to shoulder with Cindy. It is long past time that Mr. Bush and his colleagues be held to account for their policies in Iraq. We should also be demanding that Mr. Bush provide the American people with answers to the questions the fictional Chuck posed to his President in Amazing Grace and Chuck concerning the continuing dangers of US nuclear policies and the obstacles these policies pose to global nuclear disarmament.
Cindy Sheehan’s courage should help restore our faith in the power of individuals to speak truth to power and make a difference. Her protest is in the best traditions of this country, those of Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez. She has showered us all with her Amazing Grace.
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org), and the author of a recent book of peace poetry, Today Is Not a Good Day for War.