Into Harm's Way:

An Interview with Cynthia Banas as She Leaves for Iraq

Paul Frazier

US war rhetoric increases. "First Strike" becomes palatable to the US government. Central New York Reservists are activated. And Central New Yorker Cynthia Banas prepares to go to Iraq, a peacemaker going into a war zone in a time of war.

Cynthia is known for her consistent support for victims of US militarism. We talked during and after the recent 40-day fast and vigil at the US Mission to the UN, a Voices in the Wilderness witness that publicly expressed regret and remorse for the suffering falling on Iraqi citizens, and called for an end to the 12-year-old sanctions against Iraq, a 12-year failure. (And when sanctions fail, what next? Massacre, of course.)

In Cynthia's words let us understand, beforehand, what it means to join a Peace Team, heading to a land that has been threatened with annihilation:

Tell us about the Peace Team.

We are an international team working to prevent an escalation of war. We oppose armed aggression by any party. We know that a new war against Iraq will take its greatest toll, both immediately and for years to come, on civilians, the children, the elderly and the poor. There is no outcome that could justify this tragedy. We are to be as low key as possible.

How did you prepare for the Peace Team?

Years ago_20 or more_I had my first nonviolence training when we were planning to hand out leaflets at the NYS Fair. And later I had another training. This year I was involved in nonviolence training for the April 20 Actions in Washington, DC.

I learned about being neutral and nonviolent in Guatemala in January 1993, on a delegation with Peace Brigades. Those trainings were strengthened when I went to Haiti, in October of that same year with "Cry for Justice."

At other times I worked with young people from Cornell and Syracuse University, protesting the deployment of Cruise Missiles at Rome AFB, and I worked internationally with Canadians during a week of international protest.

The fast and vigil in New York City this summer was very good preparation for this coming journey_a discipline. You have time to reflect and think about things. So many are dying every day, unnecessarily. I have come to think of fasting and prayer, quiet and meditation, and not being so busy as preparation for this coming journey.

You have already been to Iraq. How did those trips influence you?

I have been to Iraq twice, once in May 2001, with Central New Yorkers Dick Keough and Anne Herman, for about three weeks. I went a second time with a delegation from Voices in the Wilderness, from mid-December 2001 through mid-January 2002. The trips were very moving experiences, living with the ordinary people of Iraq. I became an eyewitness to their dire poverty and terrible living conditions, a result of our policies.

These delegations strengthened my resolve to work harder to make people aware of the crisis in Iraq. I see what is unfolding as a needless war. This is a historic turning point. Weapons are not making us secure. We need a third way.

What do you expect?

I expect to experience the warm hospitality of the people. You know, because of the changing world tensions from day to day, it has been difficult to organize this Peace Team. We have someone in Iraq doing the groundwork. I trust in their efforts. I did get a visa from Jordan_as you know, Americans are not allowed to go to Iraq.

If there are military actions against Iraq, I have no idea of what the scenario will be there. I just have faith that all will go well, but in a war, people are willing to fight for their beliefs, and it is the same thing for peacemakers. You have to be prepared for whatever the outcome is going to be.

I picked up a couple of games at the UNICEF store, games children from all over the world can play without needing to learn another language.

I will be there for the long term—a couple of months—but there is a need for others to join the Peace Team and apply for shorter stays in Iraq.

Courageous_and blessed_are the peacemakers.