Sunday, April 24, 2005
( 9:05 AM )
A New Hero
Marla Ruzicka's funeral was today. If you don't know who she is, please learn about her. A young woman, cut down by a car bomb in Iraq at age 28, she was passionately working for truth and justice by gathering as much information about civilian casualties in that country as she possibly could. She knew it was dangerous, but she cared about the people and she cared about the truth. Her organization, CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict), started as a one-woman effort to speak for those who do not have a voice when the powerful wage war.
Above all, Marla Ruzicka had a mission. She believed deeply that the families of civilians killed by the U.S. should receive compensation. She forcefully argued that the U.S. government had a duty to all innocents injured by its weapons, especially children who needed urgent medical care from decent hospitals. These simple principles cut straight to the heart of our collective responsibility during wartime.
She lobbied Congress, raising the most uncomfortable questions about our involvement in Iraq, and then demanded justice for the people forgotten in government policy. She won. Tens of millions of dollars were set aside to assist Iraqis who were the victims of the war.
But Marla didn't stay in Washington. How many innocent people have been killed by U.S. forces? Marla wanted to know the answer to that ugly question and so she returned to Iraq. She started looking for the truth by going door to door in Baghdad, taking a survey. She just started asking Iraqi families how many people they were missing. Of course, it was so simple -- this was her human approach.
Marla spent a great deal of time trying to help Iraqis who lost family members to the war. During the first siege of Fallujah, I once found her screaming at the director of the Iraqi Red Crescent, demanding that he organize a way to bring supplies to refugees. She was furious at his apathy. It drove her crazy.
Marla told me how hard it was to try to wring compensation payments from the U.S. military and what it was like to lobby Congress for Iraqi civilians rights. To get her projects through, she described to anyone who would listen the cases of injured Iraqis and the families of those killed. She would lean on her point, even when surrounded by experts who were supposed to know the deal.
When will humanity begin to care more about the most vulnerable rather than about power? I don't know if that will ever happen, or if that is even possible with human nature. I'd like to believe it is. But it is always the powerful making war and more tragedy and always the tiny - young women like Marla or Rachel Corrie - who dare to stand in the way of injustice.
It is sad that only in her death did many people find out what she was doing. I hope her work will continue so that at least some part of humanity can be redeemed out of our invasion of Iraq. The ongoing tragedy is that we still have no idea what has truly happened in Iraq, how many are truly suffering, and what we really COULD be doing to help them. People like Marla will always be striving against the machine to shine light in the dark places. I wonder how many of us would be willing to join her?
The only thing we can say now is at least she died doing what she wanted, doing what she really, really believed in. If she were still here, she'd be most worried now about her driver's family and who will take care of all the other Iraqi families she was working with.
She would point out, this happens to Iraqis every day and no one notices or even cares. There are no newspaper articles or investigations into what happens to them. For most of them, there was only Marla.