Sunday 6 October 2013

by Amanda Lee & Chin Wye Mun, Junior 1 Cempaka, Class of 2014

"I remember when we took my granddaughter to the first exhibition we had, and she went around quite blank, keeping her emotions in. Then, all of a sudden she burst out crying. She couldn’t believe that children her age somewhere else were going through all this. And when you listen to the victims in the Commission, in the hearing, you tear up at their stories, at what happened to them, it's just unbelievable."

She was a regal lady, dressed in a pastel pink baju kurung and pearls resting demurely around her neck, with her white handbag in her lap as she sat in the chair. Her gentle demeanor and warm voice definitely relaxed us, as nervous and excited as we were at having the opportunity to interview such a respected figure in the Malaysian society. Though soft-spoken, her words rang with a deep passion that was undeniable. Sooner or later, we found ourselves loosening up and immensely enjoying the engrossing discussion.  

Just last friday, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah—one of the founders of the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Criminalize War (KLFCW), as well as a few other VIPs including Tun Dr Mahathir and Dato' Yaacob Merican (Secretary-General of the KLFCW) graced our school with their presence on behalf of the launch of the Criminalize War Club in Cempaka Cheras. It was a momentous occasion indeed, and it was with great honor and a dramatic flourish of drumroll (literally), that the Criminalize War Club was officially launched in Cempaka Cheras. Armed with the objective to create awareness among students on the criminality of war,  several CWCs are already sprouting up across Malaysia, ready to assist in the campaign against war; Cempaka being the first private international school to do so.

First off, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah explained the justification behind criminalizing war and the main reason why the KLFCW was formed. To quote Albert Einstein, "Killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder." How is one justified to wage war on terrorism, when war itself is an act of terrorism? How can one man kill another, just because of a mere uniform, because some higher power decreed them to do so? How can one man ask another, to kill

"If a person kills another person, it’s murder and the killer will be charged and punished for it. Why is it then, that when in wars, when there are thousands, hundred thousands, millions of people, regardless of age, the perpetrators are just killing and killing without being charged. In fact, they’re glorified, given medals, statues and become heroes. Isn’t it unfair?"

Why do we electrocute men for murdering an individual and then pin a purple heart on them for mass slaughter of someone arbitrarily labeled “enemy?” - Sylvia Plath

The worst part is, the innocent undoubtedly suffer the most. People who had nothing to do with the war, the weapons, the money or greed. 

I was ordered to go in there and destroy the enemy... 
That was my job on that day. 
That was the mission I was given. 
I did not sit down and think in terms of men, women and children.
- Lieutenant William Calley, testifying before a court-martial in defense of his actions in My Lai, 1970

Killing becomes so automatic, deaths so inevitable that slowly the humanity drains out. We only hear the reports and spoken numbers—the death toll. A hundred dead, a thousand dead, a million dead. People forget that there are names and faces behind those numbers and statistics. We forget that each number is a life lost. Each number is a father, a mother, a child.

"The victims of this war are usually mostly the non-combatants, just ordinary people. The children, the women, they are the ones who suffer, paying the ultimate price of death just because someone who is so greedy or whatever motive or agenda they had decided to have them killed. We had a conference regarding the impact of war on children, and that's when we decided that we should begin to teach children to be aware of what war is. We started CWC for the children. We want peace but there will be no absolute peace if war is not stopped legally," clarified Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah. 

"We have war when at least one of the parties to a conflict wants something more than it wants peace." - Jeane Kirkpatrick

Besides forming Criminalize War Clubs in schools, the KLFCW also aims to spread the notion of promoting peace through professional fields such as the medical, legal and scientific fields. When asked on how they planned to initiate this movement, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah explained that it was crucial to first give the people a clear view of what war is.

"First thing before we start any of these projects, you have to tell the people first about what the whole thing is about, that means like a campaign of awareness. Even in the medical field, we must first talk about what is war actually.”

Amanda Tiew, head of the YJC editorial in CILC also posed a question that we felt had much relevance in our situation. Our country being blessedly untainted by the ravages of war, the younger generation may find it hard to relate and empathize with war crimes as compared to people who have actually lived through wars and 'eaten the salt'. How can we bridge the gap?

"Because you’re not born during wartime, you’re born with peace around you, you have everything. To make the younger people aware, we must for example, encourage them to to attend conferences and to listen to the speakers who talk about war. That’s why the exhibition is very important, and there’s nothing like going to places where there are still relics of war like Vietnam and Cambodia. I’m very fortunate to have been to places where they have had conflicts—Hiroshima after the war and Nagasaki. Photographs related to people who have been victims of war in that time and place are particularly important. I remember when we took my granddaughter to the first exhibition we had, and she went around quite blank, keeping her emotions in. Eventually she just burst out crying. She couldn’t believe that children her age somewhere else were going through all this. And when you listen to the victims in the Commission, in the hearings, you tear up their stories—what happened to them, it’s just unbelievable."

KLFCW is trying to achieve what ordinary courts refuse to undertake. According to Dato Yaacob, “All this actually started when a British peer by the name of Lord Russel had this view that the war in Vietnam was an unjust war, but those who committed that unjust war are still left free. So what he wanted to do was to get a team of concerned people all over the world as jurors, and he called in people to give evidence about the Vietnam War. Some of the people who came as witness were people who ran away from drafting soldiery to places like Canada. It became a 'tribunal of conscience'. In our case, we wanted to do something better. We wanted to have a panel of judges who listen to cases like an ordinary international court. The only thing we don’t have is the power to punish them. We are hoping that countries who are brave enough, who care enough about criminalizing war will take it upon themselves to arrest these people based on our evidence if they were to go into their country.”

For example, there was one KLFWC tribunal two years ago, in which George Bush and Tony Blair were found guilty. Though people laughed because the KLFCW had no power to enforce anything, certain countries like Belgium, said that they would act on KLFWC’s behalf on their evidence, to arrest the perpetrators should they step into their country. 

“So we have done something,” says Dato Yaacob. “It will take a long time, but then again it took thousands of years to abolish slavery.” And as Dato Freida says, "It is people like us who will make the difference. It is the younger generation of today who will become leaders, the ones who will vote for leaders in the future." Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah also stressed on communication being the key to preventing wars:

“Young people of today have to think twice about the conflicts of war. A family is like a strong block, where everything fits in very well. But once there are any pieces that don’t fit, then the whole thing will crumble and if there are any conflicts within the family what do you do? You don’t kill each other, you sit down and talk and get the problems out. Its a matter of contact and communication. You have to communicate with each other."

With that, plus a reminder from Dato’,"Next time when you become leaders, remember this," the interview came to a close. The efforts and objectives of the KLFCW are admirable. Having the courage to do what some cower from, this organization stands firm, dedicated to their cause and devoted to doing the world justice, standing for those who can’t stand for themselves. They embrace that the movement will take some time, but doing something is better than nothing at all. As Dr. Yaacob has stated, it took thousands of years to abolish slavery (with traces still left behind). Similarly, the fight against war will undoubtedly take time, whether it be years, decades or centuries. But if armed with the same resilience and spirit that started this motion, it's possible. 

"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime."
-Ernest Hemingway

To check out Limelight's (Cheras) part of the Interview, click here. CILC will also be covering this exclusive interview in their Sparks Magazine!
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