Thursday, September 21, 2006

The First Day of the First Grade & The War

In the life of a child there are times she learns about sounds, he opens his eyes and discovers a new world to start a new era. None of these occasions is as important as the first day of the first grade for many. It is a day that many depart from home to discover classrooms, to meet friends, to learn to write to read and to become part of another society: school.

There are many sounds one learns on this day; screams, school’s principle voice, teacher’s voice, the sound of hundred students talking to each other, the sound of children playing soccer and ….

It was 26 years ago and I was one of those faces with wondering eyes looking at my new treasure; a light brown bag of some leather like substance, pens, pencils, crayons, notebooks and books. Across Iran that day thousands were rejoicing and wondering around theses items as they were jewels of ancient kings, thinking of the day they would become pupils. The sound we discovered that day was unlike any we had expected.

“Alert, Alert, This the Red Alert for Aerial Attack go to the Shelters, seek shelters.”
“Tavajoh, Tavajoh, Alamati ke hamknoon mishenavid Agir ghermez ya alamat khatar e hamelye havaayi ast, be panahgaah beravid.”

Saddam was invading Iran, dozens of cities were bombarded, and Iraqi army in three task forces crossed the international border. Iran was in a state of chaos, armed forces suspected by revolutionary leaders were disorganized, their officers under arrest, suspicion, or suspension.

But country rallied. Iran was under attack, there isn’t any more persuasive argument than that for Iranians. Air Force retaliated, Army set up defenses around cities and re-organized its divisions, and volunteers filled the ranks of Basij & IRGC. They charged Iraqi positions in frontal attacks unheard of since World War I. For the first time in 150 years Iranians pushed the aggressor out of their territory. They shed blood, tears and sweat to do so.

Saddam announced that it was going to be a quick victory. War lasted for 8 years. It transformed Iranian society and left scores of villages and towns in ruins. Thousands perished defending Iran; their number varies from 300’000 to 1’000’000. Thousands more wounded and maimed. World silently watched Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian 18-years-old soldiers. Hundreds died, hundreds more were left to suffer for years to come. Many still suffer from their wounds.

War also shaped Iran’s psychic and emphasized the fact that no one in the world cares about the fate of an Iranian individual; civilian or military. No one opposed Saddam’s aggression; no Arab leader condemned his use of chemical weapons. In fact many helped him. That fall a smiling King Hussein of Jordan fired a canon toward Iran. Egyptian pilots flied for Iraqi Air Force.

Iranians found themselves to be alone and isolated, in a way that a tyrant was actually allowed to commit any crimes against them without fear of international punishment or opposition. They still remember that lesson.

The war also changed the Middle East forever; Saddam used his military machine against Kuwait, a former ally, and created such a threat that was to be faced by the largest international coalition since the Second World War. Today Iraq is in danger of civil war as a consequence of that act of aggression in 1980. For Iraqis war never ended since that day.

We first graders of 1980 did not know that day, but the world outside our homes changed forever and so did our homes and families. Some lost a father or a brother. 8 years later war was all we knew, its noises too familiar. Peace had became a forgotten dream. Today I hope and pray no other first grader anywhere in the world has ever to discover the sound of this beast, the first day he or she explores the world outside. Today I pray for the souls of those who died and for the sufferings of those who survived. Today let's remember them.

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