Steve Garber is, among other things, a San Diego plumber, poet and Zen practitioner who decided to make a difference in the futures of the US and Iraq. This is expressed in a movement to organize Americans willing to offer the Iraqi people—and all others involved in America’s longest war—a personal apology for the trauma, loss and devastation inflicted by American and coalition arms.
Garber was inspired by the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu while listening to an interview with the Archbishop conducted by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. Tutu, to say the least, has said much on reconciliation and the need to recognize the transformative power of forgiveness during and after his term as chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Created by Nelson Mandela’s Government of National Unity in 1995 to help South Africans come to terms with the legacy of Apartheid, Tutu’s efforts recognized the need and realized the benefits of reconciliation as a way to reclaim dignity, humanity and personal integrity from the past for both victims and perpetrators of violence to help create a future for both less poisoned by history.
Garber’s response to Tutu’s message led him to create an “Apology Project”— a collection of short videos made by individuals expressing remorse for the invasion of Iraq intended to be made available to all those impacted by the war. This includes American and coalition soldiers as well as the Iraqi people.
Sometimes known as the “I’m Sorry” project, Garber says that his aim is to “encourage healing through dialogue between all those involved in the Iraqi conflict.” After a slow start, the number of videos sent to the project increased to a steady stream of short declarations from people everywhere; mostly the result of word of mouth dissemination. “This is Mike from Austin, Texas. I’d like to say I’m sorry to the American and coalition forces, the Iraqi people and each of their families for the loss and suffering they have experienced because of this conflict.” Another said, “Hi, I’m Ben from Bisbee, Arizona…I feel that war is a travesty and it pains me to think that so many have suffered so much resulting from the violence. I’m sincerely sorry.” Many others are in a similar vein—usually just a few seconds long—as people step up to assert themselves and individual sense of being involved in events not of their choosing. As Garber is quick to point out, the Project is not about politics or even the Iraqi War as much as it is about empathy—to acknowledge human suffering and recognize the pain of all those who suffered and so to pay them respect as fellow humans. It’s also about circumstance. Perhaps the contributors to the project feel a sense of responsibility as well as sorrow and are willing to own their expressions to those afflicted from what they could not stop. Participants in the project become more than mere spectators to events; they empower themselves to do what Tutu describes as the first step toward a future with more respect between peoples, acknowledgment of suffering, loss and a chance for progress with less ill will between those peoples affected by war.
The project grew into the WMD foundation started by Garber; Wisdom, Mediation and Dialog is dedicated to creating more peaceful communities throughout the world by echoing Tutu’s message. Continuing the development of a nonviolent philosophy to resolve conflict that can be used by a wide audience, the WMD Foundation has attracted a core of talent to its board skilled in communications, conflict resolution, negotiation and outreach that seeks to broaden its power by linking up with other like-minded groups. To that end, Garber and WMD associate Alexis Dixon met with Desmond Tutu on May 12 in Tacoma, Washington, to seek support and advice from the man that inspired them. As it turned out, Tutu did not recall the Goodman interview but was moved by Garber and Dixon’s wish to further dialogue toward a better world. The Archbishop listened and approved of the mens’ work and noted that those calling people to their higher selves can expect grave challenges along the way. “We are giants who want to remain dwarves,” Tutu told them. In the end, the Archbishop told them that what they are doing is good work and that he would pray for them. He emphasized that prayer is an action, heavy with meaning, and that dialog takes time.
The WMD Foundation is a noble attempt to bring some change into a world marred by lack of respect, transparency and empathy. Millions of people who had nothing to do with the Iraq War faced violence that overwhelmed them; their posterity will echo their pain for generations to come and their history will carry the stain of these times permanently. Others, mislead by cruel manipulators safe from harm, lost their lives and futures too, and this is the spur that moves a plumber from San Diego to stand up and be counted as a voice of reason and sanity for a growing number of people willing to assert their common humanity to tell those who fought on our behalf—as well as those who were our adversary—“I’m sorry.” The future, Garber asserts, can’t move forward without that acknowledgment.
WMDfoundation.org will offer the interested person information on how to say something that matters.