In October, actor Sean Penn spent $56,000 on an advertisement accusing President Bush of jumping the gun to go to war with Iraq. Penn accused Bush of not seriously debating the issue.

Sean Penn's Open Letter to President Bush

Published in the Washington Post on October 19, 2002

An Open Letter to the President of the United States of America

Mr. Bush:

Good morning sir. 

Like you, I am a father and an American. Like you, I consider myself a patriot. Like you, I was horrified by the events of this past year, concerned for my family and my country.

However, I do not believe in a simplistic and inflammatory view of  good and evil. I believe this is a big world full of men, women, and children  who  struggle to eat, to love, to work, to protect their families, their  beliefs,  and their dreams. 

My father, like yours, was decorated for service in  World  War II. He raised me with a deep belief in the Constitution and the  Bill of  Rights, as they should apply to all Americans who would sacrifice to  maintain them and to all human beings as a matter of principle.  Many of your actions to date and those proposed seem to violate every  defining principle of this country over which you preside: intolerance of debate ("with us or against us"), marginalization of your critics, the promoting of fear through unsubstantiated rhetoric, manipulation of a  quick  comfort media, and position of your administration's deconstruction of civil liberties all contradict the very core of the patriotism you claim.  You  lead, it seems, through a blood-lined sense of entitlement. 

Take a  close look at your most vehement media supporters. See the fear in their  eyes as  their loud voices of support ring out with that historically disastrous  undercurrent of rage and panic masked as "straight tough talk." How  far have we come from understanding what it is to kill one man, one woman, or  one  child, much less the "collateral damage" of many hundreds of  thousands. 

Your  use of the words, "this is a new kind of war" is often accompanied by  an odd  smile. It concerns me that what you are asking of us is to abandon all previous lessons of history in favor of following you blindly into the  future. It worries me because with all your best intentions, an enormous economic surplus has been squandered. Your administration has  virtually dismissed the most fundamental environmental concerns and therefore, by  implication, one gets the message that, as you seem to be willing to sacrifice the children of the world, would you also be willing to sacrifice ours. 

I know this cannot be your aim so, I beg you Mr. President,  listen to  Gershwin, read chapters of Stegner, of Saroyan, the speeches of Martin Luther King. Remind yourself of America. Remember the Iraqi children, our children, and your own. There can be no justification for the actions of Al  Qaeda. Nor acceptance of the criminal viciousness of the tyrant, Saddam  Hussein. Yet, that bombing is answered by bombing, mutilation by  mutilation, killing by killing, is a pattern that only a great country like ours  can  stop.

However, principles cannot be recklessly or greedily abandoned  in the  guise of preserving them.  Avoiding war while accomplishing national security is no simple task.  But  you will recall that we Americans had a little missile problem down in  Cuba once. Mr. Kennedy's restraint (and that of the nuclear submarine captain, Arkhipov) is to be aspired to.

Weapons of mass destruction are clearly a threat to the entire world in any hands. But as Americans, we must ask  ourselves, since the potential for Mr. Hussein to possess them  threatens not  only our country, (and in fact, his technology to launch is likely not yet at that high a level of sophistication) therefore, many in his own region would have the greatest cause for concern. 

Why then, is the United States, as led by your administration, in the small minority of the world nations predisposed toward a preemptive military assault on Iraq? 

Simply put, sir, let us re-introduce inspection teams, inhibiting  offensive  capability. We buy time, maintain our principles here and abroad and  demand  of ourselves the ingenuity to be the strongest diplomatic muscle on  the  planet, perhaps in the history of the planet. The answers will come.  You are  a man of faith, but your saber is rattling the faith of many Americans in you. 

I do understand what a tremendously daunting task it must be to stand in your shoes at this moment. As a father of two young children who will  live  their lives in the world as it will be affected by critical choices  today, I  have no choice but to believe that you can ultimately stand as a great president. History has offered you such a destiny. So again, sir, I  beg you,  help save America before yours is a legacy of shame and horror. Don't  destroy our children's future. We will support you. 

You must support us,  your fellow Americans, and indeed, mankind. Defend us from  fundamentalism abroad but don't turn a blind eye to the fundamentalism of a diminished citizenry through loss of civil liberties, of dangerously heightened presidential autonomy through acts of Congress, and of this country's mistaken and pervasive belief that its "manifest destiny" is to police the world. 

We know that Americans are frightened and angry. However, sacrificing American soldiers or innocent civilians in an unprecedented preemptive attack on a separate sovereign nation, may well prove itself a most  temporary medicine. 

On the other hand, should you mine and have faith  in the  best of this country to support your leadership in representing a strong,  thoughtful, and educated United States, you may well triumph for the long haul. 

Lead us there, Mr. President, and we will stand with you.


Sean Penn
San Francisco, California

Actor Sean Penn Visits Baghdad
By The Associated Press

Sunday, 15 December, 2002

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Actor Sean Penn visited a Baghdad children's hospital Friday, saying he came to Iraq for a better understanding of the crisis with the United States.

Penn said only that he was ``very glad I'm here'' when he arrived at the Al-Mansour Children's Hospital. He refused to talk further with reporters or allow them to join his tour of the hospital, saying he needed privacy with the sick children.

In a statement issued here and in Washington. D.C., Penn said that ``as a father, an actor, a filmmaker and a patriot'' his visit to Iraq ``is for me a natural extension of my obligation ... to find my own voice on matters of conscience.''

Penn said he was happy that he had a chance ``to pursue a deeper understanding of the conflict'' and hoped that ``all Americans will embrace information available to them outside conventional channel.''

Penn's three-day visit to Iraq was organized by the Institute for Public Accuracy, which has offices in Washington and San Francisco.


Sunday, December 15, 2002

Text of Statement by Sean Penn At News Conference in Baghdad

The actor and director Sean Penn made the following statement at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday afternoon:

"I am a citizen of the United States of America. I believe in the Constitution of the United States, and the American people. Ours is a government designed to function "of"-"by"-and-"for" the people. I am one of those people, and a privileged one.

I am privileged in particular to raise my children in a country of high standards in health, welfare, and safety. I am also privileged to have lived a life under our Constitution that has allowed me to dream and prosper. In response to these privileges I feel, both as an American and as a human being, the obligation to accept some level of personal accountability for the policies of my government, both those I support and any that I may not. Simply put, if there is a war or continued sanctions against Iraq, the blood of Americans and Iraqis alike will be on our hands.

My trip here is to personally record the human face of the Iraqi people so that their blood -- along with that of American soldiers -- would not be invisible on my own hands. I sit with you here today in the hopes that any of us present may contribute in any way to a peaceful resolution to the conflict at hand.

I thank Norman Solomon and the Institute for Public Accuracy for facilitating my visit."

Sean Penn
December 15, 2002

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