Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 9/20/2005 [Archive]

Potter For Peace Does Business In War Zone

Potter for Peace Does Business in War Zone

By Bill Steigerwald

President Bush has won an unlikely ally for his nation-building experiment in Iraq -- a 62-year-old pottery professor/farmer with a white beard named Dick Wukich.

Wukich is a lifelong working-class Democrat from Pittsburgh. He was against going to war in Iraq. He calls Bush and Cheney 'frauds.' And he's a globe-traveling member of Potters for Peace, an international organization of ceramists whose politics are as leftist as its name sounds.

But today Wukich, a burly, serial do-gooder who has been teaching ceramics at Slippery Rock University north of Pittsburgh since 1968, is -- of all things -- an official Department of Defense contractor in Iraq.

How a strict George Washington noninterventionist -- who raises horses and cattle on a 238-acre farm and is on a personal mission to bring clean water to the poorest parts of the world -- became an enthusiastic supporter of President Bush's military adventure in Iraq is a twisted tale.

It starts with Wukich's pals at Potters for Peace (potpaz.org). Since 1998, the group has been developing and 'marketing' a ceramic water filter for rural and poor households in places like Nicaragua and Sudan.

The low-tech filter, a mix of clay and sawdust, is fired in a kiln at 1,600 degrees and treated with a small amount of colloidal silver. It fits into a five-gallon plastic bucket and produces about two gallons of potable water per day.

Miraculously, it also eliminates 99.88 percent of the water-borne diseases that Wukich says kill about 11,000 children a day around the world -- all for as little as $10 per unit.

Wukich, for political, spiritual and ceramic reasons too complex to explain, initially made two trips to postwar Iraq -- alone and on his own dime -- in early 2004 to see about setting up a ceramic water filter factory there.

But in March 2004, when American contractors began being killed in gruesome ways, he had to leave Iraq for what he thought would be forever.

Meanwhile, in a town east of Baghdad, an Army civilian affairs officer in charge of fixing local water problems had serendipitously sent Potters for Peace an e-mail asking for advice.

The group's leadership did not exactly leap at the chance to help the U.S. military invaders of Iraq. But as soon as Wukich found out about the request from Capt. Rick Nardo, he quickly flew back to Iraq to meet him.

After lots of paperwork and security clearances, Wukich became a DOD contractor in Iraq with the U.S. military as his enthusiastic partner and protection service. So far, his mom-and-pop Halliburton, PlainGrove Pottery, which he runs with his wife Barbara, has cost taxpayers $7,000.

Wukich plans to go to Iraq later this year for a month to set up three filter factories. Eventually, he'd like to see Iraqi potters opening up factories like McDonald's franchises. Next year, Slippery Rock U. will open a filter factory to train people from around the world.

Wukich is no peacenik, he's a patriotic, pro-military libertarian. He still doesn't like President Bush. But he thinks we have a moral responsibility to fix a country that, like a valuable clay pot, we have broken.

But socialist or capitalist, liberal or neocon, Wukich doesn't worry about labels. The only politics that matters to him in the long run, he says, is 'the politics of clean water. Either you're for it or against it. It's pretty simple.'

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at bsteigerwald@tribweb.com.© Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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