Quotable

"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Thursday, December 24, 2009

PEACE ON EARTH




Photograph by Zsolt Szigetvary/epa/ CORBIS; NationalGeographic.com: Some 2,000 antiwar protesters with torches form a peace symbol at Heroes Square in Budapest, Hungary, in 2005. The event marked the second anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent Meditation: Born into the Empire

Dear Friends,

These are dark days, both literally and figuratively; the days continue to shorten in the northern hemisphere as we near the winter solstice, and injustice continues to plague much of the world thanks to leaders with little foresight (or insight).  At times like this I look for light, wherever I may find it, particularly fellow peacemakers both living and dead.

As President Barack Obama continues to wield the still mighty sword of the fading empire I find myself referring to Martin Luther King Jr's Beyond Vietnam speech as a meditation on the parallels of the U.S. of the 1960's with the U.S. of today; and the parallels are striking.  They are so striking that one could easily take Dr. King's Beyond Vietnam speech, originally delivered at the Riverside Church, New York, NY, on April 4, 1967, and change key words like Vietnam with Afghanistan, and some of the dollar amounts when referring to the cost of the war, and the speech would resonate as if it had been written today.

One reason that the Beyond Vietnam speech resonates as clearly today as it did over 42 years ago is that it is a speech about empire, and we have been living through empires since Biblical times.  Jesus, that revolutionary Jew, lived in the time of empire, and was one of its victims.  Today, the victims of the empire are many, and are being decimated to feed the machinery of the massive, military-industrial complex that feeds on the blood of its victims.

Many of us now realize that those in positions of political power, for the most part, will not solve problems such as poverty, war and global warming.  We have seen for far too long that powerful interests - financial, industrial and military - are far too deeply embedded in political structures to allow politicians to exercise the will or needs of the people.

And so today babies are being born into an empire just as a baby was born just over 2000 years ago, and each of those children will have the potential to grow into fully functioning human beings, and perhaps into nonviolent revolutionaries with prophetic voice, challenging the structures of power, and leading others to build a world where peace and justice reign.

Dr. King was one of those nonviolent revolutionaries and prophetic voices; he was one of the greatest human rights leaders of all time.  By 1967 Dr. King had become one of the country’s most prominent opponents of the Vietnam War as well as a staunch critic of overall United States foreign policy. In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, Dr. King made a significant leap from fighting for civil rights for African-Americans to morally challenging U.S. dominion over the rest of the world. The “Beyond Vietnam” speech resonates as strongly today as it did then.

Here is a variation on that speech, in a rare audio recording, delivered sometime soon after he gave the full speech at the Riverside Church in New York City in 1967.  It is worth a listen, and I hope you will agree that it is part of his beautiful legacy that beckons each of us to continue the long struggle for peace and justice and to "go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”  Is that not also the legacy of a child born into the empire 2000 years ago??? 

Peace,

Leonard



Read the full text of Dr. King's Beyond Vietnam speech at the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Peace Is The (Only) Way!

Friends,

It was painful listening to President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.  His speech requires little, if any, comment; it speaks for itself, and speaks volumes as to the hubris of this man.  Here is a brief perspective written on the eve of his speech (letter to the editor published in The Seattle Times online edition); this is the unedited version.

************

On the eve of President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech I find myself wondering to whom he will donate his prize money. He doesn’t need it, and there must be countless organizations vying for the 10 million Swedish kroner.

Perhaps in light of his commitment to sending another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, the President could create a fund to help the families of those (both U.S. troops and Afghans) who will lose their lives as a result of his actions.

Of course, no amount of money can truly compensate those who will die, either U.S. or Afghanis, as a result of the hubris of misguided politicians. We can only hope that the voices for peaceful means of addressing conflict will one day (soon) drown out the cacophony of militarism that has led us to this tragic state.

The President might take a lesson from a previous Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King Jr. who (in 1964) was considered by the Nobel Committee to be, “the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence.”

As A.J. Muste once said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

May each of us continue to remind President Obama (and all who seek to justify war) of Muste's wisdom.

Peace,

Leonard

Note:  Since writing this post, John Dear wrote a response to Obama's speech in his column On the Road to Peace titled, Obama's Nobel War SpeechIt is well worth reading!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nobel: Peace IS the Prize

Friends,

On the eve of President Obama's trip to Oslo, Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, we would all do well to consider the context of the President's acceptance of this auspicious award.  We (in the United States) are living an Orwellian nightmare (albeit a subtle one) that, much like Orwell's 1984, involves perpetual war, pervasive governmental surveillance, public mind control (propaganda), the voiding of the rights of citizens, and of course doublethink and doublespeak. Yes - war is peace and peace is war.  Thank you Big Brother.  And thank you, President Obama, for perpetuating the status quo of the previous eight years.

The Nobel Committee, in its infinite wisdom, awarded this year's prize to President Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."  I have not yet ascertained what the committee was smoking when it made its decision, but as I listened to the President speak from West Point to convince the American people and the world that sometimes you have to destroy a village to save it, I was sickened by the falseness of his speech (and of his presidency so far).

Whatever Obama might one day become, he is a long way from becoming a peacemaker as he authorizes more soldiers to fight what has now become his war.  I find myself thinking back to another African American who truly deserved his Nobel Peace Prize.  Martin Luther King Jr. received the prize in 1964, and the only similarity between Dr. King and Barack Obama is the color of their skin.  Dr. King was a peacemaker; he lived and breathed nonviolence in his words and actions.  He moved mountains without firing a single shot, and definitely without hurting or killing a single human being.

Dr, King's Nobel acceptance speech, given on December 10, 1964 in Oslo, reflected his deep faith and life's work.  Here are some highlights:

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.

I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.

I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.

I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid."

I still believe that We Shall overcome!

Gunnar Jahn, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, in the 1964 presentation speech, said that Dr. King "is the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence... Today we pay tribute to Martin Luther King, the man who has never abandoned his faith in the unarmed struggle he is waging, who has suffered for his faith, who has been imprisoned on many occasions, whose home has been subject to bomb attacks, whose life and the lives of his family have been threatened, and who nevertheless has never faltered."

Perhaps that statement sums up the contrasts between the lives of these two people - one who faithfully lived out the life of gospel nonviolence, and one who lives the politically expedient (and astute) life; one a peacemaker, and the other a politician.


Let us hope that as President Obama stands in the Oslo City Hall, he will be humbled by the collective spirits of previous Nobel Peace Prize laureates, and will be moved to reconsider how, as recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and President of the United States, he can earn the right to the prize and move the world towards real peace.  Wouldn't that be a greater goal than getting elected to a second term?
 
After all - Peace IS the Prize!
 
Peace,
 
Leonard

P.S. - You can read the Nobel Laureates' Final Conference Statement from this year's World Summit of Nobel Laureates in my November 30th Nuclear Abolitionist Blog post.
 
References:
 
Nobel Peace Prize 1964 (where you can read Dr. King's entire acceptance speech as well as his Nobel lecture.
 
The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bhopal: 25 Years Later, and Still No Justice

Friends,
Shortly after midnight on December 3rd, 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from Union Carbide Corporation’s (UCC) pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. Between 8,000 and 10,000 people exposed to the deadly gas died that night, and at least 520,000 people (exposed to MIC from that release) suffered (and still suffer) significant illness and premature death.  Even subsequent generations suffer due to continuing exposure to chemicals from the abandoned plant that have contaminated soil and groundwater.

UCC discontinued operation of its Bhopal plant following the disaster and essentially abandoned it.  The plant continues to leak a variety of chemicals and heavy metals into the soil and local drinking (groundwater) water supplies.   Recent samples of water and soil (in two separate studies) from inside the factory as well as water samples from up to 3 kilometers from the accident site showed elevated levels of a number of chemicals.  One of those studies found a "chemical cocktail" in the local drinking water supply, in which the carcinogen, carbon tetrafluoride, was found at a concentration "2,400 times the World Health Organization's guidelines."

Although UCC still claims the accident was caused by sabotage, objective evidence shows that all the factors causing the accident demonstrate UCC’s negligence. The paper trail going back months before the disaster shows a blatant disregard for the safety and health of chemical plant workers and the surrounding community.  The company had cut costs dramatically and laid off a third of its workforce (due to poor sales), and had shut down a number of critical plant safety features that would have prevented the disaster.

Through some very clever maneuvering, UCC’s shareholders and top executives reaped bountiful profits – UCC is now owned by Dow Chemical – while keeping a significant portion of UCC’s assets out of reach of the victims of the disaster.  Now that's some clever corporate conniving$$$

It has been 25 years since the tragic accident at Bhopal, and because of corporate greed and arrogance, and inaction on the part of the Indian government, the people of Bhopal continue to suffer.  Besides a variety of chronic ailments including "some of India's highest rates of gall bladder and esophageal cancers," babies born with serious birth defects are "10 times more common than the national average."


The accident at the UCC pesticide plant was a crime in and of itself.  But the far greater crime was the utter contempt shown by the people running UCC, as well as Dow Chemical, which now owns UCC, by leaving the plant to rot and continue to destroy the lives of human beings who have no other place to go and no other source of drinking water.  This is the story of the ultimate lack of humanity of the corporate machine.  No matter what agreement is claimed between Dow and the Indian government, the chemical company is responsible to clean up its mess. 

It is not too late to clean up the toxic legacy left behind by Union Carbide in Bhopal.  We can call on Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical to demonstrate moral and corporate responsibility by fully decontaminating the site and surrounding groundwater, removing all remaining chemicals, cooperating fully with those assessing health and environmental effects, and making full reparations for health and environmental effects.  Meanwhile, they could provide the residents with safe drinking water!!!

Click here to learn more and send an email to Mr. Liveris (courtesy of Amnesty International). 

The people of Bhopal have endured this toxic legacy for 25 years and still there is no justice. We can advocate to help bring an end to their suffering so they can begin to rebuild their lives and their community. 

Peace (and Justice),

Leonard
REFERENCES:
 
Bhopal: The victims are still being born, in The Independent, November 29, 2009.
 
Bhopal water still toxic 25 years after deadly gas leak, study finds, Guardian.co.uk, December 1, 2009
 
Bhopal’s Water Still Toxic 25 Years After Chemical Disaster, Circle of Blue WaterNews, December 1, 2009
 
MORE READING:
 
The Night Bhopal Was Poisoned In Its Sleep, Tehelka, April 5, 2008
 
Air, Water, Earth And The Sins Of The Powerful, Tehelka, April 5, 2008
 
A Tale of Laughter and Wickedness, Tehelka, September 27, 2007

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Afghanistan: Everything's Coming Up Poppies

Friends,

If you heard President Obama's speech yesterday, you may have had to ingest a massive quantity of antidepressants (as I might have had they been available).  I cannot even begin, nor would I bother, to address the endless rhetoric of that speech.  At any rate, I woke up this morning and realized that nothing had changed overnight, or over the past 8, or should I say nearly 48 years (since Eisenhower's farewell speech warning us of the dangers of the military-industrial complex.  In the struggle between militarism and peace, militarism has bulldozed any hopes for a peacful solution to the intractable situation the U.S. has created in Afghanistan.
It would seem that the massive war machine has, like the creatures in some zombie movie, taken over the President's mind, and destroyed any ability to understand the folly of his actions.  Aljazeera sums it up for us: 

Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, a former prime minister of Afghanistan, expressed disappointment with Obama's speech and his strategy.  "Sending more troops is not the solution to the Afghan crisis," he said.  "I was expecting Obama to announce the withdrawal of 30,000 troops within two months but unfortunately, he did the opposite which will increase killings of both Americans and Afghans."  And reacting to Obama's announcement by email, a Taliban spokesman told Al Jazeera that they were pleased with the decision to send more US soldiers.  "More troops just means a larger target for us to hit ... by increasing its forces in Afghanistan, Obama is just giving more power to the Mujahideen to recruit and receive the support of the civilian population." (Afghans react to Obama troop plan, Aljazeera, December 2, 2009)

But hey, the President has it all figured out, so don't worry.  In honor of his speech, let's take a brief intermission and listen to his new theme song, Everything's Coming Up Roses (perhaps it can be re-written: Everything's Coming Up Poppies) by the legendary Rosemary Clooney.


O.K. - Now we can get back to business, and the business of the day is putting a stop to this madness called escalation.  It isn't over yet; Congress still has to approve the President's request.  Of course many in Congress are ready to shout "AYE!!!" when it comes to a vote, but we the people still have a say in the matter (even if we don't have huge funding behind us like the defense industry lobby), and I hope we will all shout "NAY!!!" at the top of our collective lungs.  Let's push this to the top of Congress' agenda and pressure them to debate the issue and put it to a vote.

CLICK HERE to learn more and email your representative at Just Foreign Policy.  And then ask your family, friends and people on the street to do the same. 

Just one tiny comment on the President's speech.  Here is what he said towards the end: "But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last."  As the underpinnings of the U.S. economy continue to unravel, prosperity becomes a pipe dream.  Even as over 50% of our tax dollars are spent on the military, that does not come close to the actual costs, and we drive ourselves (and future generations) deeper into debt.  One of the experts on Public Radio this morning was asked about funding the escalation, and as he spoke of how we will just have to find the money, he also said that we will "have to cut some luxuries."  I didn't know there were any luxuries left.  Perhaps he was referring to "luxuries" like education, health care, diplomacy and the environment.

We will NEVER "rebuild our [economic or moral] strength here at home" until the day that we spend more on true diplomacy and foreign assistance (as well as programs of social uplift here in the U.S.) than we spend on the military.

Peace, 

Leonard


Readings for Perspective:

Afghans react to Obama troop plan, Aljazeera, December 2, 2009

Face down the militarists and get out of Afghanistan. No strings attached, Guardian.co.uk, November 17, 2009 (opinion piece from a British point of view)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Afghanistan - Time to take to the streets!

Friends,

If you were on a game show and were asked how many more troops are needed to "win" the war in Afghanistan, would you answer, a)20,000, b)40,000, c)80,000, or would you rephrase the question, providing an option of ending the war, gradually pulling out the troops, sending real humanitarian aid, and ending the corrupt rule of the warlords and druglords?

Based on the U.S. (and "allied") experience to date, it is evident that the past eight years in Afghanistan have been a miserable failure in every way. We have pillaged the U.S. Treasury to conduct an illegitimate occupation that has left Afghnanistan a mess, fed a corrupt government, created a strong insurgency (and Taliban), and thoroughly destabilized the region (e.g. Pakistan).  So what's a president to do???

Go for the photo op!  Stand up at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) flanked by sharp, young cadets (a strong military symbol) and remind the nation of his promise the week before to "finish the job" someone else started eight years prior.  Well, it was a lousy job to begin with (you can't build a house without a decent plan), and this house is destined to collapse before it's completed.

Increased military operations in Afghanistan will only serve to sell the ranks of the extremists, and fighters will continue to join up from not only inside the country, but also from countries like Kashmir, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and Turkey.  We should heed the words of Canadian Major-General Andrew Leslie who said, "Every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you're creating fifteen more who will come after you."


It is time to stand up, take to the streets and make our voices heard over the drums of war.  Short of a national strike (don't count on that), there will be responses planned in many cities across the United States. Check the Veterans for Peace Website for their Call to Action Against Afghanistan Troop Increase.

Find an event, call as many friends as you can, and get out and protest (nonviolently of course).  Bring signs and banners.  Get some musicians out there.  Let's raise our voices for PEACE, because war is NOT the answer.  And once we're done with that, we can get back to educating our members of Congress and the public about what we should be doing in Afghanistan (more on that in a subsequent post).

Peace (and Happy Thanksgiving),

Leonard  

We still need to flood The White House (and Congress) with phone calls telling the President to NOT send any more troops to Afghanistan.  The toll free number for The White House is 1-888-310-8637.  You can find phone numbers for your Representatives by clicking here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Afghanistan - Finding Our Humanity

Friends,

Into the ninth year of the Afghanistan occupation, and the numbers of dead U.S. soldiers keep ticking off - 800, 801, 802... 850 (as of 11/19, source: icasualties.org).  Each of these numbers has a face, and if you live in the U.S., you have very likely seen photos published in your local newspaper of soldiers from your state who died in Afghanistan (or Iraq).  Each loss is tragic, and as Howard Zinn once said, "every one of them was a person who deserved to live a full and successful and happy life. You see what was lost."  He was speaking of how, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, no effort was spared to put a human face on the story of those who died in those horrific attacks, not so much to remember each of the victims, but to stoke the fires of support for the Bush administration's plans to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.  But that statement applies to the loss of Afghan lives no less than the victims of 9/11 or U.S. soldiers.

Instead of embracing our humanity and mourning the loss of lives, the faces (of 9/11 victims) were lost to us in a whirlpool of powerful symbols of U.S. dominance and power in which we were drawn into the blood lust for revenge.  In that revenge we have caused the loss of lives of Afghans well beyond the numbers of U.S. and coalition lives lost.  But we (the Pentagon) do not keep a count of Afghanis killed in our occupation of their country, and rarely do we see the faces of their dead (or wounded).  The people of Afghanistan have faces too, and if we could see the faces of all the innocent men, women AND children killed, maimed or blinded, perhaps our own humanity would overwhelmingly take over, making us take to the streets to say, "ENOUGH KILLING!"

As President Obama prepares to announce his decision regarding the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, I hope that each of us will dig deep within to find our humanity, and choose to speak out and let the President know that it is time to stop the killing and create a just foreign policy related to Afghanistan (and the rest of the world).  There are many voices screaming at the President, advising him on what he should do in Afghanistan; to whom will he listen???  Will he find his humanity???

Call the White House today (Toll Free 1-888-310-8637, courtesy of Peace Action) and tell the President - NO MORE TROOPS! Humanity can't wait!  What are you waiting for?  Get on the phone!  It's much more powerful than an email (you may have to wait on the line just a bit).  And tell everyone you know to call!

Be prepared, however, to be disappointed by the President's announcement.  He may very well call for a surge of troops should he neglect to heed the lessons of history (of both Afghanistan and Vietnam).  Be prepared to take to the streets.  Check out Veterans for Peace CALL TO ACTION for more information. 

Hoping (and Working) for PEACE,

Leonard

Photo Credit:  A wounded Afghan boy lies on a hospital bed in Kandahar September 29, 2009.

(REUTERS/Stringer).  Associated article:  No Refuge For Afghan Victims of Violence, in CommonDreams.org, October 26, 2009

Read Howard Zinn's thought provoking article, The Others, in The Nation, January 24, 2002.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Malalai Joya - Speaking Truth to Power

Friends,

When you sit down in a church to hear an author on a book tour, and her bodyguard, who served two tours in Iraq (that in itself is a story***), reminds everyone that there have been five attempts on the author's life and that if "anything happens", you should get down as low as possible, and by all means do not block the center aisle since that is where he will take her to get her out as fast as possible, you know you are in for an interesting evening.  That was my introduction to Malalai Joya, who has been called (among other things) "the most dangerous woman in Afghanistan."

Malalai was in Seattle this week as part of her U.S. book tour, and my wife and I were fortunate to be able to hear her passionate plea on behalf of the Afghan people.  Her book, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, co-written with Derrick O'Keefe, is much more than her story.  It is the story of the plight of the Afghan people, a people who have engaged in a long struggle for autonomy in a world where nations with (too much) power far too often intervene in other less powerful nations' affairs and exert control over them.  For the Afghans it has been (over the past couple centuries) the empires of the British, the Soviets and finally the United States (aided by its allies).

As Malalai says in the introduction to her book, "In Afghanistan, democratic-minded people have been struggling for human and women's rights for decades.  Our history proves that these values cannot be imposed by foreign troops.  As I never tire of telling my audiences, no nation can donate liberation to another nation.  These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves.  They can only grow and flourish when they are planted by the people in their own soil and watered by their own blood and tears." 

As President Obama considers how many more troops to send to Afghanistan he would be wise to listen to Malalai.  Those words from her introduction apply universally, and could just as easily have been referring to the American Revolution.  But we in the U.S. are poor students of history, and are easily manipulated by the massive, grinding machinery of greed, power and war.

The truth about Afghanistan (and the Afghan people) has been shrouded by smoke and mirrors, by the political doublespeak of our nation's leaders, and mostly parroted by the corporate press.  That ugly truth is that since 9/11 and the initial toppling of the Taliban from power, there has been no justice, no democracy, and no women's rights. 

You might wonder why there have been death threats and assassination attempts on Malalai's life.  While in a near democracy like the U.S., we have constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, in a nation ruled by warlords, drug lords, fundamentalists and the U.S.-backed puppet government of Hamid Karzai, it is more than dangerous to speak the truth; it is virtual suicide.  And yet, this brave woman refuses to compromise.  She speaks truth to power, and hopes that the world will listen (and act). 

Malalai holds up the truth like a bright light we cannot avoid.  She quoted an Afghan saying: "The truth is like the sun: when it comes up nobody can block it out or hide it," and as she said the other night, "No superpower can even block its light."  Her hope is that her story will (and I paraphrase) keep that sun shining and inspire each of us to "work for peace, justice and democracy."

Malalai lays out what the outside World can do to help Afghanistan, and makes it clear that foreign governments (starting with the U.S.) "must be pressured by their people" to make these things happen.  The key elements in what she calls "The Long Road Ahead" (Chapter 14) are "End the War, Send Real Humanitarian Aid, Put an End to the Rule of the Warlords," and "Withdraw All Foreign Troops."  Her reasoning for each of these steps is compelling.  You will have to (and should) read the book for the details.  It is eye opening! 

In the U.S. we must start by pressuring the President and Congress NOW to send no more troops, and create an exit strategy.  Take action at the links in the "Actions" section at the top of this blog, and if you are able, use the phone instead of emailing your messages.  A phone call has a much greater impact than email. 

Get out and protest.  One major protest coming up (according to Malalai's coauthor, Derrick O'Keefe) will be on February 15, 2010 when there will be a huge protest in Vancouver during the Olympics against the war in Afghanistan.  It will take place 30 years after the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics initiated by President Jimmy Carter targeting the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

Help the Afghan people directly$$$$$.  Little of the $7 million a day (the U.S. spends $100 million a day for the war) in international aid for reconstruction reaches those in need; it lines the pockets of corrupt politicians, warlords and drug lords.  We can help get money to small projects run by Afghans that actually benefit the people.  The Afghan Women's Mission works with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) providing health, educational, and other programs for Afghan women.  RAWA is the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women's rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977. 

All of us engaged in the struggle for peace and justice know that it is our coming together in solidarity that makes us strong, and as Malalai says at the end of her book in referring to the struggle of justice for Afghanistan, "It will be a long struggle.  A river is made drop by drop.  But if we can unite for justice and democracy, our people will be like a flood that no one can stop."

May each of us contribute to that flood.

Peace,

Leonard

***More Than a Footnote:  Malalai's bodyguard during her visit to Seattle, James Dahl, served two tours in Iraq, was shot, stabbed, and blown up.  The second roadside bomb sent him back to the U.S. where he spent a long recovery at Madigan Army Hospital, Fort Lewis.  His head injury was so severe that the doctors did not believe he would ever even remotely approach normal functioning.  He proved them wrong.  He now provides security for people at the rate of $1000 per day.  After spending one day with Malalai and hearing her speak, James was so moved that he provided security for her during her entire visit at no charge.
Further Reading:  U.S. Is Doing No Good in Afghanistan, by Malalai Joya, published in San Jose Mercury News on Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let's Really Honor Veterans - Support HR 3699

Friends,

There has been quite a bit of discussion surrounding Veterans Day on the radio today about the psycholocigal effects of war on returning veterans and how to help them.  But I have not heard one word about preventing psychological trauma by keeping these men and women from ever having to engage in war in the first place.  While we continue to pour ever increasing amounts of tax dollars into war, we spend a trickle on efforts at peacemaking.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon, President and Congress quibble over how many more troops to send to Afghanistan.  When will the madness end???  When we, the people, stand up and say ENOUGH!!!  I share the following request from Peace Action asking us all to honor our troops by keeping them home.  The invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated that peace can not be won at the point of a gun.  Now is the time to tell Congress to fund peace, not war.

Peace,

Leonard

P.S. - Learn more about HR 3699 at govtrack.us.

Summer's last sunflower at the fence separating Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action from the Bangor Trident nuclear submarine base

************

In 1954, President Eisenhower declared that Veterans Day would be a national holiday where "all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose" of peace. In honor of all the veterans who have lost their lives in war, it is time to put war behind us. Ask your Representative to support HR 3699 to prevent funds for more troops to Afghanistan.

This Veteran's Day we must reflect on the steps forward and backwards we have made in this pursuit. Today will be a day to mourn for all those who have lost their lives because of war. Not only American veterans, but the people who have lost their lives needlessly in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Peace Action would urge all people to honor our troops this Veteran's Day by e-mailing your Representative in Congress and asking her or him to keep our troops safe by keeping them home. E-mail your Representative here and tell her or him to support HR 3699.

Sincerely,

Paul Kawika Martin
Political Director
Peace Action

P.S. (from Leonard) - A phone call is even more powerful than an email.  Click here to find your Representative's phone number.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day - No Honor In Killing

Friends,

What began in the United States as Armistice Day (November 11, 1919), a day to commemorate the signing of the armistice and remember those who died in the "War to End All Wars", World War I, has metamorphosed into something quite different long since that day.  It is now a day to honor all military veterans, and in a very real sense has become another opportunity to glorify war and perpetuate the myth that it is sweet and right to die for your country.

The church has been complicit as it has allowed the day, which is essentially a secular holiday, to invade the sanctuaries, but that should come as no surprise.  War and the church have been inseparable for roughly 1700 years since Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 AD, after which Christianity rose to become the dominant religion in the Roman Empire.  Imagine that!!! 

One of the finest literary portrayals of the corrupt relationship between church and empire was penned by Mark Twain.  He wrote his anti-war prose poem, The War Prayer, in 1904 as a way of venting his disgust at the Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War. Twain despised the blind patriotism and religious fervor that he saw as motivations for war. He submitted the manuscript to Harper's Bazaar, which rejected it (saying it was far too controversial for its time). Twain agreed, but decided that it should be published after his death; he said that, "None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth."

How can the church live with such contradictions???  Can a church be both a war church AND a peace church???  Can we have it both ways???  Can there be any honor in killing???  Let us hope (and work) for the day when soldiers can put down their weapons and find jobs that don't require them to kill.  And let us remember ALL who die in wars, and redouble our efforts to end war. 
 
Peace,
 
Leonard

The War Prayer, by Mark Twain


It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory --

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory -- must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Monday, November 2, 2009

For All The Saints

Friends,

In honor of All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) I thought I would share this poem, honoring saints both living and dead.  Yes, there are saints among us. 

Peace,

Leonard

*************

FOR ALL THE SAINTS

by Leonard Eiger

There are saints among us;
They come into this world,
Children of God,
People of flesh and blood.

They walk the earth
With humility;
Doing justice,
And loving kindness.

There are saints among us;
Some we barely knew in life,
But in their deaths
They live on in our hearts.

Revered by some,
Hated by others,
Always loved by God;
They gave of themselves.

There are saints among us;
We feel the mighty wind
Of their collective works
That lifts us up, gives us hope.

Working in different ways,
But all with one purpose;
That others may live,
That others may be whole.

Oh, there are saints among us;
And we praise their names
With all our hearts
And all our voices.

So let the bells toll
in joyous celebration
for all the saints,
known and unknown.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

(Affordable and Universal) Health Care For All!!!

Friends,

I have avoided getting into the health insurance fray; there are enough people battling over that one, and we've got enough problems trying to stop more than one occupation of a foreign land, and prevent the next war. But since you asked - YES, we need universal health care! At very least we need to ensure that any legislation coming out of Washington, D.C. at least:

  1. has a national public health insurance option,
  2. ensures that health care is affordable,
  3. funds any programs through progressive taxation,
  4. requires employers to pay some fair share of employee health benefits, and
  5. reigns in abusive practices by insurance companies.

O.K., that's it. I've said it. Isn't it time to take the GREED out of health care? How about Health Care instead of Warfare? Is it my imagination, or are people questioning and challenging health care/insurance issues far more than the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan??? I will close with something from the One Poster Is Worth A Thousand Words department. It makes the point, don't you think???

For all the money that is being thrown around to resist the "public" option and ensure that the insurance industry (and other big players) get what they want, we could probably help provide health care to millions of people in need. It's simply a function of the Biblical question: "Where is our treasure?"

To Everyone's Health (and Peace of Mind),

Leonard

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Like Mice Walking Into The Same Trap... Over, and Over, and Over...

Friends,

It was in the fall of 2002. The U.S. had invaded Afghanistan the previous fall, and the drums of war were steadily beating, signifying the Bush administration's intention to invade Iraq. The most potent image of that time (that is still etched into my consciousness) is that of a poster much like the old World War II vintage Uncle Sam posters. But what is striking about this one is that instead of Uncle Sam, it is the image of Uncle Osama. Yes - my old friend Osama bin Laden with his finger pointing straight out as he says, "I WANT YOU TO INVADE IRAQ."

In small print below that it says, "Go ahead. Send me a new generation of recruits. Your bombs will fuel their hatred of America and their desire for revenge. Americans won’t be safe anywhere. Please, attack Iraq. Distract yourself from fighting Al Qaeda. Divide the international community. Go ahead. Destabilize the region. Maybe Pakistan will fall -- we want its nuclear weapons. Give Saddam a reason to strike first. He might draw Israel into a fight. Perfect! So please -- invade Iraq. Make my day."

This was a brilliant, creative work of political art, designed to make us step back and think about the consequences of such an insane action as that being cooked up within The White House. What is tragic is that just about everything in that brief statement has come to fruition over the course of the past eight years. And now, even as we see the disastrous combined effects of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama seems prepared send more troops to Afghanistan and finish fulfilling the prophecy.

Not only is Pakistan dealing with serious internal problems directly related to the U.S. action in Afghanistan, but Israel may yet be drawn in to the maelstrom, not by Iraq or Afghanistan, but by Iran, which is pushing the envelope with its nuclear gambit. This is a critical time to think about nothing else but stabilizing a seriously unstable region, and as there is absolutely no military solution to any of the problems in any of these countries, it is time for the U.S. civilian leadership (think Commander In Chief) to take charge and start listening to people with a full understanding of the history of the region and not simply the experts in military strategy.

The self-proclaimed greatest military power in the world made Osama bin Laden's day when it invaded Iraq, and now, as it contemplates escalation in Afghanistan, bin Laden must be absolutely jumping for joy. This is the time to keep up the pressure on the President and Congress to de-escalate and work towards ending the occupation of Afghanistan. We can do better (and smarter).

Read the Friends Committee on National Legislation's 4-point strategy for ending the madness in Afghanistan. It's a sound strategy that can work, but it will require strong support from the people working in opposition to the current strategy (or should I say lack of strategy).

Then I Want You To Let Obama and Congress know what you think (if you haven't already)! You can use the links at the top (right column) of this blog under "Actions You Can Take Right Now!"

In Peace,

Leonard

P.S. - The Uncle Osama poster was created for/by TomPaine.common sense, and was run in U.S. major print media during September 2002. You can view the large (pdf file) version by clicking here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Malalai Joya - "The Bravest Woman in Afghanistan"

Friends,

In the United States we tend to hear (at least from the mainstream, corporate press) few options for the Afghan people after eight years of occupation by U.S. and NATO (a bit player) - either increase the numbers of U.S. forces or pull out and leave the country to the evil Taliban. It is, as are most of the arguments laid down by the U.S. foreign policy elite, simplistic, and demonstrates either a vast disregard of history and the current situation, or utter and complete ignorance, or perhaps both.

The situation that the foreign occupiers have created in Afghanistan owes much to the legacy of empire and its illegitimate child, colonialism, and the way the Western world has done business for hundreds of years. The only difference today is that the U.S. leads the way in conducting this dirty business, but it is essentially the same old ugly game, and the results for the Afghan people have been tragic.

Enter a dissenting voice, but not one from the United States; rather a voice from Afghanistan itself, and what is most incredible is that it is a woman's voice. Malalai Joya has been called "The Bravest Woman in Afghanistan" by the BBC, and I do not doubt that she, and countless other Afghan women, have bravely stood up to the male-dominated, fundamentalist power structure.

After spending her early years in Iranian and Pakistani refugee camps, Malalai returned to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan where she worked with underground organizations helping women. She was elected to the Loya Jirga that wrote Afghanistan's constitution, and then to the Parliament in 2005. She was suspended from Parliament in 2007 "after saying it was worse than a stable, because at least 'in a stable we have animals like a cow which is useful in that it provides milk, and a donkey that can carry a load.'" Now that is speaking truth to power!

Malalai continues to speak out just as forcefully, and always for the good of the Afghan people, as when she was in Parliament. You can read an interview with her at Foreign Policy in Focus, in which she gives an exceedingly clear picture of the mess we have created in eight years of occupation, and why the U.S. military (or any other military) cannot be part of the solution .

Malalai will soon be in the U.S. on a speaking tour; you can check the schedule by clicking here. If you are interested in the Canadian leg of her tour, click here. I know that the majority of you reading this blog are in Washington State, and YOU are in luck! Malalai will speak in both Seattle (Nov. 11) and Bellingham (Nov. 12). This is an extraordinary opportunity to hear the uncensored truth from one who recaptures the true essence of patriotism.

Meanwhile, go to United Against Afghanistan Escalation to see your Legislators' positions on increasing troops in Afghanistan, and call on them to oppose escalation. Time is short! Act NOW for Peace!

Peace,

Leonard

Read the interview with Malalai Joya at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Check out: A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, C2009, by Malalai Joya.

Read the special issue of The Nation that takes on the rationale(s) for escalation in Afghanistan.

Bonus Reading: How to get out of Afghanistan, By Hugh Gusterson 12 October 2009, in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Convergence of Mercy and Justice

Friends,

Tent City 4, a mobile encampment of homeless people on the east side of the Seattle area, is about to move again. The encampment, started in 2004 by Seattle Housing and Resources Effort (SHARE) and Women's Housing Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL), provides shelter for up to 100 people, and is hosted solely by various faith communities in east King County, Washington.

As Tent City 4 is a "temporary encampment", it moves approximately every 90 days to a new location. Its next location will be Bellevue First United Methodist Church (BFUMC). Joe Matsen, who co-chairs the church's tent-city committee, spoke of his church's desire to host the encampment saying that, "we are admonished to look out for less fortunate people - that's part of the Biblical background. And we think this is a crying need, particularly now" (Seattle Times, October 4, 2009, Page B5).

Joe is absolutely right that there is "a crying need" to house the homeless, and he is also correct in saying that looking out for the less fortunate is only "part of the Biblical background." And there is where things often get messy. Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop in Latin America, once said, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist." The situation with homelessness is much the same. Feed them, temporarily shelter them, but God forbid we should ask why they are homeless and try to change the conditions that put them out on the street.

The faith communities that host Tent City 4 create a convergence of charity and justice. Justice - that other "part of the Biblical background." Tent City is a very visible - although actually very low key in its physical presence in the community - symbol of homelessness, and forces people to face and think about the issue. The thinking and subsequent dialogue are needed to change attitudes, and ultimately bring about an end to homelessness.

Everywhere Tent City 4 goes at least some people voice concerns that crime will increase and that their children will be in danger. In some cases there has been vocal dissent in surrounding neighborhoods, and various cities as well as King County have established land use codes specific to Tent City 4 in order to balance the desire of faith communities to host the camp with the concerns of some of its neighbors. With the upcoming move to BFUMC, there has been "considerable dissent" in the quiet neighborhood surrounding the church. If you ask the police in communities that have hosted Tent City 4, you will hear that crime did not increase, and in fact, "crime usually goes down during a tent-city encampment." I have been to Tent City 4 (when bringing supplies for its residents), and can attest to how well its residents take care of their camp and each other, and respect their neighbors.

Any preconceptions I may have had about homelessness were washed away on a visit to Tent City 4 on a very cold December day in 2005. Some residents invited me for coffee, and through the conversations I got to see them as much more than the homeless statistics we always see in the news. It was almost dinnertime, and many residents were arriving back at camp from their day's work or looking for work, but what struck me was the resident returning wearing a United Parcel Service uniform. He was a seasonal employee helping during the holiday rush; another version of the working poor.

It doesn't surprise me that BFUMC will be hosting Tent City 4. With the wise leadership of Reverend, Dr. Beryl Ingram and a receptive congregation, BFUMC is creating a convergence of mercy and justice that is the essence of Christianity. And that is no small thing in a world where most of us (Christians) think we are doing great things when we engage in charity (to the exclusion of justice). The prophet Micah reminds us that we are "to do justice, and love kindness" (Micah 6:8 paraphrased).

Watch the video to get a more personal look at Tent City 4. You can learn more about homelessness and what we can all do about it at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. And support your local tent city. We can (and must) do better!

Peace,

Leonard

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bases Loaded (But This Ain't No Game)

Friends,

A Chinese proverb says that "one picture is worth a thousand words." One map, however, can be worth thousands of military bases, in this case U.S. military bases. At one time it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire; well, the sun finally did set on that one. Another empire took its place, and judging by the map, the sun never sets on the U.S. Empire these days. But as with all empires, the sun will, indeed, set one day on the U.S. Empire, as desperately as the warmakers try to sustain this global militaristic beast.

I thought it would be valuable to show in graphic fashion just how large the U.S. military empire has become, with nearly every continent hosting the U.S. military. The most recent data used for this map was from 2007. I would hazard a guess that there are at least a few more dots on the map since then; it is highly unlikely that we would give up any of those "strategic" assets we have worked so hard to acquire (even though a nation occasionally threatens to throw us out).

(Click on the map for the full size version.)

The government's aspirations for AFRICOM, the U.S. military's long arm reaching deep into Africa, most likely include one dot on the map for each of the 53 African nations!!! The official AFRICOM 2009 Command Brief (very slick marketing here folks) makes the U.S. military look like some kind of humanitarian organization instead of a massive, global oil protection force. Even though we don't yet have all the actual bases in place, it looks (based on the Command Brief map) like we have a presence in at least 35 nations already; definitely the proverbial foot-in-the-door!

One has to wonder just how much all this is costing us, and just how sustainable it all is. After all, it sucks huge amounts of human and financial capital, and natural resources. We spend a fraction of the total national budget on things like education,health care and energy, yet anywhere from 43 to 57 percent (depending on whose numbers you trust) is free flowing to the military, and is increasing under the Obama administration!

Ask your Congressperson to cut the military budget. You can personalize the email message at Voters for Peace (and while you are at it, ask why we need so many overseas military bases).
Click here to send your message. I hear that Aruba is a nice place to go on holiday, but do we need a military (counter-narcotics) base there???

Peace,

Leonard

You can view the full-size map of U.S. military bases by clicking here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Peace IS the Prize!

Friends,

PEACE, that elusive commodity, is something for which we all hope, but for which only some work. The announcement of the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 came as a shock for many of us in the peacemaking community. The statement from the Norwegian Nobel Committee said that this year's prize "is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." Click here to read the full press release.

Although President Obama has, indeed, made progress in mending international relations after the debacle of the previous 8 years, I would argue that his first nearly 9 months in office does not constitute any yet significant work towards a world without nuclear weapons. Yes, he has started in the right direction, but has a long way to go. Perhaps we will be able to better judge his "work" once the results of the 2010 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference are in.

I always thought that John F. Kennedy should have been given the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously for giving so much of himself (and ultimately his life) to prevent nuclear Armageddon during his time in office. If not for his heroic efforts working with Soviet Premier Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, you would most likely not be reading this blog, and heaven knows whether humanity would have survived the massive exchange of nuclear weapons that would have ensued had his efforts failed. His sacrifice gave us a second chance; I can only hope we are using it wisely.

The day before I heard the Nobel Committee's announcement, I spent some time with Father Bill "Bix" Bischel, a Jesuit Priest from the Tacoma Catholic Worker. If you are familiar with the Catholic Worker Movement, you know that it is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every person. 76 years since its inception, "over 185 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and foresaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms" (source: catholicworker.org).

The Catholic Worker is unique among "religious" communities (at least as I have experienced them) in as much as it truly embodies the words of Micah 6:8, "and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (source: New Oxford Annotated Bible) I have found that most Christian communities are good at charity, but when anyone even whispers the word "justice", the people cringe in the pews. Charity feels good, but when asked to pick up the cross and carry it, the people get squeamish. Justice is messy!

And that has been the problem of the church for roughly 1700 years. It has mostly practiced charity, while the word "justice" is rarely uttered, or is practiced when convenient. The Catholic Worker, however, has embodied Micah 6:8 in its purest form, serving the poor while working to change the conditions that often make them poor, and all the while doing it with humility.

When Bix is not working at Guadalupe House, which is itself a full time job, he can be found working for justice, including engaging in nonviolent resistance to nuclear weapons at the nearby Trident nuclear submarine base. Bix understands that nuclear weapons, and the militarism surrounding them, sucks money from desperately needed programs of social uplift. Bix would much rather lift up the poor than a bunch of weapons makers.

As I look at the photo of this humble peacemaker, knowing his history as well as the history of the movement of which he is part, I nominate the Catholic Worker for the Nobel Prize, and I trust the Nobel Committee will give them due consideration next time. They would surely put the prize money to good use. At any rate, I know the prize is unimportant to them; the good people of the Catholic Worker Movement don't do this work expecting anything but the joy they receive from the work itself.

The prize they want (and everyone should want) is simply PEACE!

Working for Peace,

Leonard

Note: The photo of Father Bix was taken on October 7, 2009 in front of the U.S. District Courthouse, Tacoma, Washington, while bannering and leafleting for Keep Space for Peace Week. Photo by Leonard Eiger.

For a thorough analysis of Kennedy's journey from Cold War Warrior to Peacemaker, I highly recommend James Douglass' book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters.

Click here
to learn more about the Catholic Worker Movement, and click here to check out the Tacoma Catholic Worker.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Afghanistan - Peace at the Point of a Gun?

Long enough have I been dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war. (Psalm 120:6-7)
************
Friends,

Today is the anniversary of the day (October 7, 2001) the United States, under the presidency of George W. Bush, invaded Afghanistan. It was a monumental blunder that has resulted in the loss of lives (particularly Afghan civilians and U.S. and allied soldiers), destruction of the environment, a resurgence of the Taliban, and the potential destabilization of Pakistan. Not bad for 8 years of occupation, eh???

Under a new administration we are hearing the same old party line based on the adage, "If your only tool is a hammer..." And so, the U.S. keeps trying the bigger hammer, but with unsatisfactory results. No matter what arguments the President, Pentagon and members of Congress roll out to justify increasing troop levels and increasing the use of drones and other technology, they ring hollow, just like those who speak them.

These hollow men (and a few women) who sit safely in Washington, D.C. are unable to think beyond the need to "save face", even as they condemn those they send to do their bidding, as well as the innocent afghans, to the horrors of war. As with wars past they will continue to throw good after bad, until finally one day they will be forced to withdraw in defeat (even though they will find an acceptable euphemism). The only real question is "HOW LONG???"

If history is any indicator of the folly of our actions in Afghanistan, the U.S. war there was doomed from the beginning. Afghanistan has (sooner or later) beaten its invaders and sent them off well bloodied, whether the British who from 1839 to the early 1900's tried to control Afghanistan and were defeated each time, or the Russians who were defeated after just over 9 years (Dec. 1979 to Feb. 1989) of fighting. This is surely a case where the third time is not the charm.

I suspect that those of us who will be standing in front of Federal buildings (and other places) today, speaking out against this war (and all war), will register as no more than a blip in the news. But we will do what we can to rouse our fellow citizens out of their malaise, and perhaps one day (hopefully not too far off) we will shut down the wheels of commerce with our numbers, and bring the war makers to their knees.

Let us never stop testifying that true peace is not won at the point of a gun.

Peace, Peace, Peace,

Leonard

Credit: Cartoon found at http://www.brandywinepeace.com/calendar.html.