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

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama's War - It's Poetry


Occasionally I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the challenges to building a peaceful world and must step back for a moment (or a few days) and take a deep breath before going on. Thanks to a deep spiritual grounding along with the support of family and a strong community of peacemakers, I always get back on track fairly quickly. Today was one of those getting-back-on-track days.

I met with a couple of fellow peace activists and one of the first things Tom dropped in my lap was a powerful poem called "Obama's War", by Dennis Serdel, a Vietnam combat veteran. Dennis served one tour from 1967 to 1968 in the Americal Division, 11th Brigade, Light Infantry. Dennis is now a member of Veterans for Peace #50 and Vietnam Veterans Against The War, Perry, Michigan. His poetry has appeared often on the Internet "GI Special". Dennis was invited to read some of his poems at a meeting of Iraqi Veterans Against the War last year in New York City.
Just the other day I had started a (still unfinished) blog post titled, "Every President Has His War" resulting from my frustration over President Obama's pursuit of military escalation in Afghanistan. I was saved from my case of blogger's block with the "gift" of this poem. I'm sharing it here as I want this blog to be a vehicle for other voices (for peace) besides mine, and I want to introduce you to others who you may not otherwise discover. So here is one of Dennis Serdel's most recent poems, Obama's War.

Obama's War

The heart of darkness
goes drones
away from the killing
on a computer screen
eye teeth upon key pads
digital DEATH all capital
letters and the password
is called KILL so war
tortures the people below
like McCain dropping
the bombs on Vietnam
no observation no remorse
no for Christ sake
I killed children old men
families that are gone
with the click of a button
like a trigger no what
have I done steering
the unmanned drones
not one of us gets killed
that way no Special Opts
no Navy Seals dead just
Soldiers without fancy
names wearing caps
stateside like the
Green Berets
as a woman who has
lost all of her family
is rigged up and blows
up and kills two Army
Soldiers four policemen
are wounded she has
fought back the only way
she knows how by
sacrificing her own life
as the war switches over
to Afghanistan Pakistan
in an air war
except for the grunts.
......Dennis Serdel, 2/09

If you were touched by Dennis' poem, he has published a book of poetry by the title, "Peace Speaks From The MIRROR", that you can purchase directly from him. Books are $12 plus $4 for postage and mailer (total cost $16). Make your Money Order or Check payable (and send your order) to Dennis Serdel, 339 Oakwood Lane, Perry, Michigan, 48872. Orders paid by Money Order are sent the next day; Personal Checks after 3 days.

And while you are at it, you can read more poetry by other members of Veterans for Peace by clicking here. You can also learn what Veterans for Peace thinks of the President's Afghanistan plans by reading its February 23rd press release.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Afghanistan; Can You Say O C C U P A T I O N?


The American people seem to be obsessed with the word WAR. It (and the language associated with it) infuses our national dialogue. We have the official wars on drugs, poverty and terror; and of course we have had the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Besides the obsessive-compulsive nature of such behavior (a psychologist's dream), I hate to burst the people's bubble, but the so-called wars in Iraq and Afghanistan really aren't wars at all. Of course the U.S. engaged in acts of war when invading these nations. But after the dust settled and Saddam and the Taliban were unseated, the U.S. quickly became an occupying power.

Yes! These are O C C U P A T I O N S in the classic sense of the word. And if one believes the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, the definition of occupation, "Invasion, conquest, and control of a nation or territory by foreign armed forces" sums it up. An occupation is an occupation, no matter how a nation attempts to package it, even if these nations seem to have their own governments. And now the U.S. is preparing to ramp up the occupation of Afghanistan, all in the name of an endless War on Terror (the Energizer Bunny doesn't have anything on this baby).

If you didn't contact the President and Congress in response to my previous post, a large number of organizations have since called on people to resist escalation in Afghanistan, and call for a commitment to diplomacy and addressing the needs of afghans, including health care, education, security and rights of women. Pick one of the following organizations to contact our leaders in Washington, D.C. Raise your voice for policy that will bring real peace to the region and help eliminate the need for war, especially a useless and counterproductive War on Terror.

Friends Committee on National Legislation (to write your members of Congress)

CREDO Mobile (to write to Defense Secretary Gates)

Also check out Afghanistan 101 at CodePink.

Lastly - Here is the text of a letter to President Obama, courtesy of Voters For Peace.

Letter to President Obama
I read with disappointment your announcement of a 50% increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It comes just after an announcement that there was a 40% increase in civilian deaths in Afghanistan last year. More troops will lead to more civilian deaths and lead to more hatred of America. This is a counterproductive strategy that will escalate into a quagmire.And, with Pakistan on the border and the acknowledgment that the U.S. government is attacking al Qaeda and the Taliban, and killing civilians, from Pakistan the U.S. is risking becoming engaged in a civil war in that country. Military escalation is once again leading to a dangerous and counterproductive quagmire that could undermine your presidency.I am pleased that your administration is reviewing the strategy and goals of Afghanistan. This is an opportunity for a major shift in policy to more effective alternatives. It is past time to emphasize diplomacy, education and economic development to bring Afghanis and Pakistanis to America's side. The focus on al Qaeda should be built on regional security agreements as well as targeted forces that can bring their leaders to justice - a public trial so the world can see the full story. The Taliban is a political force in the region that must be acknowledged and brought into negotiations. Military attacks are making them stronger, not weaker.Since the U.S. spends half its discretionary spending on the military and more on military marching bands than on diplomacy it is not surprising that the tool the United States uses is military force. But, it is a counterproductive tool. It is time to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and build up more effective approaches. The reliance on military force shows that a paradigm shift is needed in U.S. foreign policy, away from militarism and domination to cooperation, multilateralism and diplomacy.Diplomacy and foreign aid will also be less expensive than the military option - which is the most expensive and least effective alternative. We cannot afford the Iraq and Afghan wars. It is time to end both, bring all troops and private security contractors' home and focus those resources on rebuilding the U.S. economy.

There IS a non-military option, and it IS the better (and more sane) one. We just need to convince those who control the purse strings to channel the money to non-military (real) solutions.



Sunday, February 15, 2009

Drones or Development, or Show Me The Love


Valentines Day has passed, so we can drop the pretense about love. Let's face it; for all the talk of love, for all the roses, for all the chocolates, for all the Hallmark cards, we just aren't getting it. Romantic love aside; the original love children (also known as Christians) still haven't gotten that love thing down, even a couple thousand years after the death of the very person who showed us the way and gave his life for it.

From my experience in the church, we are good at loving each other (those within the church community) but not so good at showing the kind of Agape love that is meant for all humankind. So in a very real sense we are practicing conditional love, and I've always understood that to be the unhealthy kind, and definitely NOT the kind of love that Jesus lived and taught. Why am I hammering on my fellow Christians? Because we represent over 75 percent of the population of the United States (based on 2001 figures), and that means we are pretty well in control of the decision making process that includes making WAR.

While President Obama is laying the groundwork to gear down in Iraq (a good thing), he is concurrently preparing to gear UP in Afghanistan (a very bad thing - just think "Soviet Union"). It's not just that we will get mired in a larger, intractable occupation (which is already going less than well); but the worst thing is that we will end up applying even more violence than was used by the Bush administration, creating more and greater suffering and death on all sides. And to what end? Is this "change we can believe in"???

(Soviet) history has already cleared the smoke from the crystal ball, if we dare to gaze within. Military action (and its associated violence) will never transform Afghanistan into anything more than a heap of larger rubble and suffering, and create an even richer breeding ground for hatred towards America (and the West), and you know where it goes from there. It is time to stop this madness and dare to imagine different approaches to creating stability in countries like Afghanistan, as I described in a previous blog post; see Three Cups of Tea (and a Skateboard). We need far fewer Predator drones and far more development aid.

Father John Dear laid out a different road map for U.S. engagement in Afghanistan in his February 10th blog post, War is not 'change we can believe in'. It is well worth reading, and when you finish, I hope you will be convinced to take action to prevent an increasing cycle of violence (and suffering) in Afghanistan. The kind of change we CAN believe in does not contain the word WAR. Indeed, War is NOT the answer. Love is.

As Father Dear says, What we need is "nonviolent change we can believe in." I propose the immediate removal of our troops and a massive inflow of aid to abolish poverty, illiteracy and disease. In Afghanistan and Iraq. War will fail to cut the roots of terrorism. Active peacemaking is the only solution.

Let the President and your members of Congress know that you support development, not drones; nonviolent solutions over violent ones. You can send an email to President Obama, or click here to find contact information for you Senators and Representative. We need to counter the drums of war; speak out for peaceful alternatives! Isn't THAT the kind of change we can believe in?



Read more on U.S. plans for Afghanistan in Aides Say Obama’s Afghan Aims Elevate War , in the New York Times.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

"At The Root of All War Is Fear"


I receive a Weekly Reflection from The Merton Institute for Contemplative Living. In these reflections one finds wisdom from many of Thomas Merton's writings. The passage quoted in the past week's reflection was from a book in my collection, New Seeds of Contemplation. So I dusted it off and re-read it.
Merton had (in his time) found that still, quiet place in which he could see himself and the world with a remarkable clarity, and he articulated the human condition with profound (and raw) sincerity. Here is last week's reflection from the chapter titled, The Root of War Is Fear:

At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.

Merton understood those things that we are unable to face; fear, guilt, and every other possible human shortcoming. He further understood that it is very much a part of the human condition to ease those burdens on ourselves by passing them on to others. He saw this being raised to a form of high art during the height of the Cold War in the 1960's when, as a society, the United States turned Communism into the greatest enemy anyone could possibly imagine, and built up the most fantastic machinery of war with which to fight it (and annihilate ourselves in the process).

It is ironic that many of those who claim Christianity as their own are the very ones who helped build up the very weapons (during the Cold War) that could cause the ultimate genocide, the very destruction of life on Earth. And, during much of the past eight years the United States has, by the creation of a vast state of fear and distrust, prosecuted an endless war on terror that has led to endless human suffering, economic distress and (ironically) an increased risk of terrorism both towards the U.S. and its allies.

And then there is Thomas Merton, the gentle monk who left behind a depth of contemplative wisdom that, if we are honest enough to look within, could help us (particularly those who claim Christianity in one form or another) out of the mess we have created and down the road to peace. As Merton reminds us,

What is the use of postmarking our mail with exhortations to "pray for peace" and then spending billions of dollars on atomic submarines, thermonuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles? This, I would think, would certainly be what the New Testament calls "mocking God" -- and mocking Him far more effectively than the atheists do.

Later in this chapter, Merton elaborates on praying for peace:

When I pray for peace, I pray not only that the enemies of my country may cease to want war, but above all that my own country will cease to do the things that make war inevitable. In other words, when I pray for peace I am not just praying that the Russians will give up without a struggle and let us have our own way. I am praying that both we and the Russians may somehow be restored to sanity and learn how to work out our problems, as best we can, together, instead of preparing for global suicide.

Merton wrote these words during the Cold War, but they seem to apply just as well to the post Cold War world as the United States keeps doing the things that make war inevitable. What will it take for us to change course and turn away from war, seeking real peace? Perhaps Merton's final thoughts in this chapter provide some clarity:

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice,hate tyranny, hate greed -- but hate these things in yourself, not in the other.

May each of us find that still place in contemplation where we can see both within and without, and may peace begin within each of us,


Quotes in this post are from New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton, (New York: New Directions Press, 1961): Chapter 16, The Root of War Is Fear, Pages 114-125.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Memo to Obama - Sack William Lynn!


The plot sickens! President Obama promised the American people that he would uphold the highest ethical standards, and yet he has already started down that slippery slope of exceptions to his own rules in the nomination of William Lynn as Deputy Secretary of Defense. You can read more details in my previous post. If you think Daschle was a "screw-up" on the President's part, then think of Lynn as a MAJOR SCREW-UP!

Here is the most recent news on the nomination from the New York Times. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the nomination of a senior executive at a major military contractor to be the Pentagon’s second-highest-ranking civilian, clearing the way for a vote in the full Senate. The panel had withheld approval of the nomination of the executive, William J. Lynn III, left, until its ranking Republican, John McCain of Arizona, was satisfied that Mr. Lynn would not be hobbled by the conflict-of-interest restrictions on decisions that could affect the contractor, the Raytheon Corporation, where Mr. Lynn was a lobbyist until 2008. (NY Times, February 6, 2009)

It is gratifying that McCain and his colleagues are so satisfied. According to The Associated Press, in the first three months of 2008, Lynn and his lobbying team spent $1.15 million in an effort to influence buying decisions on missiles, sensors, radars and other technology and intelligence programs. (FederalTimes.com, January 22, 2009) That is some serious lobbying ($$$$$) power; don't you think? I don't think that a company like Raytheon, or those who have worked for the company (and now work for the government) are ever "hobbled" by any restrictions whatsoever!

It is unconscionable that the President continues to pursue the nomination of an individual who works for a company - and in a key position within that company - that has been responsible for 17 (known) instances of fraud related to its extensive government contracts. Whatever his previous government experience that supposedly qualifies him for this new job, his experience at (and ties to) Raytheon creates a blatant conflict of interest, no matter how he "divests" himself of his current financial stake in the company.

If the President is to take the moral and ethical high ground he must not make exceptions of this type. Nor should Congress allow such exceptions. Although the Senate Armed Services Committee has just approved the nomination, it is not too late for the President to do the right thing and withdraw Lynn's nomination. If you haven't already done so, you can send an email to President Obama urging him to withdraw William Lynn's nomination as Deputy Secretary of Defense!

We need independent thinkers with no potential conflicts of interest in such key positions, and we must remind the President of his responsibility to maintain his own professed ethical standards at all times. When it comes to ethics, there can be no exceptions!



Click here to send an email to President Obama courtesy of Voters for Peace. While there, consider signing up to get their Action Alerts.

Read more on the Lynn nomination at The Huffington Post.

Photo Credit: Undated photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense of William J. Lynn while Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller).

Sunday, February 1, 2009

GET The Lobbyists OUT of the Pentagon - TAKE ACTION!

Dear Friends,

President Obama has named his nominee for Deputy Secretary of Defense, and his choice makes me ask, "What the HELL is going on here?" William Lynn, Obama's choice for the position, is a classic example of the revolving door that supports and strengthens the United States military-industrial complex.

After his time at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and National Defense University's Strategic Concepts Development Center, Lynn worked for Senator Edward Kennedy in defense/Armed Services-related areas. After further government posts, including serving as Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) under the Clinton administration, Lynn left for greener pastures.

Following a brief time at CDI international, a management consulting firm, Lynn went for the BIG ONE - senior vice president of Government Operations and Strategy at RAYTHEON Company (in 2002)! This is the big time baby (Click here for Lynn's juicy financial picture at Raytheon). Raytheon was (at that time) the third largest defense contractor, and he was senior VP of the how-to-milk-the-government-for-everything-you-can department. This is a classic example of the path many people take who have previously worked on the inside (of the U.S. Defense Department).

President Obama established pretty rigorous ethics rules for his administration, including a "waiting period of two years between lobbying activities and working for the administration on the same issues" (Wikipedia). And now he has waived those rules (which this clearly violates) for William Lynn. Does this look like the classic revolving door to you??? Perhaps this guy has a great deal of government experience, but his conflicts of interest are staggering.

This GOLDEN revolving door is what has made the military-industrial complex what it is today - the strongest, largest, and dangerous entity in the world. It is (to a large extent) what keeps the gears of war grinding at an ever increasing pace through the U.S. government's direct military actions and the fueling of conflicts and wars all over the world through weapons sales and twisted foreign policy. It is what makes people like William Lynn rich. And while it does so, it eviscerates every program of social uplift in the United States as it drains the nations Treasury.

It's time to STOP the revolving door, bring an end to the corruption, to say NO to the military industrial complex. Please join Voters for Peace in taking a first step to getting the lobbyists out of Washington. Send a message to the Senate Armed Services Committee telling them to REJECT Lynn's nomination. Then, urge the President to withdraw Lynn's nomination and replace it with someone who will be truly independent.

Like Nancy Reagan used to say, "JUST SAY NO" (to War)!



NOTE: You can find more great satirical posters like the one above (and much, much more) at the Project for the Old American Century.

Watch President Eisenhower introduce the concept of the "military industrial complex" to America in 1961.