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

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Talisman Saber - Anything but Charming


While most of the world has been focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, Honduras... (and the list goes on), the U.S. and Australians have been getting some exercise of the military kind. Actually, they engaged in a huge joint training exercise in Central Queensland, Australia, called Combined Exercise Talisman Saber '09. Beginning on July 6 and ending July 25, the exercise involved over 24,000 military personnel, and cost an estimated $250 million in taxpayer dollars.

Why do adults need to play such expensive war games? According to Brigadier Bob Brown, "This exercise aims to improve Australian and U.S. combat readiness and interoperability across the full spectrum of operations - from humanitarian operations and peacekeeping to counterinsurgency and conventional war." So there you have it; I suspect that when translated from militaryspeak, it means, "this exercise allows us to play with every possible toy at our disposal in every possible scenario." I guess when the military is working so hard in places like Iraq and Afghanistan they need to let off a little steam and have some fun down under.

You might think that $250 million could (and should) be better spent in improving foreign relations (through foreign assistance) and conflict resolution and other vital services that are provided not by the military, but by foreign service personnel. In the U.S. we have so consistently and drastically underfunded civilian foreign policy for so many years that the foreign service is now grossly understaffed and without a mission (although some would have their mission dovetail with the mission of the U.S. military).

A few brave Australians of conscience (many of them Catholic Workers) decided to resist the militaristic machinations in Central Queensland, and (after announcing their intentions) covertly entered the restricted area where the exercise was being held. Three of them were subsequently captured, but the other four were able to avoid capture, even after searches using all the technology (and search dogs) available to the military. They evidently evaded capture for at least a week. Well done!!! You can read more and see photos of the crafty anti-war activists by clicking here.

By now you are wondering just what is the point of my rambling. The point is that if your only tool is a hammer, or in this case, bullets, bombs and missiles, that is what you are going to use. Besides the deadly violence inherent in military action, it just doesn't work (in the long run). And lest we forget, 90 percent of those who die in today's wars are civilians! The solution is civilian-based foreign policy based upon respect and applying proven methodologies of foreign assistance and nonviolent conflict resolution.

Sadly, the creative resistance of the Australian anti-war activists will go unnoticed by most of the world thanks to the news media's lack of interest. If you are interested in changing the balance of U.S. foreign engagement from military to alternative (peaceful) methods that include civilian foreign engagement (diplomacy) and assistance, check out Just Foreign Policy. These folks believe in "a more multilateral approach to foreign relations—one that relies less on raw U.S. military and economic power and more on international law and treaties, co-operation, and diplomacy." Now there is a novel concept!!!

And don't forget the Friends Committee on National Legislation's (FCNL) Peaceful Prevention of Violent Conflict program. Their Responsibility to Prevent report lays out a solid plan to build strong U.S. civilian agencies to better prevent wars.

And while you are on the diplomatic trail, send an email telling your Senators to increase the staffing and programs at the Department of State "and give our diplomats a clear new mission: to prevent, mitigate, and resolve armed conflict."



Note: The catchy artwork comes courtesy of the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases, otherwise known as No-Bases.org. Check em out!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Nuclear Power and Global Warming: A Bad Mix


I suspect that few of us saw anything in the papers (in the U.S. at least) about the shutdown of French nuclear power plants during the recent heatwave at the beginning of July. Temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) forced the shutdown of a third of France's nuclear power plants, and it wasn't only so that the cooling water wouldn't fry the neighborhood fish.
Fourteen of France's Nineteen nuclear power stations are located inland and are cooled by river water. These plants do not have the cooling capacity of coastal nuclear plants using sea water for cooling, and must be shut down before water temperatures become incapable of maintaining maximum safe core temperature. Core meltdowns are not high on the list of desirable events for nuclear power plant operators.

In a hands-across-the-Channel effort, the French were able to keep the air conditioners on by importing electricity from the British. At a time when many nations, some of them in relatively warm regions, are considering or planning to build nuclear power plants, it might be prudent to consider that global temperatures are likely to rise in the future. That, coupled with the fact that uranium is NOT a renewable resource (you can reprocess spent fuel, but that creates a whole set of problems) are good reasons to stop and reconsider nuclear power as a solution to our energy problems (as well as global warming).

It isn't exactly "green" when one considers the mining and processing required to produce reactor grade uranium. Besides the energy required to operate mining and processing equipment (and the associated emissions), it requires a phenomenal amount of electricity to enrich the uranium to be usable as fuel. And of course, there is the inevitable waste to be dealt with once the fuel is spent. So much for your "green" energy source! And don't forget that as some nations - the U.S. has nearly the lowest proven per-capita uranium reserves of any nation - run out of uranium, they will be forced to look outside their borders. For a historical context, just think OIL and the U.S.!!!!!

If you are in the United States and think that nuclear energy is NOT the answer, you might want to let your Senators know! Although the Senate has delayed formal work on its climate bill until September, there is much work going on behind closed doors. Some Republicans are pushing for a climate bill with $50 billion more in taxpayer loan guarantees for new reactor construction, AND a formal Congressional intent to build 100 new nuclear reactors in the next 20 years (the auto industry bailout pales in comparison).

CLICK HERE to send an email to your Senators and tell them if you think this is a bad idea. While you are at it, send an email to President Obama as well (at Physicians for Social Responsibility). To top it off, you can read and sign the Simple Statement on Nuclear Power and Climate Change at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

We need to think of future generations as we consider energy alternatives; how will our choices affect them? Will we be pursuing a peaceful future OR a future dominated by just more energy resource-driven foreign (read MILITARY) policy.

For a Peaceful Future,

Article: France imports UK electricity as plants shut, in the TimesOnline.
Photo Credit: Photo of power plant cooling towers: www.abc.net.au/.../NuclearPower_Getty_400.jpg

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Don't Want To Live Like A Refugee


No - This isn't a commentary on a Tom Petty song. We're talking real refugees here. At the end of 2008 there were some 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. Of that number, 15.2 million were refugees, 827,000 were seeking asylum, and 26 million were internally displaced. Women and girls represent 47 percent of refugees and asylum seekers, and 44 percent are children under the age of 18 (Source: UNHCR 2008 Global Trends). These are sobering statistics.

We see and hear stories about refugees regularly in the news, but does it really help us understand what it must be like to be a refugee, to live such a tenuous existence, leaving one's home behind and trying to survive? Doctors Without Borders has put together a virtual refugee camp that you can tour and learn what it is like to live like a refugee. It clearly and graphically describes the issues (and questions) faced by refugees - where can they live, how will they obtain food, water and medical care, how will they cope, will they ever get back home?

What would you do if you and your family were forced to flee your home (due to violence or war)with barely more than the clothes on your back. Find out by CLICKING HERE to tour the virtual refugee camp at Doctors Without Borders . It's worth the trip. Imagine you are desperate to survive... Consider what it must be like to live as a refugee. Then consider what creates the conditions that forces people to flee their homes in the first place - usually violent conflict and war.

Currently the leading countries of origin for refugees are Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Colombia and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Just Afghanistan and Iraq make up 45% of all refugees under UNHCR's responsibility worldwide!

If we can help prevent violent conflict and war around the world, we can prevent people from being forced to flee their homes and becoming refugees. In the short term we can help support efforts to assist refugees by supporting organizations like Doctors Without Borders. In the long term we can support efforts for the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict. Learn more about this (and how you can help) at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

No one should have to live like a refugee, and we can help prevent the conditions that force people into such inhumane conditions.



Note: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is the U.N. agency that works to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Doctors Without Borders is an international humanitarian organization working in 60 countries helping people "threatened by violence, neglect and catastophe."

Photo source: http://www.wcl.american.edu/humright/center/newsletter/images/refugees.jpg

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A New Declaration of Independence...


No sooner had the Fourth of July passed than I received an email from the National Catholic Worker about a violent confrontation on the Fourth. As former Des Moines, Iowa, Catholic Worker Kirk Brown reported, "Spurned on through the recognition of humanity in the suffering of war victims, torture victims, and victims of corporate economics; four people celebrated independence in protest at Raccoon River park and Lyons Park in West Des Moines and Urbandale on the fourth of July. One person handed out leaftets explaining why a person might be opposed to military recruitment. One person dressed as a Guantanamo detainee carried a sign asking, "Liberty for Torture?" Another waved an adbusters American flag which has corporate logos where the stars typically are."

Kirk described how at one location they "were actually chased down by handfuls of people who yelled, cursed and threatened them with physical death." Kirk described another park where, "Groups of 10-12 people formed perimeters around the protesters at Lyons Park some asking questions and having conversation, others in the groups surrounding the four protesters would holler and all of that. One young man got so angry that he lunged upon a protester and a few minutes of utter chaos ensued."

There were also moments of more compassionate responses and interaction, including a sister and mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, who told the protesters that they respected what they were doing. But what was so striking for me was that here, on the very day in which our nation celebrates the day in which it declared independence in 1776, people could not only forget that to which our liberty is bound, but they could also bear such animosity towards others who were merely exercising the very freedoms for which many struggled in the early days of our nation.

Perhaps we, as a nation, have become far too dependent upon the very things that lead to suffering and death and the destruction of the very environment that sustains us. And perhaps it is time to declare our independence from the very things that hinder us from being fully human and living together in our common humanity, with enough for all. So I propose a NEW Declaration of Independence - Independence from (GO AHEAD; add some of your own):
  • Fear
  • Hunger
  • Torture
  • Greed
  • Hatred
  • Violence
  • Bigotry
  • Racism
  • War

It is high time that we declare our independence from those in power who have woven a web of deceit that blinds people such as those who slandered and attacked a group of humble people trying to bring light to the darkness, speaking truth to power. As Kirk said in the closing line of his story, "It is with the refugee, the torture victim and the poor that our liberty is bound, and it is them; the other, that we are free for."

May we continue to speak the truth that is bound to the compassionate heart until the day that the chains are broken and there is no more suffering.



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Salvaging Patriotism on the Fourth of July


I get a bit twitchy when I see the flags going up everywhere in preparation for the Fourth of July here in the U.S. Living in the nation that brought the world "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror" (thanks George) is not easy when one does not walk in lockstep with the patriotic crowd. Granted, declaring independence from the mother country was quite a big deal in its time, and we do, in fact, live in a nation of democratic ideals. The problem is that there are powerful interests that have undermined those very ideals.

The founding fathers understood the wisdom of avoiding foreign entanglements. As George Washington stated in his Farewell Address in 1796: "The Great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign Nations is in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. . . . ‘Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances, with any portion of the foreign World." Thomas Jefferson elaborated, saying that the foreign policy of a free society such as ours must mean “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship, with all nations – entangling alliances with none."

John Quincy Adams, author of the Monroe Doctrine said that, "America... does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own." The founding fathers were unanimous in their opposition to forcefully exporting American values (particularly at the point of a gun). These were no country bumpkins. These were individuals who understood Lord Acton's Dictum that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Over the next two centuries our nation has all but forgotten the words (and intent) of the founders, and the quenchless thirst for resources and power has led to the creation of a phenomenal Military Industrial Complex and its mate, the National Security State that have allowed the U.S. to impose a global hegemony of unbelievable magnitude. With well over 900 military bases in roughly 46 countries (as of 2008), the sun never sets on the American Empire. We are currently bringing "democracy" to Iraq and Afghanistan, and God knows who will be next (they had better have oil).

The founding fathers will be rolling in their graves come the Fourth of July, and for good reason(s). For all the patriotic fervor (and associated drunkenness) of the Fourth, our nation has slumped into an absolute stupor as our "leaders" have squandered the gifts of liberty. John Quincy Adams warned us of this while celebrating the Anniversary of Independence on July 4, 1821:

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

We are, indeed, no longer the ruler of our own spirit. As the military-industrial monster swallows up the world, it also swallows up our nation's once great spirit, the spirit of independence. And so I call upon all who believe in the possibility of “peace, commerce, and honest friendship, with all nations – entangling alliances with none" (as Jefferson said) to recapture that revolutionary spirit of the founders (as imperfect as they were), and declare our independence from the powers of death that go out "in search of monsters to destroy."

Wendell Berry once said that - FOR A NATION TO BE, in the truest sense, patriotic, its citizens must love their land with a knowing, intelligent, sustaining, and protective love. They must not, for any price, destroy its health, its beauty, or its productivity. And they must not allow their patriotism to be degraded to a mere loyalty to symbols or any present set of officials (from A Citizen's Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America).

As Berry says at the end of this same essay, If we are serious about peace, then we must work for it as ardently, seriously, continuously, carefully, and bravely as we now prepare for war. May it be so on this Fourth of July (and every day).



Click here to read Wendell Berry's A Citizen's Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America.