"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


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??? 



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!


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.



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


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!

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.
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

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),

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
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


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.



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)