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

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cluster Bombs: By the Numbers


Sometimes we just need to strip away all the rhetoric to create clarity of vision. In the case of cluster bombs (see my last post), I thought it might be worthwhile to try such an exercise. Just the raw facts about cluster bombs:

* 400 million - Estimated number of people in countries and regions like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Chechnya in areas affected by cluster bombs (effectively minefields).

* 24 - (minimum) number of countries affected by cluster bombs.

* 4 million - Estimated (by the U.N) number of cluster bomblets dropped on Lebanon during the 34-day conflict in 2006 (supplied by theUnited States).

* 73 - number of countries stockpiling cluster munitions.

* 5-10 percent - Estimated percentage of bomblets dropped on Lebanon that did not explode on impact, and continue to kill civilians since the end of the conflict. That's between 200,000 and 400,000 cluster bomblets scattered around the countryside waiting for unsuspecting victims, many of them children. The failure rate can be as high as 30 percent (some cite even higher numbers).

* 98 - Number of countries that have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

* 98 - Also the percentage of cluster bomb victims who have been civilians (over the past three decades); roughly one third of the victims have been children.

* 17 - Number of countries that have ratified the Convention; need a minimum of 30 for the Convention to enter into force and become binding international law.

* 7 - Number of countries opposing a ban on cluster munitions. They are the United States, Britain, Israel, Russia, China, Canada and India. Some other countries have expressed strong concerns.

* 2 - Number of cluster bomb and launch systems that are U.S.-manufactured. After the Israel-Lebanon conflict, Human Rights Watch researchers found M26 rockets fired from Lockheed Martin's Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). The MLRS can fire up to 12 rockets at once, and each rocket contains 644 M77 submunitions (bomblets).

So there you have it. It's time for EVERY nation to ban these diabolical weapons. It may seem like a miniscule step in a world awash with so many different weapons, but it IS an important step on the road to building a world where children do not have to fear going out to play.

CLICK HERE to learn more about cluster bombs at Friends Committee on National Legislation, where you can also send emails urging the U.S. Congress to ban cluster bombs.

Also check out the International Campaign to Ban Landmines or the associated U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines. You can also learn more at the Cluster Munition Coalition.



Photo Credit: Cluster bomb photo courtesy of The Times Online, Cluster Bombs of the Secret War.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Always [Cluster] Bomb Responsibly


Hopefully you have noticed the Actions You Can Take on the right of this post. Among them are a couple asking you to urge the U.S. Congress to ban cluster bombs. They have been there for a while, but they are STILL current (and necessary). We need to continue gaining sponsors in both the House and Senate in order to get these bills passed. For the realities of cluster munitions, read my previous post.

In the "great ideas/news we've heard recently" category is a plan by the United States to create a "quick reaction force", or QRF, to handle threats to civilians from remnants of war, like cluster bombs. Actually, this is somewhat old news; I read it back in January, 2008. But I'm sure you get the idea. The U.S. official (who "declined to be identified") quoted in this article also said that "cluster bombs... should not be considered bad as long as states involved in conflicts use them responsibly." Indeed, we should always kill responsibly!!!

Researchers believe the US has transferred hundreds of thousands of cluster munitions, containing tens of millions of unreliable and inaccurate bomblets, to 28 countries. They are indiscriminate killers, and they are extremely dangerous to clean up once found. Israel at first refused to report where cluster bombs had been used (extensively) in its 2006 war on Lebanon, hampering clean-up efforts and increasing the risk to civilians, particularly children. Is that responsible use???

So what is up with the Quick Reaction Force??? Well, it would seem that it is a full employment policy for U.S. munitions makers. They make the cluster munitions, sell them (with the blessing of the U.S. government) to governments around the world (and of course the U.S. would use them as well), U.S. taxpayer dollars pay for cleanup whenever and wherever they are used. The euphemistically named Quick Reaction Force would be nothing more than cleanup lackeys. Perhaps the U.S. should consider having the cluster bomb makers fund this.

But really folks, the only way to deal with cluster bombs is to eliminate them altogether. CLICK HERE to learn more about cluster bombs at Friends Committee on National Legislation, where you can also send emails urging Congress to ban cluster bombs.



Photo: From BBC News, Q&A: Cluster bomb treaty

In The News: US Insists Cluster Bombs Not Bad if Used 'Responsibly', Published on Wednesday, January 16, 2008 by Reuters/UK

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Brian Willson: Talk Softly and Carry a BIG Message

Dear Friends,

On the weekend in which many of us came together to remember the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action (GZ), we were honored with the presence of Brian Willson, Vietnam veteran, trained lawyer, and an international symbol of nonviolent resistance who was run over by a U.S. Navy train at the Concord (CA) Naval Weapons Station on September 1, 1987. That train was carrying weapons on their way to Central America.

GZ invited Brian to speak at our August event in which we gathered under the theme, Nuclear Abolition: Yes We Can! Brian's conversation at GZ was an autobiographical sketch, a history lesson, philosophical discourse, a lesson in living sustainably, and above all a prophetic statement that we ALL need to hear. No matter how we currently think about the future, Brian shakes the very foundation upon which our lives are built, and lays out a compelling case for a major paradigm shift in how we live (It's time to live horizontally people!). As difficult as it may be for some people to hear what he has to say, we need to listen to Brian with open minds and open hearts.

Gordon Sturrock, a veteran and member of Veterans for Peace, Squadron 13, got Brian's entire presentation and conversation on video, and you can watch it here. Brian's journey is a remarkable one, and he has gathered much wisdom along the way. I hope to share more of his wisdom in future posts. For now I will let Brian speak for himself.

Brian Willson at GroundZero from GordonSturrock on Vimeo. Brian Willson speaks at Ground Zero in Poulsbo, Washington on August 8, 2009.

You can also watch Brian's conversation at YouTube. Todd Boyle also recorded Brian; watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWztuA3jRTc.



P.S. - Learn more about Brian at http://brianwillson.com/.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

War Without People???


Imagine, if you dare, a battlefield without soldiers. There was a time, going back to the earliest days of recorded history, when there were essentially just soldiers on the battlefield, fighting each other hand to hand with swords (and daggers, from which swords evolved) made of bronze. Interestingly enough, historians still debate whether the earliest swords evolved out of agricultural sickles. This was war in which the primary characters in this violent event, those injured and killed, were soldiers.

Over the centuries war has gradually evolved technologically as humans attempted to make killing easier and more efficient. There is also an associated profit motive as weapons makers ply their trade in these modern times. More recently weapons have evolved (at an almost exponential rate) to an unimaginable technological state in which some weapons systems allow soldiers to operate them from a distance, sometimes halfway around the earth (by satellites). Systems are also being designed to have some degree of autonomy in decision making, decreasing the human interaction even more.

A recent article in the Arizona Daily Star, Will drones push fighter pilots out of the cockpit?, shows the excitement within the military establishment. "This is massive," said [Col. Paul] Johnson, an A-10 pilot with more than 2,000 hours in the skies, describing the potential changes ahead. "It's a head-exploding topic," he said. But "for us to sit on the sidelines and ignore this new technology would be irresponsible." This pilot was describing the future of military aviation as more and more pilotless drones take to the skies over Iraq, Afghanistan, and a host of other locales (even the United States).

Photo above: Just another day at the office. Airman 1st Class Caleb Force, a Predator sensor operator, helps 1st Lt. Jorden Smith, a Predator pilot, locate simulated targets during an MQ-1 Predator training mission at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. Photo courtesy of the United States Air Force.

Of course, the movement away from piloted aircraft is about much more than decisions about costs of aircraft and risk to pilots; it is about the very nature of war itself. The historian Howard Zinn once said, We might think that at least those individuals in the U.S. Air Force who dropped bombs on civilian populations were aware of what terror they were inflicting, but as one of those I can testify that this is not so. Bombing from five miles high, I and my fellow crew members could not see what was happening on the ground. We could not hear screams or see blood, could not see torn bodies, crushed limbs. Is it any wonder we see fliers going out on mission after mission, apparently unmoved by thoughts of what they have wrought. Bomber pilot at 30,000 feet or drone pilot sitting in an air-conditioned trailer in the arizona desert doing his or her 8 to 5 job; one just happens to be thousands of miles from the battlefield. "Hey, could you take the controls while I duck out for a cup of coffee?"

As if war itself is bad enough, we have been moving down a very slippery slope as we have depersonalized war. It's simply getting easier, and easier to kill. Gone are the days when soldiers hacked each other to death with swords; we now have pilots commanding aircraft from 7000 miles away (Iraq and Afghanistan), dropping bombs and firing missiles, often killing civilians. One pilot quoted in the Daily Star article asked, Are we moving toward a battle space devoid of human beings? And, if so, how will that impact a nation's willingness or reluctance to wage war? Ironically, we seem to be moving away from a battlefield in which our soldiers are present, but in which exists the presence of not only "insurgents" and "terrorists", but also innocent civilians - men, women and children - who are suffering indiscriminately.

It is also ironic that one of the pilots said that, while we are having these technological developments, we can't be afraid to couch them in some larger philosophical discussions about what war is, and what war will be. Indeed, we must have serious philosophical discussions about war, but those discussions are currently being conducted by just those in charge, the Pentagon planners, the people at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the weapons makers. There is no room at the table for those who can ask the humanistic, philosophical questions that go far beyond the sterile questions surrounding efficiency, pilot safety and financial considerations between $85 million fighter jets and $5 million drones.

It is certainly a brave new world we are creating in which there might come a day when we sit in our barricaded homes watching the floor to ceiling television screens (from Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451) as the drones and robots unleash their horrors on the "enemy" in some far off land. It is certainly not a world in which I wish to live. And it will all be controlled via satellites orbiting the earth. 70% of the weapons used in the 2003 "shock and awe" attack on Iraq were directed to their targets by space technology.

It is time to say NO to military use of space for making war on Earth! It is time to speak out to Keep Space for Peace! Join the International Week of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space from October 3-10, 2009. Learn more at the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

Just as those earliest swords may have evolved out of agricultural sickles, it is time to turn today's highly technological swords into ploughshares, and stopping the militarization of space is an critical step in doing so.



Read the Arizona Daily Star article Will drones push fighter pilots out of the cockpit?