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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Afghanistan - Time to take to the streets!


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),


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


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,


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


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.



***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


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.



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.


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


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. 

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


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. 





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.