Legal Nuclear Attack? 12/6/17

What Kind of Nuclear Attack Would be Legal?  by John LaForge

John LaForge

US general says order to launch nuclear weapons can be refused if illegal  —Chicago Tribune, Nov. 18

US nuclear commander would balk at any “illegal” order —MSNBC, Nov. 18

General heading Strategic Command says illegal nuclear launch order can be refused—NBC News, Nov. 18

Top general says he would resist “illegal” nuke order from Trump—CBS News, Nov. 18

Top US general says he would resist illegal nuclear strike order from Donald Trump—The Independent, Nov. 18

All these headlines give the direct impression that a nuclear attack could be legal in some circumstances. But is this possible?

Air Force General John Hyten, commander of Strategic Command, told the Halifax International Security Forum Nov. 18, that an order from the president to launch nuclear weapons can be refused if that order is determined to be illegal. In the face of an unlawful order, Gen. Hyten said, he would tell Trump he couldn’t carry it out. “If it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen?” Hyten asked the gathering. “I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’”

Four days earlier, retired Gen. Robert Kehler, who previously held Gen. Hyten’s top job at Strategic Command, testified likewise to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying that nuclear war commanders could “ignore any unlawful order by the president to launch a nuclear strike.”

Generals Hyten and Kehler both said in their unprecedented public comments that the legal principles of “military necessity,” “discriminate destruction,” and “proportionality” all apply to decisions about nuclear attacks. Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, asked Gen. Kehler if he meant that Strategic Command could disobey a president’s ordering a nuclear attack. “Yes,” Kehler said.

That military officers “could” disobey, or “can” refuse unlawful orders are actually understatements in this context. US military service manuals explicitly require military personal to refuse illegal orders. As everyone sworn-in to the service is taught, disobeying illegal orders is mandatory; following them is a crime worthy of court martial. As CNN reported: “Under US military law, troops are obligated to not obey an unlawful order. If they received such an order, they could resign or force Trump to fire them.” The point was made during last year’s presidential campaign, when Trump promised to unlawfully torture prisoners, kill the families of suspected militants, and bomb civilians. CNN reported then that “Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook noted on [Nov. 17, 2016] that all US troops have an obligation not to follow illegal orders.”

Certain Weapons Effects Always Unlawful

But more importantly, there is a deep and startling absurdity and a shocking ignorance in these public nuclear war conversations. Any use of nuclear weapons would be indiscriminate and illegal by definition. Only the uninitiated, uninformed or willfully blind can still imagine that today’s nuclear weapons could be used “proportionately” to produce more military good than evil. The uncontrollable, unlimited, and unfathomable magnitude of nuclear weapons effects have been established as unlawful in countless text books, law journals, government studies and independent analyses.

The use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances would be illegal because international covenants, treaties, and protocols forbid indiscriminate destruction, attacks that are disproportionate to a military objective, and weapons’ effects that “treacherously wound,” harm neutral states, or do long-term damage to the environment.

In her book Thermonuclear Monarchy Professor Elaine Scarry of Harvard reminds us that as long ago as 1995, Sweden, Iran and Egypt argued before the International Court of Justice that since nuclear weapons cause disproportionate suffering, they are prohibited by the 1868 Declaration of St. Petersburg and the Geneva Protocols of 1925, 1949, and 1977. The Republic of the Marshall Islands argued that using nuclear weapons would violate the 1907 Hague Conventions prohibiting weapons with effects that cross into neutral states. Both North Korea and India, neither of which possessed nuclear weapons in 1995, wrote to the World Court insisting that it judge them unlawful. India argued that any use of nuclear weapons, including the mere possession of them, is illegal under the Charter of the United Nations and international “rules of proportionality.”

Charles Moxley, in his 813-page study Nuclear Weapons & International Law, puts this list of treaty violations in perspective: “Nuclear weapons are not illegal just because they violate these laws of war, as exhaustively proven in this volume. They are illegal because they cause widespread and indiscriminate destruction without promoting the purpose of war: resolving conflict … They are not weapons but only wanton machines of symmetric destruction.”

Physical Effects: “Complete ruin”

What the generals and the congressional bureaucrats fail to grasp in their fantasies of legal nuclear attacks, is the vastness of the difference between conventional and nuclear weapons, and that the latter cannot be used in war without slaughtering hundreds of thousands of civilians—that is, without committing war crimes. Some uncomfortable background information might be necessary.

Moxley’s Nuclear Weapons & International Law reports that, “A nuclear detonation generates temperatures of 100 million degrees while a dynamite explosive about 3000 degrees.” What this unimaginable heat does to cities is explained by Lynn Eden in her book Whole World on Fire. “Mass fire and extensive fire damage would occur in almost every circumstance in which nuclear weapons were detonated in a suburban or urban area. …damage from mass fire would extend two to five times farther than blast damage.”

In 1977, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 653-page book The Effects of Nuclear Weapons notes with understatement, “persons in buildings or tunnels close to ground zero may be burned by hot gases and dust entering the structure…” In its lengthy consideration of radiation effects, taken from the US Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, the FEMA study says in part, “Among them, apart from genetic effects, are the formation of cataracts, nonspecific life shortening, leukemia, other forms of malignant disease, and retarded development of children in utero at the time of the exposure.” As Ann Fagan Ginger reported in her book Nuclear Weapons are Illegal, “They continue to maim and kill long after they explode in a test or in a war.”

A mass fire or “firestorm” Eden writes, is “the simultaneous combustion of many fires over a large area, which causes a great volume of air to heat, rise, and suck in large amounts of fresh air at hurricane speeds from the periphery,” Eden notes. “Within ten minutes after the cataclysmic events associated with the detonation, a mass of buoyantly rising fire-heated air would signal the start of a second and distinctly different event—the development of a mass fire of gigantic scale and ferocity. This fire would quickly increase in intensity. In a fraction of an hour it would generate ground winds of hurricane force with average air temperatures well above the boiling point of water (212°F, 100°C). This would produce a lethal environment over a vast contiguous area.”

Eden’s research is worth quoting at length. “The first mass fire in history was created by allied incendiary raids at Hamburg on the night of July 27-28, 1943. Within 20 minutes, two of three buildings within an area of 4.5 square miles were on fire. In three to six hours, this fire so completely burned out an area of more than 5 square miles that the area was referred to by damage analysts as the ‘Dead City.’ Well-documented accounts describe wind speeds of hurricane force within the city. Air temperatures were calculated to be between four and five hundred degrees Fahrenheit, hundreds of degrees above the temperature of boiling water. [Up to] 100,000 people were killed in the attack. A mass fire resulting from a modern nuclear weapon could be expected to burn out an urban or suburban area of considerably larger size in a similarly brief time.”

Legal scholar George Delf’s Humanizing Hell! The Law V. Nuclear Weapons is concise, bold, and direct. “[A]rmed forces are committed by military, domestic and international law not to attack non-combatants. Any government which adopts a defense policy implying such an attack is therefore inciting its own forces to commit war crimes on a gigantic and suicidal scale.”

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

Doves Needed Here 12/6/17

Lawrence Wittner

The Peace Movement and Electoral Politics  by Lawrence Wittner

Although the U.S. peace movement has been on the wane for about a decade, it remains a viable force in American life. Organizations like Peace Action, the American Friends Service Committee, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Jewish Voice for Peace, and numerous others have significant memberships, seasoned staff, and enough financial resources to sustain their agitation in communities around the country. If they currently lack the power to mobilize the mass demonstrations that characterized some of their past struggles, they continue to educate Americans about the dangers of militarism and influence a portion of Congress.

Even as the movement declined during the Obama presidential years, it managed to eke out some occasional victories, most notably a treaty (New START) reducing the number of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons, modest cutbacks in the U.S. military budget, the Iran nuclear deal, and the normalization of U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba.

But the total takeover of the U.S. government by the Republican Party, occasioned by the GOP sweep in the 2016 elections, has produced a disaster for the peace movement―and for anyone concerned about building a peaceful world. In less than a year in office, the Trump administration has escalated U.S. military intervention across the globe, secured a massive increase in U.S. military spending, issued reckless threats of war (including nuclear war) against North Korea, and forged close partnerships with some of the world’s most repressive regimes. Nor is the peace movement growing significantly in response to this disaster―probably because progressive activists, the peace movement’s major constituency, are so overwhelmed by the government’s sweeping rightwing assault that they are preoccupied with desperately defending social and economic justice, civil liberties, and environmental sustainability.

As long as this situation continues, it seems unlikely that the peace movement is going to win many victories. With hawkish, rightwing Republicans controlling the federal government, the peace movement’s educational campaigns, small-scale demonstrations, and Congressional lobbying will probably have little effect on U.S. public policy.

But there is a promising way to change the federal government. A likely outcome of the November 2018 Congressional elections is that the Republicans will retain control of the U.S. Senate, thanks to the large number of Democratic incumbents running for the 33 contested seats. Even so, the Democrats have a good chance to retake control of the House of Representatives, where every seat is up for grabs. For more than six months, generic ballot polls about the House elections have shown Democrats with a lead ranging between 8-12 points over their Republican opponents. Many analysts believe that this significant a lead will produce a “wave election”―one that will sweep the Democrats into power. And with one branch of Congress in the hands of the Democrats, U.S. foreign and military policy could shift substantially.

Would it, though? After all, despite significant differences with the GOP on domestic policy, aren’t Congressional Democrats just as hawkish as the Republicans on foreign and military policy?

There are numerous indications that they are not. Although, in some cases during the Trump era, Congressional Democrats have joined their Republican counterparts in voting for hawkish legislation, representatives from the two parties have diverged dramatically on key foreign and military policy issues. In July 2017, the House took up a bill reducing U.S. government spending on nuclear nonproliferation programs but increasing spending on nuclear weapons programs by 10.7 percent. The bill passed by a vote of 235 to 192, with only five Democrats voting for it and only five Republicans voting against it. Similarly, in October 2017, when the House voted on the People’s Budget―a measure drawn up by the Congressional Progressive Caucus that boosted social spending and cut military spending―Democratic members of the House supported it by a vote of 108 to 79. By contrast, the Republican vote on it was zero in favor and 235 opposed.

Sharp party divisions on foreign and military policy have also occurred in the U.S. Senate, with the most dramatic of them focused on a proposal to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force―a loose measure, passed in 2001, that has been used subsequently by U.S. Presidents to justify 37 U.S. military operations in 14 countries. Coming to a vote in September 2017, the proposal to repeal the Authorization was defeated, 61 to 36. Only three Republicans (out of 52) voted for repeal. But repeal was supported by 31 Democrats (out of 46) and two Independents.

With the 2018 Congressional elections occurring in less than a year, the peace movement has the opportunity to enhance its leverage over U.S. public policy by helping to flip the House to Democratic control. In addition, playing a role in the election campaign would strengthen the movement’s ties with progressive organizations, which, horrified by the rightwing onslaught, will be working zealously toward that same goal. At the least, peace and progressive activists should be able to unite behind the provisions of the People’s Budget―cutting military programs and increasing spending on public education, health, and welfare.

But how can the peace movement become an effective player in the 2018 Congressional election campaign, supporting peace-oriented Democrats against their hawkish Republican (and sometimes hawkish Democratic) opponents? Some groups, like the Council for a Livable World, Peace Action, and Progressive Democrats of America, already raise money for peace candidates in Democratic primaries and general elections. Others could do so as well. Also, to make their support more visible to politicians, peace groups could play a more prominent role in election campaigns―volunteering to distribute flyers on specific dates, staff phone banks for specific periods, and engage in door-to-door canvassing at specific times.

Of course, the peace movement need not drop all its other activities. But the 2018 elections do offer it a particularly useful opportunity to help steer the U.S. government away from militarism and war.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

Increased Conversation 12/6/17

Laura Finley

The Need for a Cultural Shift on Gender-based Violence by Laura Finley, Ph.D.

November 25th kicked off the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. At no time has this work been more necessary than now. From rampant sexual harassment to sexual assault, domestic violence and sexual trafficking, women across the globe and in the U.S face gender-based violence at horrifying rates.

I’d like to start with my recent personal experience, although it was definitely not the first time I have experienced it in my 45 years. I share these experiences because while there has been important attention paid lately to men in power abusing women who are their subordinates in the workplace or other realms, it’s essential to remember that “everyday” men also commit these same acts of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Not because their work position affords them any particular power over a woman but because the general sense that they are entitled to do and act as they please is prevalent in how many boys and men are socialized. Not long ago, I experienced unwanted sexual conduct from someone half my age. He had no social power over me other than the fact that he’s a male in a culture in which some males are taught that things are theirs for the taking. Likewise, on my campus I have been catcalled by boys recently out of high school who feel entitled to yell repulsive things. A 15-year-old girl I know was harassed by much older men while wearing a caroling costume for a holiday event. This is ubiquitous, so normalized that people are surprised by all the allegations that are emerging. We should not be. Horrified, yes. Outraged, yes. But not surprised.

Here is why we should not be surprised: Statistics have long shown the scope of these problems. Studies have found that some one-third of American women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly one-third of the world’s women has endured physical or sexual intimate partner violence. Domestic violence kills more women worldwide than civil wars. Far more people in America, largely women, have been killed by their partners than were U.S forces in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined. American women are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence as breast cancer. In the U.S., more women are injured from domestic violence than from car accidents, rapes, and muggings–combined. A woman in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN). Women and young girls are sold into sexual slavery, not just overseas but on American soil. They are often recruited from websites like Backpage and Craigslist with promises of lucrative modeling or acting jobs. More than 3,500 sex trafficking cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center in 2016, a figure that far underestimates the scope of the problem given that most instances are not reported and a girl can be trafficking multiple times per day.

Males in powerful positions are even more able to exploit and demean women and those they see as powerless, as these people fear they will lose their jobs, their reputation, and even their lives if they resist or if they tell anyone. This is tremendously clear with the spate of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault allegations being levied against politicians, media moguls, and celebrities, including but sadly not limited to Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, Roy Moore, Al Franken and of course, Donald Trump.

What are we to do? The good news is there is a lot that is already happening. New laws are criminalizing revenge pornography, helping to stop males from sharing provocative photos and imagery as a means of controlling women. Women are speaking out about the harassment, abuse and assault and refusing to be silenced. Legal settlements like the recent one in Seattle that three women who were sold into sexual slavery when they were 13 to 15 years old were awarded against Backpage. Activists are continuing to strategize and build on the energy and momentum from last years’ Women’s marches.

In South Florida, I am fortunate to be able to work with a non-profit organization, No More Tears, which helps victims of many of these forms of gender-based violence. This unique organization is entirely volunteer-run and provides comprehensive services that allow victims to heal and to build happy and healthy lives. Additional information about No More Tears is available at www.nomoretearsusa.org. I am also co-organizer of the College Brides Walk, a dating and domestic violence awareness campaign that reaches several thousand high school and college youth. More information can be found at www.collegebrideswalk.com.

We know more such organizations are needed nationwide. It is my hope that the increased conversation about these issues is indeed a cultural tipping point. Enough is enough.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Abandon Hostility Please 12/6/17

Veterans Challenge Trump’s Islamophobia

Brian Trautman

The U.S. president, Donald Trump, revealed his inner nature again earlier this week when he retweeted a series of anti-Muslim propaganda videos from the deputy leader of an ultranationalist, neo-fascist hate group in the UK. Trump sank to a new low in terms of the blatant falsehoods and myths he will invoke and propagate to incite enmity against Muslims. He has demonstrated repeatedly that white nationalism and the demonization of Islam is something that he wholeheartedly embraces and intends to advance at every opportunity. The encouraging news is that Trump’s fear and hate mongering against Islam and Muslims is increasingly being denounced by a wider spectrum of individuals and groups, including many staunch conservatives, both in the U.S. and abroad. The ground swell of resistance is steadily growing.

Generations of immigrants have molded the U.S. into the most pluralistic, multi-cultural country in the world. The nation prides itself on this distinction. Most of its citizens and residents uphold the tenets of freedom of religion, tolerance and diversity and apply the Golden Rule principle in their daily lives. Tragically, however, there are those in our society, like Donald Trump and many on the far-right, who hold deep contempt for Islam, maliciously distorting the teachings and traditions of the faith to foment irrational fear among the public. Oftentimes, they dehumanize Muslims for the purposes of advancing an anti-immigrant, jingoistic agenda. Hate crimes have been an outcome, and increased substantially in the months following the 9/11 attacks. While this violence decreased and leveled off in most years since 9/11 (though remained higher than in the pre-9/11 era), the number of crimes rose back to 9/11-era levels during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The international anti-war organization Veterans For Peace (VFP), which has been exposing the true costs of war and militarism since 1985, launched a campaign last year called Veterans Challenge Islamophobia (VCI). The campaign aims to build support and solidarity among veterans and allies to stop anti-Muslim rhetoric and the discrimination, marginalization and oppression of Muslims Americans, as well as Muslims abroad, especially asylum-seekers and refugees. The campaign also educates on why war — most notably the so-called “War on Terror” — is fundamentally rooted in racism and xenophobia. The campaign mission statement begins, “We are United States military veterans, many of whom saw combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam, who are appalled by the current spate of bigotry, racism and hatred expressed toward Muslims.” It goes on to say that, “Fear-mongering endangers our national security and gives rise to hatred and racism that play into the hands of an enemy…We can never defend ourselves effectively by playing into our adversary’s strategy, giving credibility to their recruitment propaganda. We endanger ourselves whenever we make that mistake…” The statement concludes with an appeal to all veterans in the U.S. “to let their voices be heard and to stand up for the values of tolerance, respect and love.”

In addition, the VCI campaign seeks to end the discriminatory, unconstitutional and inhumane Muslim travel bans issued by the Trump administration earlier this year. To enhance the effectiveness of this aspect of the campaign, VFP partnered with various peace and human rights groups working to stop the bans, such as the No Muslim Ban Ever campaign, which was organized and led by several groups, including the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and MPower Change.

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected, the VCI campaign released a statement that included the following language: “…Throughout this past year we have called upon Mr. Trump to abandon his divisive anti-Muslim rhetoric. He has done more to legitimize bigotry and create division than arguably any one person has done in the United States in decades…As people of conscience, we must step up our support for marginalized, discriminated, and disenfranchised communities.” The campaign conveyed its “…sincere hope that as Mr. Trump nears his inauguration, he embraces the oath of the Presidency and the sacred tenets of equality to which we as a nation aspire…Mr. Trump will be taking an oath to lead three-hundred million U.S. Americans, of every race, ethnicity, and creed. The eyes of the world are upon him, as is the sacrosanct responsibility and history of the Presidency of these United States.” However, as we have learned over the 11-months since his inauguration, Trump has not only doubled-down on his hate speech but intensified it and translated his xenophobia into policy.

Following Election Day, VFP issued a call to action to resist the hate-filled ideologies and policies of Donald Trump, saying in part, “On the domestic front, we know President-elect Trump provides great momentum to many of the most repressive and dark social tendencies our nation has struggled to discard. Trump’s campaign ran on the toxic energy of hate. It began with calling Mexicans criminals and rapists. It revved up by calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States and it completed its triangle of xenophobia and misogyny by defending sexual assault. The Trump campaign has put on a facade of reaching out to the Black community, however his words make it clear that he is hostile to people of color…His hostility is clear enough to White supremacists that many endorsed him as their candidate…The peace movement must stand strong against policies that call for more violence and war. We must resist all forms of hate and xenophobia. We must stand in solidarity with domestic struggles that move forward women’s rights, immigration reform and all forms of racial, economic and social justice. With our allies across all struggles, we must build a full spectrum movement to create peace at home and abroad…” This critical work for peace and justice must continue at all levels. Peace at home is unattainable until peace abroad is realized, and vice versa. Peace is possible when justice prevails.

It is incumbent upon all Americans to condemn and confront hate, counter Islamophobia, and peaceably struggle to block and end attempts by members of our society to induce and incite religious and racial animosity. Commit to speaking out against anti-Muslim propaganda and other forms prejudice, racism and hatred. Stand against anyone who threatens the human dignity and safety of our Muslim neighbors, who, like all fellow human beings, deserve to be treated with respect and love. Hate is the enemy, not Islam.

Brian Trautman is a U.S. Army veteran, peace educator/activist and national board member of Veterans For Peace. He resides in Albany, NY. On Twitter @BrianJTrautman.

Doors of Perception 11/29/17

Reopening the doors of perception – by Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler

In a time of endless war and triumphant cynicism, I found myself the other day unexpectedly walking through the doors of perception. Yeah, those doors.

“You know the day destroys the night/Night divides the day/Tried to run/Tried to hide/ Break on through to the other side . . .”

The words, the music — the Doors, the voice of Jim Morrison — ignite not just the Summer of Love but a crazy something I don’t dare call hope, because those days of cultural and political revolution overdosed and imploded, didn’t they? War won. The Vietnam War dragged on, millions died (or thousands, if the only death toll that matters to you is that of U.S. soldiers), MLK and RFK were assassinated, the Cold War quietly morphed into the War on Terror and eventually the 911 attacks gave the military-industrialists the “new Pearl Harbor” they needed. Today’s military budget is securely bloated.

Knowing this, I was blindsided by the impact a remarkable exhibition I recently attended with my daughter had on me. And the star of the show was born in 1757.

The show, running through next March at Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art, is called William Blake and the Age of Aquarius. Curated by art history professor Stephen Eisenman, it draws a link between the poetry, art and philosophy of Blake — an anti-authoritarian proponent of free thought and free love, a believer that every human being has a direct relationship with God — and many of the activists and artists of the ’60s, from Allen Ginsberg to Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.

Blake spoke a complex truth. He embraced a far-flung, wildly loving philosophy of life: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

These words, from Blake’s poem “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” (the title itself shows the convergence of forces he revered), gave Aldous Huxley the title of his book The Doors of Perception, about his experiences with mescaline. Then they gave Morrison the name of his rock band. And eventually they gave millions of young people, coming of age as a pointless war simmered and raged and Jim Crow stood its ground at the schoolhouse door, a glimpse at a world beyond the cruel and small-minded order that ruled the day.

This was not a simple world that flickered momentarily. This was not a tranquil, easy peace: “We chased our pleasures here/Dug our treasures there/But can you still recall/The time we cried/ Break on through to the other side . . .”

The cultural breakthrough was only partial. The political breakthrough still, often, feels to me like a complete dud. The Vietnam War went on for eight years beyond the 1967 Summer of Love; it finally became unfightable and ended in retreat and 16 years of proxy wars and “Vietnam Syndrome.” The American public was sick of war and the pointless sacrifice of young men and women. Then the powers that be ended the draft; and they saw in Saddam Hussein the perfect face of evil. In 2001, the towers went down.

And once again an extraordinary door of opportunity opened. But the country’s leaders had no wisdom beyond their own agenda of global hegemony.

Stephen Glain quotes Richard Clarke, counter-terrorism adviser for Bush 43, in his book State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire, recalling a cabinet meeting on Sept. 12, 2001, in which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: “You know, we’ve got to do Iraq. There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan. . . . We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around by these kind of attacks.”

As it turns out, I had come across that quote, in an excellent essay by Danny Sjursen, the day before I went to the William Blake/Age of Aquarius exhibit, and it had become seriously lodged in my consciousness — not as a surprise or a shock, just as a banal “of course.” The world was trembling, international compassion flowed, and the leaders of the world’s most powerful nation were plotting in utter ignorance a war that would make them look big and strong.

As the president soon put it, America’s mission was to “rid the world of evil.” They concocted what might as well be called the War To Promote Terror.

And the ’60s — the Summer of Love, the peace movement — is sandbagged by history’s cynicism, or so it has seemed until I saw the exhibit at Northwestern. Suddenly I felt the raw hope of those days come back to life: the outrage and the music and the possibility. The doors of perception reopened. And there was William Blake.

O for a voice like thunder, and a tongue
To drown the throat of war!
When the senses
Are shaken, and the soul is driven to madness,
Who can stand?

Many people were standing. Politicians, even at the national level, dared to run on peace platforms and hippies stuck flowers in the barrels of guns. Oh, the cliché of that. Indeed, one of the pieces in the exhibit was a 1967 photo by Marc Riboud, taken during the march on the Pentagon that year, of a young woman confronting a soldier’s bayonet in her face with a flower. In the context of the exhibit, this wasn’t a cliché. It was courage.

–end–

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

 

Comfortable Nation 11/29/17

The Quality of Mercy – by Kathy Kelly

Kathy Kelly

During the spring of 1999, as part of Voices in the Wilderness’s campaign to end indiscriminately lethal U.S./U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq, the Fellowship of Reconciliation arranged for two Nobel Peace laureates, Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire, to visit the country. Before their travel, Voices activists helped organize meetings for them with a range of ordinary Iraqis affected by an economic warfare targeting the most vulnerable: the elderly, the sick, and most tragically of all, the children.

Perez Esquivel studied the itinerary. His voice and face showed clear disappointment. “Yes,” he said, shaking his head, “but when do we meet with the teenagers?” He advised to always learn from a region’s young people, and seek clear, inquisitive views not yet hardened by propaganda. We quickly arranged for Maguire and Perez Esquivel to meet with young women at Baghdad’s Dijla Secondary School for Girls.

It was the spring of 1999. After eight years of deadly economic sanctions, the 2003 U.S. invasion was still the haziest of looming future threats. I was there with them at the school, and I remember Layla standing up and raising her voice. “You come and you say, you will do, you will do. But nothing changes. Me, I am 16. Can you tell me, what is the difference between me, I am sixteen, and someone who is 16 in your country? I’ll tell you. Our emotions are frozen. We cannot feel.” But then she sat down and cried.

Other Iraqi students wondered what their country had done to deserve this treatment. What would happen to them if the UN said Iraq’s foreign policy directly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children, in another country, under age five? “Who are the criminals?” they asked.

In 1999, young Layla’s voice was both pleading and accusing when she said, “Nothing changes.” A change did occur in 2003. The 13-year economic war turned into a fierce bombing and invasion called “Shock and Awe.” U.S.-led foreign troops battered the nation. With its cities and reservoirs wrecked, its power lines downed, and its police and economy abolished, chaos broke out. Occupying troops watched the country convulse into escalating violence, replicable anywhere. The long smother of the sanctions was lifted from the crushed windpipe of a nation struggling even harder to breathe, its desperate flailing summoning ever more violent responses. The young people’s question, then, should persist: “Who are the criminals?”

As they do each month, my young friends in Kabul, Afghanistan, hosted a three-hour international internet call on November 21st, 2017, focused on ways to survive the psychological traumas inflicted on people living in a war zone. They spoke about how war causes mistrust, fear and a constant anxiety because there is no safe space. They said what they most need are relationships. Trauma destroys connections, makes people feel alone and isolated. Healing involves connection.

Through self-education, they’ve learned to connect and care deeply about people in Yemen where seven million people, according to CBS’s Sixty Minutes, face famine. Meanwhile, a Saudi-led coalition, backed and joined by the U.S., continues blockading and bombing civilians. Despite their own destitution, the Afghan Peace Volunteers collected what they could for relief efforts in Yemen, raising about $48.00.

“The quality of mercy is strained in the Middle East,” reads a New York Times editorial from mid-November, 2017, turning to literature to point out the unspeakably brutal throttling of Yemen where, according to the NYT op-ed, “Saudi Arabia closed off the highways, sea routes and airports in war-torn Yemen, forbidding humanitarian groups from even shipping chlorine tablets for the Yemenis suffering from a cholera epidemic…The International Red Cross expects about a million people to be infected by cholera in Yemen by December.” The editorial clearly links the epidemic to U.S. policy and emphasizes the Saudi-led campaign’s dependence on military assistance from the U.S.

Mark Weisbrot, an analyst with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, urges ordinary U.S. people to speak up about Yemen, “because this is the world’s best chance of ending what UN aid chief Mark Lowcock called “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims.” Last week, 120,000 people watched a brief video of Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin risking arrest to protest U.S. participation in Saudi war crimes. Now, as local groups in the U.S. and other countries plan vigils, legislative action, civil disobedience and education campaigns, we have a chance to end the nightmare fears of Yemenis facing starvation, disease, and war.

As I watched in 1999, Layla stood before her class to ask two renowned peacemakers what difference there was between her and a 16-year-old living in a more secure part of the world. The answer, in terms of her basic human rights and her irreplaceable human value, should be manifestly clear: there is no difference whatsoever. And yet, while U.S. warlords and military contractors collude with their counterparts in other lands, they earn former president Dwight Eisenhower’s blistering evaluation: This world in arms “is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children.” Among the most vulnerable children sacrificed are those forced into poverty by military blockade and military occupation, who steel themselves as the bombs tear through their towns and their neighborhoods and their neighbors, through their traumatized memories, and through their prospective futures when they dare to hope for one.

The comfortable nations often authorize the worst atrocities overseas through fear for their own safety, imagining themselves the victims to be protected from crime at all costs. Such attitudes entitle people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen to look in our direction when they ask, “Who are the criminals?” They will be looking at us when they ask that, until we at last exert our historically unprecedented economic and political ability to turn our imperial nations away from ruinous war, and earn our talk of mercy.

Kathy Kelly, syndicated by PeaceVoice, co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Blood Runs Cold 11/29/17

Turkeys in the White House  by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Satire in the Time of Trump is becoming really tricky. Just when a satirist believes s/he has the kernel of a silly or outrageous extrapolative idea, this administration jumps in front of it and even outdoes it. From Saturday Night Live to stand-up comics to the Onion to Andy Borowitz, it’s getting dicier by the day.

For instance, I was chuckling grimly to myself as Thanksgiving approached, creating an SNL bit in my mind where Trump overturns the pardons of last year’s turkeys by Obama. Hahaha, I thought, that would spoof Trump’s outrageous assaults on all that is decent in health care and environmental protection that Obama did via Presidential Findings.

Then Trump actually said that he tried to overturn Obama’s pardons for last year’s turkeys. Trump thought that was darn funny. My blood ran cold. This man’s sense of humor must have been surgically implanted by a really stupid robot improperly programed in a middle school shop class. This is a fellow who believes his wit is the height of caps when he calls a foreign head of state short and fat or yuks it up with cops about brutality.

I’m American, approximately Trump’s age and I’m a white guy so I’m feeling embarrassed and apologetic when I’m not feeling apoplectic at the snake pit into which we’ve cast ourselves. The Deadbeat Prez. It’s so rampant the makers of Embarrassmints cannot keep them in stock.

Hurry, Mueller, please. Bring charges, snip the Putin Puppet strings, and strip this sorry excuse for a public figure of all title, wealth, power and comfort. Can you manage? Will my $5 donation help? I could do $10 if you could jam on the gas. I know my annual donations to worthy causes aren’t enough but on a percent basis I am confident they overtop Trump’s. You can have some of my zip ties; they make great handcuffs.

We’ve seen this country sink faster than a granite block in water and there is no bottom in sight. I have a friend who is one of the world’s top climate scientists and he is trying to convince us all to get busy. I have another friend—two friends, actually, who are heading to prisons for nonviolent resistance to climate chaos greatly exacerbated by the astonishingly poor decisions and inept presidential orders we have seen launching off the Oval Office desk.

He fails to understand rudimentary science, basic morals, honesty, simple ethics, decent planning for the future of our nation, and all-around civility. Who raised this cringeworthy one? Does he have a daily quota of groups and individuals he intends to offend?

It’s all I want for Christmas. Make us all grateful. Bring down this failed and dangerous administration. Quickly. His fingers may be tiny but they have been in all the wrong places and cannot get near the nuclear football.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is a scholar of civil resistance and PeaceVoice Director.

Just the Excuse 11/22/17

Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea by Michael Eisenscher

Michael Eisenscher

On August 8th Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” He ordered the Pentagon to prepare for all military options. In the interim, he has ordered mock invasion war games with South Korea on North Korea’s borders and coasts, sent nuclear weapons-capable bombers to fly over the Korean Peninsula in a clear sign to Kim Jong Un he is prepared to follow through on his threat, and has ordered three US aircraft carrier armadas to the oceans just off North Korea’s shores, while escalating his belligerent rhetorical exchanges with his North Korean nemesis.

Hampshire College Professor Michael Klare, writing in The Nation, suggests, this extraordinary naval buildup could provide Trump with the sort of military extravaganza he seems to enjoy and/or to prepare for a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea. It may also trigger a North Korean response that will serve as a pretext for military aggression.

As if these developments were not alarming enough, the Washington Post reports that in the last week the Pentagon sent a letter to members of Congress in which it said the only way to locate and secure all of North Korea’s nuclear weapon sites with complete certainty is through an invasion of ground forces. In the event of conflict, the generals said, Pyongyang might also resort to biological and chemical weapons, raising the specter of great American casualties.

Given the mercurial bellicose character of the Commander in Chief, and his view that diplomacy is a “waste of time”, the generals’ letter could provide Trump with just the excuse he needs to unleash US nuclear weapons on North Korea – “to save (American) lives” (as if bombing or invasion were the only alternatives available to him). ‘Saving American lives’ was a justification offered by Truman for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A single 150 kiloton nuclear armed cruise missile fired from our off-shore fleet at Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, is predicted to immediately kill a half million Koreans. More than another million would be severely injured. That estimate of the initial death toll alone is approximately equivalent to wiping out the population of Oakland or Tucson.

Kim Jong Un has no incentive to attack the US first unless convinced the US is about to attack North Korea. He might be provoked to preempt or answer it with an attack of its own. With the nuclear weapon and intercontinental ballistic missile it has already developed (assuming it can miniaturize the bomb to be carried by its ICBM) its missile could hit a U.S. West Coast city like San Francisco, where almost 225,000 would die immediately and another 330,000 would suffer horrific injuries and radiation sickness, many of whom would die later. Seoul, South Korea, a city of 25 million people, is just 35 miles from the North Korean border. If it were targeted with a nuclear bomb, immediate casualties could easily top one million.

This is what’s at stake in the game of nuclear chicken Donald Trump seems to want to play with Kim Jong Un. We have to stop it.

Recent polling demonstrates that more than two-thirds of the American people believe that the United States should attack North Korea only if North Korea attacks first. But Donald Trump doesn’t think much of the ‘will of the people’ if our will doesn’t coincide with his ambitions or interests.

It is imperative that Congress enact a law that prevents Trump from ordering such a premeditated attack without prior consent of Congress, as required by our Constitution.

A bi-partisan letter to President Trump has been initiated by Congresswoman Barbara Lee reasserting Congress’s role in authorizing and overseeing military actions, and Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), joined by more than 60 other members of Congress, introduced new bipartisan, bicameral legislation to do just that. The No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act of 2017 (H.R. 4140/S. 2016) restricts funds available to the Department of Defense or to any other federal department or agency from being used to launch a military strike against North Korea without the prior approval of Congress or the imperative to respond to an attack against the United States or its allies.

This legislation has been endorsed by a broad array of peace, veterans, faith, civil liberties, social justice, Korean American and other civil society organizations.

Contact your member of Congress and Senators to urge them to cosponsor and vote for this critical legislation. Defense of our Constitution, our national security and global peace require members of Congress on both sides of the aisle do their duty, pass this legislation and restore the separation of powers dictated by our Constitution.

Michael Eisenscher is National Coordinator Emeritus of US Labor Against the War.

 

Kangaroo Court 11/22/17

Reckless – by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

I’m heading to court from my home in Portland, Oregon, to Missoula, Montana.

Leonard Higgins is going to go on trial in a Montana courtroom for his role in the October 11, 2016 coordinated shutdown of several of the dirtiest tar sands oil pipelines that increasingly and dangerously traverse North America.

Leonard simply shut off a valve, turning off the Express pipeline in Montana, an act of supreme nonviolent symbolism because he and everyone involved knew that the pipeline company would open the valve quickly and get the filthy tar sands oil sludging along again.

Four other climate chaos resisters also shut down sections of tar sands oil pipelines in Washington, North Dakota, and Minnesota the same day. All either face trial or have gone to trial. For the most part, thus far, the courts have disallowed the necessity defense, that is, effectively eliminating the chance for the jury to hear why these resisters did their actions.

This means that, for the most part, they have been kangaroo courts, a travesty of the judicial system.

Another valve-turner, Michael Foster, a mental health counselor in his 50s from Seattle, went on trial in North Dakota and one of the charges–the only one the jury found him Not Guilty of–was reckless endangerment. The other charges resulted in convictions and he faces possibly 21 years in prison. His sentencing will be January 18.

He is sitting in the packed van across from me as we travel to Leonard’s trial. I ask him about the 210,000 gallon spill that just occurred in South Dakota from a part of the Keystone pipeline.

“Yeah, I don’t think I was the one engaging in reckless endangerment,” says Michael.

And, as in Michael’s case, the Montana judge has refused to allow the jury to hear the necessity defense, so we are going to hold a mock trial (view it here) to at least share with anyone interested what we would have presented, had Leonard been allowed to receive a fair trial.

The necessity defense would allow the jury to hear that the pipeline is carrying highly polluting tar sands oil, that the climate catastrophes we are starting to see–more fires, larger fires, longer fire seasons, more hurricanes, worse hurricanes, longer hurricane seasons, rising seas–will intensify with the ongoing failure to transition now to clean renewable energy. The jury won’t be allowed to hear that the resisters had at least some reasonable expectation of a positive effect as a result of their actions.

Instead, the jury will only learn that the defendants did turn off the pipeline, however briefly. Since the resisters had others call the pipeline company a few minutes ahead of time to warn them, this is hardly in question. The resisters did not admit their actions; they claimed them.

Meanwhile, the tar sands oil are polluting our groundwater and contaminating our soil at every step, even as the Trump representatives in Bonn are the only rogues promoting the use of more fossil fuels. The entire world knows better. Only the US is going out of its way to act with demonstrable reckless endangerment.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.

Child Arrested by BPA 11/15/17

Bureaucracy vs. Humanity – by Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler

Basically, it’s kidnapping.

Were the Border Patrol agents wearing MAGA hats when they grabbed Rosa Maria Hernandez as she left her hospital room?

“It’s a shocking case — the most outrageous case I’ve ever seen. Is it a preview of things to come?” ACLU attorney Michael Tan said to me about the incident, shortly after the civil-rights group filed suit against the federal government demanding the 10-year-old child’s release from a detention facility in Texas, 150 miles from her home in Laredo.

Rosa Maria, who has cerebral palsy, was arrested at a children’s hospital on Oct. 25, the day after she had emergency gall bladder surgery. She’s been at the detention center for a week now, under the bureaucratic “care” of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which wants to ship her back to Mexico.

The child’s problem is that, although she has lived in the United States since she was three months old, she’s illegal. Her mother brought her into the U.S. — from Nuevo Laredo to Laredo — so she could get better medical care.

But there’s no mercy for the illegals. Last week, Rosa Maria’s ambulance, which was taking her to a children’s hospital in Corpus Christi in the company of an adult cousin, a U.S. citizen, was stopped at an immigration checkpoint. The Border Patrol agents demanded the little girl’s papers. She had none. They determined that she was illegal and followed the ambulance to the hospital; agents stood outside the child’s door for a day.

According to the ACLU:

“Throughout the time that Rosa Maria was in the hospital, male Border Patrol agents followed her every move, sitting next to her in the waiting room, remaining in a nurse’s screening room while her vitals were taken, and even peeking into the operation area while she was awaiting surgery. The agents stayed in the hospital over the objections of hospital staff. . . .

“Following surgery, Rosa Maria was experiencing pain and needed to stay in a recovery room overnight. Agents followed her to the recovery room and stood guard at her door until she was discharged. They physically took her into custody, directly from her hospital bed, on October 25, 2017. The agents did not obtain a warrant before taking Rosa Maria into custody.”

The agents told the cousin that the child and her mother had two options: The mother could agree to Rosa Maria’s immediate deportation to Mexico through “voluntary departure,” or she would be arrested and held in a detention center. The family chose the lesser of these two evils: arrest and detention.

I repeat: The little girl was recovering from gall bladder surgery when she was arrested, i.e., bureaucratically kidnapped. She was still in pain.

Tan told me that when the ACLU initially contacted the Office of Refugee Resettlement to demand Rosa Maria’s immediate release, “we were still hoping it was a case of overzealous Border Patrol agents. If we could get the case before the right people in the agency” — you know, reasonable, sane people — the child would be released back to her family. “That did not happen. The government doubled down.

“This,” he said, “sends a disturbing message.”

He added that the conditions of her detention are “awful, traumatizing. She’s never been apart from her family. Now she’s 150 miles away from them. [Holding her in detention] is especially dire in the wake of surgery. I think what the government is doing here is incredibly cruel. It’s also unconstitutional.”

The ACLU filed suit against the federal government on Oct. 31. It has also filed a temporary restraining order calling for Rosa Maria’s immediate release to her family, stating: “The government cannot plausibly contend that Rosa Maria Hernandez poses any danger to public safety, given that she is a 10-year-old child with serious medical needs who is currently recovering from needed surgery. . . .”

Enough, enough! What’s taking place here is institutional racism, aggravated in the Trump era by an uptick in border patrol aggression. The idea that a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who has lived in the United States since she was three months old, could be illegal — that any human being, in his or her very existence, could be illegal — freezes my soul. This is bureaucracy vs. humanity.

And it rips open the hypocrisy of the “limited government” crowd, who cringe at resources being used to help people — universal health care, free college tuition — but are OK, I presume, with money being allotted to maintain the various, enormously costly, wars against our enemies.

Rosa Maria Hernandez is not my enemy. And I have no tolerance for government resources being used to dehumanize people. It may be that this young girl’s arrest is partially a function of Trump policies — immigration arrests went up 37 percent shortly after he took office, the Washington Post reported — but, as usual, his reckless feeding of the bigotry of his base illuminates institutional prejudices that were already present.

The ACLU has urged people to call the Office of Refugee Resettlement and demand Rosa Maria’s release, and it has a website to facilitate the process. This may be a good place for us to start reclaiming the country.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

 

Vehicle of Terror 11/15/17

How to respond when someone uses a vehicle as a weapon of terror – by Patrick T. Hiller

Patrick Hiller

The use of vehicles as weapons to kill civilians has sparked global fear and attention. Such attacks can be carried out in any populated area, against any random group of people, by anyone with or without connections to a network of ideologues promoting fear, hatred and terror.

We do not need experts to tell us that it is almost impossible to prevent such attacks. Two notable attacks in the US were those by James A. Fields Jr., who rammed his car into a crowd of nonviolent protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia killing one and injuring 19, and by Sayfullo Saipov who deliberately drove a truck down a bike path killing eight and injuring at least 11. They acted on behalf of an exclusively “white America,” and the establishment of a new Islamic caliphate across the Middle East, respectively. A crucial, immediate and long-term response is to separate the ideology of hate from those people and beliefs the attackers claim to represent.

Those who commit such acts never represent the majority of the people they claim to champion. Fields did not represent the 241 million white people in the United States, just like Saipov did not represent the approximately 400 million Muslims in the Middle East or the 33 million Uzbeks of his native country. Nevertheless, baseless blanket accusations pitch “us” vs “them,” with “the other” being a group to be feared, hated, and destroyed. This response is used by designated terrorist group leaders and our own government officials alike.

Social relations are far more fluid than the “us/them” propaganda suggests. Peace scholar John Paul Lederach invites us to look at a spectrum where we have organizations and individuals who actively promote and pursue terror and violence on one end, and those who have absolutely no connection on the other end. The broad center of the spectrum is made up by those who have some connection—wanted or unwanted—through a shared common (religious) background, extended family links, geography, race or other factors. Passivity, silence, and neutrality on that spectrum is not helpful. Broad condemnation and unity by those who the attackers claim to represent takes away their claim of acting for a greater good. Just like New York City’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism John Miller clearly stated that Islam had no role in the attack by Saipov, the fact that diverse groups denounced and protested white supremacy in Charlottesville, helped isolate both attackers and their ideology. The “us” becomes a clear majority of those taking a side against violence in the name of an ideology. The “them” now are isolated violent actors without legitimate support, the latter being a key ingredient for recruiting members, safety, and resources.

The gut response when innocents are killed is to do something. In the case of the New York attack, calling the attacker a “degenerate animal,” calling for fear-based immigration policies, and increasing military attacks in a country halfway across the globe—all tweeted responses by President Trump—are worse than useless.

If we can learn anything from vehicle attacks on civilians, it is that the militarized war on terror is as helpful as banning cars. The militarized war on terror is not winnable by design. Increasing military responses sends a signal that the vehicle attacks are working as tactics by a militarily inferior party. Research shows that military action is often an ineffective and even counterproductive tool for countering terrorism. The grievances and narratives employed by terrorist groups are fed by military action—new recruits fall into their arms. The only feasible way is to address the root causes.

Not surprisingly, some root causes for white nationalist-and ISIS-inspired attacks are similar—perceived or real marginalization, alienation, deprivation, and unequal power relations. Admittedly, these causes require more profound societal transformations. While hard, the numerous rights movements –human, civil, women, LGBT, religious, etc.—demonstrate that we can build on those even in challenging times.

And how do we deal with terror groups in the meantime? First, the stated and actual path toward addressing the root causes already takes away incentives and legitimate support for any form of terror. Second, ISIS can be countered directly by initiating arms and ammunitions embargoes to the Middle East, support for Syrian civil society, pursuit of meaningful diplomacy with all actors, economic sanctions on ISIS and supporters, withdrawal of US troops from the region, and the support of nonviolent civil resistance. Creative nonviolence is also one of the best ways to directly counter public acts of white supremacy. When white supremacists march, they can outnumbered, they can be mocked, and they can be made friends and changed. Daryl Davis, a black musician, asked many clansmen “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?” He got 200 KKK members to leave the Klan.

There is no magic solution to eradicate the discussed forms of terror. There are, however, many ways we can respond to vehicles being used as weapons that make such incidents less likely in the future. If we don’t use these alternatives, it is not because they are not available, but because of artificially imposed constraints, lack of interest, or self-interest. The broad social spectrum gives us ample opportunity in our respective contexts to take the contested area away from the terrorists and dissolve any hateful ideology at its roots.

Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, served on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association (2012-2016), member of the Peace and Security Funders Group, and Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.

Children Need Boomers 11/15/17

Dear Baby Boomers, Your Children Need You – by Lisa Fuller

Lisa Fuller

Dear Baby Boomers,

Your children and your grandchildren need you right now- their lives may depend on it. I know, because I am one of them.

My only memory from the Cold War is the fall of the Berlin Wall. The only reason I remember that day, however, is because my mother told me I would remember it. At the time, I had no idea why she was so excited about the demolition of a ugly concrete wall that was covered in graffiti. I was six-years-old.

I never had to do duck and cover drills in school. I was born 20 years after President John F. Kennedy went on national television to urge Americans to build fall out shelters. I was still a baby when Carl Sagan and his colleagues discovered and publicized the prospect of nuclear winter- a development so significant that it helped initiate the de-escalation of the nuclear arms race.

My generation never felt the anxiety of the Cold War, and few of us feel anxious about the current North Korea crisis. Although the risk of nuclear war is now as high as it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the majority of Americans “believe a major war is imminent,” we don’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation, nor understand that even our own families could be at risk. Nuclear expert Alan Robock confirms that “most people, including high-ranking defense officials, are unaware that a nuclear war occurring halfway around the world from the U.S. could seriously harm the homeland.”

A few months ago, we mobilized in record numbers to prevent Congress from repealing the Affordable Care Act because we understood how losing Obamacare would negatively impact our lives. Now we are barely mobilizing at all around an issue that could have even more dire consequences for our health. Instead, we argue about nuclear war as if it was just one more issue on the political battleground that divides us. Even the activists amongst us are focused on other issues.

Author Jonathan Schell seemingly foresaw our predicament in 1998 when he wrote, “a new generation, innocent of the divisions of the Cold War… do not feel the urgency to escape the nuclear danger that some of its parents felt. The call for abolition should therefore be, among other things, a call from an older generation to younger one.”

In 1982, your generation organized the (then) biggest demonstration in American history to protest nuclear escalation. Your success was largely a result of your visceral understanding of the devastating effects of nuclear war.

I know many of you are retired, and even more of you are tired. I know you already did your part in the 1960s with peace and love and all that. I know it is supposed to be our generation that takes responsibility and demands an end to the senseless escalation of threats. But we’re not doing it.

We need our parents and our grandparents to help us one last time. We need you to speak out again.

Love,  Generation X and the Millennials

Lisa Fuller spent the past eight years working in war zones such as Iraq, South Sudan and Sri Lanka as a senior staff member at Nonviolent Peaceforce. She recently discovered that she is a member of the Xennial microgeneration. Follow her on Twitter: @gigipurple

 

Illusion of Salvation 11/15/17

The illusion of armed salvation – by Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler

This time, the “the fire and the fury” of American mass murder erupted in church. Twenty-six people were killed, including children, one only 18 months old.

How do we stroke their memory? How do we move forward? This is bigger than gun control. We should begin, I think, by envisioning a world beyond mass murder: a world where rage and hatred are not armed and, indeed, where our most volatile emotions can find release long before they become lethal.

As I read about the shootings at Sutherland Springs, Texas, and studied Devin Patrick Kelley’s troubled bio, I suddenly found myself picturing a coal miner trapped in a collapsed mine. Here was a man trapped inside himself: buried in his own troubles, disconnected from his own humanity and, therefore, everyone else’s humanity. A man in such a state is utterly disempowered.

And in this country, the path back to empowerment — for God know how many people — begins with owning a gun.

“The United States is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala . . . (in which) people have an inherent right to own guns,” Max Fisher and Josh Keller pointed out recently in the New York Times.

That is to say, in most other countries, gun ownership, like driving a car, is a privilege to be earned, not a basic human right to be removed by law only when extreme conditions warrant it. And a large, organized segment of the population intends to keep it that way. After every mass shooting, the force that rallies in this country is the force that cherishes the right to own guns and views every attempt by government to limit that right as a theft of the most fundamental of freedoms, not as a means of protecting people. It’s as though the right to bear arms equals the right to be fully human.

Envisioning a world without mass murder — which means a world without war, waged either collectively or privately (with both types of war generating handsome profits for the weapons industry) — means envisioning a world where guns are not a precondition for empowerment and us vs. them isn’t society’s default setting.

Guns are a symptom of society’s addiction to fear. And efforts to pass gun control legislation are continually on the political defensive, caught between the addicts and the profiteers.

And thus, as the Baltimore Sun noted: “If Kelley was eligible to buy a gun, it was only just barely. Yet even so he was able to buy not just any gun but a civilian version of a military assault rifle, designed not for hunting or self-defense but combat.”

The Air Force didn’t work out for him. He was court-martialed for abusing his then-wife and fracturing the skull of his toddler stepson, spent a year in confinement and wound up with a bad-conduct discharge, but he still was able to claim his right to go into combat.

And in claiming that right — and becoming one of the “bad guys with a gun” — Kelley fueled the combat instincts in others, such as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has called for the armed protection of America’s churches. Speaking on Fox News, Paxton recommended armed security guards or “at least arming some of the parishioners so they can respond to something like this.”

As Fisher and Keller reported, citing a 2015 University of Alabama study: “Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American. . . .

“Adjusted for population, only Yemen has a higher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people. . . . Yemen has the world’s second-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States.”

And of course the danger isn’t just from mass shootings. In 2013, for instance, there were 11,208 homicides in the U.S. involving guns, 21,175 suicides and 505 deaths from accidental discharge, they point out.

The prevailing belief and legal standard in this country is that people have a right to be armed in order to protect themselves, no matter that the opposite is probably the case. David Robert Grimes, writing several years ago in The Guardian, cited the findings of a University of Pennsylvania study that people carrying firearms were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who did not carry and noted, with reference to a number of studies:

“While defensive gun use may occasionally occur successfully, it is rare and very much the exception — it doesn’t change the fact that actually owning and using a firearm hugely increases the risk of being shot.”

He also noted: “There’s good evidence that the very act of being in possession of a weapon has an unfortunate effect of making us suspect others have one too.”

Thus, arming ourselves both intensifies our fear and increases our literal danger. A lost soul with little emotional control to begin with is particularly susceptible to such effects and is, no doubt, the last person who should be armed. But in the United States of America, owning a gun — better yet, an assault rifle — may well be the most enticing option he has to save himself.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Bring Congress Back 11/15/17

Stop the Wars: Congress vs. the President – by Mel Gurtov

Who Makes War?

Mel Gurtov

As Donald Trump maintains a high-velocity assault on North Korea’s leader, its political system, and its weapons tests, members of Congress are reportedly getting increasingly agitated about his possibly authorizing a preemptive attack. As well they should; Trump is notorious for his bellicose rhetoric, fondness for flashing military power, and lack of interest in diplomacy. The unfortunate reality is that Trump has a long history of unrestrained presidential power in war making behind him.

Going to war is one of the most misunderstood constitutional issues. The constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war. But for over a century, presidents have assumed the power as commander in chief to make and conduct war —to declare a national security threat, deploy forces, and use them without reference to Congress. To be sure, Congress finally responded to presidential abuse of war powers in Southeast Asia by passing the War Powers Resolution (WPR) in 1973. The resolution imposes a 60-day deadline for a presidential action abroad to obtain Congress’s approval; otherwise, the action must stop and any US forces must be withdrawn. But that law has never been invoked to start the 60-day clock. The WPR has neither prevented a president’s use of force abroad nor forced withdrawal of forces once committed.

Presidents of both parties have not hesitated to use their war making power, deploying the military and other agents of intervention on a scale no other country can begin to match. Consider the array of US firepower at sea today in the Korean peninsula area—no less than three aircraft carrier strike groups operating together for the first time, and without a word from Congress. On the ground, the emphasis is on “advise and assist” missions, just as in Vietnam once upon a time. But what almost inevitably follows is combat. Since 9/11 presidents have authorized ground and air missions throughout the Middle East—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan—as well as in numerous African countries such as Niger and Mali. In all, according to The New York Times, Washington has deployed about “240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories,” as well as over 37,000 to unnamed other locations.

Restraining Presidential Power in the Middle East

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has been leading an effort to bring Congress back into the war making act. A few years ago he introduced legislation to revisit the original Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Islamic State militants, a step he believed would force debate on what an authorization for war should actually entail. “There is no doubt that our current offensive [in the Middle East] amounts to war,” said Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “Congress should take action both to authorize its prosecution and to set limits on that authorization so it may not be used by any future administration in a manner contrary to our intent.” Schiff’s proposed AUMF would have limited military action against ISIS to three years and prohibited the use of US ground troops. It also would have ended, in three years, the 2001 AUMF that President Barack Obama said already gave him the authority to go after ISIS without new war authorization.

While these limitations seem appropriate at first glance, it is all too easy to imagine ways around them. Limitations are not bans, such as the Boland Amendment imposed to stop US aid to the Nicaraguan contras in the Reagan era. (Even that step didn’t stop Reagan.) Congress could override the three-year limit under Schiff’s AUMF if a new administration were to appeal on national security grounds that ISIS must be stopped. Prohibiting the use of US ground troops may not prevent a president from using other forces, such as “advisers,” CIA operatives, and special forces, as happened in Vietnam and other conflicts. Nor would a new AUMF prevent arms transfers to friendly forces, drone strikes, direction of air strikes by non-US air forces, military training, and support in various forms of third countries whose armies would accomplish what Congress prohibits.

Consequently, more recent efforts in Congress to constrain President Trump, mainly by Schiff and other Democrats, are very unlikely to succeed either. For one thing, Trump, like Obama, can hide behind the original post-9/11 AUMF. That authorization amounts to a blank check similar to the Southeast Asia resolution that President Johnson frequently cited to maintain and escalate US involvement in Vietnam. Rarely can Congress take back what it gave away, and this administration is not in a giving mood. (A new AUMF “is not legally required to address the continuing threat posed by al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 31.) A revised AUMF, moreover, might actually expand the administration’s war making by authorizing US military action against a wide assortment of “terrorist” organizations.

The most likely outcome is either no change in the AUMF or a new AUMF that reaffirms presidential power. Either one is a recipe for endless war. The reason is simple: Trump can surely count for support on the great majority of Republicans, and probably some Democrats, all of whom (as in past Congresses) hesitate to question presidential prerogatives in national security.

Preventing the Next War: North Korea

The overriding obstacle for Congress is that the Trump administration, like its predecessors, holds all the cards when it comes to defining and acting on national security grounds. North Korea is the principal concern here. Trump and his top advisers have consistently painted North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missiles as imminent threats to the US and its allies. The administration has deployed undefined “strategic assets” to the Korean peninsula area. US first-use of nuclear weapons to completely destroy North Korea cannot be excluded. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the same October 31 hearing, “The fact is that no president, Republican or Democrat, has ever forsworn the first strike capability. That has served us for 70 years.” We can only presume he was referring only to the contingency of an imminent or actual North Korean attack on US territory. But can we be sure?

We have no way of knowing what is in President Trump’s mind when it comes to the use of nuclear or any other category of weapons. Most analysts, and Trump’s own national security team, believe war with North Korea would result in enormous loss of life on and beyond the Korean peninsula. Does Trump believe that? Does he care? (Don’t judge from his script while addressing the South Korean national assembly.) Democrats aren’t waiting to find out; they have drafted legislation that would prevent Trump from unilaterally using a nuclear weapon or initiating war with North Korea. But though they claim some degree of Republican support, they know full well that Republicans are no more going to vote in favor of these initiatives than they would vote in favor of a restrictive AUMF. They, and we, are literally stuck with having to hope Trump will heed the cautionary words of the professional military, such as in the recent Pentagon report to Congress that concludes that finding and destroying the DPRK’s nuclear-weapons inventory would require a US ground invasion.

No Questions Allowed

In short, war with North Korea seems beyond the capacity, much less the willingness, of Congress to prevent. The secretaries of state and defense and the national security special assistant say the US seeks a diplomatic solution, but their words are unpersuasive. More credible—and deplorable—is presidential adviser Stephen Miller, who famously said on national television on February 12 that “the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

“Very substantial,” yes, but “not questioned”? Such an authoritarian view compels those of us who seek ways to prevent this administration from exercising its presumptive war powers need to look for support beyond Washington—to an aroused public and media, to US allies and friends in Asia, to Europe, and even to China.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an Asia expert and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Disposable Us 11/8/17

Kary Love

No Lives Matter or Can We Murder Murder— Did MLK Get It Wrong? – by Kary Love

We are all fighting about which lives matter. The truth is, no lives matter.

At least no lives matter to those with the power to annihilate all lives. To them, we are all disposable. In my judgment, this makes us all slaves.

As odious as every aspect of slavery is (was?), the core power of slavers was the right to kill their slaves at will. That is the power those with their fingers on the nuclear button have over the rest of us. They are slave owners and we are slaves. We pay taxes, mostly against our will, to build the very weapons our slave owners will use to incinerate us.

To those in power, we are not merely “deplorables”, we are “disposables,” like a paper diaper full of baby excrement. The US Government plans to “save” 5000 or so government bureaucrats in the event of nuclear war, so they can carry out the “Continuation of Government” (COG) plan. The same US Government has washed its hands of civil defense. None, nada, not.

JFK famously opined that in the event of nuclear war, “the living would envy the dead.” So, I do not envy the government bureaucrats their bunkers. Who in their right mind would want to live in a world peopled solely by survivors who were so morally crippled that they planned for a nuclear war and then if (when?) it came, scuttled like rats into a sewer while their “fellow” Americans fried, burned, combusted, eye balls melting, or died slowly of radiation poisoning?

Martin Luther King contended that we “cannot murder murder” as he argued that war can never succeed in stopping killing. I hate to disagree with MLK, but he was wrong. Trump and Kim, our supreme leaders, have figured out how to murder murder. It is actually quite simple: have a nuclear war and murder everyone! In Stalinesque simplicity: No humans, no murder. This seems, however, to me to be an extreme method to accomplish a goal that could be attained in a much better way: “love your enemy.”

But, I am just a simple citizen of the world, not a commander of armies and fleets. I am probably missing some important, and probably secret, critical element known only to our “exceptional” supreme leaders.

They claim to know better than Jesus, or Gandhi, or MLK. So far, I do not agree with them that we can, or ought, to use their way to murder murder. So far, I disagree with Armageddon as the path and the way. Please excuse my stupidity.

Dumb as I may be, it seems to me that so long as we fight amongst ourselves over which lives matter, they win. Once we unite and declare all lives matter, we begin their defeat. Perhaps this Armistice Day, November 11, 2017?

Kary Love is a Michigan attorney who has defended nuclear resisters in court for decades.

 

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