Knock at Every Door 7/26/17

At Every Door – by Kathy Kelly

“I come and stand at every door- But none shall hear my silent tread- I knock and yet remain unseen”  -Nazim Hikmet

Kathy kelly

On July 18, 2017, at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing focused on “The Four Famines: Root Causes and a Multilateral Action Plan,” Republican Senator Todd Young, a former Marine, asked officials present if ongoing war in Yemen could fail to exacerbate the catastrophe developing there – one of four countries, along with Southern Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia, set to collectively lose 20 million people this year, one third the death toll of WWII, from conflict-driven famine. Yemen is being bombarded and blockaded, using US-supplied weapons and vehicles, by a local coalition marshaled by U.S. client state Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s near-famine conditions, with attendant cholera outbreak, are so dire that in Yemen it is estimated a child dies every 10 minutes of preventable disease.

At the hearing, Senator Young held aloft a photo of a World Food Program warehouse in Yemen, which was destroyed in 2015. Senator Young asked David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Program, to name the country responsible for the airstrike that destroyed the food warehouse. Mr. Beasley said the Saudi-led coalition blockading Yemen had destroyed the warehouse, along with the relief supplies it contained.

A July 2016 Human Rights Watch report documented 13 civilian economic structures destroyed by Saudi coalition led bombing between March 2015 and February 2016, “including factories, commercial warehouses, a farm, and two power stations. These strikes killed 130 civilians and injured 171 more. The facilities hit by airstrikes produced, stored, or distributed goods for the civilian population including food, medicine, and electricity—items that even before the war were in short supply in Yemen, which is among the poorest countries in the Middle East. Collectively, the facilities employed over 2,500 people; following the attacks, many of the factories ended their production and hundreds of workers lost their livelihoods.”

Asked about the Saudi coalition’s destruction of four cranes needed to offload relief supplies in Yemen’s port city Hodeidah, Mr. Beasley clarified that the loss of the cranes has vastly impeded WFP efforts to deliver food and medicines. Senator Young read from Mr. Beasley’s June 27th letter to the Saudi government, only the latest of multiple requests, asking that the WFP be allowed to deliver replacement cranes. Mr. Beasley said the Saudis had provided no reply. Senator Young noted that, in the three weeks since this last letter had been sent, more than 3,000 Yemeni children had died of preventable, famine-related causes.

Medea Benjamin, of the antiwar campaign Code Pink, was at the “Four Famines” hearing, and later thanked Sen. Young for rebuking the Saudi government’s imposition of a state of siege plus airstrikes that prevent delivery of food and medicine to destitute Yemeni civilians:

One day later, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on a July 19th coalition airstrike in Yemen, which killed 20 civilians—including women and children—while they were fleeing violence in their home province. The report claimed more than two million internally displaced Yemenis “fled elsewhere across Yemen since the beginning of the conflict, but … continue to be exposed to danger as the conflict has affected all of Yemen’s mainland governorates.”

On July 14, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would potentially end US participation in the Yemeni civil war. In the past, the White House has provided refueling and targeting assistance to the Saudi-led coalition without congressional authorization. Since October of 2016, the US has doubled the number of jet refueling maneuvers carried out with Saudi and United Arab Emirate jets. The Saudi and UAE jets fly over Yemen, drop bombs until they need to refuel, then fly back to Saudi airspace where US jets perform mid-air refueling operations. Next, they circle back to Yemen and resume bombing.

In the summer of 2006, I joined peace campaigner Claudia Lefko at a small school she helped found in Amman, Jordan. The school served children whose families were refugees, having fled postwar chaos in Iraq. Many of the children have survived war, death threats, and displacement. Claudia had worked with children in her hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts, to prepare a gift for the Iraqi refugee children at the Jordanian school. The gift consisted of strings of paper origami cranes, folded in memory of a Japanese child, Sadako, who had died from radiation sickness after the bombing of her home city, Hiroshima. In her hospital bed (the story goes), Sadako occupied her time attempting to fold 1,000 paper cranes, a feat she hoped would earn her the granting of a special wish, that no other child would ever suffer a similar fate. Sadako succumbed too rapidly to complete the task herself, but Japanese children hearing of her folded many thousands more cranes, and the story has been told for decades in innumerable places, making the delicate paper cranes a symbol for peace throughout the world. The Turkish writer, Nazim Hikmet, wrote a poem, since set to music, about the story. Its words are on my mind today, as I think of the malnourished children from the countries of the terrible Four Famines, and from other conflict-torn, US-targeted countries such as Iraq, and Afghanistan. I think of their months or years of terrible hunger. Their stories may have ended already during the first half of 2017.

“I need no fruit I need no rice -I need no sweets nor even bread -I ask for nothing for myself- For I am dead for I am dead”

The song about “The Little Girl of Hiroshima” imagines a child who comes and stands at every door, unheard and unseen. In reality, we the living can choose to approach the doors of elected representatives, of our neighbors, or stay at home. We can choose whether or not to be heard and seen. Robert Naiman at Just Foreign Policy points out that many people don’t know yet that the House has voted to prohibit US participation in the Saudi war in Yemen. We can focus on progress made, publicize the House votes on social media, push for a House roll call vote on the Davidson-Nolan prohibitions on Defense Appropriation, and push the Senate to pass the same provisions as the House. I personally oppose all defense appropriations (I have refused all payment of federal income tax since 1980). I recognize that legislative activism, at the heart of an empire addicted to war, is a tool of limited use; but considering the arriving disaster for which, as too few yet understand, 2017 may be hereafter remembered as the worst famine year in post-WWII history – we have no luxury to reject any tools presented to us.

Billions, perhaps trillions, will be spent to send weapons, weapon systems, fighter jets, ammunition, and military support to the region, fueling new arms races and raising the profits of U.S. weapon makers. But, we can choose to stand at the doors of our leaders and of our neighbors, honoring past sacrifices and the innocent lives we were unable to save, as we redouble efforts to stop war makers from constantly gaining the upper hand in our lives.

We can never reverse the decisions to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we cannot prevent all of the dying that is set to come, this fateful summer, in the countries of the Four Famines. In the song, lost Sadako, long beyond saving even as she folded paper in her bed, doesn’t ask us to erase her own terrible loss, but to achieve the change we can, and to lose no more time in achieving it:

“All that I need is that for peace- You fight today you fight today- So that the children of this world- Can live and grow and laugh and play”

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

 

Drink of Water 6/21/17

“Would you like a drink of water?” Please ask a Yemeni Child.
by Kathy Kelly

Kathy Kelly

This week, in New York City, representatives from more than 100 countries will begin collaborating on an international treaty, first proposed in 2016, to ban nuclear weapons forever. It makes sense for every country in the world to seek a legally binding ban on nuclear weapons. It would make even more sense to immediately deactivate all nuclear weapons.

But, by boycotting and disparaging the process now underway, the U.S. and other nuclear armed nations have sent a chilling signal. They have no intention of giving up the power to explode, burn and annihilate planetary life. “The United States is spending $1 trillion USD over the next thirty years to modernize its nuclear weapon arsenals and triple the killing power of these weapons,” says Ray Acheson, programme director at Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Acheson also notes that the excessive spending for nuclear weapons contrasts with U.S. cuts to vital anti-poverty programs. On June 19th, more than a dozen people blocked the U.S. Mission to the UN entrance to protest Washington’s boycott of the negotiations. They were arrested for disorderly conduct, but I believe it’s incomparably more disorderly to plan for nuclear war.

During the past weekend, to support the negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, WILPF called for “Women’s March to Ban the Bomb” actions in cities across the U.S. and around the world. Jane Addams, who helped found the League in 1919, was a Chicago woman who understood the crucial need to put an end to war, all war, and instead care for the neediest people. She dedicated herself to assuring that many new immigrants in her city were treated with respect, given assistance to meet basic needs and encouraged to live and work together, peaceably. Addams worked passionately to prevent nations from sleepwalking into the horrors of World War I, and she vigorously campaigned to stop the United States’ entry into it.

Upon return from visiting soldiers who had been maimed while fighting in the trenches of World War I, she spoke of how the young men couldn’t have carried on the war without mind-altering substances -sometimes absinthe, sometimes extra rations of rum. Families were sending laudanum and even heroin to the front lines in hampers. The soldiers couldn’t kill, she concluded, if left in their right minds.

The WILPF gatherings help us ask hard questions about our capacity to prepare for massive obliteration of entire cities, through nuclear weapon buildup, while failing to meet the needs of children, like those in Yemen, whose survival is jeopardized by war and indifference. Can we persist in perfecting our nuclear arsenals, indifferent to millions of children at risk of starving to death or dying because they lack clean water — and because U.S.-supported Saudi airstrikes decimate the infrastructure that might have supplied food and water, –can we do so and claim to be in our right minds?

WILPF gathered us in Chicago where we took time to remember a remarkably brave former Chicagoan, Jean Gump, a mother of 12 whose altruism led her to help dismantle an intercontinental ballistic missile. On March 28, 1986, Jean and her companions in the Plowshares movement enacted the biblical call to turn swords into plowshares. Picture it in the words of Lila Sarick’s article, “The Crime of Ms. Jean Gump:”

The early morning sun was beginning to glow red over the horizon as a trio ran through the dew-soaked Missouri field.

Silently, a young, bearded man cut the chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, while his two companions, another man and a woman, hung banners beside the scarlet sign that warned them not to enter.

Beside the warning sign, the pair hung a photo collage of the woman’s 12 children and 2 grandchildren. Alongside it, they hung a pennant that bore the group’s logo: “Swords into plowshares — an act of healing.”

The trio then clambered through the hole in the fence and entered M-10, a Minuteman II missile site at Whiteman Air Force Base, Knob Noster, Missouri.

The missile site resembled an abandoned railway yard. Rust-colored tracks ended abruptly in the middle of the site. Tall signal arms and white concrete bunkers dotted the landscape.

Wordlessly, the three set to work. Ken Rippetoe, 23, swung a sledgehammer at the railway tracks, designed to launch a nuclear missile with the punch of one million tons of TNT.

Larry Morlan, 26, snipped the wires on the signal arms, which pointed blindly toward the sky.

And Jean Gump uncapped a baby bottle filled with the trio’s blood and poured it in the shape of a cross on the gleaming hatch from which a missile could emerge. Underneath, she painted the words “Disarm and live.”

For this action, Jean Gump was sentenced to 4½ years in prison. The following year, her husband, Joe Gump, performed a similar action, believing Jean was right about assuming personal responsibility to deactivate nuclear weapons. The couple galvanized a group of Midwesterners to form a 1988 campaign, the “Missouri Peace Planting,” which involved dozens of people climbing over barbed wire fences onto the grounds of nuclear weapon silos in Missouri, and planting corn on top of the missile silos. I remember entering a nuclear weapon site in Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base, planting corn, and shortly thereafter finding myself kneeling in the grass, handcuffed, as a soldier stood behind me with his weapon pointed toward me. I lasted about two minutes in silence, and then started talking about why we did what we did and how we hoped the action would benefit children that he loved as well. And then I asked him, “Do you think the corn will grow?”

“I don’t know,” he responded, “but I sure hope so.” And then he asked me, “Ma’am, would you like a drink of water?” I nodded eagerly. “Ma’am,” said the soldier, “would you please tip your head back.” I did so, and he poured water down my throat. Recalling his kind offer to give me water jolts me into awareness about the relationship between the nuclear weapon below us, that day, and massive numbers of people, then and now, who acutely need clean water.

Imagine if his question, “Would you like a drink of water?” were asked, today, to people living in Yemen. Now, as the U.S. insists on having an exceptional right to dominate the planet, insists on being armed with enough explosive fire power to obliterate entire cities, suppose we were to ask people in Yemen, millions of whom now face cholera and starvation, if they would like a drink of clean, pure water?

Or, let’s bring the question closer to home and ask people in Flint, MI, whose water is contaminated, “Would you like clean, pure water?”

And as we grope for solutions to the signs of climate change, including severe droughts and the rush to privatize dwindling resources of potable water, imagine asking the children of future generations, “Would you like a drink of water?”

President Eisenhower was right to equate possession of nuclear weapons with commission of crime.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

It’s a big “ask”: get rid of nuclear weapons. Along with planning and joining protests, another way to remain awake and focused on preventing nuclear annihilation involves recognizing how interconnected we are with others, so much so that the suffering and death of another person diminishes our own lives.

This wakefulness entails abiding care for others. Jean Gump and Jane Addams practiced such care throughout most of their lives. We, likewise, can work toward justice for those who live in communities like Flint, MI; we can seek sane approaches to the climate crisis; and we can insist that those who are targets of war, like the cholera-ridden, desperately hungry children of Yemen, be spared from aerial terrorism and given full access to clean, life-saving waters.

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