Special or Public Interest 7/1/15

Interest groups, special and public

by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

We often hear politicians call their opponents an “interest group.” What does that mean? It can be misleading.

When the citizens of a town try to fix a bad ordinance so that their lives are safer, more productive, more prosperous and more equally just for all, should they have that right? Of course. They are acting in the public interest.

When a profit-seeking corporation tries to fix a state law so that business lowers costs at the expense of their workers, taxpayers, and the healthy cleanliness of drinking water, should they have that right? Of course not. They are acting as a special interest group, that is, a narrow elite will profit and all else will pay the costs, meaning that special interest groups are usually acting against the public interest.

Of course, there are cases that are mixtures of the two and, in a democracy, those deserve the most public discourse so that everyone can be heard and a wise decision can be made.

Is a group dedicated to equal justice for all a special interest group? According to a judge in Scotland Neck, North Carolina, yes. When a 61-year-old African American man, Roger Anthony, refused to stop riding his bicycle in November 2011, a 27-year-old white cop driving alongside him shot him with a taser. Anthony was knocked from his moving bike and his head received a fatal blow on the pavement.

There were no complaints of any criminal or suspicious activity by Anthony except for Biking While Black. This was so egregious that the District Attorney filed misdemeanor assault charges and then allowed the police officer to take advantage of a plea bargain that put him on probation. The judge agreed.

The spokesperson for the local NAACP told the media it was unjust that a any man should attack another, kill him, and never serve a day in jail. The judge waved aside those comments, telling the inquiring journalist that the NAACP is a “special interest” group.

What an interesting use of that term. If people of color want equal rights, that, to a North Carolina judge, is a special interest group. Really? What’s next? Those who want clean air are part of a special interest group? The Association of Air Breathers would probably include most humans. Justice for all seems to be a fairly universal, public interest, goal.

What of the case of a corporation that services the military? Do they get to claim public interest status or are they special interest? The Pentagon burns through approximately $2 billion daily, every day, seven days a week, and watching their massive bleed off to war profiteers is instructive. On 29 June it was announced by the DoD that, amongst many other contracts to many profiteers, Lockheed would get another $119 million to spruce up Balad Air Base in Iraq. “This contract is 100-percent foreign military sales. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition,” noted the Air Force. In other words, your tax money that you worked for going to fix a base in Iraq and no bids were taken. Does this smack of a Good Old War Profiteers Club special interest grab to anyone else?

What if that $119 million were used to create jobs for every young person willing to work in our national forests, pulling out downed wood to be used for a variety of purposes? Or perhaps it could provide some educational opportunities for STEM education for our public schoolchildren. There are so many life-affirming, infrastructural, palliative projects that need funding to give all of us a better life. In the public interest.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

Insane Massacres 6/24/15

Four Steps Toward Ending Gun Violence

by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

In my field of Peace and Conflict Transformation, we analyze the outbreak of destructive conflict as requiring three levels of causation. If any of the three are missing, the conflict will not turn destructive.

First, there are a few necessary conditions without which a conflict cannot become destructive. These necessary conditions are primarily that the means to destroy are available and that a conflict party is willing and able to employ them.

Second, that the mix and intensity of contributory causes is growing toward the third level of causation.

Third, that the mix and intensity of those contributory causes, coupled with the necessary causes, reaches sufficiency, at which point the conflict becomes destructive. Once that tipping point is reached the primary question is how destructive the conflict will become.

A destructive conflict could be a war, could be lawsuit, could be a disagreement over a barking dog (actually the most common conflict in the US community mediation services) that turns violent or generally lose-lose. Increasingly, for example, the competition for electoral office has generally transmogrified (the opposite of transformation) from competition to destructive conflict. Results include massive disgust, disapproval, and disrespect for members of Congress, many of whom got there and stay there using negative attack strategies. Yes, they destroy their political opponents, but they also dissolve the admiration that polls suggest Americans once had for elected officials—back when politics more resembled a tennis match, not the current affinity for no-holds-barred Ultimate Fighting.

Knowing all this, what can we imagine would be important to ending gun violence in our increasingly Tombstone Territory USA, where cars are getting safer and guns are getting more lethal? I’d offer four starter steps toward addressing a combination of necessary and contributory causes.

1. Repeal the Second Amendment. It undergirds every rotten Supreme Court ruling that deprives states and local governments of their jurisdictional rights to regulate firearms as they see fit. While the Founders did not contemplate the Second Amendment as an anti-democracy measure, it is. Without it, guns can be regulated or not, left entirely alone or completely banned and everything in-between. The stupid Second Amendment is a guarantor of more Dylann Roof acts of terror, more Jared Loughner slaughters of innocents, more James Holmes delusional mass murders, more Seung Hui-Cho insane massacres.

2. Closeout US operations and leave Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, just one of many forward Pentagon bases we do not need. The US has needs at home, and should stop sending troops and guns to Africa. It would save almost $60 million just in one recent contract and untold millions more over the next few years. Use that money to fund auxiliary education in nonviolent conflict management methods for US schoolchildren and de-escalation training for school security personnel.

3. For states that want to radically reduce gun violence, institute much more effective background evaluations that would keep guns out of the hands of those who have websites or any other activities or histories advocating race war or any other violent abomination. Can we use a bit of common sense here?

4. Invest in dialog. Explore grievances. Invite open public hearings so people feel heard, not shut down and shut out. Yes, have ground rules. Establish social norms that preclude identity attack and focus on the impacts of our behavior toward one another instead. We need to learn to listen to each other. People need to begin to feel like society is fair, or at least that it listens when people say it is unfair. If you feel that I am unwilling to hear your words, you may consider fists, and if your fists aren’t able to force me to hear you, a gun may be next. Let’s walk it back to words, said and heard.

Will these four steps end all gun violence and save all 32,000 lives we are likely to lose to guns next year, a gun fatality rate 20 times worse than any other developed country? No, but what if we did these things and “only” saved 3,489 lives in America next year? That would be the same number as all US military and military contractor lives lost in Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. In other words, we are waging a war in the US against ourselves every year that is almost equal to an entire 14-year war overseas. Time to take these four steps and many more to bring some semblance of sanity to our country.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

Bad Deal for Us 6/17/15

Militarism is a bad deal

by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

When Benjamin Netanyahu courted, received, and responded to an invitation to address a far rightwing Republican Congress in order to publicly, internationally diss President Obama, he scolded our President, saying the proposed deal to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb was a “bad deal.”

I’d like to channel Bibi. Militarism is a bad deal.

When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems start to look like nails. The only tool America has, in the minds of a warmongering Congress, is our military. Oh—excuuuuse me—our sacred military.

How has that military been doing at solving our nation’s problems? A very small but representative sampling:

· The military budget is massive, dwarfing all other discretionary budgets, burning through approximately $1.5 billion each day and costing American taxpayers months of their paychecks every year.

· The military and its corporate manufacturers have more Superfund sites than any other sector. Groundwater under and around military bases from Camp Lejuene in North Carolina, to Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, to Red Hill on Oahu, Hawaii, to Pensacola, Florida, to Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio, is polluted by wastes from the bases.

· Unexploded US military ordnance litters the Earth from Afghanistan to Camp Minden, Louisiana to Makua in Hawaii to Fort Sheridan north of Chicago.

· Radioactive military waste that will be poisonous for geological time spans is leaking into the soil, water and air from New York to South Carolina to Richland, Washington to Madison, Indiana. (If the Chinese or North Koreans had done all these things to us we would launch on them, no doubt.)

· The military budget creates fewer jobs per $billion spent than if Congress appropriated to any other sector—infrastructure, education, medical care, environmental protection, etc.

· Lead dust that the EPA says is unsafe contaminates at least four armories in Oregon—but the National Guard still allows training and they allow the public to use the facilities for events.

· Live anthrax from the hellish base at Fort Detrick, Maryland is shipped, by accident, all around the US and overseas, with no clear accounting of where else it was then transshipped.

· In violation of many international and US environmental laws, the US military conducts massive open-pit burns of toxic waste in Afghanistan, sickening US service members and Afghans.

· At least 600 US soldiers have suffered health problems from exposure to Iraqi poison weapons that the US designed.

· Locals have convinced the US government to postpose a burn of more than 700 acres of what the EPA called the most contaminated square mile on Earth at Rocky Flats, Colorado, where the Pentagon’s corporations manufactured the deadly radioactive triggers to some 70,000 nuclear bombs.

 When the US military achieves “Mission Accomplished” the results are predictable; the “vanquished” enemy steps up, digs deeper, and comes roaring back more virulent than ever. Since our ill advised Gulf War in 1991—after which we saw the creation of al Qaida as an enemy—to Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003—after which we see a caliphate (!), our violence has been spectacular in two results: short term victory and long term losses at exorbitant expense in blood and treasure.

· The US military consumes more fossil fuel, contributing more to climate chaos, than any other entity on Earth.

Time to look elsewhere for solutions. If Congress is ever interested, there are thousands of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and professionals who know pieces of this puzzle. Few are in the military. Many are at work, in the US and all around the world, solving problems sustainably, helping instead of threatening, developing instead of bombing, and doing it all at a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost of the most expensive war machine the world has ever seen. Either Congress should investigate and inquire or the people should elect some Members who would.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

Happy Earth Day 4/22/15

A day for Our Mother Earth

by Tom H. Hastings

images-2How many holidays do we have? MLK Day in January, Valentines Day in February, Easter in March or April, Earth Day in April, Memorial Day in May, and so forth. Of those few examples, two were declared in my adulthood. New holidays take time to catch on and embed themselves in the culture. They can stray from their roots. Christmas is for consumerism. Veterans Day is to promote war. Thanksgiving is for football.

The first Earth Day, in 1970, was the launch of a new holiday with deep challenger social meaning for many of us. I was 19. I was excited that this new holiday reflected my values, the ones I was raised to hold, the ones that had worked forward from many indigenous leaders to John Muir to Aldo Leopold to Rachel Carson. My Dad taught me the number one value and tactic in life: always leave the campsite a bit nicer than when you found it. We camped across the country and that was our ritual; we broke camp and made sure the site was free of garbage but also had a bit more firewood left for the next ones than what we found.

Earth Day was meant to bring that ethic forward in innumerable ways. It was meant to celebrate the first major environmental protection law, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and to promote more protection from the industrial, chemical, bulldozer, polluting, clearcutting, strip mining, ocean dumping, fuel spilling, poison spraying, habitat wrecking culture that was turning America the Beautiful into America the Dumpsite, America the Cancer Ward, America the Slashed and Burned.

It is a holiday that had an agenda and still has it. Few purchase glitzy gifts for the occasion and no one gains 10 pounds from rich food on Earth Day. Find the Earth Day section in the card aisle in Walgreens. Ha. Good luck with that. Simply put, Earth Day is anathema to corporate predatory culture and so far has not been amenable to hijacking. As a result, it is largely a roll-your-own day, no one takes off work to celebrate it, and the vast majority of attention it gets is from elementary school teachers who have a value affinity with its meaning and want to pass that along to children.

So thank you, teachers. Thank you, environmentalists. Thank you, naturalists and nature lovers. This is your day. Long may its meaning and message hold forth and may it mark great victories for our environment and clean future. April 22, Earth Day 2015, a day of hope and challenge toward a society that cares for the future of the generations and the rights of the generations to hug huge Redwoods, breathe clean air, eat healthy food, drink pure water, and see all the species in their wild places.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

Flogging for Flirting 2/4/15

Homage to a beheading royal–really?

by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs–the military sworn to defend democracy and the same military currently bombing the snot out of ISIS thugs who have been rightly vilified for beheadings–now wants his members to honor a Saudi royal whose regime beheaded countless dissidents and allowed flogging women for flirting.


Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz passed away at age 90 this January 23. His people were never citizens; they were all subjects. With his oil riches he maintained the occasional illusion of tiny reforms, all of which really strengthened his grip on power. He usually ran the most misogynistic regime on Earth (OK, the Taliban in Afghanistan had him beat for a few years), and he made sure the common Saudis did not share in the fabulous oil wealth he reserved for his extended royal family.


The honor comes in the form of an essay contest and research initiative into the future of US-Arab security. “Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the essay competition is a fitting tribute to the life and leadership of the Saudi Arabian monarch.” The contest will be conducted through the National Defense University.

The New Surrealpolitik

How is a monarch who owned slaves a suitable subject for honor, a suitable partner for an alliance, and an acceptable recipient of massive amounts of US military hardware and training? The war profiteers in the US have shoveled in the funds from this arrangement for decades. The fluid dynamics are these:

· The US wants Saudi oil.

· Saudi royals need US guns, planes, bombs and materiel to control their own people.

· US war profiteer corporations don’t care if they sell to terrorists, democracies, military juntas, or kings. They don’t care if innocent people are repressed with their products and they don’t care if journalists are jailed for writing the truth. They care about one thing: making blood money hand over fist. They lobby Congress, they lobby the Pentagon, and they get their way.

· Everybody wins (everyone in the elites, never mind everyone else).

Congratulations, Dempsey. You have shared that big vat of Ghoul-Aid with your students and researchers. No wonder the average Saudi loathes his rulers and tends to believe in the Wahabi radicalism borne of decades of violent repression made possible by US military collaborators like you. Another proud moment for the US in the Arab world.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

An Instruments of Death 12/31/14

Shoot down the stupid Second Amendment

by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

What country fetishizes, lionizes, valorizes, idolizes, and sacralizes guns as much as does our United States? OK, possibly Mozambique–the only country with an AK47 on its flag, but really, it’s long past time to end this obsessive “My Precious” attachment of Americans to instruments of death.

This morning, December 25, 2014, of the nine top stories from US Reuters, six were about shootings–four new ones and two about the national movement against shootings of citizens by police. This pandemic of sick violence, punctuated by mass killings of children, has gone on far far too long. It is long past time to repeal the stupid Second Amendment.

The fate of the Second Amendment should have been sealed when the US Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that past rulings by their predecessors were wrong, that in fact the amendment that provided for a “well regulated militia” really guaranteed every individual the right to own a gun. Wow. That is an interesting reading of the English language. What the Supremes have done is to not only warp the meaning and make it into twisted law, but to further prohibit states and local governments from declaring their places free of legal guns. The conservative court once again rules against the power of states, a principle that used to be associated with darn liberals who wanted to make sure everyone had the right to vote, for example, even though they weren’t properly white enough. Now when a city or state wants to outlaw firearms, too bad. The conservatives took away their powers and rights in favor of Big Brother.

The only logical path, given the clearly decided role of the Second Amendment, is to repeal it. American people are tired of mass shootings and police shootings and family feud shootings and sibling shootings and accidental toddler shootings and teen suicide by gun (highly popular).We are exhausted by the proliferation of death, of threats, of bloodshed, and by the NRA/gun industry moral garbage spewing forth every time someone challenges the ubiquity of guns.

Repeal the Stupid Second Amendment. Surround it, grab it, bring it in the back room, pull down the shades, and end it. OK, petition for it, get it on the ballot, and get it done by enough of the US populace, by enough people in enough states, to get it consigned to the dustbin of history. Happy New Year, people. Peace.

Violence is an Addiction 9/17/14

ISIL, the US, and curing our addiction to violence

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

by Erin Niemela and Tom H. Hastings

Erin Niemela

Erin Niemela

President Obama’s Wednesday night address on the Islamic State (ISIL) reintroduced a war weary nation to more violent intervention in Iraq, another war weary nation. The Obama administration claims that airstrikes, military advisors and a Muslim states-American military coalition are the most effective counterterrorism tactics, but that is demonstrably false for two major reasons.

One, the history of US military action in Iraq is a repeatedly failed strategy featuring extremely high costs and poor outcomes.

Two, scholarship in both terrorism and conflict transformation indicates this mix of strategies is a statistical loser.

The people in ISIL are not a “cancer,” as President Obama claims. The massive and multifaceted global public health problem is violence, which shares characteristics with many diseases, such as cancer, meth addiction, the Black Death and Ebola. Violence is the disease, not the cure.

This metaphor applies to the violence committed by ISIL and the US alike. Both claim to be using violence to eliminate injustice. Both ISIL and the US dehumanize entire swaths of people in order to justify that violence. Much like drug addicts, both armed groups alienate and indiscriminately harm others while claiming it’s in everyone’s best interest.

The disease of addiction isn’t eradicated when police raid the addict’s family home, accidentally gun down his brother and then shoot him in the head. An addiction–in this case, violence by militarists on all sides–is vanquished with an entirely different approach that scholars in counterterrorism and conflict transformation have found and recommended for years–continually ignored by successive US administrations despite the growing evidence. Here are eight scientifically supported treatments for the ISIL threat that both realists and idealists can and should advocate.

One, stop making more terrorists. Abandon all violent repression tactics. Violent repression, whether by airstrikes, torture or mass arrests, will only backfire. “Despite the conventional confidence in deterrence approaches, repressive actions have never led to decreases in terrorism and have sometimes led to increases in terrorism,” Erica Chenoweth and Laura Dugan stated in their 2012 study in American Sociological Review on 20 years of Israeli counterterrorism strategies. The authors found that indiscriminate repressive counterterrorism efforts – violence used against the entire population from which the terrorist cells operate, such as airstrikes, destruction of property, mass arrests, etc., were associated with increases in terror acts.

Two, stop transferring military arms and equipment to the region. Stop buying and selling the stuff, profitable to a few dealers and harmful to everyone else. We already know that U.S. military weapons sent to Syria, Libya and Iraq, among other Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) states, have been seized or purchased and used by ISIL against civilians.

Three, start generating real sympathy in the population that terrorists claim to “defend.” The 2012 Chenoweth and Dugan counterterrorism study also found that indiscriminate conciliatory counterterrorism efforts – positive rewards that benefit the entire identity group from which terrorists draw their support – were the most effective in reducing terror acts over time, particularly when those efforts were sustained over the long-term. Examples of these efforts include signaling negotiation intentions, withdrawing troops, earnestly investigating claims of abuses and admitting mistakes, among others.

Four, stop creating more terrorism targets. Anyone the US purports to protect with violence becomes a target. The Responsibility to Protect does not require violence, and a better policy would be to consult with and support unarmed nonviolent forces that have already succeeded in hot conflict zones. For example, Muslim Peacemaker Teams, located in Najaf, Iraq works with civil society organizations and international and local nongovernmental organizations in Iraq to decrease hostilities and serve civilian survivors. Another group is Nonviolent Peaceforce, a by-request unarmed peacekeeping team with successful fieldwork in South Sudan, Sri Lanka and other armed conflict arenas.

Five, ISIL’s violence is an addiction best treated with a humanitarian intervention by caring but firm stakeholders. A humanitarian intervention targets behavior, not the existence of the addict, and mandates collaboration with all on-the-ground stakeholders, including Sunni, Shi’a, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, businesses, educators, healthcare providers, local politicians, and religious leaders to intervene on the destructive practices of the group. ISIL is entirely made up of ex-civilians – family members, friends and children of civil society; any true humanitarian intervention must include the work and support of the community – not foreign armed forces.

Six, look at the ISIL issue as a community policing problem, not a military problem. No one likes warplanes flying over their home or tanks rolling into their neighborhood, whether in Ferguson, Mo. or Mosul, Iraq. Terrorist activities in a region are best prevented or mitigated by community-based solutions that are culturally sensitive and subject to legitimate laws.

Seven, accept world law enforcement, not US global policing. It is time to strengthen the sovereignty of civil society of all humanity, not arrogate the power to those with war jets and missiles.

Eight, stop pretending to be a leader in MENA. Accept that the borders there will be redrawn by those who live there. This is their region and they resent a full millennium of the combination of crusades followed by colonialism capped off by imperial powers drawing their boundaries and extracting their resources. Stop feeding that long history of violent intervention and give the region a chance to heal. It will not be pretty but our ugly repeated adventures into Iraq have unleashed too much death and destruction too many times. Repeating those disastrous treatments and expecting different outcomes is a symptom of our affliction.

The addiction to violence is curable, but not by more violence. Starving any disease works better than feeding it and more violence produces the obvious–more violence. The Obama administration, and every US administration preceding it, should know better by now.


Erin Niemela (@erinniemela), PeaceVoice Editor and PeaceVoiceTV Channel Manager, is a Master’s Candidate in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University, specializing in media framing of violent and nonviolent conflict. Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director.

Screwed Up Approach 7/23/14

US Marine General: US military must buy Russian war machines. Seriously?

by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

An alternative to violent force is nonviolent force. This can look like many things, but economic sanctions are a major category of compulsion by nonviolent means. Do they always work? This question is answered best with another question, does violence always work? In fact, no method of compulsion always works (with the possible exception of a crying baby).

When we consider trying to make an extremely powerful opponent behave in a certain way that we like, and to stop misbehaving in our estimation, economic sanctions are one of the only possible approaches. Flying to Russia with bombers and rolling into Russia with tanks is mutually assured suicide and clearly irrational at any level, no matter what Bill O’Reilly or Sean (Ins)Hannity might claim.

This leaves us with a few options, including global opprobrium, sanctions, and aid to Russian civil society opposition. Putin is nearly impervious to public embarrassment and scoffs at all such attempts. It is highly dangerous for Russian civil society to be branded as tools of the US or EU, so that limits support for their civil society dissidents, even if Russians come to know how much the West loves Pussy Riot. And so we look to sanctions.

By far the most screwed up approach to compelling an opponent to behave better is to be dependent on him. This is precisely what the US has done with Russia and most stupidly and astonishingly, with military contracts. It is beyond belief that the Pentagon should self-sabotage so utterly, but that seems to be their modus. A 17 July 2014 Reuters story details the missteps and the inevitable self-defeating outcomes.

President Obama announces more sanctions on Russia, including blocking new military contracts with them. His nominee for Commander DuJour in Afghanistan, Marine General Joseph Dunford, goes public and calls that “catastrophic.” He says that “young Americans” will be exposed to increased attack in Afghanistan, primarily because the US won’t be able to order spare parts for all 88 Russian Mi-17 helicopters it is gifting to the oh-so-democratic government we’ve installed in Afghanistan.

Are there words for the depths of corruption, incompetence, and inanity this situation reveals? I mean, I’m a pacifist but even I know how poorly it redounds on the US military to buy gear from the opponents, if not enemies. And Dunford even asserts that the US could not keep those helicopters in running order without Russian parts. Seriously? The US arms industry, by far the largest on Earth and in most respects the most advanced, cannot reverse engineer some spare parts?

It’s one thing to buy some Russian ballet DVDs or Russian chess master instructional texts. Cutting off the supplies to those would not degrade anyone’s security. But to seek out purchase of military hardware and then become so dependent on the adversary that Russian behavior toward Ukraine–possibly including providing the anti-aircraft missile that just shot down nearly 300 traveling people on Malaysian Flight MH17–is unanswerable by sanctions, that is by far the most short-sighted military policy imaginable, and the Pentagon imagines many of them on a daily basis.

Obama has tried sanctions to a greater degree than ever, but his White House team needs to replace many of the Pentagon team with those who can think a bit more clearly. Taking the Russian Mi-17 helicopters out of the equation, and never again purchasing a single military item from the Russians, would seem like a barebones basic first step. As it is, the US military knows it has zero military response to Russian aggression in Ukraine and the US military has now thus compromised the security of Ukrainians, Afghans, and US personnel. Brilliant.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director.

Stop Interfering Now 6/18/14

Dear America: It’s Over (Rulers of the World Era)
by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

Reinvade, reoccupy, and redestroy Iraq. That is the solution to the inevitable civil war that happens when the US pulls out? Will we do it until either Iraq is remade in our image or until the US economy, political environment, and culture is also destroyed?

Eight years ago a group of Portland peace activists raised the funds to bring together a number of experts to produce an exit strategy from Iraq. Ours was done, as it turns out, at the same time that the Iraq Study Group did their work. We were just unaware that the government had finally at long last decided maybe it was time to think Exit Plan. Duh. I expect we were all simply inspired and challenged by the insightful and cogent strategy published shortly before in the widely cited peer-reviewed journal, The Onion.

Still, despite the obvious–and our group, which was informed by military experts and conflict transformation experts alike, noted well that no matter when the US left the Iraqis would have a bloody civil war and settle on a new autocratic government that shot its way to power and repressed its citizenry–it took the US three more years to begin to leave, longer to finish leaving, and now the correctly predicted violent settling-out process is happening in earnest.

Naturally, the US conflict industry is dismayed when the US isn’t spending every last centavo on weaponry and other military profiteering contracts. Time to respond! Go bomb! Send in “advisers.” No-fly attacks, hunt down insurgents with drones and war jets. Remobilize US troops because if there is one glaringly blatant truth, proxy troops no longer work in this post-Cold War era. They seemed to be Just Fine and a great way to drain the American taxpayer when their loyalty was fairly dependable.

But the era of “he may be a son of a bitch but he’s our son of a bitch” (ascribed a bit dubiously to FDR about our boy Somoza, the Nicaraguan dictator) is over. Our SOBs are now routinely driven from power by the ballot, the bullet, or the bodies–that is, by the elections we no longer control, by violent insurgencies, or by civil society nonviolent revolution.

Stop it. Stop interfering in other countries. Stop sending arms. Stop the drones. Just support civil society with helpful and requested aid, never guns or tanks or war jets or anti-insurgent helicopters or anti-government rocket-propelled grenade launchers. And for any chance of success, keep US troops at home. Let Iraqis work it through and then try to be a friend to their citizenry with our goods of life. It may not be as fast as the “I’ve got a gun to your head so go vote!” model of spreading “democracy” that is favored by our leaders and our military industrial congressional complex, but it is the only one that actually works. Can we please start now?

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director.

Clean Up & Come Home 6/4/14

Department of Ironic Defense
by Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

Like so many other US military bases overseas, the Okinawan locals who oppose the base are told that the US military is there to protect them. Indigenous opposition is brushed aside by the presumption of position–there is one way to protect people and the US military is the best at it.

Increasingly, Okinawans resist such arguments. Land usurpation, sovereignty cancelation, foreigners with guns who commit crimes with legal and extralegal immunity, infernal jet and truck noise at all hours, clogged roads and traffic accidents, human trafficking and military personnel sexual crimes against locals, ruined coastline, contaminated air and water, military aircraft crashes, massive local resource consumption and the endless experience of living under occupation frustrate indigenous Okinawans and they are not alone. Who’s watching the watchers? has now become protect us from the protectors.

The latest small but telling twist of profound irony is the discovery that a US Kadena Air Force base building used to screen children for developmental concerns has drinking fountains that have been delivering water-borne lead to those children for many years–even despite reports that the lead content was at unsafe levels in that building more than a decade ago.

A single incident like this is alarming to locals who want the foreigners to leave–isn’t 69 years of foreign military occupation enough to assess and neutralize the Okinawans’ desire to conquer the world? But this happened at similar buildings on two other US military bases last year in Okinawa. Thanks for your care for the children, US military! Please show even more care and leave, at long last.

It has never stopped hurting Okinawans that they have been repeatedly devastated by foreigners and many even regardJapanese as foreigners. As usual, the UN is far ahead of the US on this question, pointing to history of independence and national separation so profound that even the islands’ (an arc of them some 683 miles long) unique flora and fauna–and human culture–should be respected and preserved as sovereign.

One of the four primary steps in principled negotiation is to insist on fair standards. This has been a failure at every level of this occupation for nearly 70 years. This small but telling issue of lead in the water (yes, the fountains have been ordered disconnected, presumably by a touchingly sensitive USAF public relations officer) is an example of abuse of those standards. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. No lead at all is the only safe standard. So of course the USAF decided that 20 ppb is a safe standard. The child development buildings had levels even in excess of that manipulated ‘safe’ standard. This is a bit like the state legislature of Indiana almost declaring a new value for pi in 1897 (3.2, much simpler). Neither that legislature nor the USAF gets to change reality to suit their fancy.

The only thing worse than all the occupation for almost seven decades is the Asian Pivot, sending massive US military forces to that region, presumably to protect everyone from China. It is time to pivot home, to stand down, to close foreign bases and stop polluting everyone else’s countries. There is enough remediation to do back here in the US. There are hundreds of US taxpayer $billions to be saved doing this, and a huge amount of goodwill we can generate by closing down, cleaning up, and coming home. It’s time.

Tom H. Hastings directs PeaceVoice, a program of the Oregon Peace Institute.


Our Own Crimes 9/4/13

Looking into a mirror at the war criminals

By Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

I was at the light rail train station in my town, handing out leaflets opposing the plan to bomb Syria. Most people agreed; it’s such a poor idea. One man vociferously disagreed. “Bomb the sh_t out of them. You see those bodies? All contorted? Naw, we need to bomb ’em.”

This is the American way. Good-hearted people are led to believe that we have two choices when it comes to ghastly offensive behavior: cowardly shirking or violent attack. We either man up or we take it like little girls.

Of course the problem with that thinking is that we then begin to commit our own crimes that require others to man up and teach us a lesson.

Chemical weapons? They are a crime and need to be opposed and stopped. But not repeat NOT by yet more violence and not by the nation that has used more chemical weapons than any other nation since World War I. Yes, that would be us, US, USA. “During the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 US gallons of material containing chemical herbicides and defoliants mixed with jet fuel in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia, as part of Operation Ranch Hand.” Twenty million gallons of chemicals all over farmers and rural dwellers, killing approximately 400,000 Vietnamese and producing a half million Vietnamese babies with birth defects, according to the Red Cross of Vietnam.

I’ve met some of these survivors, now in their 40s and 50s. Their lives were ruined by our chemical warfare. Some can’t walk. Some can’t hold things. Some can’t think. And some even passed along birth defects to yet another generation. Agent Orange persists in the environment.

And I’ve tended to a dying victim, my former brother-in-law, who was in combat in Vietnam and said the barrels of the chemicals were often stored right in the mess hall. He was never shot, never wounded, but was killed in Vietnam and never knew it until he came back, married my sister, fathered two children, and those girls found him writhing on the floor in convulsions one day.

He had Agent Orange cancer, inoperable tumors up and down his spine, in his brain, and in his lungs. I read his medical chart that hung on the end of his bed at the VA hospital in Minneapolis, a chart which began with the words, “This poor man…” and went on to describe more than 40 central nervous system tumors. We moved him home to hospice and I helped feed him morphine for three days until he died, hanging on in pain and with a death rattle that got him into Fathers Day, 1995, when he gave up the ghost. He was 46. Thanks to Senator Paul Wellstone, my sister got Agent Orange victim benefits that stopped the bank from taking their little home and the funeral and burial at Fort Snelling was paid for. I spoke at his service and burned sweetgrass–Tim was Blackfoot.

So before the US unilaterally attacks anyone else for their crimes, let’s square up with the Vietnamese. We owe them so much. Not a single Vietnamese sailed a single sampan up the Mississippi to attack Americans. The Vietnamese shot exactly zero bullets at the US or at Americans until we invaded. No Vietnamese bombs ever shot at, let alone hit, the US. But we engaged in massive chemical warfare against them. And, as usual, it was based on a pack of lies.

On the Grand Karmic Credit Card of the Universe, our nation has done good and bad, and we need to work off that Agent Orange karma before we launch more violence, before we prematurely start blowing up things without proof of responsibility. Is the Assad regime culpable? Likely. But are the violent insurgents also possible perps? You mean the jihadis who behead, who cut out the hearts of Syrian troops and eat them on CNN? The ones John Kerry and John McCain like so much? You think?

There are nonviolent ways to resolve this. The list of alternatives is long and we have tried exactly zero of them in any serious fashion. We’ve invested so very much of our money, our thought, and our intentions toward violence that we seem incapacitated when it comes to imagining any paths that don’t start and end either with shriveling retreat or destructive attack. We are thinking like 12 year-old boys, not mature adults. Time to really man up and devise a nonviolent approach.

Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and teaches in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University. 


Silent Bystanders 8/28/13

Witness to war crimes: Our Genovese Syndrome again

By Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

How culpable is the person who watches a mugger rob someone and does nothing? What is our social psychology as we bystand silently and our government gears up toward yet another war crime?

Lies or misleading information that leads to war should be an enforceable war crime and crime against humanity. The UN actually took the first baby step toward that in 1947 and has made virtually no progress since. It was titled “Resolution adopted by the General Assembly 110 (II). Measures to be taken against propaganda and the inciters of a new war.” The strongest measure, unfortunately, was mere condemnation. There was no mandate to the Security Council to level economic or political sanctions if such propaganda were proven.

We are watching another such crime against humanity unfold and the crime of incitement propaganda is about to descend into more serious bloody war crimes. The Pentagon–apparently leading the President instead of the other way around–is claiming that Syria’s agreement to let the UN experts inspect alleged chemical weapon use is “too late to be credible.” This is almost exactly the language used by Bush and Cheney to falsely justify the invasion of Iraq. We seem about to attack Syria with a similar low level of evidence. Indeed, analysts from that Condi Rice/Robert Gates school of hawkthought are weighing in with their private enterprise persuasion. For years the rightwing invested $millions in “institutes” that produced this thinking. Now they just form for-profit consultancies and get hired to write analysis that promotes more bloodshed all the time. They produced Shock and Awe in Baghdad in 2003 and they have produced Shock and Awe in slo-mo in the US by bleeding our resources to war, to war, to war, leaving everything else crumbling.

And, as usual, the rightwing media is featuring the calls of John McCain for a military strike right now. I’m almost waiting for McCain to demand that Obama override the ban on production of chemical weapons and allow US contractors to make them so we can give them to the Syrian rebels. Seriously, the older I get, the more I see things happen that I once thought were so fringe and so objectionable that they were impossible–until the war hawks make them happen. Of course even in this case–cruise missiles from off-shore aircraft carriers seem the most likely murder weapon–McCain and his ilk will be criticizing Obama for waiting too long and telling their base that the US should have done this much earlier.

Some cogent analysis suggests that this is all about who controls what oil flow from the region, and that is frankly credible, but there is an even more basic problem. The conflict industry is determined to enrich themselves endlessly at the expense of the American taxpayer. Calls for more military involvement, more weapons use or export, all serve this war profiteering complex and it’s blood money. In our democracy the blood is on our hands.

I’ve been out of town for 10 days and am emailing my friends to find out where and when to meet to demonstrate against striking Syria. I’m hoping this is spontaneously and naturally happening across our great country. Daniel Ellsberg was featured in the brilliant 1974 Academy Award-winning documentary Hearts and Minds, in which he said (paraphrase), “It is to the eternal credit of the American people that they react strongly against those who fool them in order to commit acts of war. It is to the eternal shame of the American people that they are so easy to fool.”

Let us try not to be fooled again. Let us overcome the “Bystander Effect” and try to stop a US attack that will kill even more Syrian civilians and precipitate even more war in the Middle East.

Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and teaches in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University. 


Get Serious! 7/24/13

Getting Syria-s

By Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

Finally, the Pentagon is getting a bit realistic about Syria and possible US intervention, with a report of options laid out by letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, to Carl Levin of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, and the Chiefs warn about expense, loss, and blowback.

The Cold War was a time of proxy wars, showcasing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the arms produced by the two superpowers, fought in other people’s countries. Indeed, except for Hungary in 1956, no war was fought on the soil of white people the whole time, an indication of the deep cynicism of both sides. The US always had better big weapons and the Soviets had the daily weapon of choice, the AK-47. Soviet tanks were only good for rolling over friendlies in the Warsaw Pact and their nukes were big and dumb, but their AKs were the gold standard for violent insurgency.

Most of the world is less excited about being crash test dummies for the US and Russia nowadays, although Syria seems to be an exception. Basher al-Assad spends his entire allowance every week on new shipments of Russian warmaking gear to use against his own people. The rebels get their gear mostly from the US through Qatar and Saudi Arabia, often also via Turkey. Both sides fight dirty, ignore international rules of warfare, and yet the kneejerk reaction of many hawks in the US is to ship weapons to anyone fighting the Russian weapon-wielders. Just because the US-backed mujahedeen in Afghanistan used their leftover weapons given to them originally to fight the Soviets against the US later–hence the term blowback–let’s forget that ever happened and give more guns and rockets and ammunition to insurgents who behead, execute, blow up civilian markets, torture, and in the most ghastly extreme case, a Syrian rebel leader is shown carving the heart out a government soldier and eating it. Those are the fighters Republicans in Congress want to support and many Democrats actually join this bloodthirsty insanity.

But even though Congress–and apparently President Obama to some degree–have mostly forgotten those lessons, some in the Pentagon seem to suddenly remember, especially as they see the sequester shine a more realistic light on the formerly illimitable funding picture.

The usual kneejerk kill-em-all-let-God-sort-em-out are attacking Dempsey. Will someone tell John McCain that if he keeps up with that apoplectic visage, one of these days it’s going to become his permanent look–oops! Too late.


The sad truth is that the nonviolent revolution was stolen from the Syrian people, who started their Arab Spring just as nonviolently as did Egyptians, and very soon after. When the US intervened in Libya, that made the violent ones in Syria assume they’d get US military help too, so they picked up arms. The nonviolent revolution was overwhelmed and defeated in no small measure by this Libya Effect, and that is indeed an Obama decision that resulted in lots of gratitude from Libyans (you could tell by the way they assassinated our ambassador) and also set total fear in Assad’s heart and made him image Qaddaffi, bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. That made him totally commit to clinging to power by all means, including the ones that he uses so devastatingly on his own people.

Sun Tzu said build a golden bridge over which your enemy can retreat. That golden bridge is built by nonviolence plus negotiation, what we just saw as millions of people used social media to back upsuccessful Norwegian efforts to get the United Arab Emirates to release Marte Deborah Dalelv, a woman from Norway who was raped and then jailed in Dubai for having extramarital sex! The Norwegian Prime Minister was diplomatic and delicate and it all worked.

In Norway, of course, Conflict Resolution and Peace Research experts consult with the highest levels of government. In the US, we listen only to the Joint Chiefs, so good thing they sober up on occasion.

Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and teaches in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University.


Hearts and Minds 6/26/13

When hearts and minds are war-torn

By Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

The Taliban is finally making another try at initiating peace talks. Who is listening and who cares?

Afghans care. Their hearts are in pieces like the rubble that is strewn wherever the US-led NATO/Karzai forces have bombed from the air, or where the Taliban has crude-bombed, sometimes suicide-bombed, from the ground.

The Bush-installed Karzai government cares—and they don’t want it because the Taliban are sort of acting like a government-in-exile, replete with a new office in Doha, Qatar that sported a Taliban flag and a plaque identifying the building as the offices of the “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Whoops. Hamid Karzai wants it clear that these are just ragtag insurgents, not a government-in-exile. But both sides have a point. Karzai holds that, unlike the Taliban, his government is elected. The Taliban, who did indeed take power by military force—although the origin stories of the Taliban tell of liberation and defense of the vulnerable, making them popular in the early-to-mid 1990s and made recruiting easy for them, paving their way to power—ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until ousted by the US invasion in 2001 (and were heavily supported during their formation and rule by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, who were massively supported by the US), so in their eyes they are the government-in-exile. They see Karzai as the puppet government of the occupying military.

Underlying these deep differences are the age-old problems of the conflict industry, that is, those who benefit financially, politically, or militarily by the continuation of the war and so work to sabotage peace efforts. Those parties may be visible or shadowy and they may proclaim public support for peace or peace talks, but their actual work is to undermine any real peace. They are the war contractors, the business owners both in Afghanistan and elsewhere who profit handsomely from the ongoing war, the military leaders from all sides, and the politicians who stand to lose everything if peace breaks out. Indeed, says a Pakistani source who told Reuters on condition of anonymity, “there were many likely spoilers in the peace process who would want to maintain the status quo to continue to benefit from the war economy and the present chaotic conditions.”

How can we who live in a democracy help in a situation like this?

First, tell our President and our Secretary of State and our elected representatives that we expect the US to stick to the military exit plan, to accelerate it if possible, and to bring home or destroy all US military weapons and munitions as we leave. The US should ban itself from selling or giving any weapons to any party in the region. That is a proven losing strategy, again and again. It was a loser when we gave tons of weapons to the mujahedeen in the 1980s—weapons that then became the arsenals of the fighting Islamic forces that either launched the September 11 attacks or harbored those who did. It’s called blowback and it works well for US war profiteers. Ending their profit-taking is perhaps the most important peace step the American people can achieve by themselves, without the involvement of any foreign government. As long as American war corporations are allowed to sell their warmaking arsenals and ammunition either to the Pentagon to give away to Central Asian governments or to any of those governments (or any parties who trade with those governments and who can act as transshipment brokers), we are enabling the conflict industry that is killing innocent Afghans and enraging the survivors and crippling any efforts toward peace.

We, the American people, can take decisive steps to give Afghans more hope than they’ve had since 1979 if we outlaw the sale of the goods of war to the region, withdraw our own troops and weaponry, and convert funds that our Congress was going to take from the US taxpayers for making war and spend them instead on some combination of desperately needed humanitarian aid, US war-debt reduction, and US domestic expenses (education, environmental protection, and US infrastructure maintenance—all of which create far more jobs than the weapons industry ever did).

In short, what is good for peace for the people of Afghanistan is good for the well being of all Americans except for the extremely wealthy war profiteers. It’s time for them to stop controlling us.

Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and teaches in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University.


Knock Out Their Eyes 6/12/13

Missiles over Istanbul? Or just knock-out-their-eyes tear gas?

By Tom H. Hastings

Tom Hastings

Tom Hastings

So, now that the Turkish government, under the fiats of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip “Facebook is the worst menace to society” Erdogan, is running down nonviolent protesters andshooting tear gas cannisters into their heads and permanently blinding them, should we ask John McCain what to do? Or John Kerry? These are some of the leaders of the conservatives and liberals who want to ramp up the US military aid and action in Syria because Bashar al-Assad is violent against violent insurgents and anyone else affiliated with them or nearby when his Syrian military strikes.

Oh–that’s right, Turkey is in NATO. We can’t really bomb them. We, in fact, provide them with their bombs. I’m sure we can expect more reports from yet another Muslim country in which pro-democracy demonstrators are hit with weapons marked “Made in the USA.”

Just leave it alone. The world of Islam should be answerable to the entire world, not to the US alone and not to some rogue coalition or military alliance unduly influenced by the US. Does the world of Islam need meddling from the outside? Yes, if the reformed UN comes to believe it. What is justified in the name of Islam–beheadings, stonings, ad nauseam–is as ghastly as what is justified in the name of the national interest–or the humanitarian fig leaf–of the US, at least when done by the US military. Even Islamic scholars who claim that they understand nonviolence sometimes do not. An example is Zeki Saritoprak, who authored a journal article in Muslim World in 2005 that first claims that Mohammed was nonviolent and never had a single act of violence attributed to him, and, just two sentences later, notes that the Prophet did ‘defend himself.’ Well, it’s one or the other, Dr. Saritoprak, not both.

A pax on both their houses. The US and NATO should be answerable to the entire world, not just to themselves. Like Assad, Obama and his spokespeople for drones justify killing children by noting the violence of the individuals who were the nominal targets of the strikes–which are made against them or anyone nearby. The inescapable illogic and illegality of these claims should, at some point, challenge us all to help think about how to convert our war system to a peace system.

We should be spending some serious funding on this research into improved sanctions, people power, de-escalation best practices, crowdsourcing early warning, grievance satisfaction, win-win negotiation, and other nonviolent enforcement alternatives. Humanitarian war is oxymoronic, and our solutions are not the military, even though that is by far our biggest investment. It is good money after bad and we have spent ourselves silly, a bit like the cigaret companies of the 1950s and 60s. We have a successful propaganda machine for a product–violence–that has caused and spread a cancer throughout our body politic. We will either learn to fix these problems from a broad-based, racially, religiously, and generally diverse societal democratic effort or we will see the ‘solutions’ imposed yet again by the elites so used to getting the benefits while we get the costs.

Dr. Tom H. Hastings directs PeaceVoice.

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