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.

Page 6 of 6
1 4 5 6