Sunday, December 23, 2007

The “Unholy” Alliance



When First Lady Hillary Clinton referred to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” in 1998, she wasn’t kidding. The public, guided by the mainstream media, pooh-poohed her statement as defensive paranoia but it turns out she was referring to a tightly-networked group of foreign policy wonks called the Neoconservatives.

Fortunately, Craig Unger in his book, The Fall of the House of Bush, has provided both the cast and playbook of this Right Wing power elite as he tells the story about how an “unholy” alliance between George W. Bush, the Neoconservatives and the Christian Fundamentalists came together to formulate the most cockamamie Middle East foreign policy our country has ever seen.

While some of the book is old news, it bears repeating again and again until the American public understands who these people are and what they have wrought. Unger’s twist to the story, however, is in the behind-the-scenes machinations of their power-making.

NEOCONSERVATIVES

Today’s Neoconservatives were originally New Left intellectuals who came out of the antiwar movement and sixties counterculture as angry individuals who either felt rebuffed socially or professionally and/or were attracted to the hawkish anti-communist dogma of Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

They imitated the Left’s Brookings Institution by creating their own think tanks and lobbying groups, developing a fundraising apparatus and recruiting “scholars” and “experts” all for the purpose of promoting a new Neoconservative ideology that would “overturn the present power structure of the country,” as Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation, asserted.

The list of Neocons reads like a Post Office bulletin board for all the damage they have done. Most have even become household names including: William Kristol, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Bork, Francis Fukuyama, Norman Podhoretz, Ben Wattenberg, Mayrav Wurmser, James Woolsey, Kenneth Adelman, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Lynne Cheney, David Frum, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Newt Gingrich, Frederick Kagan, Irving Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchick, Charles Murray, Michael Novak, Norman Ornstein, Danielle Pletka, Gary Schmitt, Fred Thompson, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, John Yoo.

Besides the Heritage Foundation, the Neocons also work for other groups like the American Enterprise Institute, Hudson Institute, Freedom House, Cato Institute, Manhattan Institute, Hoover Institution, Accuracy in Media, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Project for the New American Century.

These organizations are financed with the help of right-wing billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, Sun Myung Moon and Richard Mellon Scaife (who funded a series of investigations attacking President Clinton’s presidency).

In order to shape public opinion, the Neocons have relied on a barrage of media inputs through right-wing news outlets like the New York Post, Fox News, the Washington Times, the American Spectator, and the Weekly Standard.

However, they have also achieved a legitimate platform for their views by writing op-ed pieces and serving as opposing viewpoints in media interviews in the “liberal press” (i.e., network news, New York Times and Washington Post).

In 2000 the Neocons finally hit the jackpot. They found a presidential candidate who would adopt their platform of creating a new American empire that would assert U.S. domination in the Middle East in order to control energy resources (like oil and gas), open up corporate-friendly markets, set up strategic military bases and protect Israel.

GEORGE W. BUSH

Before George W. Bush entered the national stage, he gave up drinking, found the Lord and became more serious about politics. He greatly contributed to his father’s presidential campaigns by appealing to the same Fundamentalist Christians who would later help him in his own presidential bid. However, he first had to prove that he deserved to be the favored son. He did that in 1994 by winning the governorship of Texas by a wide margin while his brother, Jeb, won the Florida governorship by a slim margin.

According to Unger, the tense father-son relationship all came down to Bush’s inability to live up the reputation and accomplishments of his father, as illustrated in the opening chapter titled “Oedipus Tex.” Such family dramas are common, however, this one is being played out on the world stage.

No surprise to his critics, Bush deliberately does the opposite of what his political realist father would do. He also consistently refused the guidance of his father’s advisers, like the foreign policy-wise and ultra-trustworthy Brent Scowcroft or family friend, James Baker, who helped Bush in the 2000 Florida re-count and tried to bail him out the disastrous Iraq War in 2006.

Bush did, however, accept Colin Powell, as Secretary of State but that was only to trot out his good name for the 2000 and 2004 elections. He rarely consulted Powell and then dumped him in 2005 even after Powell sold his soul for his president in his February 2003 United Nations speech that helped sell a war against Iraq. Unger devotes a whole, heart-wrenching chapter to this tragedy that undid one of the most credible, admired men in the USA.

The Bush administration has its own system of checks and balances where its Neocon members oversee the work of the realists of the first Bush administration. The ranks of the administration are also filled with Neocon mentors and mentees. For example, White House interns don’t come from the Ivy League colleges anymore but rather from evangelical colleges that are full of homeschooled fundamentalists. Lawyers for the Justice Department hail from Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School. And then there’s Tim LaHaye, author of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” series of novels. He and his Council for National Policy have regular access to the Oval Office.

FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIANS

The sixties also deeply affected the Fundamentalist Christians, who saw modern humanist culture as the scourge on the nation. The Supreme Court’s ruling on school prayer and desegregation especially provoked them, however, it was the legalization of abortion in 1973 that finally galvanized them to action.

Although the public perceived the Fundamentalists as clueless rubes and fools, Jerry Falwell saw them as an opportunity for power and influence. Only half of the Fundamentalists voted but one third of Americans considered themselves “born again.” Fifty percent believed in biblical inerrancy and 80 percent saw Jesus as divine. Meanwhile, radio and TV evangelists had garnered a built-in audience of 130 million.

Disappointed with “born again” President Jimmy Carter, Falwell in 1978 began talking about “unborn babies” who were murdered through abortion. He also gathered 20-25 top political operatives at his church in Lynchburg, Va., and rallied them to become involved in the political process as a way of bringing back traditional moral values. They helped with Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.

Conservative activist Morton Blackwell, executive director of the College Republican National Committee, also joined with Falwell. He brought with him some talented and aggressive young men including Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff.

The Fundamentalist Christians talk about the Founding Fathers and their ideals but it is important to realize that they are referring to religious Puritans like Cotton Mather who encouraged the Salem witch trials and not the deistic modernist men of the Enlightenment like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Paine.

Unger contends that from the beginning, America been caught in the dilemma between fundamentalism and modernism. Today, as a result, America is in deep trouble both domestically and internationally because of this “unholy” alliance, which will undoubtedly outlast Bush, at least for a little while.

Americans who detest what this alliance is doing must recognize the characters, their institutions and their tactics and challenge them. They must also support those who are fighting for our Constitution like the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the American Freedom Campaign, which is urging the restoration of the checks and balances system of government and reversing the executive branch’s abuses of power.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

WMD of USA


As he watched the first successful demonstration of the Bomb explode, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” said that a line from the Bhagavad Gita immediately came to mind: “I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Ever since the 1950s the United States always seems to be on the brink of nuclear holocaust. Back then the threat was the Soviet Union. As the Cold War continued, more nations felt a need to protect themselves so they, too, acquired “the Bomb” including Great Britain (1952), France (1960), China (1964). Today these three countries own 750, 350 and 130 weapons, respectively, while Russia (1949) maintains 16,000, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

In 1974 India began developing “the Bomb” but it wasn’t until 1998 that it successfully tested one. Six months later its archrival, Pakistan, tested its own Bomb in order to counteract India’s Bomb. Each country now has about 50 weapons. In 2006, North Korea let the world know it, too, had the Bomb, although negotiations are underway to dismantle it. Many people suspect that Israel has a stash of 75-200 warheads, however, leaders remain tight-lipped about reporting these weapons.

Americans’ experience with the Bomb immediately stirred up concern last fall when President Bush said that Iran’s desire to acquire nuclear power could lead to the development of nuclear weapons, which could then lead to World War III. Even recent revelations that the Iranians ended their weapons program in 2003 haven’t quelled the administration’s “fears” over Iran. What is particularly peculiar in this conversation is that the United States itself has nearly 10,000 nuclear missiles, with 5,173 of them considered “active,” according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Most Americans are largely unaware of the vastness and lethality of U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles, say Sisters Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson, who did time in federal prison for protesting nuclear weapons by breaking into a Colorado Minuteman III missile site in October 2002. In a recent interview, they said that the end of the Cold War somehow led people to believe the weapons had somehow disappeared.

In fact, Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, estimates that another 20 to 30 countries are now capable and interested in building their own Bombs! Consequently, there is a growing worldwide movement to eliminate nuclear weapons arsenals because of the danger they pose to all life on earth and because of their accessibility to would-be terrorists (The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists).

While the members of the Nuclear Club have been dismantling many of their weapons, the world currently has a total of about 31,000 nuclear warheads, according to Nuclear Files. The combined explosive yield of these weapons is approximately 5,000 megatons or 200,000 times the explosive yield of the 15-kiloton bomb used on Hiroshima where over 100,000 people were killed.

In using those Hiroshima numbers as a point of comparison for today’s weapons, it is clear that the U.S. has an extremely dangerous and costly WMD stockpile (at least $5 trillion, according to Stephen I. Schwartz, editor of the 1998 book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940).

Below is a summary of the U.S. arsenal of land, sea and air nuclear weapons and the strength of their firepower gathered from several nonprofit sources including the Center for Defense Information (CDI); the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Nuke Watch; and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists .

Please note that the numbers provided are only estimates because it is very difficult to obtain solid data due to sketchy governmental reporting systems, weapons’ status and the ever-evolving reduction programs that shift both the number and power of the weapons.

LAND-BASED WEAPONS

Four hundred and fifty Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) stand in silos on “high alert” in Minot, North Dakota (150), Great Falls, Montana (150) and in the lonely grasslands of Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado (150).

Each of these missiles has the power of 170-300 kilotons or 11-20 Hiroshima bombs. The combined firepower of all 450 missiles amounts to 76,500 to 135,000 kilotons. The combined force of these Minuteman missiles would be capable of killing 510 to 900 million people.

SEA-BASED WEAPONS

The United States now has 14 Trident submarines, which deploy 2,346 warheads, according to the NRDC. Eight Tridents are based at Kings Bay, Georgia, and six in Bangor, Washington.

Each submarine can carry eight 475-kiloton warheads on each (D-5) missile. So one submarine can carry up to 3,800 kilotons of firepower, which is equivalent to 253 Hiroshima bombs. This means that the power of one Trident II submarine could potentially kill 25.3 million people. All 14 of our Trident submarines combined could kill 354.2 million people.

AIR-BASED WEAPONS

The B-52 long-range bomber is equipped with 20 air-launched cruise missiles with 200 kilotons of firepower for each missile. One bomber, therefore, can carry equivalent to 4,000 kilotons of power or the equivalent of 267 Hiroshima bombs. The United States has 76 bombers, which amounts to 304,000 kilotons of combined power and a potential kill capacity of 20,266,000 people.

The United States has 21 B-2 “stealth bombers” that can each carry 16 gravity bombs. There are 3 kinds of gravity bombs: the B-53 bomb has 9 megatons (or 9 million kilotons) of firepower; the B-61 ranges between 100 and 500 kilotons; and the B-83 has the firepower of 1-2 megatons (1-2 million kilotons). So one stealth bomber with 16 gravity bombs, well, the calculations are now getting astronomical and by now you get the idea of how lethal these weapons are.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE

In 1997 the U.S. military stepped up its strategic weapons capacity with Vision 2020. This plan aims to exploit and dominate outer space by linking all land, sea and air-based weapons systems. Unfortunately, Vision 2020 would violate the United Nations’ 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which banned the deployment of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in space.

“The Clinton administration opened the door to developing space weapons but that administration never did anything about it. The Bush policy now goes further,” said Michael Krepon of the Stimson Centre to The Washington Post. In 2004 the Air Force developed a weapons in space plan. In 2006 the Pentagon requested millions of dollars for testing and developing a space program.

Before we worry about Iran developing nuclear weapons, it seems an opportune time for the American people to face seriously the question of whether or not we want to continue this insane preparation for nuclear holocaust as a legacy to our progeny and our gift to the world.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Seven Palestinian Women


Seven Palestinian women traveled to five cities across the United States this fall on a three-week cultural exchange trip sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Among the women’s greatest surprises was their ease of movement.

This movement wasn’t about cars and planes or freeways and roads. It was about their not having to go through checkpoints.

Living in a place where people are deemed dangerous brings with it few rewards. As Palestinians the women must endure life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which now has an imposing 25-foot high concrete “separation wall.”

Construction of the wall began in 2002. Its 700 kilometers (1,126.5 miles) snake through the Israeli and the Palestinian territories and come complete with razor-wire fences, trenches and watchtowers. In some places the wall literally surrounds a village, like a prison, or cuts the village in two, thus making access a hardship and a burden.

Palestinians must go through countless checkpoints to get from place to place. They must carry identification and endure unfriendly Israeli soldiers who manage the checkpoints, said Reem Saleh, project coordinator for the Ministry of Culture and one of the seven visitors.

“Children can’t get to school without delays at the checkpoints and that makes getting an education stressful and confusing,” said Abeer Shihabi, division head in the Ministry of Education. “It takes some children 50 minutes to get to school when it used to take only eight minutes. Others begin a two-hour journey starting at 5 a.m. Each trip is dangerous and uncertain. Of course, they are searched at the checkpoints and the gates are not open at predictable or regular hours.”

People fear the soldiers at the checkpoints, said Shihabi. Searches are often humiliating. In one instance, some women were strip-searched at a checkpoint. As they disrobed in a tent, soldiers opened the flaps and stared at them. Some women have waited so long at the checkpoints that they’ve delivered their babies.

Access to machinery, water and markets is also a problem, especially for those who live in rural villages and farms, she said. Families can’t see each other as often. For those who lose their jobs, they must rely on their relatives to give them a home or resources that they can’t get themselves.

According to the United Nations, over 680,000 people, one third of the West Bank population, are affected by the wall. The World Court has called the wall a gross violation of international law and basic human rights.

“The wall’s purpose is to annex lands of the Palestinians,” said Nisreen Al-taher, a computer programmer and administrator for the Ministry of National Economy. And the Israeli occupation has also severely limited Palestinians’ ability to participate in the global marketplace.

The Palestinian economy is deeply in debt and it shows no signs of a turn around, said Rola Abweh, division head of the Ministry of Finance. Unemployment is at 63 percent and there are no business or development opportunities because the business climate is too risky to attract those willing to invest.

The New York Times reported recently that 85 percent of factories in the Palestinian territories are shut or operating at less than 20 percent capacity.

Only 13 percent of Palestinian women are employed and nine percent are the sole breadwinners of their families, said Fatimah Botmeh, director of training and technical assistance for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The stress of the economic situation impacts Palestinian women considerably, she said. When they are widowed or their husbands are imprisoned, they are pressed to make a living for their families in addition to continuing their household responsibilities. The uncertainty of their situation leads to emotional and health problems. Then there is no government (rather it is called the Palestinian Authority) and no police, army or social services organization to assist them.

The World Bank estimates that 75 percent of the Palestinians live on less than $2 a day and so the people rely on outside sources to live.

People from all over the world sympathetic to the Palestinians are donating computers, sewing machines and other equipment. Because girls have the most difficulty in obtaining an education due to safety concerns, some charity groups take Palestinian girls from their villages and bring them to schools elsewhere so that can be educated and then return home to establish businesses in their community, said Botmeh.

The European Union maintains several towns with monetary and material aid and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) help out as well. U.S. government aid to the Palestinians is minimal.

Hiba Abu Zayyad, a researcher in the Central Public Health Laboratory, said that the Japanese, Norwegians, Italians have especially pitched in to supply equipment and pharmaceuticals as well as food and water. However, the hospital buildings themselves are falling apart and access to advanced equipment remains elusive.

People in rural areas suffer the most, she said. Delays in mail delivery affect the reliability of their pathology tests. Sample kits often arrive just before the expiration date and are useless.

Gaza is isolated from the rest of the Palestinian territories and people live there without water, electricity or proper sanitation. It is a place ripe for disease and no one can do anything about it said Zayyad.

About 4.6 million Palestinian refugees live in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Only 3.7 million of them receive assistance from the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA). However, this funding has been cut and may be stopped because it is believed that the money is funding terrorists groups.

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy and an expert on international terrorism, reported in September 2003 that the (UNRWA) distributed $521.7 million to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2002. However, the PA was staffed by Hamas who she said undoubtedly used the money for terrorist activities. Ehrenfeld also claimed that while Palestinian Arab refugees constitute only 17 percent of world’s refugees, they receive more than one third of the annual refugee funds allocated by the UNRWA.

The Palestinian refugee problem was created during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence where between 520,000 and 800,000 refugees lost their homes and lands to Israel, according to the MidEast Web Gateway. There are even conflicting stories about what happened. The Israelis say the Palestinians attacked them and then fled voluntarily. The Palestinians believe that the Zionists suddenly attacked them, grabbed their lands and evicted them by force.

After the 1967 Six Day War several hundred thousand more refugees fled and were not allowed to return to their homes. Israel has consistently viewed the refugees as hostile, belligerent aggressors. The Palestinians, led by Yasser Arafat, denied Israel’s right to exist (until 1988 when he accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242).

“It is the Arab-Israeli conflict that is the issue causing the problems on the West Bank,” said Nabila Rizk, director of Evaluation at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. “If we solved that problem, the whole issue of the Middle East would be solved.”

“It’s not easy being Palestinian,” said Rizk. “The United States, the leader of the free world, is usually biased toward the Israelis even though Palestinians are suffering the most from being killed and arrested by the occupying Israel army. Our homes are destroyed and our olive trees (a source of income as well as a symbol of life in that region) are cut down. Then the media criminalizes the Palestinians.”

“Americans are used to seeing Jews as a civilized and good people rather than the Arabs and Muslims,” said Rizk. “The Israelis come from all over the world [because of the Jewish diaspora] and they are used to dealing with everybody. They also make use of the Holocaust to gather sympathy for their cause [to establish and maintain an Israel state].”

As difficult as the situation is for the Palestinians, the seven Palestinian women expressed their great hope that all will things will turn out well—and they refuse to feel like victims.

Palestinians are “hanging on” said Botmeh, “because we believe that someday we will live in peace as a free and independent state.”

“We need to work more to give absolute justice to our case,” said Zayyad. “If we did not have this horrible situation to deal with, we would not be as strong as we are.” She cites a Palestinian proverb that translates to: A hit that doesn’t kill me just makes me stronger.

“It’s in our blood to survive,” said Zayyad.

The women agreed that just being in the United States to tell about their predicament is a good sign. After all, the U.S. State Department supported their trip.

“We are going to live. We are not giving up on life,” said Botmeh. “As long as we are living, we will do our best to advance our cause. We do all of this for our children. We have hope for them and their future.”

“We are born free,” she said. “When you believe in a cause, you always feel strong and have to defend it. That is automatic.”

As professional women, Botmeh believes that she and her colleagues are in positions where they can affect change.

(During their three-week tour of the United States, the seven Palestinian women visited Tampa, FL; Washington, D.C.; New York City, Reno, NV; and Kalamazoo, MI. The women were guests of Colleagues International in Kalamazoo, where this report originated.)

This article appeared in CommonDreams.org on Thursday, December 6, 2007


Monday, November 19, 2007

A Review of America’s ‘Investment’ in El Salvador

On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter were murdered execution-style by the right-wing Salvadoran military government. The priests were killed for teaching their students ideas about liberating themselves from the oppression of the rich families that owned most of the country’s wealth. The cook and her daughter were killed because they were on the premises and potential witnesses to the crime.

The perpetrators were trained at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), a.k.a. the School of the Americas where Latin American military officers learn the latest methods of murder, rape and torture. Every year since 1990, Father Roy Bourgeois and the SOA Watch lead a weekend demonstration outside Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, to demand closure of this U.S. program. The execution of “the martyrs,” as the Salvadorans call them, finally put an international spotlight on the ugly civil war that had already cost 75,000 people their lives, including Archbishop Oscar Romero on March 24, 1980.

Congressman Joe Moakley (D-Massachusetts) investigated the situation in El Salvador, which began a process to end the 12-year civil war-and to reveal the U.S. government’s role in it as well. Eventually, the United Nations helped the warring sides to sign a peace agreement in January 1992.

Here is an eye-witness report of my visit to El Salvador last November. It illustrates the legacy of our government’s $6 billion “investment” in that war after 15 years of peace-and provides a sample of what we can expect from our $1.6 trillion and counting “investment” in Afghanistan and Iraq.


A shoeless boy wearily weaves his way down the street, alone, in a limp pair of soiled shorts and a torn t-shirt. Heaps of trash pile up in the vacant corners of neighborhoods and on grassy medians on the city’s streets. Dogs, comprised of many breeds, some of them obviously sick with disease, listlessly amble through the streets avoiding the path of a strutting rooster or a mother hen with her perky and curious chicks.

A shabby, dazed, young man slumps on his rump over one of the benches of a busy community laundry. As the women scrub their family’s clothes or those they’ve put out for hire, the man cuddles a greasy, white, plastic canister of glue with his nose stuck down deep in it as much as his face will allow.

Two men with sawed-off shotguns stand in front of a Burger King. The police, who work long, boring hours and lack the public’s respect, are unable to guarantee order consistently so business owners hire private guards to protect themselves, their customers, and their property.

Even on Saturdays the young women of the sweatshop factories, the maquiladoras, rouse themselves to report to work at 6 a.m. where they will spend the next 14 hours sewing fashion clothing soon be sold in stores all over the United States.

It’s dark at 6 p.m. in November and by 8 the streets of La Chacra, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the capital city of San Salvador, are deserted because the 30,000 residents close up their shops and lock the doors of their homes in order to secure themselves against the vagrancies of warring youth gangs with guns and drugs.

The polluted Rio Acelhuate runs through La Chacra but the kids who play in it and their families who use it for watering animals lack an understanding of basic public health principles. This means that they typically suffer physical ailments from their poverty: dermatitis and fungus (skin diseases caused by wet feet and close contact with garbage), gastro-intestinal conditions (from parasites), diabetes, arthritis, and hypertension.

It’s easy to see why upper respiratory diseases are so prevalent in the city. A thick, black cloud constantly hovers over the city due to all the diesel emissions of cars and especially the buses. At rush hour you can hardly breathe the air it is so polluted. Even the rain offers no relief and summer must be awful when the seamy, humid tropical air adds to this noxious soup.

While most Salvadorans obtain a sixth grade education, one of the lowest rates in the world, only 50 percent complete the ninth grade and 25 percent make it through high school. Unemployment or underemployment in the country is about 50 percent and the illiteracy rate stands at 60-70 percent. Most of the elderly cannot read. Consequently, education is highly valued and desperately needed to help this country improve its future economic and social outlook.

High school graduates in El Salvador have a chance to get jobs in shops and offices. If they go on to the university, they can be teachers, translators, businesspeople, health care workers, doctors, lawyers, professors, priests-and middle class parents.

Students realize that they are the future of El Salvador, however, they also know that without an education they will go nowhere. So they make the necessary sacrifices. Some of them take three buses to get to school. Most work during the day and study late at night while their parents-and sometimes their extended family-have two and three jobs at low pay to help their children obtain an education.

With a national population of nearly 7 million, it’s estimated that hundreds of Salvadorans struggle to cross into El Norte every day to join over 2 million of their countrymen who are already here. They are the ones who wash dishes, wait tables, and clean toilets in American cities, slaughter and slice carcasses at the meat packing plants of the Midwest, or perform endless hours of stoop labor as migrant farm workers in the Southwest, Florida, New York and Michigan.

In a recent study by the University of Central America in San Salvador, 42 percent of Salvadorans said they would leave their country to go to the United States if they had the chance. These people, who make $1-3 per day, are so desperate to feed their families that they are willing to risk a crossing. Some pay $6,000-7,000 for a coyote’s help, which requires a 50 percent down payment and must be paid back within three years at 20 percent interest. To raise this money, they put up their land, farm and house as collateral. When they finally make it to the United States (sometimes it takes two or three tries), all members of the family from both sides of the border face being separated from each other for unknown periods of time.

The current right-wing ARENA government denies that the country has a poverty problem; it wants the country to look good after getting such bad press during the 1980’s war. It also makes a lot of promises to improve health and education but then fails to follow through. Consequently, funds that poured in from abroad during and since those terrible war years are drying up as needs elsewhere in the world take priority.

Before the war started in 1980, 14 families of El Salvador owned most of the country’s wealth. Now the remaining eight families are privatizing the country’s resources and making trade agreements like the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which greatly advantages U.S. corporations.

President Bush’s call for a Coalition of the Willing in 2003 yielded only El Salvador’s participation from Latin America despite negative public opinion, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. (Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic sent a small number of troops at the beginning of the war but pulled them out in spring 2004.) Of the 1300 Salvadoran troops sent, five have been killed. Last March when President Bush visited Latin America, he didn’t even bother to stop by in El Salvador to thank them for their service.

This article appeared in CommonDreams.org on Friday, November 16, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

An Armistice Day Legacy

Elly and Bob Nagler grew up an ocean apart but their commitment to peace has strengthened them throughout their 50+ years of marriage. Neither of them stands out particularly in physical appearance. In fact, you might even miss seeing them at local peace vigils, but they’re there-every week, twice a week-since October 2002 before the war in Iraq began. And there’s no mistaking their devotion to the cause of peace and the depth from which it comes in all that they do and say. It began through their fathers who both fought in World War I.

Elly Nagler’s father was a Bavarian soldier and a French prisoner of war. He had hopes of becoming a priest but the war dashed that ambition.

“He had blood on his hands,” said Elly, “and didn’t feel he could be a priest.” Instead, he became a writer, an organizer and eventually secretary for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), a non-governmental inter-faith organization founded in 1919 in London as a response to World War I. IFOR was the first organization of its kind in the world to be committed to peaceful nonviolence in favor of healing and reconciliation.

According to its Web site, “the founders of IFOR formulated a vision of the human community based upon the belief that love in action has the power to transform unjust political, social and economic structures.”

Elly’s father established a branch office for IFOR in Vienna and operated from there until 1938 when Hitler took over Bavaria; then the office had to close. After the war he re-established IFOR. Today IFOR flourishes with a presence in more than 40 countries.

Elly’s sister, Hildegard Goss-Mayr, later took over her father’s work at IFOR and became an international figure. A prolific writer and speaker, the Vatican asked Hildegard for her input on its important encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), published in 1963. She has also conducted training programs on nonviolence in Latin America, Africa and Asia and has served as a consultant to leaders like Cory Aquino of the Philippines. As a result of her work, Hildegard was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

In comparison to her father and her sister, Elly doesn’t consider herself a peace activist, but rather an “agitator for change.”

“I’m just a human being,” said Elly, the mother of four daughters and a son. “We should have a responsibility for each other and do all we can to make the world a better place.” She thinks that the only way to settle conflict is through nonviolence and living up to our possibilities.

Actually, Elly is no slouch when it comes to peace activism. In 1947 she joined the Quaker youth work camp movement in Austria, Sweden, Mexico and El Salvador to help rebuild houses in villages and to provide assistance in refugee camps that harbored Russians, Germans and Ukrainians.

“I lost half of my heart in El Salvador,” said Elly. It’s probably one of the reasons the Naglers were so active in the Sanctuary movement of the mid-1980s when they helped harbor a Salvadoran family.

Bob Nagler grew up in Iowa City, the son of a famous hydraulics engineer who consulted on the Hoover Dam and several Mississippi River projects. When he returned from World War I, he vowed always to make the world a better place through his work as well as through his commitment as a peace activist for the Methodist church. He wanted to rid the world of war and to promote nonviolence as a peaceful solution.

In 1933 Bob attended the Epworth League’s summer youth camp on Clear Lake, Iowa, a part of the Southern Methodists’ religious education program. The theme that year focused on peace and the Oxford Pledge. The children learned that the pledge was derived from the world’s first peace movement started in England during the late 1920s as a response to the disastrous global conflict of 1914-1918. Students at Oxford University had taken a pledge that they would “not fight for king and country” as their fathers had in World War I where 40 million people died, half of them civilians.

Bob was among half of the 200 kids at the camp who signed the peace pledge. Part of the reason the pledge has “stuck with him” to this day was because his father died less than three months later, leaving ten-year-old Bob, his mother and two younger siblings.

“My father was my hero,” said Bob who sought to remember him by making the Oxford pledge his father’s legacy to him. Eventually Bob became a Quaker. His father had worked with them and he knew they lived lives of peace and nonviolence. Besides, they helped other people in need, like his own family.

In 1943, while in the middle of his junior year of college, Bob was drafted into the Army. However, because of his Conscientious Objector status, he was assigned to a Civilian Public Service base camp in North Dakota under the direction of the Quakers. He later volunteered for a starvation experiment in Minnesota and an infectious hepatitis project in Philadelphia, where he became a human “guinea pig” and contracted hepatitis. His work with the Army led him to a career in science and he eventually became a chemistry professor and helped to start a chemistry program at Western Michigan University.

During his tenure at the university, Bob participated in a USAID science training program in Nigeria for a couple of years, which he found to be “the most fulfilling thing I ever did.” He worked with the top five percent of all students there.

During the Vietnam War, Bob advised WMU students on Conscientious Objector status and participated in peace demonstrations. Of course, he was under F.B.I. observation for his activities, but he was undeterred. Bob has also worked with the local and national environmental councils and with the Physicians for Social Responsibility. Today, he writes monthly letters to his congressman, a Republican who always votes with the president. Nevertheless, Bob continues to convey his concerns about the war in Iraq and about science, particularly those issues involving the environment and stem cell research. What keeps the Naglers going after all these years? That’s easy, they say: the consistency of their actions for peace and their concern for the world.

“You can make an impact on the world with your persistence in doing what you think is right,” said Bob. “It is symbolic of your conviction.”

Bob dreams that the United Nations will evolve into the meaningful peace organization it was meant to be.

“I’m not discouraged or encouraged about the world’s situation,” he said pointing out that there are now hundreds of organizations all over the world working for peace, educating people and publishing books on peace.

“Some of this will rub off. Peace activists are responding to those who make war more readily. They know that violence escalates itself and they want to stop it. They realize that other people have rights and opinions and that peace is a constructive activity.”

“You can never give up on hope,” said Elly, who has seen the total devastation of cities in her youth-twice-through two world wars.

“But we Americans and Europeans need to come off of our superiority complex,” said Elly. “We need to realize that human beings have value. We take it for granted that total inequality exists because we don’t know how to go about making the world where we see people as our equals. This will take much education.”


This article appeared in CommonDreams.org on Sunday, November 11, 2007

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Die-In -- Friday, October 19


Police officer. Laborer. Shiite cleric. Sunni cleric. 8-year old. Doctor. Student. Sunni tribal leader. Shiite tribal leader. Provincial governor. 12-year old. Professor. Blacksmith. Journalist. Taxi driver. 3-year old.

Just a representation of the 96 Iraqi civilians killed each day in Iraq, according to U.N. estimates. In 2006 a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report calculated nearly 655,000 deaths since the war began in 2003. That total is believed to be about one million deaths today.

To recognize these deaths that the U.S. military refuses to count, members of the Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents of War (KNOW) held its first Die-In in Bronson Park. Leaders read the names and occupations of Iraqis followed by a single drum beat for each person.

Modeled after the American Friends Service Committee of Chicago die-ins, KNOW attracted about 100 people to this Friday-after-work demonstration of protest against the war. It was four years and seven months to the day since the start of the war.

“We chose the downtown’s Bronson Park for the Die-in because of its central location,” said organizer Raelyn Joyce. “But next time we go to Portage, our sister city.”

Although KNOW has sustained a non-stop presence of protest since September 2002, it still struggles to gain the attention of citizens in the Kalamazoo area.

“The demonstration was successful,” said organizer Mark Miller, “ but we’re still talking to ourselves. We have yet to break through the indifference of most of our fellow citizens.”

The Kalamazoo peace movement is not alone in experiencing this apparent apathy among citizens. Small groups of peace activists throughout the country have remained steadfast in their protest but they are unable to amass the numbers of demonstrators who joined the 1960’s protests against the Vietnam War—or to match the millions of Americans who marched against this war before it began in 2003.

Some activists maintain that this lack of interest isn’t that people aren’t against the war. Polls show that over 70 percent of Americans want out of Iraq. However, people are communicating their opposition to the war through the Internet, e-mail and cell phones rather than through public demonstration. Many people are more focused on 9/11, which abound with conspiracy theories that the administration planned or at least remained complicit in allowing the attacks to happen.

Nevertheless, the fact that death accompanies war was not lost on Kalamazooans who lay still as “corpses” for 30 minutes on the cold ground covered by a simple white sheet with a red carnation on top.

“It was rough to listen to the multitude of names,” said Kalamazoo College student Adam Marshall. “These were people who had families, experiences, memories. Our government took that away and it’s difficult to reconcile.”

Many participants found the reading of the names moving, even meditative.

“I came because I think we should focus more on the civilians who are dying in this war. We only concentrate on the soldiers,” said Judy Whaley. “During the vigil I thought about how so many of these people would be such an asset to Iraqi society if and when this war is over. And the children—what they might have been.”

Dan Smith said the reading of names brought up a vision of each person.

“It’s as though I saw them as they died.” After the service concluded Smith said his empathy for the dead overwhelmed him to break down in tears.

“It was as though I were transported to Iraq and back,” said Smith.

Lorelei Stoto could also envision people and that lying down as a “corpse” among the other “corpses” was “sad, intensely sad.”

KNOW leader Steve Senesi opened the Die-In by pointing out that the living Iraqis are facing tremendous odds to survive. They must dodge the random killings of mercenaries like Blackwater, U.S. troops who conduct raids in people’s homes in the middle of the night, and insurgents who kill their fellow Iraqis.

“The military calls this ‘collateral damage,’ said Senesi, “and the unintended killing of civilians is a product of warmaking.”

The event was organized by KNOW, the Skyridge Church of the Brethren, the Kalamazoo Friends Meeting, and Swords into Plowshares from WMU's Peace Center. Food Not Bombs provided treats after the demonstration.

On Saturday, October 27 peace activists from Kalamazoo will go to Chicago to participate in a United for Peace & Justice (UPJ) regional mobilization to stop the war in Iraq. Other cities holding a similar demonstration include Boston, Jonesborough, Tenn., Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle. This regional mobilization is a UPJ strategy change from when it held national demonstrations in one or two cities.


A Letter to President Bush


Dear Mr. President,

I saw a clip of your news conference the other night and I am concerned about you. Your hairline is receding. Your face is wan and getting more wrinkled. You couldn’t stop giggling when you talked about World War III.

Is this job getting to you? Are you not sleeping at night? I think you may have 9/11 Fatigue.

9/11 Fatigue creeps up on you when you least expect it and it occupies every minute of your day. You start to see boogey men around each corner and tense yourself even when you’re trying to relax. You lie awake at night looking for ways to protect yourself from those who would harm you because, of course, you never know whom to trust. Worse yet, you spend endless hours trying to persuade others to join you in fighting an ever-elusive enemy. It’s almost as bad as post-traumatic stress syndrome that soldiers must contend with after serving in Iraq for their second, third, fourth and even fifth tours of duty.

I’m really worried about you, sir, because as the only visible leader left in government, if you fall, we all fall with you. So you must take care of yourself and here’s my best advice: spend more time out in Nature. I’m teaching my first-year college students to do this in a class called “Seeing the World at Three Miles an Hour.” It focuses on helping the students to slow down enough to notice nature, which I contend will allow them to enjoy life and get in touch with their deepest selves. Recently they went on a 75-minute walk in the woods where they had no cell phones, no computers, no ipods, no other people around to distract them. They experienced solitude.

You’d be amazed at how differently they looked after spending this short time in nature. One young woman couldn’t stop dancing she was so exuberant about her contact with the trees, their falling leaves, the crunching of her feet on the trail. Another student meditated on an anthill. Instead of crushing this little cone of sand as she usually does, she gingerly walked around it and felt compassion for the creatures scurrying in and around their home. Yet another student spent her time thinking about her father who had died five years before. He was a nature lover and had passed on that passion to her.

I’m so excited about what happened to my class. Their fatigue from the past four weeks of school just seemed to lift right off their faces. And so, sir, since your job seems to be wearing on you after nearly seven years, get some rest. Take a walk in the woods. (And for God’s sakes don’t ride in your pick-up truck or cut brush.) Experience the wonders of nature. Listen to the trees, talk to them and ask them for advice. (Stay away from the pines, however, they tend to pass along the secrets they hear). Take off your shoes and walk in the grass. Breathe in the autumn air and let it waft through your hair. Take a sketchpad and draw a log, a mushroom or a rock. Forget about the terrorists for a little while.

I strongly urge you to do this nature walk on your own. Even though the Secret Service has to watch over you, order them to stay out of sight so that you can just be alone with yourself for a change and not have to remember that you are the president.

If you did these things every day for an hour I think you would see the world much more differently, just as Eleanor Roosevelt did on her visits to Rock Creek Park near D.C. She found solace by simply staring at a sculpture there as she endured the difficult days of a Depression AND a war. People hated her, too, and blamed her for things that went wrong-just as they do you with this Iraq thing. And after she left the White House she continued to be a great woman just as you aspire to be a great man.

As you know, 9/11 changed everything and no president has ever had to deal with such challenges before. Lincoln had the civil war; Wilson had WWI; and FDR had WWII, but these were minor compared to what you must do to overcome those bastard terrorists. It must be exhausting work! But you must take care of yourself because, well, after all, you’re the president, Mr. President.

Better yet, think about resigning. Then you could spare your health-and the nation’s. As the decider of the free world, you just don’t seem to have that fast ball anymore to tackle such major league problems as global warming, massive migration, overpopulation, disease, hunger, oppression and social injustice. You’ve carried the ball this far in this difficult post-9/11 era and I thank you but I must say, things seem to have gotten worse in the world.

Besides, you’ll need your strength for the post-presidency, which is bound to last 20 to 30 years. You’re undoubtedly a long-ball hitter like your parents!

Of course, you’ll want to set the story straight about your legacy. Darn media won’t get it right without your direction. Or you might consider jumping out of plane like your father did in his post-presidency just to prove that he wasn’t a wimp. In that way you could show the world that you’re still relevant. That’s far more heroic than using veto power over those pathetic Democrats. You could also wear that cute little jump suit again. Gosh you looked so good back then when the mission in Iraq had been accomplished. Those were the days!

Please, sir. Give it a rest, sir. You’ll be doing yourself-and all of us-a big favor.


This article was published in Common Dreams on October 19, 2007.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Russian Diary

Oct. 7 is the first anniversary of the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

She was greatly admired by her fellow journalists for her courage and commitment to the cause of free speech especially since her death brings to the surface the haunting reality that journalists in Russia--and all over the world--have become targets for murder as transparency and truth have been set aside in favor of security against terrorists and favorable government public relations.

In 2005 six journalists were murdered in Russia, 63 assaulted, 47 arrested and 42 prosecuted, according to a report by the Glasnost Defense Foundation. Since 2000 when Vladimir Putin came to power, 13 journalists have been killed.

Politkovskaya was a journalist with Novaya Gazeta (New Newspaper), which was founded as perestroika was emerging. She covered the first and the second wars in Chechnya and was just finishing a story about torture there when Russian-supported Chechen security forces gunned her down in the elevator of her apartment in Moscow.

From Politkovskaya’s viewpoint, Russia is a country in chaos. She illustrates this in the pages of DIARY, which bleed with horrible scenes of death, the escalating stink of corruption and the population’s utter resignation that nothing can be done.

Democracy is dead in Russia, says Politkovskaya, and the people have done it to themselves because they fail to challenge government policies, put up opposition candidates, support an independent media or finance independent sources for significant public projects. Instead, they pine for the good old days of the U.S.S.R. Although she admits that political opposition lost its steam in 1996 when Yeltsin beat the Communists, Politkovskaya also puts democracy’s demise squarely on the shoulders of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin who, she says, masterminded the monstrous system that manipulates information, avoids responsibility and restricts human freedom.

For example, Putin holds inane and scripted press conferences. He makes promises he does not keep. He does not respond to criticism and is unmoved by human tragedy, like the deaths of 300-plus children who were killed by Chechen terrorists in a Beslan school in 2004.

Putin is equally unconcerned about soldiers who are bullied by the older “grandfather" soldiers or that they are in harm’s way in Chechnya without proper protection, decent food or even shoes to wear. He forgets about veterans, too, especially disabled veterans. He has even abolished the right of the Duma (legislature) to vote—and got the people to support him.

A few citizens’ groups have attempted to challenge the government, like the Soldiers’ Mothers, who valiantly and passionately appealed to Putin to change the awful conditions their sons must endure, but there are not enough citizens who involve themselves in these movements for change. Politkovskaya believes this silence comes from the Russians’ “serf-like psychology”:

"Our society isn’t a society anymore. It is a collection of windowless, isolated concrete cells…. The authorities do everything they can to make the cells even more impermeable, sowing dissent, inciting some against others, dividing and ruling. And the people fall for it. That is the real problem. That is why revolution in Russia, when it comes, is always so extreme. The barrier between the cells collapses only when the negative emotions within them are ungovernable."

Liberals and democrats have tried to appeal to Putin, she says, but they are locked in an insidious Catch-22 where they cannot seek to work with the same man they are pressing to resign.

Perhaps most disturbing is Politkovskaya’s warning about the government’s eerie and surreal return to Stalinism as revisionist historians and public relations staff laud the former dictator’s brilliance in helping to win World War II. The truth, according to Politkovskaya, is that Putin is using some of the same Stalinist tactics where dissenters are abducted, tortured, drugged with truth serum or killed. Elections are rigged, and there is an aura of secrecy and suspicion surrounding the abject lawlessness of those who hold powerful and influential positions.

Without a free press reporting on such activities, says Politkovskaya, democracy has no chance, so she takes it upon herself to report the bad news and then dearly pays for it with her life.

A RUSSIAN DIARY is imbued with an edgy and tense tone, yet Politkovskaya does not come off as shrill because her passion for truth is so forthright. Nevertheless, readers may need to take frequent breaks from the book because it is so utterly depressing to read about the government’s deliberate cruelty to its people who are so complicit to the process.

Though Politkovskaya was a strong-willed woman, as her picture on the back book jacket suggests, sometimes the situation in Russia is so dire that even she is consumed with deep bitterness and disappointment. “The main problem,” she writes, “is that while collapse [of the government] is inevitable, we will not see it in our lifetime. That’s a pity, because we would like to.”

A profound sense of hopelessness pervades the book, and readers come to know someone who loves her country yet grieves over its inability to overcome its abuses and predicaments.

Russians will probably never see this book because of government censorship. In fact, 82 percent of Russians support the restriction of freedom of speech and of the press, according to a 2005 poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center. Politkovskaya surmises that such sentiment stems from the blatant sex and violence on television that people abhor. Censorship of the press, however, prevents citizens from obtaining information and understanding the nation’s politics, including its dealing with Russia’s current nemesis, Chechnya.

DIARY's greatest asset is that it provides a sobering view of what an ebbing and unchecked social contract between government and its citizens looks like.

In his foreword to the book, Scott Simon, host of National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” honors Politkovskaya by recognizing that she did not do her journalistic work for “money, notoriety, or advancement, but the struggle for the survival of her country….” In fact, she stayed in Russia even though she could have left her country quite easily. This fact makes the book all the more compelling especially as she expresses her reasons why in a postscript:

"The more I think about it, the more I would be betraying these people if I walked away. The only thing to do is to take this to the bitter end, so that no one can say that when things became difficult, I ran away."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mission Al Jazeera: Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World

A 14-year veteran U.S. Marine officer, a Texan, working for Al Jazeera, the reputed “Terrorist Network”?

First of all, says author Josh Rushing, Al Jazeera is not the mouthpiece of Al Qaeda, as U.S. propaganda claims. It is the only nongovernmental 24-hour news network to reach the Arab world and its cutting edge technology allows it to be viewed by 100 million people all over the world, which means that it is aired mostly to a non-Arabic audience.

Al Jazeera English (www.aljazeera.net/English), first launched on November 15, 2006, is viewed by people who can speak English as their first, second or third language. The network is very popular in Europe, however, and not widely available in the United States except on the Internet.

The news content of Al Jazeera doesn’t worry about being “fair and balanced” as much as it tries to “speak truth to power.” In other words, the network seeks to re-make the international news paradigm by presenting stories from the perspective of the developing world, the poor countries, instead of from the perspective of the wealthy nations only, as the BBC does. Rushing likens Al Jazeera to “David standing up to the Goliath of the Western world.”

Al Jazeera also takes on controversial issues that most of its viewers have not heard about including homosexuality, women’s rights and critiques on the Koran and policy initiatives in the Middle East. It invites Israelis to speak more than any other network in the world outside of Israel. The network is not without its critics—from all sides of the political spectrum—but it appreciates such assessments as a validation of its credibility.

Al Jazeera was created and is supported by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, emir of Qatar. Located on a small peninsula on the northeastern coast of Saudi Arabia, population 841,000, Qatar is one of the most liberal countries of the Arab world. The emir is one of the richest men, too, and he is trying to win the power game against his rival, Saudi Arabia through Al Jazeera. He also played the power card by giving the Americans permission to build a base in Qatar for U.S. Central Command (CentCom).

But how did Rushing become a reporter for Al Jazeera? He begins with some autobiographical background. After high school Rushing enlisted in the Marines and then earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas in classical civilization and ancient history. He subsequently served as a Hollywood military movie consultant and participated in overseeing the TV show, JAG.

Before the war began, Lieutenant Rushing was assigned to Doha, Qatar, headquarters for CentCom, which is responsible for all military matters from Sudan to Kazakhstan, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. A curious fellow, Rushing excitedly took on the task by studying Arabic as well as the culture of the Middle East. This work helped him to form relationships with journalists from Al Jazeera, one of several news outlets he had been assigned to serve as media spokesman.

It wasn’t long, however, before he realized that the military had not planned its media strategy for the war. Worse yet, the military did not know much about Al Jazeera or the negative sentiments against the United States that were pervading the region.

“Al Jazeera offered us a chance to engage the ideologies that fueled 9/11,” said Rushing who tried to convince senior officers to pay attention to Al Jazeera in order to convey America’s purpose in the region and the larger war on terrorism. His ideas for “building this information bridge” were not only brushed aside, he was even called a traitor. Eventually, Rushing also found out that the military would handle news from Iraq through the Bush administration’s political handlers who pursued a “public relations” effort.

Public affairs and public relations are vastly different, says Rushing. Public affairs is designed to inform the public about what is going on while public relations explains the reasoning behind the decisions. PR is akin to propaganda. So instead of being the “constitutional watch dog” that he had been trained to be, Rushing was to pressed to be a PR flack “promoting the whims of politicians.” And while he claims he was never directly ordered to lie, he certainly knew he had to follow a script.

Rushing’s brief time in the war took an unexpected turn after he inadvertently and unknowingly became the main character of an independent documentary called Control Room, which reveals the international perceptions of the United States’ war with Iraq. Although Rushing at first believed in the cause of the war and the way it could serve a greater good, the film portrays him as a changed Marine with a conscience. He speaks about his empathy for dead Iraqis, his view of the war and his growing skepticism of the cause when he learned that the world saw America’s action in Iraq as “naked aggression.”

His appearance in Control Room did not win him any favors with the Pentagon as he—and his wife—were silenced from speaking to the press. Once the film became more popular and he more famous, Rushing understood that his career with the Marines was over so in August 2004, he resigned his commission. Later, the opportunity to work for Al Jazeera opened up as a result of his appearance in the film.

Rushing’s goal in working for Al Jazeera is to help Americans discover the Middle Eastern point of view, especially since September 11 proved that America could no longer afford to isolate itself from the rest of the world. He says that Americans—and our leaders—must realize that others’ perceptions of our country do matter, especially since we are a global political and economic power and he confesses that he is “dumbfounded” that most Americans still are neither interested in or knowledgeable about the Arab world.

The book is an eye-opener for readers as they watch the transformation of a gung-ho Marine stationed at the command center of the Iraq War become a correspondent for Al Jazeera. It reads quickly and clearly and provides yet another eyewitness testimony of how the war in Iraq has been waged.

This book review was published in America magazine on September 10, 2007.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Peace Comedian Comes to Kalamazoo Friday, Sept 7


Humor and peace, comedy and wisdom on September 7 at 8 p.m. in the Dalton Theatre at Kalamazoo College.

Come together in a night of entertainment presented by Swami Beyondananda, the Cosmic Comic and peace comedian.

Tickets $15 for adults and $5 for students. Buy them at the door or order in advance by calling 269-731-4289.

This program is presented by the U.S. Department of Peace campaign in SW Michigan. www.dopmichigan6th.org and www.WakeUpLaughing.com

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Revisionist Just War Theory

Army captain and Iraq War veteran Robert P. McGovern’s new book All American: Why I Believe in Football, God, and the War in Iraq makes the case that “as a lawyer, a soldier, and a graduate of four Catholic schools, I believe that nations are legally and morally obliged to prevent injustices like genocide, military aggression and threats to civilians.” In other words, he believes that the Church’s Just War Theory fits the Iraq situation and provides adequate justification for the war.

I gasped when I saw this. First of all, Captain McGovern’s contention that the Just War Theory justifies this war in Iraq is such revisionist hooey. The fact is that before the war ensued, Pope John Paul II pleaded with Bush NOT to go into Iraq—and to get out—several times. ALL of the U.S. mainline churches openly opposed the prospect of war. Moreover, onlookers claim that Bush never consulted a minister, including one from his own Methodist faith about his decision to invade Iraq.

Secondly, four and a half years of war have gotten us 3,699 dead Americans and between 69,284 and 655,000 dead Iraqis; mass migration and unrest in the region; $451.8 billion of taxpayers money wasted; torture against our enemies and domestic spying; soldiers doing three, four, five tours in Iraq; and the cultivation of more terrorism because of our occupation. Things are so bad that 70 percent of the American people are against this war, almost a complete reversal of support when we started it. Perhaps a look at Just War Theory can help us see through this fog of war that seems to be getting thicker and thicker.

In 387 A.D. Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. The Christians, who had been enemies of Rome, suddenly became allies of the state. Although they no longer had to dodge being eaten by lions, they had a new problem: how to deal with questions of war like: “When is it permissible to wage war” (jus in bello) and “What are the limitations in the ways we wage war?” (jus ad bellum). St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) tackled this problem by formulating his famous “Just War Theory” which claimed that leaders could commit their people to war if it were morally justifiable. Any leader contemplating war had to meet three conditions. First, the nation must have legitimate authority to declare war. Secondly, it must take care not to hurt non-combatants or civilians. Third, the nation must consider a proportional means to achieve its goal.

Even though these rules of war had been layed out, Christians have been waging war through the centuries and making as many excuses for war as there have been wars. In truth, Augustine’s Just War Theory runs counter to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), which preaches that we love our enemies and take care of the poor.

Another unintended consequence of the Just War Theory is the alliance between church and state, which has resulted in the Church’s “horrible history of war that we try to forget by re-interpreting the text,” says Professor Rudi Siebert, religion and society scholar at Western Michigan University. Hitler, for example, reinterpreted the text with the 1933 Concordat, a treaty he made with the Vatican which guaranteed the Church’s right to regulate its own affairs in Germany while the dictator proclaimed that Christianity was “the basis of our collective morals,” the family, and “the kernel of our people.”

Applying Just War principles to the twentieth century has become “very murky” said Professor Siebert because today’s wars may involve weapons of mass destruction and they often include genocidal violence against civilians. For example, during World War I, 10 percent of those killed were civilians. In World War II the number rose to 40 percent. Today, estimates are at 90 percent.

It distresses Professor Siebert that religion has been the source of so much violence and war. However, he is concerned that “when religion fails, what does that leave us?” The state with its laws and secular morality can avert violence and war and international controls like the Geneva Convention, the United Nations, and NATO foster restraint and discourse. However, says Professor Siebert, today even these institutions are losing their effectiveness, especially when President Bush effectively blew them off in his urgency to get the war in Iraq started.

For all his study and experience of war (he was a teenage fighter pilot in the German air force and an infantryman during World War II), Professor Siebert admits that the ultimate paradox about war is that “All wars are bad even if sometimes some wars may be necessary.” So, why so many wars? His answer is threefold. Economically, we fight over scarce resources. Culturally, we have movies that glorify war and killing. Psychologically, we have a death instinct “as if there were something biologically wrong with us.”

“Even wolves have an instinct to stop fighting when it is clear that one wolf is vulnerable and defeated,” says Professor Siebert. “He opens his neck to the other wolf and the aggressor doesn’t bite. We human beings don’t have a mechanism within us to be against war—except the Sermon on the Mount.” Unfortunately, some Christians will quote Matthew 10:34 to justify war: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Finding our way to peace is looking more and more difficult and yet, as Gandhi said to the British governor over India: eventually you will all leave. You will just walk out. And walk out they did—ever so graciously and India gained its independence from Britain in 1947.

Seems to me that we have a solution for ending the war in Iraq: we simply walk out. Better that it happen sooner than later!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hiroshima Remembered—and Forgotten


Keyoko was there during the bombing of Hiroshima on Monday, August 6, 1945. At 8:15 a.m. just before the glass of her house shattered into tiny pieces, her baby started screaming. Shards of glass covered her scalp. Keyoko looked out the window and saw the mushroom cloud hanging in the air over the city. She went outside her house looking for relatives among the piles of bodies and animal carcasses killed by the intense, radioactive heat, she saw buildings and concrete streets with vaporized shadows of human figures etched on them. People were running around begging for water.
* * * * *

“Little Boy” had been dropped from the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that flew over Hiroshima. Upon impact, the bomb generated an enormous amount of air pressure and heat and a significant amount of radiation (gamma rays and neutrons). A strong wind generated by the bomb destroyed most of the houses and buildings within a 1.5-mile radius. When the wind reached the mountains, it ricocheted and again hit the people in the city center. By the end of the year 140,000 civilians were dead. Another 60,000 people eventually died from the bomb’s effects. Three days later a second bomb, “Fat Man,” was dropped on Nagasaki resulting in the deaths of approximately 70,000 people by year’s end. On August 15, Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered.

* * * * *

Howard served in the Army during the Korean War. He is convinced that dropping the bomb on Hiroshima “was the right thing to do” because the war cost the lives of many Japanese and American GIs. Today, Howard is concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capability. “If we can’t negotiate with them, they’ll attack South Korea.” He also recognizes that North Korea is more of a threat to the United States than the Arab countries. “I fear more for my family and not myself. I could cope, but I don’t want something drastic to happen to them.”
September 11 shocked Howard. Hearing about the lost lives made him very upset, especially since it happened on U.S. soil. Nevertheless, Howard is tired of hearing about 9/11 because he doesn’t think it compares at all to the trauma the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused.

“I lost a friend at Pearl Harbor and it still hurts,” he says.

* * * * *

Sister Barbara taught English in Hiroshima 1974-1994. As a volunteer at the A-Bomb Hospital where the 1945 bomb victims were still being treated, she saw people who were still badly scarred and some who were blinded or made deaf.
“The hospital patients changed my whole attitude toward life,” says Sister Barbara, who grew up during World War II and was “gung ho” to win it. “But I could see how war affected people’s lives.” Sister Barbara used to go to the Hiroshima Peace Museum every August even though it made her physically ill.
“It hurts you inside,” says Sister Barbara. “You realize that people are human beings and that something terrible happened to them.” For Sister Barbara, the atomic bomb no longer means the end of a terrible war. Instead she understands that it has become a mechanism that allows one people to hold tremendous destructive power over another people.
“I’ve seen the results of atomic weapons,” she says. “It’s enough to make you ask: why did it have to happen?”

* * * * *

Every August 6 the city of Hiroshima holds memorial ceremonies to remember those who died from the bomb. Tens of thousands of people attend. The memorial ceremony begins with a march from the Peace Cathedral to the Cenotaph, the central monument of the whole complex and the site of the stone coffin that holds the Register of A-Bomb Victims. During the ceremony the name of each victim is read. At night the city holds a lantern float on the river and people buy candles for every family member lost to the bomb attack. Peacemakers all over the world have adopted the lantern float as a memorial of this day in their towns and cities. They insert prayers, thoughts and messages of peace in their lanterns.

The Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima provides a tangible record of the grim reality of that day and about the powerful impact that weapons of mass destruction can have on a city. The first half of the museum gives visitors a sense of life before the bombing; it showcases children’s toys, books and magazines as well as a model of the city before the bombing. The second half of the museum holds shocking wax figures of the victims: their clothes burned right off of them, their skin hanging in strips like tattered rags, flesh burned raw and sometimes exposed down to the bone, eye sockets gouged out.

Many pregnant women delivered deformed babies and women who carried eight-week-old fetuses bore children with smaller heads and lower intelligence. Children were also muted, that is, their bodies stopped growing. As a result, many young women exposed to the radiation vowed never to marry or to have children because they feared what they might produce. The message of the museum is “Ban nuclear weapons and make peace in the world.” Unfortunately, the world has not seen fit to heed this message. Here is an accounting of the nuclear weapons stockpiles in the world, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and published in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

Number of warheads and year of first test

United States 9,960 (5,735 active) -- 1945

Russia 16,000 (5,830 active) -- 1949

United Kingdom 200 -- 1952

France 350 -- 1960

China 130 -- 1964

India 70-120 -- 1974

Pakistan 30-52 -- 1998

North Korea 1-10 -- 2006

Israel 75-200 -- undeclared