Monday, March 30, 2009

It's Human Security, Stupid, Not National Security


She is emotional, strong-willed and determined. She is also passionate and not averse to yelling, swearing or pounding on the podium to make a point. And when it comes to national security, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jody Williams is dead set against using our country's power and resources to kill or maim other people. Instead, she promotes “human security” as a way of forging world peace.

“We can only be secure when justice and the sharing of resources in the world are present,” she said to an audience of nearly 400 at the annual Great Lakes PeaceJam held last weekend at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. “Human security, not national security will bring security to everyone in the world.”

PeaceJam's (www.peacejam.org) mission is to work with Nobel Peace Laureates to help create a new generation of young leaders committed to peace through positive change in themselves, their communities and the world.

Williams won the Peace Prize for her work in starting and heading up the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (www.icbl.org) in 1992. Five years later she and her team of activists persuaded 121 nations to ban the use of landmines, which at the time was considered a conventional practice in supplying over 80 countries' military arsenals. Unfortunately, the United States, Russia and China did not sign the treaty. But that has not stopped Williams from continuing her effort to rid the world of violence.

In fact, she has stepped up her campaign for human security by participating in PeaceJam's “Global Call to Action.” The program involves several Nobel Peace Laureates who work with and inspire the youth of the world to be involved in a decade-long quest to effect change by addressing the following needs:
· Providing equal access to water and other natural resources
· Ending racism and hate
· Halting the spread of global disease
· Eliminating extreme poverty
· Fighting for social justice and human rights
· Promoting rights for women and children and their roles as leaders
· Restoring the earth's environment
· Controlling the proliferation of weapons
· Breaking the cycle of violence
Many governmental leaders believe that they need a mighty military machine to make their people safe and secure, said Williams. Investing in human security, however, means that when we work to stop global warming; provide people with decent housing, education and health care; and deal with conflict through compromise instead of violence, then we are creating a more secure world.

To illustrate the hapless pursuit of national security, Williams noted that on September 10, 2001, the United States had the strongest military presence the world had ever seen. On September 11, after Americans “freaked out” over four hijacked airplanes, $44 billion was allocated to the Pentagon “to make our country more secure.”

Beefing up the military, as important as it is for the defense of our nation is not the path to increased security, said Williams.

“We talk about U.S. interests being advanced by the military,” said Williams, who received a master's degree from the prestigious School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, which trains American diplomats, policymakers, businesspeople and organizational leaders. Her experience of the SAIS curriculum was that its emphasis on economics left out the human element.

“The military is supposed to be our last resort when diplomacy has been lost,” said Williams.

“We make all sorts of calculations and analyses of our military actions but forget to analyze the impact we make on the people we bomb.

In fact, Williams hated her time at SAIS and they hated her, she said—until she received the Nobel Peace Prize. Paul Wolfowitz, who was dean at the time, sent
her a letter inviting her to receive recognition for the most achieved alum award.

“I didn't answer it and threw the letter away,” she said with disgust.
However, Williams takes pains to distinguish between the policymakers and the soldiers who are sent to do battle.

“I have nothing against soldiers who die for our country, but rather for those who send them there to die.”

Of late, she is very concerned about President Obama's decision to step up the war in
Afghanistan and send drones to bomb Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan.

“Won't the people who are bombed there try to send some drones over here?” she asked.
Williams promotes peace activism but warned her audience that such work is considered as kumbya, guitars, doves and rainbows.

“They call us peaceniks and tree-hugging liberals. That means that we are little wimps who don't understand what makes peace in the world. It implies that we can't deal with the complexities of national security like the big-time policymakers do.”

Attaining peace in the world today, she said, requires a different mindset and a new way of thinking that advocates justice and equality and strives to meet basic human needs.

There is something wrong when 20 percent of the world's population controls 80 percent of the planet's resources, she said. There is something wrong when 1.5
billion people are without clean drinking water. There is something wrong when a handful of billionaires have more wealth than sub-Saharan Africa. That's why people strap on a bomb and blow it up.

“We need to think about security in terms of human beings, not the state,” said Williams. “We'll still have conflict, but not at the scale we have now.”

Williams also urged her audience to commit themselves to a brand of peace activism that is bigger than just being against war. Instead they should be focused on making sure that people's basic needs are met, they are treated with dignity, they have a right to choose their own forms of government, and that conflicts are resolved without violence.

She also advised that activists can get more done if they join together with activists of
different causes and “realize that we're all part of the same thing” when we contribute to human security and not national security where we strive to have “the biggest, most muscular missiles and defense in the world.”

PeaceJam participants donned gray t-shirts with Williams' advice printed on their backs: “Emotion without action is irrelevant.”

“Emotion is the first step,” said Williams. “But if it's not channeled positively, it
is a waste.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Our National Report Card on War


Today marks six years since the start of the Iraq War and six years and five months since troops invaded Afghanistan. These wars were presumably started in response to 9/11 in the attempt to stop terrorism and protect us from Saddam’s caches of WMD.

So, how are we doing? Let’s take a look.

Over the past six years in Iraq we have buried 4,261 Americans and 317 coalition troops and seen 31,102 Americans wounded.

The death rate for Iraqi civilians is a little more sketchy with estimates by the Iraq Body Count between 91,000–99,500. Projections from the 2006 Lancet Report count nearly one million Iraqi deaths and other sources believe that four million Iraqis have been affected by the war through loss of their homes, the destruction of infrastructure, the flight to other countries and residence in Middle Eastern refugee camps.

Fortunately, the death rate in Afghanistan is not as severe with 662 Americans and 436 coalition troops killed and 2,713 Americans wounded. If you are trying to calculate Afghan military or civilian deaths, good luck in finding it.

Government spending through FY 2009 is projected at $864 for all war-related costs since 9/11, according to the October 2008 Congressional Service Report. The war in Iraq will receive an estimated $657 billion (76 percent) while expenses for the war in Afghanistan and various counter-terrorism operations is about $173 billion (20 percent). The remaining monies are $28 billion (3 percent) for enhanced base security and about $5 billion that CRS cannot allocate (1 percent). Of these funds, about $812 billion (94 percent) are under the Department of Defense (DOD), nearly $52 billion (6 percent) are for foreign aid programs and embassy operations, and $8 billion (less than 1 percent) for medical care for veterans. As of July 2008, DOD’s monthly obligations for contracts and pay averaged about $12.3 billion, including $9.9 billion for Iraq, and $2.4 billion for Afghanistan,

Our national debt is now $11 trillion, according to the U.S. National Debt Clock. That includes Bush’s $750 billion stimulus package of last fall and Obama’s $787 billion package in February.

Meanwhile, more and more Americans are losing their jobs: 12.5 million or 8.1 percent workers by February 2009 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) while Bloomberg reports a projected 9.4 percent will be unemployed by end of 2009. Gallup polls show 29 percent of workers fear they will be layed off.

George W. Bush left the nation with a stained reputation throughout the world where we are seen as practitioners of torture, extraordinary rendition, Gitmo prisoner camps, killers of civilians, and now purveyors of a spendthrift, corrupt banking system, which has affected recession in countries all over the world.

Fortunately, President Obama is trying to do something about that reputation. For example, he is fulfilling a campaign pledge of withdrawing troops from Iraq in 19 months. However, about 50,000 troops will remain there for an unknown period of time. Unfortunately, he authorized a surge of 17,000 troops sent to Afghanistan. This fulfills another campaign promise.

Last August Bush sent 12,000 to 15,000 more troops to Afghanistan to join the 34,000 U.S. troops already there, according to U.S. News and World Report.

In their new book titled Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, journalists Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, who have been on the beat in Afghanistan since the Russians were there in 1979, predict it will take 300,000 troops to quell Afghanistan.

Two days ago Admiral Eric Olson, former operational commander for coalition forces in Afghanistan, wrote an opinion piece indicating that U.S. troops are being sent to Afghanistan “without a clear strategy” in the belief that “the successful surge in Iraq can be replicated in Afghanistan.”

This surge won’t work, he said, because Afghanistan has mostly rural populations in mountainous regions with unpaved roads and bad weather. This will make troop movement and quick-response efforts very difficult.

The “growing unrest in the Pashtun territories that straddle the border with Pakistan” is another problem. Dealing with this area will take a “village-by-village, tribe-by-tribe approach,” which our troops know how to do. It will also take cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistani government with the leaders of the United States and NATO.

If you recall last fall’s presidential campaign and the primary season preceding it, the candidates hardly ever referred to our two wars. Then in September as the economic crisis was upon us, what some people call our “financial 9/11,” war receded in our minds even further.

Then, three days after he took office, President Obama authorized unmanned Predator drones to fly into two Pakistani villages where 18 civilians were killed. (Last year 30 strikes killed more than 200 people.) In February, he decided to send 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. So we’re off to a good start with our new president with regard to war, a man in whom we placed so much hope that things would be different after the past eight years.

Well, there is a kernel of hope. Unlike his predecessor, Obama listens to the people. A recent ABC/Post poll shows that Americans divide by 50-47 percent on whether the conflict in Afghanistan is worth fighting even though nearly two-thirds support the president’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. Perhaps, if we put enough pressure on him we might make a difference.

One way you can make a difference is by going to New York City on April 4 to march for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan. In your local communities you can also call attention to these two wars, which we didn’t want….and which we as a nation cannot support financially, militarily, or morally. The power of change rests in your hands.

Peace Now! Peace Now! Peace Now!

This commentary appeared in Common Dreams on Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Local Woman Follows Heart to South Africa


In 2003 Janet Crosby retired after 17 years of teaching in California and returned to Kalamazoo, her hometown. She was only here a week when she suddenly had a heart attack.

“It was like a major bell ringing,” said Janet, who was 63 at the time, “and it made me think differently.”

As a result, she decided to adopt a French poodle (Jacquot), earn an English as a Second Language (ESL) certificate, spend time with her grandchildren, take up genealogy—and travel.

She visited England, Scotland and China, but her trip to South Africa fulfilled her long-awaited dream.

Actually, Janet had an interest in Africa long ago but it wasn’t until she read James Michener’s book, The Covenant, that she became passionate about South Africa. Then in the mid-1980s, she joined the worldwide movement against apartheid.

“I had wanted to go to South Africa,” she said, “but I didn’t want to travel there alone and there were no tours at that time.”

Last year she discovered Cross-Cultural Solutions (www.crossculturalsolutions.org), which recruits volunteers to assist with projects in different countries, South Africa among them. Janet would not only be able to visit the country she had advocated for, she could contribute to its rebuilding.

Last fall, Janet left for South Africa and after 24 hours, she landed in Cape Town. She was assigned to Fountain House, a rehabilitation facility where “members” recovering from mental illnesses live, work, and learn job and life skills. The facility is affiliated with Fountain House in New York.

Janet worked in the Thrift Shop selling clothes, candy, coffee, soda pop and cigarettes but quickly discovered that the shop’s items were not monitored and money was disappearing. So she worked with a few members to set up a system for inventory, ordering, and pricing.

“At first I was intimidated working with people with mental illness, but after I got to know them I was less fearful. In fact, they were helpful, funny, interesting and cooperative good folks, interested in getting the job done and willing to let me help.”

She lived in a house with 30 other volunteers during her stay and was particularly impressed with the “serious young people” who talked enthusiastically about the work they were doing there: teaching, taking care of AIDS babies, assisting with the nursery schools.

Cross Cultural Solutions sponsors excursions for its volunteers and Janet took advantage of them. She visited Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for many of his 27 years behind bars.

“I was infatuated with Nelson Mandela since I first heard of apartheid,” she said.

Being at the prison immediately touched her as she realized that Mandela and people like him were incarcerated for their anti-apartheid activism. Former prisoners now serve as guides and it was moving for Janet to hear their personal stories and imagine what it was like for them.

Janet had an opportunity to tour Johannesburg. One of its highlights was the Apartheid Museum, “the most incredible museum I’ve ever seen,” she said, “because it portrays apartheid’s complex, convoluted and cruel inhumanity in a comprehensive way without attempting to screen the horrific situation the country endured.”

She also went on a four-day safari near “Jo-town” in the “amazing and awe-inspiring” Kruger National Park (www.krugerpark.co.za) where big game animals roam freely in their natural habitat. The park is now a preserve where people can camp or stay in a nearby resort.

Janet visited Soweto where a 1976 uprising between blacks and whites left 500 children dead and 1,000 wounded. New housing projects are now replacing the old metal shacks, however, Soweto was disconcerting to Janet because the change was happening but very slowly and the people were still very poor.

“I was very curious about what Soweto was like and when I got there I had a mixture of feelings, including white guilt,” she said. “Soweto is huge with millions of people who mostly live in poverty or near-poverty. It is just one place but there are many more like it.”

Spending a month in South Africa helped Janet gain more insight into the nation’s struggle to overcome its past as a Dutch, then a British colony and nearly 50 years of apartheid.

Life in South Africa today has improved since apartheid ended in 1994, said Janet, but things are still difficult. Many of the whites with money and skills left when Mandela became president and the nation is really rundown.

“I felt both guilt and wonder at how people can survive the great sadness they must have living there,” she said. “I also felt a helplessness to know that there was nothing I could do about it—and I don’t like that feeling.”

South Africa was a long way from Janet’s early life growing up on a farm near Comstock. Except for a few brief trips to Chicago, she was 21 years old before she left the state with her professor-husband. While he was a graduate student at Ohio State University, Janet got a job as an administrative assistant for the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) Institute. This work would take her on her first overseas journey to Paris for eight weeks in 1966 and again in 1967.

During summer 1986 she studied at the Sorbonne through WMU’s international studies program. In that same year she moved to Pacifica, California, (near San Francisco) to teach French and English to middle school students.

She even led 10 to 22-day student trips to France through EF Tours (www.eftours.com) for five summers and stayed on in Europe for a couple weeks afterward. As a result of her service with the company, she won an award to travel to Egypt and Israel.

Janet Crosby never imagined how far her curiosity in people and places would take her but she became a world traveler as a result.

This article appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette City Life Section on March 7, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

Apologize, Apologize, Don't Feel Free to Avert Your Eyes


Recently, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa said it would be “wonderful if [Mr. Obama] could apologize for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on behalf of the American people.”

Such an act would be an opportunity to submit our nation to the power of forgiveness, which is what Nelson Mandela did when he became president of South Africa.

Clinical psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela of South Africa has studied how her nation sought to heal itself from the ghastly crimes of apartheid through the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC), which Bishop Tutu oversaw. Both victims and perpetrators forgave each other individual by individual and community by community and moved the country forward without violent retribution.

Through her research Gobodo-Madikizela found that forgiveness is a human response aimed at healing the wrongs of the past and going beyond what any law can provide because it calls for care and compassion of both the victim and the perpetrator. Moreover, sustained and truthful dialogue among those involved in criminal acts is the only strategy for a lasting peace.

What occurs through forgiveness is a “transcendence of the heart that begins with a recognition that gross human rights violations were committed,” said Gobodo-Madikizela. This is done by telling—and listening—to stories about what happened to individuals in a particular incident.

“It is only when the story can be heard and integrated into the individuals that the past traumatic events can be worked through,” said Gobodo-Madikizela. Then, an “empathetic repair” takes place as those involved begin the process of working through something that was broken. In this way, both perpetrator and victim are able to encounter each other’s humanity and form a connection. This is possible because each person has exposed him or herself “to the naked face of evil” that is within him/her.

What is most interesting in this dynamic is that the perpetrator has a vehicle for expressing remorse and suddenly finds an opening to his conscience that was silenced long ago because he was driven by something that permitted him to do evil deeds. In effect, he dehumanized himself while trying to dehumanize another! In asking forgiveness, he re-engages himself with those he wronged and thus re-captures his lost humanity.

What is key in this whole process is that the truth is spoken and the perpetrator acknowledges that he did something wrong.

Gobodo-Madikizela illustrated how this “truth of the heart” worked in an American setting. Kim Phuc, an international speaker and an ambassador for UNESCO, was the naked Vietnamese girl in the 1972 photo running down a road screaming from the napalm burning through her skin.

One day Kim gave a speech to a group of U.S. veterans and recalled the napalm incident. She admitted that while “we can’t change history, we can work together to change the future.” She added that someday she hoped to meet the man who dropped the napalm.

Soon after her speech she received a note that said: “I am that man.” He came forward and the two of them embraced with her sobbing: “I forgive. I forgive. I forgive.”

Gobodo-Madikizela noted that this encounter was “a gesture of so much grace” and a “turning point of transformation.” Here was a woman reaching out to the man who had done an evil deed against her—and he responded. And “there was no training involved, no 12-step program.”

Gobodo-Madikizela is quick to point out that forgiveness does not mean that the evil done is forgotten. Instead, forgiveness means that “the spirits of vengeance must be transcended.” In this way, a “moral humanity” sets in where care, compassion and empathy free both victim and perpetrator from the past and open them to healing.

“This is the beginning of hope,” she said.

While we can’t realistically expect President Obama to apologize to Iraq, we can take the initiative in asking the people of Iraq their forgiveness through various acts of kindness and outreach. For example, let us adopt various cities in Iraq as sister cities. Let us devise programs to connect with Iraqis. Let us hold public forums, demonstrations, educational programs and show films like “Why We Fight” to understand how and why our government encourages militarism. Let us support our Iraq (and Afghanistan) War veterans in the healing process for the violence they may have committed. (Psychologist Edward Tick, author of War and the Soul, illustrates how he has made a difference in the lives of veterans with PTSD since 1978.)

Maybe, just maybe we could start a movement that would have such an impact that we would compel President Obama to apologize for the invasion of Iraq and stop this illegal, immoral, unnecessary and costly war.

Actually, Candidate Obama suggested this very strategy of grassroots organization and initiative in order to beat the corporations, lobbyists and other power brokers at their own game. We need to take him up on it. We need to recognize that change is not going to happen in Washington until our leaders have an incentive to change. We can give them an incentive to change if we compound all of our small efforts together.

The times are calling us to create a new era where we, the people, take the initiative to do what our government can’t do. Then the healing in ourselves can begin and together we can cut a new path for our democracy.