Reflections – August 2012
Friends:Those who’ve followed these postings know that my legal battle with the federal government over a $16,000 fine (for traveling to Iraq to bring medicine without a U.S. license) has ended. The judge dismissed the government’s efforts to collect saying the government waited too long to sue. See Bert’s Case for a history of the legal issues.
Several things have happened in this past month that I’d like to reflect on and share.
Several months ago, I joined three other activists to block the main entrance to Bangor Submarine Base on the Kitsap Peninsula. Bangor is 20 miles away from Seattle and is home to the largest collection of nuclear weapons in the Western Hemisphere, perhaps in the entire world. Each of the eight Trident subs based there has over 4,000 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Our act was a brief symbolic protest.
We were charged with a minor infraction and were scheduled to appear in Kitsap County Court for a mitigation hearing on the $56 fine. I’d been thinking of what I wanted to say.
During this time I came across a news story about Army Lt. Col. Matthew Dooley who for over a year taught a course at the U.S. Joint Forces Staff College. He advocated “total war” against Islam. Here is the story.
When it became a significant news story, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Martin Dempsey, responded by saying that the course was “totally objectionable [and] against our values.”
Look again at one slide from course. Lt. Col. Dooley asserts that “due to the current common practices of Islamic terrorists” the Fourth Geneva Convention (protecting civilian populations) is “no longer relevant.” He says, “This would leave open the option of taking war to a civilian population wherever necessary.”
Of course the ‘justification’ is September 11th, 2001. But 10 years before9/11, the U.S. military and State Department did just that: the U.S. took war to a civilian population.
The war was the 1991 first Gulf War against Iraq. The strategy, as explained by the USAF Colonel in charge of the air war, was to deprive Iraqi civilians of “organic essentials.” What are they? Colonel Warden explained “For human beings, the essential inputs are food and oxygen.” In the 8,000 words of his Air Force paper the word “water” does not appear once. But for a country with temperatures reaching 120 degrees, safe drinking water is even more essential than food.
That is what Colonel Warden chose to deny Iraqis: Water, used as a weapon of war!
Pentagon officials declined two written requests for a review of the 28 electrical targets and explanations of their specific military relevance.
“People say, ‘You didn’t recognize that it was going to have an effect on water or sewage,’” said the planning officer. “Well, what were we trying to do with [United Nations-approved economic] sanctions — help out the Iraqi people? No. What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of sanctions.”
I’ve written extensively about the planned destruction of infrastructure in my October, November, and December postings. I’ve cited the terrible statistics of deaths of Iraqi children in surveys from The New England Journal of Medicine and UNICEF, starting in my first January posting. I printed out key sources to document these facts and brought them to court.
My appearance in Kitsap Court was for protesting the nuclear weapons of mass destruction at Bangor Sub Base. We have all been taught that these weapons are only for deterrence. My testimony was to show that we have used a WMD – unsafe drinking water – against a civilian population – especially against the most vulnerable, the youngest children. This policy caused the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi children. That’s more than twice the number of all the deaths of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined!
And the Judge in the case ‘got it’!!!
He allowed me to talk for 20 minutes and accepted the pages of evidence I’d printed out in support of what I said. He has delayed his decision on our mitigation request of the fine until he’s looked them over. Hurray!
One can say that this was a very minor victory. In one sense it is. But in another it is a significant victory to see that people can be reached by evidence – if presented calmly and in the spirit of nonviolence. That is important to remember!
A new book has just been published called The Gospel of Rutba. A friend named Weldon Nisly, Minister at Seattle Mennonite Church, is one of the main subjects of the book. It recounts the 2003 second Gulf War – the U.S. illegal invasion of a sovereign country – the nearly lethal car accident Weldon was in while trying to leave Iraq – the Iraqis who saved his life in the nearby town of Rutba (while America was bombing!) – and his return to Rutba in 2010 to meet his friends there and express his gratitude.
The author Greg Barrett is a fine journalist. I admit that reading his documentation on the war was a serious challenge to my desire to remain nonviolent. Here he quotes George W. Bush as Bush starts this war:
To all the men and women of the United States armed forces …. The people you liberate will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American military. In this conflict, America faces an enemy who has no regard for conventions of war or rules of morality. … I want Americans to know that coalition troops will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm.
Think of 195 Iraqi children under the age of five dying cruel deaths every day. They were dying from cholera, typhoid, dysentery, simple diarrhea. These water-borne diseases were visited on the Iraqi civilian population because the spirit of the American military decided it was better that they die – to overthrow the Iraqi government and give us control of the oil – than that American troops would have to invade and die themselves to do this.
Think 195 Iraqi children, under the age of five, dying without medicine, including even simple pain killers, including antibiotics and childhood leukemia medicines. U.S. sanctions policy had embargoed them. Just as it had also prevented the means to repair Iraq’s destroyed infrastructure. Then think of TheNew England Journal of Medicine editorial: Iraq is an example of “a war against public health.”
Then ask, Who has no regard for conventions of war or rules of morality?
Whenever we hear about weapons of mass destruction – or terrorism – we should think about Iraq, our destruction of their infrastructure, and economic sanctions. And we should talk about it.
That’s what I did at the discussion following the play “If Truman met Einstein” which premiered this year in Seattle on Hiroshima day, August 6th.
The thesis of the play is, if Truman actually did get to meet with Einstein could Einstein persuade him not to drop the bomb. I was struck by an implicit metaphor: that Truman is Everyman. In the play, Truman is hearing the voices of Admiral Leahy and Einstein arguing against a violent choice – and the voices of Secretary of War Stimson and James Byrnes arguing for the violent choice of dropping the bomb. In any conflict situation, however minor, we all hear opposing voices inside our heads.
The conflict we find ourselves in may not involve overt physical violence. But how often do we disrespect the other by not listening deeply to hear why he or she believes as they do? How often do we hold in our thoughts – and often express in our words – feelings other than well-wishes for ‘the other’ … even as we disagree with his or her ideas.
If you wish to see what I understand is involved in becoming nonviolent, go back to last months posting and read what Narayan Desai, Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone, and Maha Ghosananda say about the roots of nonviolence … and the hard practice of becoming nonviolent and acting nonviolently.
If one purpose of a good play is to stimulate thought, the play “If Truman met Einstein” did that for me. I thought of two real-life examples where people actually did meet with Presidents and influenced their actions. Dr. Helen Caldicott met with Ronald Reagan and so impressed him with what nuclear weapons really do that Reagan then almost reached agreement on nuclear disarmament in Reykjavik with Gorbachev.
The other example that came to mind is the story told in the fascinating book JFK and the Unspeakable: why he died and why it matters by Jim Douglass. President Kennedy – like President Truman years before – was besieged by voices calling for him to use nuclear bombs during the Cuban missile crisis. It was the voices of David Hartsough (one of six Quakers to meet with the President), the Catholic monk Thomas Merton (who through his correspondence with Ethel Kennedy spoke to John Kennedy), and even the voice of Dorothy Day (who met with Kennedy as Senator early on).
We never can tell who will hear our voice – for better or worse – for peace of not. If we want peace, we need to pay attention to our thoughts and words. Are they peaceful?