Working towards peace and sustainability

Thank a Veteran for Your Freedom?

We hear messages like this so often, starting in childhood, that most of us hardly give it a thought when we hear this said, or see a message like this on a billboard. After all, on Memorial Day, July 4th, Veterans Day and many other times throughout the year, virtually every politician across the spectrum will genuflectively spout this or other, similarly clich├ęd, homages to veterans.

While respecting the good intentions of most of our fellow citizens who’ve been in the military, if we hope to see our country embrace foreign and military policies that enhance our real security, we need to pursue a more thoughtful understanding of the role that the U.S. military plays in the world. We also need to look closely at the nature of our precious “freedom,” as well as identifying the real threats thereof.

Before we go there, it should be noted that many who urge everyone to “Support our troops,” really mean “Support the wars they’ve been ordered to fight.” And many of these same politicians are actually not very good about supporting those who’ve come home from war physically and psychologically scarred. Our VA system is chronically underfunded and there are way too many veterans living on the streets, homeless, never having received the help they needed to recover from the traumas of war.

Do U.S. Wars Defend Our Freedom?

While we are taught from childhood that our military is in the business of defending our nation, the reality is quite different. All wars fought, at least for the past seven decades—and there have been many—have involved U.S. interventions in the affairs of other countries far from our shores. In fact, the last time the United States was invaded was fully 200 years ago, during the War of 1812. We are blessed with oceans to the east and west, friendly neighbors to the north and south and a general lack of enemies threatening military action against us.

Where the U.S. has involved itself militarily around the world, from Vietnam to Iraq, from Somalia to Colombia, from Panama to Pakistan and beyond, the troops or planes have not been sent to fight an aggressive power threatening our security or freedom. Rather, these invasions, coups, counter-insurgency wars and proxy wars have been fought for geopolitical advantage and in pursuit of the commercial interests and profits of influential transnational corporations.

To the extent that there is a dislike for the United States in places around the world, this is most likely the results of past aggressions by our government. or support for despotic regimes. Our wars create more enemies than they eliminate. There would be no ISIS right now if not for the American invasion of Iraq. Likewise, it was the U.S.-Saudi proxy intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s that led to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

U.S. taxpayers spend a pretty penny on what’s billed as “defense;” more than any other nation, in fact, more than the next nine biggest spenders, combined. What we are buying, however, is neither defense nor freedom. Rather, we are enriching the Military Industrial Complex and, in many parts of the world, helping maintain a status quo that is much more about entrenched wealth and power than it is about anything else.

Who Should We Thank for Our Freedom?

When this republic was founded, slavery was legal, women were virtually the property of their husbands or fathers, and, in many locations, only white males who owned real property were allowed to vote. The protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights were only applied at the Federal level.

We are indebted to many heroes who, over the course of these centuries, have struggled valiantly to protect and expand our freedom. This includes abolitionists, labor organizers, women’s rights activists and many other brands of “freedom fighters.”

There are countless organizations we must salute, with the list including the ACLU, the NAACP, NOW and numerous others. Many of these struggles continue to this day. LGBT rights are still not enshrined in Federal statute. Nor are they recognized in all states. The civil rights movement made great strides in the 1950s and 60s, but, as we all are painfully aware, there is still much work to be done to ensure equal rights for all citizens regardless of their skin color.

Another aspect of our freedom is the right to breathe clean air, to drink clean water and to live in an environment that does not make us sick. We must applaud those who struggle to protect our rights to a healthy environment. And clearly, there is still much work to be done to ensure our privacy, another area in which many good people and organizations deserve recognition for their work.

Freedom, if it is to be understood fully, is not simply a matter of ensuring a level playing field for all under the rule of law, as important as that is. Another critical freedom is the “Freedom from Want,” as articulated by President Roosevelt in his famous 1941 Four Freedoms Speech. Many have struggled long and hard to ensure workers receive adequate remuneration for their labor; that they have safe working conditions; and that there is a social safety net that provides a modicum to those who cannot work or cannot find work. These rights are still a work in progress.

Likewise, Roosevelt declared that we should all have the “Freedom from Fear.” He defined this as “a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.” He made this statement before nuclear weapons had emerged as the ultimate cause for fear, threatening omnicide. Clearly, though, the logic of his speech must be applied to these as well. Activists who have worked tirelessly for decades to promote disarmament in general and nuclear disarmament in particular should also be recognized for their contributions, although much more work remains to be done.

As we consider the origins of our freedom, it is important to be clear as to who is working to promote and expand that freedom, and also to recognize who is seeking to restrict it.

It seems that those who are boisterous cheerleaders for war, and want to give a virtual blank check to military spending, are often on the side of restricting freedom. From attacking workers’ rights to making voting more difficult, from opposing marriage equality to attacking reproductive rights, from cutting food stamps for the needy to opposing minimum wages we see constant attacks on our freedom coming from the Right.

Those who urge us to “Thank Veterans for your Freedom,” seem to believe that the biggest threats come from without and must be resisted with military force. Looking closer, far greater threats come from within our own society. So, we all can, and should, be freedom fighters. There is much heavy lifting to be done today. With much at stake, we are the ones who must each do our share.

Earth Day Festival Postponed to Sunday, April 26

The following message was sent out shortly ago to our e-list:

Hello friends,

We’re writing to let you know that the Columbia Area Earth Day Festival slated for tomorrow, April 19, is being postponed to Sunday, April 26, due to the likelihood of rain, including possibly thunderstorms and severe weather. We have held off a decision on this until now as the forecast had been frequently changing and, over the past week, often wrong. At this point, however, the prospect of a good weather day looks low, so we are going to our rain date.

Plans are still in the works for the "Come Together, Save the Climate" Climate Action Happening. It will be held at 2:25-2:40 p.m. next Sunday, April 26. We hope you will be there to participate in this dramatic action, as well as the Festival in general.

We really hope that all of you will be able to come out next Sunday, April 26.  We should also note that we are in need of more volunteers for next Sunday, as some folks who were slated to help this week can’t make it next. If you are available to help on that day please contact us by replying to this e-mail or by calling 573-875-0539. Many thanks.

Thinking Sunshine for next Sunday, and wishing you all the best,
Your friends at Peaceworks

P.S. The book discussion of “Eaarth” on Monday, 4/20, the Clean Energy Rally in Jeff City, Wednesday, 4/22 and the screening of “Last Call at the Oasis” Wednesday, 4/22 all featured in our last e-newsletter are all still on for this week as scheduled. Hope to see you at these as well as at Earth Day next Sunday.

This Earth Day Will be Different—15 Minutes to Come Together to Save the Climate

You're invited to participate in an Earth Day Climate Happening; a gathering that will, for just a few short minutes, bring together thousands of us who share a concern for the climate; a concern for our common future.

With your participation, the 2015 Columbia Area Earth Day Festival will provide a unique opportunity to focus the community's attention on the climate crisis, an existential threat we often don't talk about or give the attention it deserves.

"Come Together, Save the Climate!," will be a visible expression of our shared commitment to effective and prompt climate action.

Everyone at the Columbia Area Earth Day Festival will be invited to join in. At 2:25 p.m., prompted from the stage, we join hands and form human chains throughout Peace Park and all the adjacent streets to visibly demonstrate that we are united in our concern regarding the threat climate change presents.

With broad participation, this will be a memorable, participatory demonstration of concern. We are looking for more volunteers to help facilitate this. If you'd like to help, please let us know. We are also looking for battery-powered boom boxes which have working FM radios. If you have one of these you could lend us, please let us know.

Peaceworks on Negotiations Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program

Peaceworks was founded in 1982 as a Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and we remain deeply concerned about the threat these weapons pose to the survival of humanity and the biosphere as a whole. We support any legitimate effort to advance the mutual, verifiable elimination of these horrific devices.

We, of course, do not see the use of military force as an appropriate method of addressing nuclear proliferation. To even threaten the use of such force, as Israel and the United States have done repeatedly over the years, creates the incentive to achieve nuclear weapons capabilities as a deterrent.

While the Obama-Kerry effort to negotiate with Iran via the P5+1 framework is preferable to the obstructionist position of most Congressional Republicans and Netanyahu, there is still a tremendous amount of hypocrisy in the approach the President has embraced.

To begin with, the P5, that is the U.S., UK, France, Russia and China are all nuclear-armed states. So is Israel. All the P5 members are signatories to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Most people are aware that this treaty requires non-nuclear weapons states to refrain from the pursuit of n-weapons, and obligates them to open their nuclear facilities to international inspection.

What many do not realize is that Article VI of the NPT commits the U.S. and the other nuclear weapons states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

This agreement was signed in 1968 and went into effect in 1970. 45 years later, the Pentagon still has an arsenal of many thousands of warheads, and approximately $60 billion of our tax dollars are being spent each year to maintain and upgrade this arsenal and its delivery systems.

In fact, maintaining nuclear dominance in perpetuity is the official strategic doctrine of our nation. Toward this end, the U.S. is investing hundreds of billions in constructing new nuclear weapons facilities around the country and has absolutely no intention of following either the letter or the spirit of the NPT, which, as a ratified treaty, is supposed to be the highest law of the land.

Israel does not publicly acknowledge the existence of its nuclear weapons. It is generally understood, however, that Israel is the only country in the Middle East with such weapons and is believed to have approximately 200 warheads. Israel has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while Iran and virtually all other states in the Middle East are signatories.

As long as the U.S. and the other P5 nations refuse to move forward on their commitment to mutually eliminate their nuclear arsenals, they have very little credibility arguing that other nations should not seek nuclear arms. This “do as I say, not as I do” approach is worse than patronizing. Our government is essential acting as a bully, insisting that others follow their orders, imposing harsh economic sanctions and threatening military action if their demands are not met.

The other hypocrisy in the U.S. approach to Iran involves our government’s failure to acknowledge the inherent connection between civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons. To build a significant nuclear fission energy program requires the means for enrichment of uranium. And, as the fissile isotope of uranium is relatively rare, for fission power to be more than a short term undertaking requires the separation of plutonium from spent fuel.

Enrichment capabilities and plutonium separation through reprocessing are necessary ingredients for both a full-blown civilian nuclear energy program and a nuclear weapons program. There is no secret to the bomb, only limited access to “special nuclear materials,” that is highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

Peaceworks opposes the use of nuclear fission for energy, recognizing that it is too dangerous, too dirty, too slow and far too expensive to be a viable source of energy to address the climate crisis. Our government, on the other hand, supports the expansion of nuclear power and maintains the fiction that this can be done without spreading nuclear weapons capabilities. In fact, the infrastructure and technical knowhow for a civilian nuclear energy program is exactly what is needed for any nation that wishes to “go nuclear” on the weapons side.

Only if we move beyond nuclear power, at home and abroad, can we really root out nuclear weapons proliferation. If the world was to eschew the nuclear option for energy, then any effort to build enrichment or reprocessing facilities would be unambiguously directed toward weapons production and immediate action could be taken.

With these concerns stated, in the short run, it is clearly preferable to pursue negotiations rather than to harken to the neo-cons’ drumbeat for war. Thus, we must offer qualified support to the negotiations process. If we are to have any hope for a peaceful, nuclear-free future, however, we must focus on nuclear weapons in general, rather than seeing Iran as the problem.

We should pursue a Nuclear-Free Middle East as part of a broader settlement of regional conflicts, but we should not stop there. Ultimately, we need to work for a world free of the scourge of nuclear weapons. And, in tandem with this, we need a world that gets serious about addressing the climate crisis by moving rapidly to improve energy efficiency and expand the use of safe, clean renewable energy options.

If you agree that these are policies worthy of pursuing, we need your vocal and visible support to make them a reality. Far too many of us have abdicated an active role in the process of setting policy and priorities. If, on the other hand, the people find our voice and lead, perhaps, in time, the so-called “leaders” will follow.