Working towards peace and sustainability

Somehow Lost in the Shuffle?

It’s been an intense week, what with high-profile police shootings of African American men in Louisiana and Minnesota followed by a mass shooting of police officers in Texas, not to mention major headline events in the unfolding presidential marathon, something that seems to hold our attention now for nearly two out of every four years. So, it’s not surprising that many didn’t notice, or, if they did, failed to pay close attention to, the latest tragedy that transpired in Baghdad this past Sunday. Nor were many Americans riveted by the release of a major British report on the Iraq War issued Wednesday.

The suicide truck bombing in the Karrada district of Baghdad claimed the lives of 292 Iraqis, making it the single deadliest such bombing since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. But, as horrific as it was, it is far from an isolated event. In fact, Iraq has lost more than one thousand of its citizens in post-invasion violence every single month so far this year, And every single month in 2015. And ditto for 2014.
Karrada bombing scene.

It is worthy of note that this one terrible incident claimed the lives of more than four times as many Iraqis as the total of Americans who died in terror attacks on U.S. soil since the attacks of 9/11/01, right through the end of 2014. This number was 59, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a DHS-sponsored program based at the University of Maryland.

Most Americans have little sense of the horrors Iraq has gone through since the Bush administration launched its entirely unjustified, illegal and immoral war of aggression in March of 2003. Most of us rarely, if ever, think about the Iraqis.

We might shade our Facebook profile pics with the French Tricolore to honor those lost in the Paris attacks, or with rainbow hues in solidarity with the LGBT community after the horror of Orlando, but, how many of us stop to think that the number of souls lost in these two horrific events combined is significantly fewer than those who died in Baghdad on this one day, July 3, 2016?

This violence goes on day after day, month after month, with many hundreds of thousands having lost their lives and more than five million people displaced from their homes. Their country has been torn asunder, its infrastructure devastated and not properly rebuilt. Its social and cultural institutions have likewise suffered tremendously. And, as those who could afford to packed up and left the country, there has been a serious brain-drain, with a huge loss of professionals, academics and civil servants.

And, as the violence has gone on for more than 13 years now, a whole generation of Iraqis is coming of age that has known nothing but war; that has been traumatized by repeated exposure to violence, death and destruction.
First responders rescue survivors of the Karrada bombing.

And the tragic consequences don’t stop at Iraq’s borders. The actions of our government have destabilized the region, fueling conflict and terrorism in many locales, most notably Syria.

There is no doubt that this has all been a direct result of our nation’s illegal, unjustifiable war-making. There was no al Qaeda in Iraq before Bush and Cheney commenced their war of aggression. ISIS did not exist. There were no waring militias. The United States, along with its junior partner, the United Kingdom, are the responsible parties.

It was our tax dollars that paid for these crimes. And it was our young men and women who were sent off to participate in these crimes. The troops were lied to, being told that Iraq was behind 9/11 and that they possessed a vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that present a clear and present danger to our nation.

Interestingly, in the U.K., the report of the Chilcot Inquiry, seven years in the making, has just been released. This in-depth study of how and why the U.K. and U.S. went to war is very revealing and it has sparked significant discussion in Britain. Unfortunately, here in the States—like the Baghdad bombing, and the situation in Iraq in general—it has garnered little attention.

In our opinion, one thing that’s needed here in the U.S. is a similar revisiting of the decision to make war. This should, in our opinion, open the door to prosecution of those who made the decisions to be placed on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

While this won’t solve the tragedy that is Iraq today, it might help prevent future Iraq-like situations. While a thoroughgoing discussion of what steps might be taken to secure a just peace in Iraq is beyond the scope of this post, it should be noted that further bombing of the country is no solution. As Michael Franti noted many years ago, “You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can’t bomb it into peace.” 
We've not big fans of flags, but if you feeling like showing your solidarity with Iraq on social media, this is theirs.

Orlando, Digging Deeper

Pretty much everyone agrees that the violent murder of 49 human beings and shooting dozens more is a heinous crime. Beyond this, however, the Orlando tragedy is regarded differently, depending upon one’s perspective. It raises issues of LGBT rights and repression, of gun violence and how to best prevent it, of immigration and security, and of Islamophobia and its political implications.

For starters, we, at Peaceworks, mourn the loss of life and limb as well as the psychological trauma that comes with such a horrific crime. We support human rights for all and have long stood in solidarity with the LGBT community. This horrific and senseless violence appears to be a hate crime committed by a mentally unstable individual.

We also join with millions of Americans who are questioning why a mentally unstable individual who was known to the authorities and had been on a terror watch list was able to legally procure firearms? And, is this is not another clear indication of how foolhardy it is to allow anyone to purchase semi-automatic weapons like the one used in Orlando, when their only purpose is the rapid-fire killing of large numbers of people.
The AR-15 seems to be the weapon of choice for mass shootings. Readily available it has been used in Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino and now Orlando, among other locations.

We, at Peaceworks, share these concerns. We also are deeply concerned about war and peace and the implications of this event in terms of the so-called War on Terror.

Regarding the issue of “terrorism,” a to-the-root analysis is required. The perpetrator, Omar Mateen, was a native born American of Muslim heritage, whose family is from Afghanistan.  The media has reported that in 911 calls he swore his allegiance to the so-called Islamic State. More recent reports, not as widely circulated, indicate that he also declared his allegiance to a number of other groups, including Hezbollah, which is at war with the IS.

It seems highly unlikely that he was a member of, or that his actions were orchestrated or directed by any of these groups, but it may well be the case that he resents the United States and our country’s foreign policy. It has also been reported that he told the 911 operator that “the reason why he was doing this is because he wanted America to stop bombing his country.”

Of course, the likely response of many politicians, and some citizens, is to think that we need to “get tough on terrorists,” fighting and killing more of them, or that we should seal off our borders and not let Muslims into the country, as some have proposed.

This us-versus-them thinking is exactly the wrong approach. It fuels a cycle of violence that began with Western, that is European and later American, interventions into the Middle East and other predominantly Muslim parts of the world. The history of colonization, interventions—overt and covert, invasions, installation of puppet regimes, bombing campaigns and more have created a reservoir of ill will that will certainly not be eliminated by drone attacks or military assaults. In fact, these only aid in the recruitment of more people to the ranks of groups like IS or al Qaeda. 
Victims of an illegal U.S. drone strike in Pakistan. They honor their dead just as we in the U.S. do ours.

If we are to have any hope for a peaceful future, we must end the endless war—the so-called War on Terror—and make a fundamental change in foreign policy. The attempt by our government and others to geopolitically dominate the Persian Gulf region, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and adjacent areas, all many thousands of miles from our shores, must be left in the past.

What’s needed instead is a set of policies that supports sustainable development, economic empowerment and self-determination. Our government must stop aiding feudal autocratic regimes that have little or no popular support. Likewise anti-democratic “strongman” regimes should not be propped up or supported.

It is in our self-interest as well as consistent with our ostensible values to make such a change, but this will take first convincing our fellow citizens and then our elected officials, as today, among most politicians, there seems to be a bipartisan consensus to “fight terrorism,” rather than rethink what has brought some people to embrace such barbaric behavior. We need to look in the mirror and regard our own barbarism, which has led directly to the deaths of millions and suffering beyond our imaginations.

Memorial Day, War and Peace.

Strike up the marching band. It’s time to celebrate the sacrifice made by those who’ve gone off to war and especially to honor the memory of those who did not return alive.

But wait. Are an air show and a parade the best way to honor the memory of those who died in war? Does the glorification of deadly weapons and a recruitment-fest, featuring booths from every branch of the military and the various Missouri National Guard divisions, really do anything to memorialize the tragic loss that so many have experienced? Or, are we not setting up a new cohort of young people to face similar nightmares?

The U.S. economy has been on a permanent wartime footing for more than 75 years now, since the buildup for World War II. And our nation’s military has been engaged in hot wars continuously since October 2001, nearly 15 years. Isn’t it time to question the logic of war without end? With no disrespect intended, isn’t it time to ask if the wars our young men and women are being sent off to fight in are actually in our national interest? And could the trillions of dollars being spent on the wars not be better spent by investing in people and sustainable infrastructure.

Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and other countries in the region have nothing to do with defending the United States. In fact, we are making more enemies than we’re eliminating and destabilizing countries, fueling death, destruction and dislocation, with millions of people being displaced from their homes.

Why, pray tell, should we be honoring people, as well intentioned as they might be, for joining in this destructive war-making? While we know that those who volunteer to serve believe they are doing so to keep our country safe, we need to question the logic that fuels perpetual war, at great cost to all concerned. Of course, we can honor their good intentions, but we should not conflate support for them as people with support for the wars they are ordered to participate in.

We do need to make it clear that our beef is not with the foot-soldiers, who are really just pawns in the process, but rather with those who plan the wars and give the orders to go overseas to fight, kill, maim, or be injured or killed.

As our friends in Veterans for Peace are known to say, “War is obsolete and it is time to abolish it.” Moreover, as they also point out, “Peace honors veterans.” Put another way, war has no winners, only losers. Until we come to understand this, we will, as a nation, continue to make the tragic mistake of thinking that violence can solve problems. It doesn’t.

All are invited to join Vets for Peace and the broader peace community at the Gordon Shelter, Stephens Lake Park on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30. There will be a potluck picnic at 12:30 p.m. and a program with speakers, music and a peacemaker award beginning at 1:30.

All the Oxygen?

It seems to us somewhat ironic, but presidential election years are simultaneously times of greater citizen engagement in political matters, and also times when it is more difficult to mobilize active participation in issue advocacy and non-electoral activism in general.

It really seems that elections, and especially the presidential race, suck almost all the oxygen out of the room. 

People are paying attention to whatever outrageous thing Donald Trump has said today, or the state of the contest between Hillary and Bernie; who has endorsed whom; what attack ads are airing; what the polls are saying; what voting irregularities have been noticed; whether third party candidates will make any inroads and similar questions, rather than focusing on issues including climate change, war and peace, economic justice, etc.

Of course a primary reason people support certain candidates and oppose others is their issue stands. So issue and electoral activism are not antithetical. This said, when citizens back off from engaged involvement in the issues and instead focus all their time and attention on the candidates, less serious issue work gets done.

And, of course, depending on the race, there often is no candidate running who progressives really agree with on critical issues. Peaceworks, as an educational non-profit, does not endorse, campaign for or oppose any candidate. We do pay close attention to where they stand on the issues. And we can’t help but note that, despite the very real differences between the candidates, often our views on critical issues including war and peace or climate change are not embraced by either of the major party candidates running for a particular office.

In practical terms, if one is hoping to see change on an issue—say ending U.S. war-making in the Middle East, achieving significant cuts in the Pentagon budget and redefining the role of the U.S. military to being a defensive force—we quite likely will find that the candidate with the best positions, from our perspective, on these issues has a platform that falls far short of what we’d embrace.

This means that if we—as individuals, of course—decide to work for candidate A, who we see as somewhat preferable to candidate B, the most we can do on war and peace concerns, while working for him or her, is to articulate their positions, despite the deficiencies we see therein. As it is often noted, politics is the art of the possible.

Climate change is perhaps the defining issue of our day, as it presents a uniquely existential threat. But you wouldn’t know that if you just listened to what the candidates are campaigning on. And, come election day, we are often forced to choose between a climate change denier and a candidate who acknowledges the reality of climate change, but rejects taking the sorts of actions needed to effectively address the threat.

So, each of us, as an individual, needs to decide what level of involvement we might have in the electoral process. Some choose to eschew electoral politics altogether. Others vote, but otherwise are not engaged. Still others choose to volunteer time and/or donate money to support the candidate(s) of their choice.

Whatever level of electoral involvement we choose, however, we should not forget that issue work—education and advocacy—is also critically needed. In fact, it is issue activism that moves these concerns front and center in the electoral arena.  Were it not for 350.org, and the climate movement more broadly, shining a bright spotlight on Keystone XL, it is highly unlikely that this awful project would have been stopped by President Obama, or that Sec. Clinton, who was initially a strong proponent, would have come out against it.

We, here at Peaceworks, know that whoever prevails at the polls in November—whoever is inaugurated in January—our presence in the public dialogue on the issues of the day will still be sorely needed, throughout the election year and beyond.

And for Peaceworks to be here to raise our shared concerns requires active participation and financial support. We thank everyone already involved and everyone contributing. And we trust that, as much as you might involve yourself in the electoral process, you won’t leave us gasping for a breath of air. Our work is needed now, and it certainly will be still once the 2016 electoral dust settles.