Working towards peace and sustainability

Just What are We Celebrating?

Once again some are cheering the news that the U.S. has killed the leader of ISIS in Afghanistan. Word reached us today that the U.S. military had announced they’d killed Abu Sayed. He is “the third ISIS-K (the Afghan affiliate of ISIS) leader killed in the last 12 months by U.S. forces,” according to MilitaryTimes.

In some ways this is like a deadly game of Whack-A-Mole. You kill one, and another pops up. Surely, the group will have a new leader in a matter of days.

In our minds there are really two issues here.

First, is the Pragmatic Question: Is war-making enabling our government to make headway toward its stated objective of ending “terrorism?”

The U.S. has been killing those branded “terrorists” in Afghanistan since 2001, and yet despite dramatically escalated drone attacks, counter-insurgency warfare, the use of U.S.-trained and advised government forces in combat (with access to U.S. artillery and air support), and the use of powerful aerial munitions including the so-called “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB), these indigenous opposition groups are as strong now as they have been at any point since the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Are we not dealing with the very same issue that plagued the U.S. war on Vietnam five decades ago; the failure to win “hearts and minds?” Will killing even more Afghans, including Taliban and ISIS combatants, and, with them, a great many non-combatants (generally dismissed as “collateral damage”), wipe out opposition to the U.S. and the U.S.-installed government? Or is it more likely to alienate the populace and make it even more difficult to win their support?

We are once again forced to address the question “Are we making more enemies than we’re eliminating?” And its corollary: “Is there any valid reason for a war that requires us to ‘kill the village to save it?’”

And generalizing, for a moment, it must be recognized that it’s not only Afghanistan where U.S. intervention has failed to bring peace and prosperity, let alone meaningful democracy. We can look at Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya for starters. All are, after many years of intervention, still caught up in ongoing, deadly conflicts, costly in life, limb and treasure. These interventions have dislocated many millions, leading to an enormous number of refugees, including internally displaced persons and those who’ve fled across borders in search of sanctuary.

Second is the Moral Question:  Are these U.S. wars—conflicts that lead to death and destruction—consistent with our values and moral/ethical grounding?

While some are cheering the death of Abu Sayed, due to the organization and the ideology he fought for, we question celebrating the killing of anyone, and are especially disturbed by this when the killing done in our name; paid for by our tax dollars.

Some Peaceworks members are pacifists who eschew all use of violence. They follow the notion of turning the other cheek when encountering violence.

Most of our members, however, embrace last-resort use of force to protect lives and avoid invasions or the imposition of tyranny. We would seek, whenever possible, to resolve conflict through negotiation and mutual accommodation, but would accept defensive violence if all other alternatives have been exhausted. Ultimately, any time nations go to war it is indicative of a tragic failure; the failure to effectively pursue a non-violent resolution to whatever conflict the war is addressing.

Now, the sort of killing people in our name, as has been done throughout the so-called “War on Terror” has not been defensive; it has neither been necessary, nor has it protected our country. In fact, it really has not even been about fighting “terrorism.” Rather, it has been about the projection of power in the pursuit of geopolitical imperatives; the domination of resource-region regions and the establishment and maintenance of U.S. hegemony and the dominance of U.S./Western-based transnational corporations.

Another moral dimension that should be considered is: What we give up when we decide to collectively kill other people by making war on them? Many would answer: At least a portion of our humanity and our respect for life. And they are, of course correct.

There is another aspect, however, that needs to be considered. The world today spends upwards of $1.7 trillion annually on its militaries and its wars (more than one-third of this is spent by the U.S.). And sums of comparable magnitude have been spent every year for decades. While this number is so big it is virtually meaningless to most of us, this sum, or even half of it, invested in people, infrastructure, efforts to address the climate crisis and, more generally, in sustainable development, would go a long way to addressing the interconnected crises humanity faces.

Even if the weapons were not being used—if hot wars weren’t occurring—there is a moral bankruptcy in spending these many trillions on the military, while allowing poverty, the wasting of lives, the destruction of the environment and the climate crisis to go largely unaddressed. Allowing the Military Industrial Complex in our country and comparable interests in other nations around the world steal from the mouths of the hungry and rob future generations of their rightful inheritance is unacceptable, plain and simple.

When the media and our fellow citizens celebrate the snuffing out of an ISIS leader in Afghanistan, or the killing of any such figure, anywhere in the world, it’s worth pointing out that they are celebrating war with no end; a cycle of violence projected to be with us for decades to come, at the very least. They are celebrating policies that are calculated to keep our economy on a permanent wartime footing and to enable profiteering by those Bob Dylan, decades ago, labeled as the “Masters of War.”

They are also celebrating our collective failure, including a failure of the imagination, to vision and create a world in which humanity lives together cooperatively, sharing the Earth, rather than fighting over it.

This calls to mind the words of former President Dwight Eisenhower who, in a 1953 speech, famously said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children . . .”

Our questions for you are: Do you share a sense that this war without end must be challenged and stopped? And are you willing to get involved in building an effective movement that can address the concerns laid out above? If you are, we’d love to work with you.

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

—Bob Dylan, “Masters of War