Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Our chemical weapons and equality of culpability and accountability

During the war the US waged on Vietnam, some 20 million gallons of chemicals poisonous to life (biocides) were sprayed onto more than 8,000,000 acres of forest/jungle and an additional 3,800,000 acres of cropland in that poor country and neighboring Laos and Cambodia (Shifferd, 2011, p. 89). Approximately 400,000 Vietnamese were killed in this chemical attack campaign over several years, first ordered by President Kennedy and continued by Johnson and Nixon. Approximately 90 percent of the victims of that campaign were civilians.
Those leaders are all dead now, but should they be regarded by the world in much the same light as we now regard Bashar al-Assad? Are those who order chemical attacks into civilian areas war criminals? Or is that only the case if our enemies engage in such loathsome behavior, but we excuse it when our great leaders do so? What about Fallujah, when US forces shot chemical weapons directly into civilian neighborhoods, causing horrific death and subsequent illness and birth defects? A study led by researchers from the University of Ulster revealed that white phosphorus, possible depleted uranium, and other toxic munitions were at the root of a 1200 percent increase in childhood cancers and an overall 400 percent increase in all cancers. Where was the UN Security Council for that debacle?

Justice should be blind--but not deaf and lame. Let's bring our own leaders to the bar when they commit crimes against humanity or let's be quiet about the likes of dictator and mass murderer Bashar al-Assad. We can't have it both ways and be seen as consistent by the world. As someone who has served prison time for nonviolently dismantling a command center for bombing, I'd support sending all war criminals to prison until they are rehabilitated. Let Dick Cheney share a cell with Chelsea Manning.


Toxic legacy of US assault on Fallujah 'worse than Hiroshima': The shocking rates of infant mortality and cancer in Iraqi city raise new questions about battle. BY PATRICK COCKBURN. SATURDAY 24 JULY 2010. UK Independent. 

Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Solitary swarm

In the fall of 1984 we were finishing a year of direct action, hands-on collective dismantlement of a survey in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We were continuing 14 years of opposition to a command facility that sent orders to all US thermonuclear weapons-carrying submarines, the Ohio-class SSBNs, and to all other US nuclear navy submarines as well, such as the Los Angeles-class hunter-killer SSNs. The opposition was strong in Wisconsin and even stronger in Michigan. The navy was unable to build their command apparatus--consisting of 56 miles of above-ground antenna and deep copper ground shafts plus the transmitters--except by actually building it in direct sight of the surveyors. This is because swarms of us came out every weekend to pull survey ribbons and stakes. The citizen opposition was so fierce in the UP, where 80 percent of the voters, by referenda, had rejected the navy project (Extremely Low Frequency), that no arrests had been made during the entire year, despite our transparency.

So the navy did build it under those conditions and we spent the winter planning our next, much more serious, dismantlement. It is one thing to pull up stakes and pull down ribbons. The 50-60 foot poles that supported the transmission line--a cable thick as your wrist--were the obvious target. I suggested a "human chain saw," by which I meant all of us holding each other like some sort of conga dance, and the first two holding a saw, with which we would collectively cut down a pole and offer ourselves as the ones wishing to go to court over the matter.

However, during that winter, four other activists from the Midwest went on trial for their act of direct disarmament, the symbolic hammering on a six-foot thick steel and concrete lid over a missile in Missouri. They were sentenced to 18, 18, 10 and 8 years in prison. That harsh sentencing changed a few minds and by springtime I was the only one still committed to the saw action. So it goes. I went out that Memorial Day and cut down the pole, turned myself in the next day in Marquette, Michigan, and served a grand total of two weeks in jail, no prison time. And they call us the anarchists! I had to go out again, some years later, with Donna Howard to cut down three more poles, to finally get my years in prison. Just a few years after that, we shut them down permanently. Never give up. Never.
Well, yesterday was September 11, the 12th anniversary of the terror attack (by al-Qa'ida, the group that Obama and Kerry are now arming in Syria) that ultimately elicited the massive and seemingly permanent Global War on Terror, the mechanism by which Islam could be targeted and the conflict industry enriched at the expense of the average American, the average Afghan, the average Iraqi, and the average Pakistani, for starters. It was a day of contrasts and symbolism, as well as real encounters.

We began the day with a meeting with 10 Iraqi peace educators on a 20-day US mission to network with peace educators here, three interpreters, and five of us from the Oregon Peace Institute, the Portland State University Conflict Resolution graduate program, and the War Prevention Initiative. They were particularly interested in PeaceVoice, our effort to get the knowledge and analysis of peace options from peace intellectuals into the popular press. Since I founded that, I described it and introduced three others who work on it with their media and peace analysis expertise--Dr. Patrick Hiller, Paloma Ayala Vela, and Erin Niemela. And we heard from each Iraqi, all of them peace educators specializing in various areas. On behalf of people who work for peace, I apologized to the Iraqis for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by my government against them and their country. I then elicited a brainstorm from all of us on how we might partner, what might work as partnerships, and who other likely partners might be. I think at the very least we should be able to arrange for some student and possibly professor exchanges. I'm ready! (OK, I'm actually not, since I don't speak Arabic, but if there is any English-language program, sign me up).

That was quite a start to 9.11. Then I went out to join a "bike swarm" that was supposed to go confront some of the war profiteers in my town, in Portland. Whoops. I was alone again. Oh well! I brought printouts of my own writings about them and pedaled to both of them. Precision Cast Parts was first, and the receptionist chuckled at me when I said I was representing the peace movement in Portland and we wanted PCP to stop contracting with the Pentagon. She took my printout and I biked on to the Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition. The woman there was not so amused, claiming that "none of us make anything that hurts anyone." Right. How could bombs, missiles, guns, and knives hurt anyone? The yawning credibility gap remains.

The last interesting bit of September 11, 2013 was that the Portland staffer for US Senator Jeff Merkley actually scheduled a meeting with us. I mean, how totally unnatural is it for those of us in the peace movement when, in regards to the Obama plan to bomb Syria, we end up agreeing with the likes of Mitch McConnell and disagreeing with erstwhile peace Senator Jeff Merkley?

We may not always outnumber them in the streets or the suites, but morally and ethically the peace movement always has the war profiteers surrounded. Our swarm has that high ground and we only await the good day when so many join us that we immobilize and dismantle the war machine, showing the true profit of peace.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Paleoteric Obombing or neoteric nonviolence?

In terms of conflict management, we humans are having a 1492 moment. On the one hand is the paleoteric view, the old thinking. That is, do we think that the Earth is flat? Should war be perpetual? Is bombing others how we make them listen?

On the other hand is the neoteric perspective, the new thinking. Is the Earth round? Is peace how we make more peace? Can conflict be waged by nonviolence in order to achieve sustainable results?

The paleoteric runs strongly back in history, really all the way to walled cities in which the wealth of a city-state was stored against famine, which was not long after the rise of agriculture, especially the advent of long-lasting grains that could be stored. These were literally tasty targets and the old culture of the occasional raiding party to steal a horse, some goats, or a couple of cows gave way to permanent standing armies of both conquest and defense. This began many thousands of years ago and is embedded in every aspect of our societies, some more than others.
Neoteric thinking relates to a cost-benefit analysis that is finding nonviolent methods far more effective at achieving certain goals at lower cost--and is barely 100 years old, if we take its development from Gandhi's first intentional use in South Africa in 1906. Research--especially meticulous compilation of modern era case studies--is really new, starting with Gene Sharp and now best represented by Chenoweth and Stephan--and is revealing that, in fact, the average citizen comes out far ahead in those cases where a party to a conflict engages in an intelligent nonviolent campaign. Thus, notes the neoteric thinker, we should study how this works and how to propagate the methods if we say we wish to improve the quality and longevity of life for the vast majority of people.

There are some things only violence can accomplish, say those who defend the use of violence.


Without violence, it is impossible to commit or to long maintain injustice.
Without violence, it is impossible to take someone else's land or resources.
Without violence, colonialism and imperialism could never have happened and could not exist.
Without violence, racial oppression or religious persecution would be impossible.

But what about more lofty goals, especially homeland defense and protection of the vulnerable?

This is where neoteric thinking has discovered the distinct advantage of strategic nonviolence, philosophical nonviolence, religious nonviolence, economic sanctions, diplomatic competence, messaging and image, recruitment and defection promotion, political opprobrium, and literally illimitable options to protect our homes, lives, and lifeways that do not involve either violence or the threat of violence.

Nonviolence usually involves force, however. That cannot be avoided, all gooey rhetoric aside.

Strikes, work slowdowns, boycotts, divestment, tax refusal, punishment in the media and at the ballot box, massive public displays of displeasure, sabotage without violence, and literally a million other creative nonviolent countermeasures can and have successfully resisted all forms of violence.

Has nonviolence ever lost? Of course. Should the perfect be the enemy of the good and continue to burn up our national treasure, our best minds, and the blood of our young ones--or should we bet on the likely winner and further develop its chances of winning faster with lower costs?

That is the choice and it is a choice. We cannot have both. Commitment to violence--as we see--robs us of our abilities to use nonviolent influence, develop a nonviolent approach that others trust, and prepare our society and our youth for the risks of nonviolence. Commitment to nonviolence is a commitment to fairness, to a cessation of a world of extreme poverty and extreme wealth. Nonviolence will not work to long maintain such disparity; only violence can accomplish that.

Promote neoteric thinking; outflank, outmaneuver, outthink, and outfight the paleoteric commitment to violence. They are stuck in the ditch of history at a time when only some new thinking can get us moving again.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Pay a visit to your local job destroyers: Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition

The war profiteers are here. They are probably in your town and they are certainly in mine, in Portland, Oregon, land of tall trees, pure mountain water, the wide blue Pacific, volcanic towering peaks--and bloodsoaked bank accounts.
One brazenly war profiteering group is located at 2828 SW Corbett Ave and calls itself Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition. PNDC is a membership association of Pentagon contractors devoted to making profits from whatever they can make or provide that the Pentagon wants. Your contracting company can join for as little as $500 if you have 10 or fewer employees, with membership fees rising as a function of the numbers you employ.

Naturally, the Pentagon contract system is perfect for such a group. The profits for the elite owners of these corporations are astronomically high and the equipment is generally quite expensive, which totals out as a capital-intensive sector of the economy. A labor-intensive sector creates the most jobs per $billion spent (and provides actual goods and services that we need), so all other sectors are job creators and the "defense" industries are job destroyers. Indeed, Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, researchers from the Political Economy Research Institute note in a May 2012 analysis in The Nation that "spending on clean energy, healthcare and education creates so many more jobs overall—as much as 50 to 140 percent more" (p. 17).

Say it: Pentagon spending destroys jobs. DoD contracts are job losers. The defense industry cuts our labor force. Yes, the $700+billion we the workers fork over to the military every year means that unemployment rates are higher because that money spent anywhere else in the economy would create more jobs.

So if you get some time this coming Wednesday, September 11, 2013, please bike or walk or bus or even drive to visit this PNDC office to inform them that many of us wish to unwelcome them in our town until they stop seeking blood money, until they decide that bullets and bombs are not the work of good citizens. I believe the peace bikers will be there at about 1:45 or 2 p.m. or so and they would love to have you with them. If they come out and tell you to "get a job" you know what to do.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Holy hell in our town: Profits of doom

While Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned about the military industrial complex in his farewell address, we Americans seem to have chosen to ignore his wise counsel again and again, preferring to instead develop more and more military industrial capacity. Some of us choose to confront that. It is immoral, often illegal, and always profitable in the most corrupt and banal aspects.

That happy analysis brings me to Precision Castparts Corp., right in my town, Portland, Oregon. They are located in many places, but of interest to peace people right hereabouts is that they are at 4650 SW Macadam and will be visited next Wednesday, September 11, by some peace bicyclists who will pedal against war profiteer peddling. I believe they'll be there at about 1:15 or perhaps 1:30 or so, if you'd like to join them in naming a war profiteer--and massive polluter--in Portland. As a war contractor, they create fewer jobs per $million spent than other sectors of the economy, so each military contractor signifies a loss in jobs, not a gain.

This contractor makes parts for most flying machines produced in the US, which of course makes them a military contractor, indeed, in the 100 most awarded. They make parts for the oil and gas industries, the paper industry, and other heavy industrial applications, but of course the Pentagon contracts are the really lucrative, often no-bid, sometimes cost-plus extreme profit contracts.

There is little doubt that PCP has profited handsomely as the Bush and Obama regimes have waged wars. Indeed, on their website the pie chart of sectors shows the general other industries (light color) is about 15 percent of their business, the power industries (red) account for about 20 percent, and the aerospace (blue) is the principal engine of expansion and profit at about 65 percent. Holy prophets of death!
So PCP makes parts and makes many many obscenely fat profits for Pentagon contracts. But we are now waving Tomahawk cruise missiles around and threatening Syrians with them. What is that about? How cost-effective are they? At least we have the peace geeks at our beloved National Priorities Project to help us understand the numbers. Starting with the cruise missiles, you the American taxpayer are forking over about $36,000 every hour in 2013 to keep the Pentagon flush with these killers. As of today, September 6, we are just about to cross the $300 million mark for FY2013. 

What happens if we don't shoot those missiles at someone? We might not "need" to make more. Our contractors--who are very very generous to the politicians who tend to vote for more DoD funding and for enough warmaking to keep inventory moving--clearly profit from Obama's current belligerence. This is referred to in my field of Peace and Conflict Studies as the conflict industry. Make war so we can make more. It's all lucre to them. If making applesauce made them insanely high profits, they'd want us all to eat more applesauce, which would be such a blessing. But no--the high profits come from killing machines or precision cast parts that go into them.

I went to the Trade-Offs page on the NPP site and did the work for our tax contribution from Portland to the Pentagon, which is $974.31 million. I punched in my favorite tradeoffs--what our town could get for that investment in one year. Here is what the calculations show:
  • 200 additional elementary school teachers
  • 5000 additional adults and 10,000 additional children receiving free low-income health care
  • 10,000 homes receiving wind-generated electricity
  • 100,000 homes receiving solar-generated electricity
  • 100,000 additional community college/college/university students receiving $5,500 Pell Grants (NOT loans)

The total trade-offs come to $800.41 million, leaving almost $174 million left, which I would say should go to help develop a nonviolent civilian-based defense system in our town to be a model for the nation. Or maybe some also for more bike trails so we can pay more visits to places like Precision Castparts and let them know their days in Portland are numbered unless they convert to peace.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

If they only knew

How many times have you heard the refrain, "Well, if you knew what the people in power knew, you'd support the attack too"? I'd like to officially denounce, renounce, condemn and reject that preposterous credulous abdication of democratic responsibility. This is our democracy. We need to be informed--and so do our elected 'deciders.'

A few of us went to US Senator Jeff Merkley's Portland office yesterday to insist that he vote against attacking Syria. As good transparent nonviolent activists, we let them know ahead of time we were coming and they had guards and police stopping us and threatening arrest. That is how they act when they know our nonviolent and transparent intentions? Really?

If you are a businessman without an appointment, I would wager that you could walk into your US Senator's office to drop off a document (we had handwritten letters to drop off). But because we are nonviolent peace people, they threaten to cuff us. Everyone was courteous and likable, but still. There were only nine of us and we were physically blocked from even going into the building. Most or all of us had voted for Jeff Merkley, and at least one young person had volunteered for his campaign, though I can't imagine that pattern will continue after that treatment.

So, were we wearing masks? No. We were being sneaky? No. Were we chanting? Nope. We were parents, students, professors--just folks who wanted to tell our elected man to stop equivocating and commit to peace. We were respectful and we are so upset by the threat to jump into yet another war by our President and the Senate and House that we showed up announced, with letters to drop off. They are voting now. There is no time to make an appointment for next month.

They sent a staffer to the sidewalk, where, like any third-class citizens, we were able to meet with someone from our elected official's office. Did we yell and get angry? No. We listened and we talked. We were animated--voters will do that. But we came prepared to thank Merkley, believing he was simply being ill-advisedly coy about his voting intentions and that his staff would tell us that he would vote against any attack. Instead, we were rebuffed and treated like threats. Had we not been transparent (I left a webform message the day before that we were coming and also left another respectful voice mail message that morning that we would visit) we would have almost certainly walked right in.

If the citizenry can be punished for being transparent and sincere, for offering all relevant information, what can we expect from those who do have more information? From our experience, even our erstwhile allies in power misuse the information they have. It's tough to trust that they can handle all the information responsibly.
First do no harm. Our Senators and Representatives are the next best check on Obama's poor and harmful strategy on Syria, a strategy that has been harmful from the beginning in two major ways. One, he attacked Libya, which almost instantly jacked up the violent insurgency and the violent suppression in Syria, since it looked to observers inside and outside Syria that Assad would be the next logical target of Obama. This Libya Effect overwhelmed and sidelined the nonviolent insurgency, the Syrian Arab Spring. Two, he started funneling weaponry to the violent insurgents via Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. This emboldened the various factions, including one large non-Syrian faction who had already been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq--and killing Americans as fast as possible. Yes, al-Qa'ida is strong in Syria now, made stronger by Obama and John Kerry's brilliant military aid.

So we see what they do when they have "all the facts" and "more intelligence." They make poor choices that are opposite the interests and wishes of their constituents. Lessons learned. We will not stop being nonviolent and transparent, but we may come with our new knowledge that we are not welcome and we may need to offer nonviolent noncooperation with those who misuse both knowledge and power. Peaceful protesters across the world, and in the Middle East--including friendly nations like Jordan--are rising up with nonviolence against this new threat of new violence from the US. Obama is alienating more and more of humanity. Going on record opposing this is important. Showing up is the least we can do.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

US credibility chasm

President Obama wants to bomb Syria. If we don't, he says, the credibility of the USA is on the line.

Too late.

  • America jacked up its war in Vietnam under Lyndon Johnson based on false information about an attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that was fabricated. Fifty thousand Americans and three million Vietnamese died on the battlefields, most of them Vietnamese civilians. US credibility was dealt a mortal blow.
  • Donald Rumsfeld--who now calls Obama's Syrian strategy feckless and ineffective--provided Saddam Hussein with the chemicals to manufacture the gas that killed so many Iranians and Kurds in the 1980s. US credibility? With whom?
  • The US went into Somalia under Bill Clinton as was booted out by ragtag fighters--so much for US credibility.
  • The US did nothing about the genocide in Rwanda, despite several potentially effective nonviolent actions that were available. Whoops, another loss of American credibility.
  • In what was the most feckless and ineffective unprovoked military attack, invasion, and occupation conducted since the debacle in Vietnam, Bush Junior, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and company lied their lying heads off and propped up Colin Powell and Condi Rice to show how diverse their lying could be--all to justify an utterly unjustifiable attack on Iraq. US credibility has never been lower on Earth.

What might we do to begin to regain US credibility? The very short list of good beginnings:

  • We might begin to support international law by joining (yes, late, but better than never, and especially important now) the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court, with the majority of nation-states (122 of 193) signed and ratified. We hear Obama and Kerry trumpeting about international law and yet they are not leading the US into compliance by bringing us into the ICC, thus ignoring the proper enforcement mechanism--whomever is using chemical weapons anywhere is subject to prosecution in the ICC. Senegal was the first to join in 1999 and Côte d’Ivoire signed and ratified just last February, so this would be a good time. On the other hand, since Syria has not attacked the US and since the UN Security Council has not authorized any military action against Syria, Obama and Kerry would be possible defendants in the ICC courtroom if they do get their way, so they might join the likes of Henry Kissinger in opposing the ICC, since it means they could be arrested for violations of international law. 
  • We might support nonviolent Syrian civil society efforts by cutting off all arms transfers (sales, aid, gifts) and military training to the region. No one in the region believes in US peace-seeking credibility when they see arms flowing to everyone from the US, whether directly or via US arms recipients in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, etc. The US government could be featuring the voices of Syrian civil society, rather than sucker-punching them by first going military in Libya (thus scaring Assad while concomitantly emboldening violent insurgents in Syria).
  • The US State Department should be using diplomacy and honest mediation, calling for a peace conference to bring in all parties to discuss possible settlements. This can never happen if we are threatening military aid or action.
  • Time to be careful with US politician/major media xenophobia, which is a direct threat to US credibility.

So, yes, US credibility is on the line. We should be moving to rescue it with helpful nonviolence, not further undermining it with destructive tactics. Here's a credible threat: attacking Syria is potentially an impeachable offense. Turn this around, President Obama.