Friday, October 11, 2013

Predicting the failure of violence

In the middle of the worst of the war in Iraq, 2005-2006, I started and spent a year or so in a peace vigil every Tuesday evening in front of the multi-branch military recruiting office on NE Broadway in Portland, Oregon. I'd prepare a print-out of the Pentagon press release announcing the death of each US military member and write a short essay about some aspect of the war and make 50 copies of that as a flyer. I had a pack with candles and sidewalk chalk, as well as rolled-up huge peace posters. I'd usually walk out of my office on SW Broadway late Tuesday afternoon and walk the three miles down to the river, across the bridge, and out to 1317 Northeast Broadway, and set up the death notices on the sidewalk, light some candles and place them on the notices, and set up some large posters I had purchased and then laminated at Kinkos. It was a weekly meditation on the carnage and a chance to interact with five groups of people.

One, potential recruits. They would get a flyer, on the back of which was a War Resisters League counter-recruitment message, including a contact for a local activist who has become an expert in the lies and legalities of military recruiters. Most actually took a flyer.

Two, pedestrians who might linger and talk. Most had poignant stories, including one couple who talked about emigrating from Sarajevo, where they spent months at a time starving and freezing in the dark during those terrible wars of Milosevic in the 1990s.

Three, drivers/passengers/bicyclists on that busy four-lane commuter street. It was evening rush hour and they were hustling home, but many would honk and give a sign--thumbs up or down, friendly wave or the middle finger, smile or grimace--and more than 90 percent of the nonverbals were friendly, supportive, and positive to the peace message.

Four, fellow activists who showed up. I was the only one there every week, but many great folks showed up occasionally or in streaks of weeks at a time. Indeed, the vigil started because a peace movement friend's daughter in high school kept getting hounded by recruiters despite all opt-out attempts, so she came quite a bit at first. Many Vets for Peace came, and Code Pink members. Finally, the Seriously Pissed Off Grannies (and Grand-dads) took it over and I retired from it. 
Five, the military recruiters. We slowly got to know each other. They called the police  a lot at first, and I did pretty much everything they said not to do--kept the death notice and burning candles on the sidewalk, wrote many messages in sidewalk chalk, stood at the curb with signs, etc. There were never any arrests until the peace Grannies actually brought rocking chairs and blockaded the front door--a beautiful action that resulted in their arrests and all rocking chairs were impounded. 

Of course there were many debates with the recruiters. I counted almost 20 who worked there and I probably only saw a portion of them. I never once invaded their offices, preferring to occupy the chokepoint visible to so many, but they would come out by ones and twos to debate. One of the many things I told them, each of them at one point or another, "You will leave both Iraq and Afghanistan and you will have won nothing, you won't leave on your own terms, violence will still be going on, and they will eventually revert to some strongman ruler after a bloody struggle. You will have accomplished nothing except wasting lives and money and making millions more hate the US." 

This was so easy to see and they knew it at some level. It certainly is still shaking out in Iraq and will continue in Afghanistan. Indeed, Karzai is setting himself up to keep control, the US is leaving with lots of violence ongoing, and the Taliban is just one brutal faction who will be fighting for control, as usual. Indeed, Karzai is enraged at the US intervening in his efforts to free imprisoned Taliban leaders in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, leaders he hopes to recruit into his camp, but whom the US fears--even though Karzai and the US have each had separate, weird relationships to the Taliban. It is likely that sour piece will affect the nature and speed of the US pullout. Frankly, it seems to me that Obama prefers to see Karzai acting against US interests so the relationship can be severed. 

In the end, then, all the US will have achieved by these grotesque incursions will be to have spent the US into poverty, killed thousands of US, Iraqi, and Afghan people, and earned the long-term enmity of Muslims all over the world and at home. Brilliant. Well, at least we have a whole generation of young men--and now some women--who are so militarized and traumatized they will beat and kill others, including their intimate partners, and will commit suicide, all at higher rates than societal background. This is only logical and predictable.

No comments: