A world at war, again

by Jim Stoffels, chairman and editor

Michael Goodwin, columnist for the New York Daily News, recently asserted: “World War III has begun.” In this case, however, it is not a single conflict involving the world, but rather a multiplicity of conflicts constituting a world at war.

“It’s not clear when it started,” Mr. Goodwin wrote, so his readers offered their suggestions. The most popular date and place suggested is 11/4/1979 in Iran, when the United States embassy in Tehran was stormed by militant Islamic students.

If World War III began years ago in Iran, then it surely began before 11/4/1979. We Americans focus on that date and ignore the 26 years that preceded it.

Back in 1953, our CIA and Britain’s MI6 engineered a military coup that toppled Iran’s democratically elected head of government, Mohammed Mossadegh, and re-installed Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlevi. Mossadegh’s offense? He had the effrontery to nationalize Iran’s oil.

Like Saddam Hussein, the shah was a tyrant who oppressed his people and tortured and killed his critics. After 26 years of oppression, a massive uprising of the people took place in 1979 and the shah fled for his life. Iran then came under the rule of the ayatollahs — the fundamentalist Islamic clerics who saw the United States as “the great Satan.”

When the shah fell, it was said there was no one left in Iran who had not lost someone to his brutal secret police, the SAVAK. The SAVAK was set up and trained by our CIA, along with Israel’s secret police, the Mossad.

When people are oppressed and tortured and when their loved ones are tortured and murdered, it is hardly surprising if they become filled with anger and hatred. They also become susceptible to radicalization by the likes of Osama bin Laden — ready candidates to carry out terrorist attacks.

And when the United States government is the power behind the throne that oppresses and kills, it is hardly surprising that the anger, hatred and terrorism become directed against us. President Bush’s approval of Israel’s current rampage in Lebanon, coupled with our $2 billion a year of military aid that provides Israel the weapons, is undoubtedly winning us new enemies.

Just as the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has produced the Iraqi “insurgency,” Israel’s past invasions have also produced resistance groups. The Israeli invasion and occupation of South Lebanon in 1982 produced Hezbollah and the Israeli occupation of Palestine produced Hamas.

The imbalance of military power in the Middle East has been shown for years in the photos we have seen of Palestinian boys throwing stones at Israeli tanks. Palestine has no organized armed force, while Israel has mandatory military training and service for Jewish men and women. Palestine has mainly small arms, while Israel has tens of thousands of military vehicles, tanks, helicopter gunships and jet aircraft. It even has submarines — supplied, ironically, by Germany. And it has nuclear weapons. So, who is David and who is Goliath now?

In the current Mideast conflagration, Hezbollah’s initial crossing of Israel’s border constituted a violation of international law. Such sporadic border skirmishes, however, were hardly uncommon on the Israel-Lebanon border. What is uncommon is Israel’s “shock and awe” response — their massive destruction of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, including airports, bridges, communications centers, electrical and water treatment plants, highways and seaports.

Lebanon, whose fragile government cannot control the Hezbollah militia, cried out for an immediate ceasefire, while the Bush administration stood on the sidelines and watched — like spectators at some grisly blood sport.

(See: www.informationclearinghouse.info/article14069.htm)

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour stated that the scale of killing and maiming of civilians in Lebanon, as well as in the Palestinian territory of Gaza and in Israel itself, could constitute war crimes.

As we proceed into the long haul, it is important to recognize that our so-called “war on terrorism” — one pretext for our invasion of Iraq — is a misnomer. All we really have is a “war” on terrorists. It is a purely reactionary measure in the aftermath of 9/11/2001. For us to have a “war” on terrorism, we would have to search for and address the root causes of terrorism.

President Bush’s obfuscating statement at the G-8 summit, that “terrorist acts” are the root causes of the ongoing conflicts, continues a determined avoidance of such a search because it would require us to examine our foreign policies of the past half century or more — particularly those cases around the world, like Iran from 1953 to 1979, where we have exported and supported the terrorism of peoples by their own governments.

This kind of metaphorical “war” against terrorism can never be won militarily. The escalating carnage we see in the Middle East is a ghastly demonstration of the truth that violence only breeds more violence, and that death and destruction breed more anger and hatred.

The United States will not “prevail” in the ongoing conflicts until we honor the sacred document of our own independence from oppression and respect the unalienable rights of all peoples to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The power politics we play, backed by invasion, domination, occupation, death and destruction, take us in the opposite direction.

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2006

Leading by example, but not U.S.markshields.jpg (3440 bytes)

by Mark Shields

During World War II, young Princess Elizabeth, then the heir to the British throne, overcame her father — the king’s — objections and joined the military, where she was trained as a driver and was photographed personally changing the tire on a truck. Her son, Prince Charles, served as a pilot for five years in the Royal Navy. Charles’ brother Prince Andrew saw combat as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War and made the military his career. The third brother, Prince Edward, was a second lieutenant in the British Marines.

So young Prince Harry, son of Charles and the late Princess Diane, was following family tradition when he volunteered for the grueling training at Sandhurst Military Academy, before being commissioned the equivalent of a second lieutenant. But now Harry, the Queen’s grandson and third in line to the throne, has publicly insisted that he join his fellow soldiers when they are sent to Iraq.

Here is what the young prince said: “There’s no way I’m going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my [ass] back home while my boys are out fighting for their country.” He added, “That may sound very patriotic, but it’s true.”

The British royal family is usually good for an easy laugh on this side of the pond where Americans ask, “Just what does the Queen actually have in that oversized pocketbook she’s always carrying?” — or the fairytale postscript added after Charles’ wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles: “So the divorced prince in a civil ceremony married his longtime mistress, and they lived happily ever after.”

But the American leadership class — the “royalty” of finance, government, sports, entertainment and academia, with only a handful of admirable exceptions — have failed to lead by example, as the British royals have so admirably done.

“War,” the conservative scholar Michael Barone has wisely written, “demands equality of sacrifice.” But not in President George W. Bush’s war against Saddam Hussein. One week before the war began, the then-majority leader of the Republican House of Representatives, Tom DeLay of Texas, told a Washington meeting of bankers, “Nothing is more important on the eve of war than cutting taxes.”

This is the first and only war in U.S. history to be fought with no military draft and with six tax cuts.

This is alien to American tradition. The federal income tax and inheritance tax — both of which conservatives now strive to repeal — were passed by the Congress to pay the costs of the Civil War and became law when signed by this nation’s first and greatest Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. To fight the Spanish-American War, Republican President William McKinley raised federal taxes. So, too, to pay for World War I did Democratic president Woodrow Wilson. Millions of patriotic Americans have proven that there is no moral authority that matches sacrifice.

With the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq now in its fourth year, “patriotism-lite” — the “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker on the gas-guzzler or the U.S. flag pin prominently placed on the suit-coat lapel — has been the uniform of the day. The nation’s leadership has asked everything of the brave few — the men and women who serve and who sacrifice, and their loved ones. From the rest of us, nothing has been asked other than to patriotically accept tax cuts. The leader of the nation’s message to the overwhelming majority of Americans: You will pay no price; you will bear no burden!

The spectacle now on view in our proud democracy is the absolute separation of the privileged in power from the people in peril. How we raise our armies when Americans are asked to fight and to die is how we define what kind of country we are. In a morally balanced and just community, there must be the sharing of risk and the burden of pain and suffering. War is not and cannot be a spectator sport.

For the fawning groupies who flattered him after his successful leadership in the Persian Gulf War, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf used this put-down: “It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.” ...

Political pundit Mark Shields is well known for his incisive commentary on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and PBS’s award- winning “NewsHour.” This op-ed was published by Creators Syndicate on May 20, 2006 (www.creators.com).

– PeaceMeal, May/June 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

gene_w_b&w.jpg (3905 bytes)The creep that brought us the Iraq war

by Gene Weisskopf, Vice Chairman

Long before the U.S. entered World War II, many patriotic Americans were urging the country to join the battle against the Axis powers before it was too late to stop them. Many other patriotic Americans argued the opposite — that it was in our best interests to remain on the sidelines. But in the hours of a single Sunday morning, the attack on Pearl Harbor ended the entire discussion. Fait accompli, we went to war.

Our current war on Iraq, however, was not precipitated by that sort of horrendous, history-changing assault on our country. Instead of being pulled into the war by Saddam Hussein, we were pushed, prodded, cajoled, and basically led down the primrose path to war by our own President. He and his administration, aided by a complacent news media oozing with faux patriotism, maneuvered the country with a yearlong, carefully crafted, step-by-step process that eventually brought us to the illegal invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003.

And that’s the “creep” of this article’s title — not the noun (however appropriate it might be) but the verb: “to advance gradually so as to be almost unnoticed.” There never was a Pearl Harbor or even a tangible threat that would explain why we started this war. Instead, we heard (and are still hearing) copious platitudes about freedom and democracy, about respecting the sacrifice of the soldiers who have already died there, or simplistic strategies such as “We’re there now and we need to finish the job.” Except the “job” that needs to be finished is always open-ended, with no accountability to a schedule for disengagement.

One example of the step-by-step path that led us to and continues to mire us in this travesty is the frequent use of milestones to frame the storyline in Iraq. At any given moment, no matter how bad things might look, there’s always a “light at the end of the tunnel” — the good news that will surely come, for example, after the next election, or once we capture yet another lieutenant of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or simply once a few more months have gone by so the successes will become evident. It is this kind of view through rose-colored glasses, unsupported by the reality on the ground, that kept us in Vietnam for 14 years.

Disappointingly, one of the most vocal proponents of this strategy has been Thomas Friedman, the well-known and generally well-respected author and columnist for The New York Times. He has been a constant supporter of the war while also disparaging the administration’s handling of it and regretting the mess the war has turned into. His constant refrain over the past 2 years has been that we need to wait another three months or six months before we can say if we have succeeded or failed in Iraq.

I was aware of his “bear with me for a few more minutes” approach to the war, but didn’t realize just how often he’d used it until coming across an article entitled “Tom Friedman's Flexible Deadlines: Iraq’s ‘decisive’ six months have lasted two and a half years.” The article is on the Web site of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), and the many quotes of Friedman’s they include make for an obvious and unsettling lesson in creep. (See: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2884)

The step-by-step creep that led us into Iraq and keeps us bogged down there makes for a most sinister aspect of this war’s alleged justification. As much as the Bush administration tried to tie the war to the attack of 9/11/01, its pretexts for “staying the course” have shifted with each refutation of its falsehoods. We now find ourselves mired in an unwarranted war, the consequences of which will no doubt be painfully felt for decades to come.

Our country has been duped and defiled by the person with whom we entrusted the office of the President. A rueful analogy is the young woman offered a ride home by a trusted friend, who insists on walking to her door just for her own safety, and maybe he could use a cup of coffee, and let me help you get your coat off. One thing somehow leads to another, and she ultimately finds herself pregnant and can’t really say just how the act was foisted upon her.

This analogy illustrates a life-changing decision based on the limited information of small, incremental steps — never on the facts of the full story. In our case with the Iraq war, the consequences are not only life-changing but truly disastrous, with tens of thousands of people dead, ten times that many wounded, and a nation — our own — that has lost its former position on the high road in international relations.

Millions of Americans did recognize — and protested — the creep toward war before this one even started. Next time, our nation as a whole, with the help of the media, needs to shout “Stop!” and look at the full picture — in Iran, for example — before we ever consider another such blunder.

– PeaceMeal, May/June 2006

jim_s_04_b&w.jpg (3376 bytes)Nuclear security on the auction block

by Jim Stoffels, Chairman and Editor

Pres. George W. Bush, who used false claims about a nuclear weapons threat to launch his illegal war in Iraq, is now promoting a sweetheart deal that would enable India to double or triple its production of nuclear weapons in blatant violation of international arms control agreements and decades of bipartisan U.S. policy.

United States law and the provisions of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have long prohibited the sale of nuclear fuel and reactor components to India, a country that has acquired a nuclear arsenal and has refused to sign the NPT. President Bush threw out that policy on March 2nd with the announcement that he and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had reached agreement on a deal for the U.S. to sell nuclear technology to India, even as India continues to produce nuclear weapons. Although two-thirds of India’s nuclear capacity in its civilian power program would be opened to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency under the deal, the remaining third would continue to be used for making weapons in a military program closed to inspections.

The Bush deal invalidates decades of effort by United States policy-makers to persuade India to abandon its nuclear weapons program and sign the NPT. The double standard of providing India with nuclear technology and enabling their continued nuclear weapons production while stridently opposing the same things with respect to Iran is so blatant as to be incomprehensible.

By allowing the sale of nuclear fuel for India’s civilian power reactors, the deal will enable India to divert more of its own fuel to military use. According to Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, this will allow India to manufacture several dozen bombs a year, compared with six to ten now. “If this nuclear deal stands,” Cirincione declared, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is going to fall.”

Presidents from both parties, going back to Richard Nixon, refused to make this deal, which India has wanted for more than three decades. President Bush has now proposed that we trash the Non-Proliferation Treaty and move the world closer to a dangerous nuclear arms race in Asia and elsewhere.

A year ago, President Bush lifted a ban on arms transfers to India’s neighbor, Pakistan, that had been in effect since 1989. He reopened a deal to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan — a sale that had been halted back then in accordance with U.S. law by his father, President George H.W. Bush, when intelligence showed that Pakistan had an active nuclear weapons program. Pakistan subsequently and illegally exported its nuclear know-how to three other renegade States — Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Pakistan is a near-bankrupt country with explosive problems, including religious intolerance by Islamic fundamentalists. The country is ruled by General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in an October 1999 military coup. Now Pakistan is to be provided the latest version of the F-16, which can carry nuclear bombs under its wings. (Pakistan’s acquisition of the planes has been stalled by new constraints on its national budget following the catastrophic earthquake in November.)

President Bush’s rearming of Pakistan was accompanied by a simultaneous push to also expand market in India, the world’s largest buyer of arms. Although the two conflicting countries took important steps to improve relations last year, India complained that the F-16 sale upset the balance of power between them.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947, with the disputed territory of Kashmir being a prime bone of contention. Following nuclear weapons tests conducted by both India and Pakistan in May 1998, the nuclear-armed rivals faced their worst crisis in 30 years the summer of 1999 when armed Islamic militants crossed the “line of control” from Pakistan’s section of the disputed territory of Kashmir into the Indian-controlled section. That incursion prompted an air and ground assault by Indian forces to evict them, triggering global fears of an Indo-Pakistani nuclear war. As recently as 2003, India warned that Pakistan was a prime case for pre-emptive military strikes. Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha stated then that India had “a much better case to go for pre-emptive action against Pakistan than the United States has in Iraq.”

To paraphrase the late John Denver, who applied the metaphor to the United States and former Soviet Union during the Cold War, India and Pakistan are like two children sitting in a puddle of gasoline, playing with matches. And President Bush wants to keep providing them with more matches. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan would blast fallout — literally and figuratively — onto the American homeland.

What motivates President Bush and his administration to so egregiously undermine nuclear non-proliferation? One key motive is to revive the moribund U.S. nuclear industry. The India deal would be good for American commercial interests, who want to sell nuclear fuel, reactors and equipment. Furthermore, a military alliance with a strongly armed India would help contain China, which is widely viewed as the greatest future threat to Bush administration plans for U.S. global supremacy.

President Bush’s “Nukes for India” deal fails on the basis of any cost-benefit analysis. It puts our national security and international security on the auction block like a marketable commodity — for sale if the price is right. The saving grace is that this outrageous deal requires the approval of Congress because it requires a change in longstanding U.S. law. Hopefully, the opposition in Congress on both sides of the partisan divide will hang tough.

Bill S.1950 has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.

– with information from The New York Times, Associated Press, The Nation and Slate.msn.com
PeaceMeal, May/June 2006

A Message of Hope

by Dave Robinson

In the days since the war in Iraq "ended,"it has become painfully clear that every aspect of social justice teaching is under full assault. Decades-old environmental protections are being rolled back; civil liberties are being shredded along with the Constitution itself; a commitment to the common good no longer animates our public policy; and the effort to establish some measure of justice for people living in poverty — especially children — has been abandoned by this administration. ...

Many friends and colleagues in the movement for justice and peace are experiencing a sense of futility, overwhelmed by the breadth and scope of this kind of "compassionate conservatism." This is understandable. Sometimes it seems like no matter what we do, things just get worse. But at the same time, this is a moment in history that cries out for peacemakers and justice seekers.

During the war and the build-up to war, those who espoused a commitment to nonviolence were ridiculed and denounced. And yet, it is precisely in those moments that the voice and witness of nonviolence must be loudest and clearest. Gandhi once said that being a person of nonviolence only between wars is like being a vegetarian only between meals!

But how do we remain hopeful and keep our energies up and focused when it seems that what we do makes no difference? First, I would say that everything we do does indeed make an important — even a crucial — difference, even when evidence of that difference eludes us.

Every one of our efforts to build justice and peace, no matter how inconsequential they may seem given the vast amount of violence and injustice with which we are faced, makes a difference. Often it is the simplest of acts that have the most profound and lasting impact.

And so, dear peacemaker, do not let the sheer volume of injustice deter you in your daily efforts to bring a measure of peace to this violent world. Hope can sustain us, but only when we recognize that hope is not the same as optimism. Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president, has pointed out that hope is not the feeling that something will work out, but rather the deep conviction that what we are working for is right and important regardless of the outcome.

Dave Robinson is National Coordinator of Pax Christi USA. His article is edited from Catholic Peace Voice.
– PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Views of Iraq, three years later

Victoria “Barefoot for Peace” Lewis, Peace Ambassador
World Citizens for Peace

Speech delivered at a “Bring the Troops Home Alive” rally on the 3rd anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq
March 18, 2006, John Dam Plaza, Richland WA

When others say, “I can’t believe we are still here after three years!” I have to reply that I am not surprised. I and many others knew right from the start of “Operation Iraqi Oil” that we would be there for a very long time. Many voices have been heard that are against the war and mine has been one of the loudest locally. Today, I’ll just let my “feet” speak for me and use others’ words to speak truth.

First, I have a letter to the President, written by a veteran. His words have touched me and I wish to share them with you. 

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:  

As a young man I was honored to serve our nation as a commissioned officer and helicopter pilot in the US Navy. Before me in WWII, my father defended the country spending two years in the Pacific aboard the USS Hornet (CV-14). We were patriots sworn “to protect and defend.” Today I conclude that you have dishonored our service and the Constitution and principles of our oath. My dad was buried with full military honors so I cannot act for him. But for myself, I return enclosed the symbols of my years of service: the shoulder boards of my rank and my Naval Aviator’s wings.  

Until your administration, I believed it was inconceivable that the United States would ever initiate an aggressive and preemptive war against a country that posed no threat to us. Until your administration, I thought it was impossible for our nation to take hundreds of persons into custody without provable charges of any kind, and to “disappear” them into holes like Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram. Until your administration, in my wildest legal fantasy I could not imagine a US Attorney General seeking to justify torture or a President first stating his intent to veto an anti-torture law, and then adding a “signing statement” that he intends to ignore such law as he sees fit. I do not want these things done in my name.  

As a citizen, a patriot, a parent and grandparent, a lawyer and law teacher, I am left with such a feeling of loss and helplessness. I think of myself as a good American and I ask myself what can I do when I see the face of evil? Illegal and immoral war, torture and confinement for life without trial have never been part of our Constitutional tradition. But my vote has become meaningless because I live in a safe district drawn by your political party. My congressman is unresponsive to my concerns because his time is filled with lobbyists’ largess. Protests are limited to your “free speech zones,” out of sight of the parade. Even speaking openly is to risk being labeled un-American, pro-terrorist or anti-troops. And I am a disciplined pacifist, so any violent act is out of the question.  

Nevertheless, to remain silent is to let you think I approve or support your actions. I do not. So, I am saddened to give up my wings and bars. They were hard won and my parents and wife were as proud as I was when I earned them over forty years ago. But I hate the torture and death you have caused more than I value their symbolism. Giving them up makes me cry for my beloved country.  

Joseph W. DuRocher

After I read this letter, I was moved to send in my insignia and rank patches, as well. I have copies of this letter. If you are a veteran or know a veteran, give them a copy and challenge them to do the same.

Another voice that I felt was important to be heard was that of a young woman blogger from Iraq, known only as Riverbend. I have been reading her blog for nearly three years now, and as always, what she has to say can reach in and tear at my heart. I’d like to read excerpts of her blog from today. This time last year, I also read from her blog on the second anniversary of the war’s beginning. There have been some profound changes in the mood in Baghdad. 

Spring should be about renewal and rebirth. For Iraqis, spring has been about reliving painful memories and preparing for future disasters. In many ways, this year is like 2003 prior to the war when we were stocking up on fuel, water, food and first aid supplies and medications. We’re doing it again this year, but now we don’t discuss what we’re stocking up for. Bombs and B-52's are so much easier to face than other possibilities. 

I’m sitting here trying to think what makes this year, 2006, so much worse than 2005 or 2004. It’s not the outward differences — things such as electricity, water, dilapidated buildings, broken streets and ugly concrete security walls. Those things are disturbing, but they are fixable. Iraqis have proved again and again that countries can be rebuilt. No, it’s not the obvious that fills us with foreboding. 

The real fear is the mentality of so many people lately — the rift that seems to have worked it’s way through the very heart of the country, dividing people. It’s disheartening to talk to acquaintances — sophisticated, civilized people — and hear how Sunnis are like this, and Shia are like that… To watch people pick up their things to move to “Sunni neighborhoods” or “Shia neighborhoods.” How did this happen? 

The thing most worrisome about the situation now is that discrimination based on sect has become so commonplace. For the average educated Iraqi in Baghdad, there is still scorn for all the Sunni/Shia talk. Sadly though, people are being pushed into claiming to be this or that because political parties are promoting it with every speech and every newspaper — the whole “us / them.” We read constantly about how “We Sunnis should unite with our Shia brothers …” or how “We Shia should forgive our Sunni brothers …” (note how us Sunni and Shia sisters don’t really fit into either equation at this point). Politicians and religious figures seem to forget at the end of the day that we’re all simply Iraqis. 

In the last weeks alone, thousands have died in senseless violence and the American and Iraqi army bomb Samarra as I write this. The sad thing isn’t the air raid, which is one of hundreds of air raids we’ve seen in three years — it’s the resignation in the people. They sit in their homes in Samarra because there’s nowhere to go. Before, we’d get refugees in Baghdad and surrounding areas … Now, Baghdadis themselves are looking for ways out of the city … out of the country. The typical Iraqi dream has become to find some safe haven abroad. 

Three years later and the nightmares of bombings and of shock and awe have evolved into another sort of nightmare. The difference between now and then was that three years ago, we were still worrying about material things — possessions, houses, cars, electricity, water, fuel … It’s difficult to define what worries us most now. Even the most cynical war critics couldn’t imagine the country being this bad three years after the war ... Allah yistur min il rab3a (God protect us from the fourth year).

             – Baghdad Burning - http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com, Saturday, March 18, 2006

Our 'Dogs of War', three years later

Gene Weisskopf, Vice Chairman
World Citizens for Peace
Speech delivered at a “Bring the Troops Home Alive” rally on the 3rd anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq
March 18, 2006, John Dam Plaza, Richland WA

It's March 18, 2006, and I'm very, very sorry you're here. Our gathering today is just one small example of how the war on Iraq has drained and diminished the United States by diverting money, effort, and lives to a bottomless pit that, for all practical purposes, looks a lot like hell. The resources we've poured into the endless job of molding Iraq to our own likeness could've ben expended on other projects for other purposes, toward other ends.

Instead, here we are again, meeting to voice our outrage over the war on Iraq (or however you prefer to call your reason for being here.). I'm Gene Weisskopf, vice-chairman of World Citizens for Peace, the group that organized this day's event. In spite of my being sorry that you had to come today, I am grateful and thankful for the opportunity to gather our voices together.

You'll hear several speakers today-Victoria Lewis, Chuck and Ann Eaton, and Jim Stoffels-each offering a bit of their own perspective on the war. We'll have a musical offering from Mike and Shannon Truex to round out those perspectives. When we're finished here in 30 or 40 minutes, we'll move to the sidewalk in our regular public demonstration for peace in Iraq, and invite all of you to join in, with or without a sign.

As I've said before, and it's truer than ever now, I find that I'm running out of things to say about our invasion of Iraq. Last year in March, I said a few things on this spot that, today, remind me of the long haul over the past 12 months, and I'd like to read them again:

[T]he ravages of this war go far beyond death, maiming, and financial disaster. The dogs of war that we unleashed so readily in 2003 have turned on us again and again in the past year, puncturing and shredding our national character and reputation, what I call our national soul.

The passage of time has not only left a ruined path behind the war, it has also born a new reality for the future. Our blitzkrieg invasion of Iraq two long years ago has grown into an unending occupation with no exit strategy in sight. That's called a quagmire. Over the next 12 months, the U.S.A. will continue to pour more soldiers and more money into Iraq, and make more and more excuses about why we're there. And so on and on until we gather again in March of 2006. Yes, sad to say, I'm quite sure we'll be wanting to meet again 12 months from now.

And here we are today, twelve months later. Another year too many, with too many deaths, too many dollars, too many lies, too many excuses, and too many cold, sharp surprises in the headlines. America continues to melt under the burden, while our red, white, and blue-tinted glasses cloud over with a haze of denial and a fervent belief that the United States can do no wrong.

I keep wondering if the next headline will finally be the straw that broke the camel's back, the event that will finally awaken the country. But I realize, for the thousandth time, that the key, back-breaking event already happened two or three years ago-the camel's been lying there dead under a huge pile of ever-accumulating straw for almost three years, but the country refuses to admit it. Not the White House, not the Pentagon, not the corporate media, and too many Americans who refuse to see that there's a rotting, dead camel in the room.

And more new straw is being added to its mountainous load everyday-the unchallenged detention of prisoners without trial or even the presentation of evidence against them; secret prison camps run by agents of the United States but outside of our laws; illegal spying on U.S. citizens; the killing of civilians in Iraq, again and again and again; perhaps the worst example-the redefinition of torture so we can claim we don't do torture; the weakening of our armed forces under the strain of a three-year war that has no end in sight; the further collapse of Iraq's social and physical infrastructure while under our rule. Everyday there's new headlines to feed the downward spiral.

Am I being pessimistic, a nattering nabob of negativity, to recognize that there's a dead camel beneath that massive pile of straw? Would it be more patriotic to say the camel is just resting and rebuilding his strength? I think not.

While our nation walks in a vacuum of faux-patriotism, fear, and outright denial, our gathering today is one way to stick our heads outside of that fog-enshrouded bubble, take a deep breath of fresh air, get our bearings, and make sure our feet are still firmly planted on terra firma. Thank you for coming out today.

The True Costs of the Iraq War

Gene Weisskopf, vice chairman

The $2,000-billion estimate of the long-term cost of the Iraq war by Nobel Prize-winning Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard lecturer Linda Bilmes (see article below) would have been a startling revelation three years ago, just before we invaded Iraq. And yet, William D. Nordhaus of Yale University did make exactly that prediction in late 2002, but few were interested in hearing about the price tag on the war. So now, after more than 1000 days of this damnable war, the astronomical monetary estimate is really just one more “startling revelation” in a long string of countless others.

Take a deep breath as I recount some of the other grossly underestimated aspects of the war: the time it would take to subdue Iraq (not finished yet), the number of Americans killed and wounded, the support we’d get from the “freed” Iraqi people, the support we’d get for the invasion from the rest of the world, the strength of our military to sustain this war and any others that might come along at the same time, and — the most glaring example of all — the alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that were not found in Iraq.

Beyond these calculable factors of the war, there are the incalculable ones that could carry an even deeper and longer-lasting significance. As the time we’ve spent in Iraq and the dollars spent on the war have gone up and up, our standing in the eyes of the world has gone down and down. Worse yet, our moral standing in our own eyes is diminishing day-by-day — the inner strength, or character, of this country is crumbling bit by bit, another victim of the ravages of an indefensible war.

I’m sure we are not alone in being a country that deliberately starts a war but inevitably forgets that the “dogs of war” we have unleashed do not discriminate in whom they terrorize. We are our own victims.

Our nation’s moral fiber was diminished when we invaded a non-threatening country under utterly false pretenses, and further still when it was revealed that we have tortured an unknown but ever-growing number of victims, who all seem to be of the non-white, non-Christian persuasion. Our moral and civic standing were torn by the Bush administration’s practice of locking up suspects who then have absolutely no recourse to our justice system. Even worse, it has become evident that we have been kidnapping suspects so that no one even knows they are in our custody. Still worse and yet to be fully revealed, we’ve been transporting these victims to small, secret prison camps or to foreign governments, where we can incarcerate, abuse, or torture at will.

Finally, our invasion of Iraq only proves the seemingly paranoid suspicions of many in the world that we are a belligerent, imperialistic superpower that does whatever it wants for its own purposes. Need I go on?

Wake up America! You’ve been assaulted and punched in the face so many times by these revelations that you now think it’s just normal, as though it’s you who’s been slamming your face into the Bush administration’s fist each morning when you read the headlines. In your efforts to be good citizens who respect the people with whom you entrusted your government, you have failed to face reality.

To sustain this heinous war, we are building a mile-high debt that we will pass off to our grandchildren. At the same time, we are ravaging the strength and character of our country on a daily basis, and it’s that diminished national “soul” that we will also pass along to future generations of Americans.

Two trillion dollars is an enormous sum of money, but the costs of this war are far more than that.

Morality of torture

The following letter was published in the Tri-City (WA) Herald on January 13, 2006.

In the attempt to combat terrorism, moral relativism has become the ethic of the day. The fear factor has pushed citizens, pundits, and the president to abandon traditional moral standards and espouse the torture of detainees without the restraint of any legal system.

One of those traditional, mainline Christian absolutes is that the use of evil, immoral means cannot be justified by a positive outcome.

But such a moral absolute prohibiting torture, as defended editorially by the Herald, is derided by columnist Charles Krauthammer as “moral foolishness.” There has to be, he says, a “rational moral calculus” that allows exceptions.*

The General Assembly of the National Council of Churches USA unanimously passed a statement in November that says: "Torture, regardless of circumstance, humiliates and debases torturer and tortured alike. ... It denies the preciousness of human life and the dignity of every human being by reducing its victims to the status of despised objects, no matter how noble the cause for which it is employed."

But when push comes to shove, we are told by the highest levels of our government that we must abandon the moral high ground and join the enemy in evildoing. That, in practice, is currently “the American way.”

~ Jim Stoffels, Chairman
World Citizens for Peace

*See: “The Truth about Torture,” Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard, Dec. 05, 2005.

Grieving for America

As support for the Bush administration’s illegal and immoral war in Iraq — and for the commander-in-chief — continues to decline, the body counts continue to rise. The dishonesty used to con the public and Congress into supporting the U.S. war of aggression in Iraq likewise becomes more and more obvious and odious.

Syndicated columnist Robert Scheer (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8) points to a newly declassified “smoking-gun” document and asks: Who in the White House knew about DITSUM No. 044-02 — and when did they know it?

The report, prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency in February 2002, demolishes the credibility of the key Al Qaeda informant the Bush administration relied on to claim that a working alliance existed between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. It was circulated widely within the U.S. government a full eight months before President Bush used the lies of a Libyan prisoner to argue for war. The report blows another huge hole in Mr. Bush’s claim that he was acting on the best intelligence available when he pitched the invasion of Iraq as a way to prevent an Al Qaeda attack with weapons of mass destruction on the United States. The prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an Al Qaeda senior military trainer, was probably “intentionally misleading the debriefers,” the DIA report concludes.

The thousands of U.S. troop deaths and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths are well known. The number of wounded is an order of magnitude higher. And totally invisible are the Iraqi refugees who have fled Fallujah and other cities we have destroyed . According to the United Nations, an estimated 500,000 Iraqis have fled to Syria, where they live in deteriorating socio-economic conditions. Abuses associated with child labor are common among the refugees and a large number of Iraqi women have reportedly turned to prostitution to support their families.

We grieve not only for the dead, the maimed, and the traumatized on both sides of this contrived and totally unnecessary disaster; we grieve also for the trauma done to the republic. The loss of United States honor, prestige, political leadership, and moral standing in the global community of nations is incalculable. As reported in the following article, many of our neighbors around the world see the damage and loss more clearly than we do.

Mark Hertzgaard, independent journalist and author of The Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World, comments: “Americans cannot escape a certain responsibility for what is done in our name around the world. In a democracy, even one as corrupted as ours, ultimate authority rests with the people. We empower the government with our votes, finance it with our taxes, bolster it with our silent acquiescence. If we are passive in the face of America’s official actions overseas, we in effect endorse them.”

Some Americans may never be able to face the reality of what has been done by our present administration, but as the Blue Fairy said to Pinocchio: “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.”

~ Jim Stoffels, chairman and editor
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2005