School’s in; teach peace

by Thomas Biel

I’m looking at the mission statement for the International Baccalaureate high school curriculum that is in place in a few high schools in Milwaukee [Wisconsin]. The mission states that one of the goals of the program is to develop students who will help create a more peaceful world. As a teacher of the curriculum, I feel good to be part of a peace movement.

To think that teaching peace is some kind of left-wing political agenda would be an over-reaction, to say the least. The concept is not anti-military or so naive to think that we can somehow make war disappear. What needs to be questioned is the direction of the U.S. military buildup, the choices that go into using military force and, basically, how to consider living more peacefully with the rest of the world.

The idea of teaching peace also would coincide with the heart of the world’s religions, so those who might see the teaching of peace as somehow politically loaded might consider their religious beliefs and look at the fundamental teachings of their respective creeds and note that peace is not some kind of liberal dogma.

Peace is at the epicenter of our ethical core.

Unfortunately, around the world, the competition for global, regional and even neighborhood power places peace on the periphery of priorities. Our nation, too, finds it difficult to act according to the ethics of peace. Instead, America has armed itself in the name of God, freedom and democracy and has made war more profitable.

It is sad to think now of the many American soldiers ... who are doing what they consider their duty, serving honorably in Iraq, and who are told they are liberators when they are the pawns of the profitable business of war.

It is sad to think that our government has invented a war without telling the truth about its reasons.

It is sad to think of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died while our government insists they are being liberated.

It is sad that to oppose war, to oppose the massive buildup of arms and to question the motives of the superpower mentality is considered unpatriotic and a sign of weakness.

Both Democrats and Republicans have contributed to building America into a massive military corporation. But under the Bush administration and due to the consequences of its war in Iraq, we have reached a point where the integrity of freedom and democracy has been put into jeopardy and risks becoming meaningless.

Fifty years ago, President Eisenhower warned of the rise of the military-industrial complex and the danger of “the disastrous rise of misplaced power.”

Will this generation lead the next toward the intellectual and spiritual courage and strength to demilitarize — not abolish the military but reduce militarism — and place power where it should be, in the unlimited resources of human potential for creation and not destruction?

Will we teach peace or continue to foster allegiance to an ideology that divides the world into the crusaders for freedom vs. the evildoers as justification for the continuation of military domination?

Whether in Sunday school or in public school, the questioning of what democracy, freedom and peace really mean has to be part of the dialogue. The questions need to be asked. If not, we fail our mission.

Thomas Biel of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a high school English teacher for the Milwaukee Public Schools. His article was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 23, 2007 and reprinted in PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2007.

(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.)

SLC mayor ‘rocks’ the DC establishment

While a modest group of Tri-Citians rallied for an hour along Columbia Center Blvd. on October 27 in solidarity with nationwide demonstrations against the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq, an estimated one thousand protesters from Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada gathered in Salt Lake City — one of eleven regional centers for the public protests coordinated by United for Peace and Justice. Following kickoff comments at the Utah State Capitol building by Iraq war veteran Chris Conway and high school junior Breanne Gratton of the Idaho Peace Coalition, the protesters marched down SLC’s State Street to a rally at City Hall. There Larry Chadwick of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, George Muller of Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veteran Against the War Jeff Key, and an Iraq War soldier’s mother, Carla Hitz of Military Families Speak Out, led off an aggregation of speakers with passionate and powerful affirmations that their patriotism was starkly opposed to the aggressive and unconstitutional war policies of the Bush administration. Ashley Bledsoe, a student leader of protests last spring at Brigham Young University against commencement speaker Vice President Dick Cheney, spoke for Mormons for Equality and Social Justice. ross_anderson.jpg (2295 bytes)

The climaxing speech was given by Salt Lake City Mayor Ross C. “Rocky” Anderson, a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, who represents a relatively liberal island in a region that still gives President Bush majority support. His pull-no-punches speech is reprinted here in its entirety.

Today, as we come together once again in this great city, we raise our voices in unison to say to President Bush, to Vice President Cheney, to other members of the Bush Administration (past and present), to a majority of Congress, including Utah’s entire congressional delegation, and to much of the mainstream media: “You have failed us miserably and we won’t take it any more.”

While we had every reason to expect far more of you, you have been pompous, greedy, cruel, and incompetent as you have led this great nation to a moral, military, and national security abyss. You have breached trust with the American people in the most egregious ways. You have utterly failed in the performance of your jobs. You have undermined our Constitution, permitted the violation of the most fundamental treaty obligations, and betrayed the rule of law.

You have engaged in, or permitted, heinous human rights abuses of the sort never before countenanced in our nation’s history as a matter of official policy. You have sent American men and women to kill and be killed on the basis of lies, on the basis of shifting justifications, without competent leadership, and without even a coherent plan for this monumental blunder.

We are here to tell you: “We won’t take it any more!”

You have acted in direct contravention of values that we, as Americans who love our country, hold dear. You have deceived us in the most cynical, outrageous ways. You have undermined, or allowed the undermining of, our constitutional system of checks and balances among the three presumed co-equal branches of government. You have helped lead our nation to the brink of fascism, of a dictatorship contemptuous of our nation’s treaty obligations, federal statutory law, our Constitution, and the rule of law.

Because of you, and because of your jingoistic false “patriotism,” our world is far more dangerous, our nation is far more despised, and the threat of terrorism is far greater than ever before.

It has been absolutely astounding how you have committed the most horrendous acts, causing such needless tragedy in the lives of millions of people, yet you wear your so-called religion on your sleeves, asserting your God-is-on-my-side nonsense, when what you have done flies in the face of any religious or humanitarian tradition. Your hypocrisy is mind-boggling — and disgraceful. What part of “Thou shalt not kill” do you not understand? What part of the “Golden rule” do you not understand? What part of “be honest,” “be responsible,” and “be accountable” don’t you understand? What part of “Blessed are the peacekeepers” do you not understand?

Because of you, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, many thousands of people have suffered horrendous lifetime injuries, and millions have been run off from their homes. For the sake of our nation, for the sake of our children, and for the sake of our brothers and sisters around the world, we are morally compelled to say, as loudly as we can, “We won’t take it any more!”

As United States agents kidnap, disappear, and torture human beings around the world, you justify, you deceive, and you cover up. We find what you have done to men, women and children, and to the good name and reputation of the United States, so appalling, so unconscionable, and so outrageous as to compel us to call upon you to step aside and allow other men and women who are competent, true to our nation’s values, and with high moral principles to stand in your places — for the good of our nation, for the good of our children, and for the good of our world.

In the case of the President and Vice President, this means impeachment and removal from office, without any further delay from a complacent, complicit Congress, the Democratic majority of which cares more about political gain in 2008 than it does about the vindication of our Constitution, the rule of law, and democratic accountability.

It means the election of people as President and Vice President who, unlike most of the presidential candidates from both major parties, have not aided and abetted in the perpetration of the illegal, tragic, devastating invasion and occupation of Iraq. And it means the election of people as President and Vice President who will commit to return our nation to the moral and strategic imperative of refraining from torturing human beings.

In the case of the majority of Congress, it means electing people who are diligent enough to learn the facts, including reading available National Intelligence Estimates, before voting to go to war. It means electing to Congress men and women who will jealously guard Congress’s sole prerogative to declare war. It means electing to Congress men and women who will not submit like vapid lap dogs to presidential requests for blank checks to engage in so-called preemptive wars, for legislation permitting warrantless wiretapping of communications involving U.S. citizens, and for dangerous, irresponsible, saber-rattling legislation like the recent Kyl-Lieberman amendment.

We must avoid the trap of focusing the blame solely upon President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. This is not just about a few people who have wronged our country — and the world. They were enabled by members of both parties in Congress, they were enabled by the pathetic mainstream news media, and, ultimately, they have been enabled by the American people — 40 percent of whom are so ill-informed they still think Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks — a people who know and care more about baseball statistics and which drunken starlets are wearing underwear than they know and care about the atrocities being committed every single day in our name by a government for which we need to take responsibility.

As loyal Americans, without regard to political partisanship — as veterans, as teachers, as religious leaders, as working men and women, as students, as professionals, as businesspeople, as public servants, as retirees, as people of all ages, races, ethnic origins, sexual orientations, and faiths — we are here to say to the Bush administration, to the majority of Congress, and to the mainstream media: “You have violated your solemn responsibilities. You have undermined our democracy, spat upon our Constitution, and engaged in outrageous, despicable acts. You have brought our nation to a point of immorality, inhumanity, and illegality of immense, tragic, unprecedented proportions.”

But we will live up to our responsibilities as citizens, as brothers and sisters of those who have suffered as a result of the imperial bullying of the United States government, and as moral actors who must take a stand: And we will, and must, mean it when we say “We won’t take it any more.”

If we want principled, courageous elected officials, we need to be principled, courageous, and tenacious ourselves. History has demonstrated that our elected officials are not the leaders — the leadership has to come from us. If we don’t insist, if we don’t persist, then we are not living up to our responsibilities as citizens in a democracy — and our responsibilities as moral human beings. If we remain silent, we signal to Congress and the Bush administration — and to candidates running for office — and to the world — that we support the status quo.

Silence is complicity. Only by standing up for what’s right and never letting down can we say we are doing our part.

Our government, on the basis of a campaign we now know was entirely fraudulent, attacked and militarily occupied a nation that posed no danger to the United States. Our government, acting in our name, has caused immense, unjustified death and destruction.

It all started five years ago, yet where have we, the American people, been? At this point, we are responsible. We get together once in a while at demonstrations and complain about Bush and Cheney, about Congress, and about the pathetic news media. We point fingers and yell a lot. Then most people politely go away until another demonstration a few months later.

How many people can honestly say they have spent as much time learning about and opposing the outrages of the Bush administration as they have spent watching sports or mindless television programs during the past five years? Escapist, time-sapping sports and insipid entertainment have indeed become the opiate of the masses.

Why is this country so sound asleep? Why do we abide what is happening to our nation, to our Constitution, to the cause of peace and international law and order? Why are we not doing all in our power to put an end to this madness?

We should be in the streets regularly and students should be raising hell on our campuses. We should be making it clear in every way possible that apologies or convoluted, disingenuous explanations just don’t cut it when presidential candidates and so many others voted to authorize George Bush and his neo-con buddies to send American men and women to attack and occupy Iraq.

Let’s awaken, and wake up the country by committing here and now to do all each of us can to take our nation back. Let them hear us across the country, as we ask others to join us: “We won’t take it any more!”

I implore you: Draw a line. Figure out exactly where your own moral breaking point is. How much will you put up with before you say “No more” and mean it?

I have drawn my line as a matter of simple personal morality: I cannot, and will not, support any candidate who has voted to fund the atrocities in Iraq. I cannot, and will not, support any candidate who will not commit to remove all U.S. troops, as soon as possible, from Iraq. I cannot, and will not, support any candidate who has supported legislation that takes us one step closer to attacking Iran. I cannot, and will not, support any candidate who has not fought to stop the kidnaping, disappearances, and torture being carried on in our name.

If we expect our nation’s elected officials to take us seriously, let us send a powerful message they cannot misunderstand. Let them know we really do have our moral breaking point. Let them know we have drawn a bright line. Let them know they cannot take our support for granted — that, regardless of their party and regardless of other political considerations, they will not have our support if they cannot provide, and have not provided, principled leadership.

The people of this nation may have been far too quiet for five years, but let us pledge that we won’t let it go on one more day — that we will do all we can to put an end to the illegalities, the moral degradation, and the disintegration of our nation’s reputation in the world.

Let us be unified in drawing the line — in declaring that we do have a moral breaking point. Let us insist, together, in supporting our troops and in gratitude for the freedoms for which our veterans gave so much, that we bring our troops home from Iraq, that we return our government to a constitutional democracy, and that we commit to honoring the fundamental principles of human rights.

In defense of our country, in defense of our Constitution, in defense of our shared values as Americans — and as moral human beings — we declare today that we will fight in every way possible to stop the insanity, stop the continued military occupation of Iraq, and stop the moral depravity reflected by the kidnaping, disappearing, and torture of people around the world.

PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2007

(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.)

Iraq ‘surge’ hides the purge

by Jim Stoffels

The military “surge” in Iraq has been an unqualified success — politically! It has completely obscured the reality of the purge — the fact that those who didn’t march in lockstep with the Bush/Cheney war of aggression in Iraq or the way it has been mismanaged have been purged from positions of authority in the government and military.

First to go was former White House chief economic adviser, Lawrence B. Lindsey, who was fired in December 2002. Mr. Lindsey asserted in September 2002 that an invasion of Iraq would cost up to $200 billion — heresy to the Bush administration, whose desired figure was “under $50 billion.” Now we’re at ten times that figure with no end in sight or even envisioned by the “war president.” The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that appropriations for the Iraq war would eventually reach $1,000 billion — or more.

Next to go was former Secretary of the Army Thomas White over the issue of troop levels needed in Iraq. The month before President Bush launched “shock and awe,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki rejected the administration’s scenario of an invasion as a “cakewalk” and told the Senate Armed Services Committee it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq. The administration was touting the figure of one hundred thousand troops. For publicly expressing his agreement with Gen. Shinseki, Secretary White was fired two months later.

After leaving the Pentagon, Mr. White said, “It’s almost a question of people not wanting to ‘fess up to the notion that we will be there a long time and they might have to set up a rotation and sustain it for the long term.”

That was over four years ago.

Two years ago, in June 2005, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged the Iraqi insurgency that followed “Mission Accomplished” could go on “for any number of years,” from five to a dozen. At the very same time, Vice President Dick Cheney trumpeted that the insurgency was “in the last throes,” and predicted that the fighting will end before the Bush administration leaves office. When President Bush addressed the nation on Sept. 13, he stated: “Success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency.”

Early this year, President Bush purged senior military and intelligence officials who opposed wider wars in the Middle East. He ousted Gen. John Abizaid, Commander of U.S. Central Command overseeing Iraq, who strenuously opposed a military escalation there. The Joint Chiefs of Staff themselves were reportedly in unanimous disagreement with the administration over a troop surge because the White House did not have a defined mission to reverse the steadily deteriorating conditions in Iraq.

President Bush also removed Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who upheld intelligence estimates downplaying a near-term threat from Iran’s nuclear program. Whatever Iran’s intent, Negroponte said U.S. intelligence analysts do not believe Iran could produce a nuclear weapon until the next decade. Negroponte’s assessment in April 2006 infuriated neoconservative hardliners who wanted a worst-case scenario on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, much as they pressed for an alarmist view on Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. invasion.

No wonder those who pay attention to the actions of the administration aren’t duped by the contrary rhetoric and didn’t fawn over the recent congressional testimony of General David Petraeus. As a letter writer to The New York Times observed: “To pretend that Gen. David H. Petraeus, having been in close and frequent contact with his boss for many months, submitted to Congress and America an independent and dispassionate evaluation of the best course for America in Iraq, which the president then ‘accepted,’ is no more than a disgraceful dog-and-pony show.”

Those paying the highest price for the show — besides the Iraqis — are our dedicated troops on the ground. The one milestone we are on target to reach in Iraq is 5,000 U.S. troops dead by the time President Bush leaves office.

Jim Stoffels, Richland, is a retired physicist and chairman of World Citizens for Peace. This article was published in the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald on September 23, 2007.

Whose finger is on the button?

by Gene Weisskopf, Vice Chairman

Over the past million years or so, we humans have revealed many underlying laws and mechanisms of the universe we live in. Some discoveries might seem mundane, such as the lever or the wheel, while others are more breathtaking, such as fire or the laws of gravity. All of them, though, were acquired in basically the same way—first through awareness, followed by understanding, and then by the ability to replicate, as in the case of fire, or utilize, as with the wheel or the laws of gravity. All of these discoveries were just waiting to be found.

One of our most astounding discoveries is also one of the oldest, at least in terms of our first awareness of it—the sun. It was our earliest source of warmth when “home” was a dank, chilly cave, and has been the sole source of all the energy we have ever used, whether it be from wood, coal, oil, wind, falling water, and all the rest. All of that energy derives from the solar radiation that has fallen on this planet.

All types of energy, that is, up until the early 1940s. By then, humans had become aware of how the sun actually generated heat and light (it doesn’t burn coal or oil!), and understood the processes that seemed to control it. Then, in 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, humans for the first time tapped into the energy source that generates virtually all the heat and light in the universe—nuclear energy. The sun had been staring us in the face since our beginnings on Earth, but it was only 65 years ago that we were finally able to utilize its energy source. Compared to our “taming” of fire, our taming of nuclear energy is a miracle beyond compare—tapping into the energy that fuels the universe versus burning a log.

With that accomplishment, however, comes the 30-volume philosophical discussion that arises with every new discovery, be it fire, the wheel, or nuclear energy—how do we make use of it? Sad to say, but virtually every beneficent discovery has also been used to harm and destroy. In the case of nuclear energy, the first utilization was not to produce electricity or cure cancer, but to create a weapon vastly beyond our imagination that destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Granted, the people who first used nuclear energy in that destruction did so for what seemed like benevolent purposes, but that’s part of the 30-volume discussion. The key issue hinges on the way nuclear weapons quickly became institutionalized after their first use in 1945. Back then, a propeller-driven airplane was lucky to deliver one “small” bomb to its target. A few decades later, the world had tens of thousands of very much larger weapons that could be delivered by missiles to any point on the planet in a matter of minutes. As all of us knew all too well, a world-threatening nuclear war could be instigated with “the push of a button.”

The grand discussion boils down to one simple question: whose finger is on that button? Who among us has the requisite clear and flawless understanding of the possible consequences of a nuclear war? Who has the moral authority to involve humanity in such a war? Who is so all-knowing that they can raise their finger over that button? Or perhaps we should ask the opposite question: Who among us is so mad or deranged that they can consider an all-out nuclear war as a viable option? The idea that a society can base their defense on such weapons is perhaps the very height of human hubris. . .and folly. If you need a recent, albeit relatively small example of such hubris and folly, look no further than the Iraq war.

So let us not be afraid to celebrate the discovery of nuclear energy, knowing that it is just one more revealed miracle of our universe. But before we brazenly use our discovery to send us back to the dank caves of our distant past, let us first consider if there is any person among us who is truly qualified to hover their finger over the button.

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2007

Dysfunctional Democracy

by Gene Weisskopf, Vice Chairman

While the United States continues its perverted fantasy of making Iraq into a flowering democracy, I’m having ever more grave doubts about our own democracy here at home. The war on Iraq has become a textbook example of how the citizens of a nation can be manipulated into nodding their collective heads and allowing their political leaders to go off on a course of action that would never have been approved had all the cards been on the table. I’m not only talking about the permission Congress gave to our alleged president in 2002 to invade Iraq. The manipulation, smoke, and mirrors have gone on for a full five years, when you include the incessant, drum-beating propaganda that led to the invasion.

The bottom line is that a democracy is not just people voting for political representatives. Those voters must be informed or their vote has little value. There must be a free flow of information to the voters and each voter must take on the democratic responsibility of paying at least some attention to that information. Informed citizens make for a well-founded government. If citizens ignore the world around them or learn about it only through a pinhole (such as their local evening television news) or a funhouse hall of mirrors (Fox “news”), the government they elect will be just as ignorant.

With our failing democracy in mind, I took the time to fire off yet another letter to our federal representatives. Shown below is the version I sent to our head-nodding Congressman. I urge you to take pen or computer in hand, both to get your thoughts off your chest and also to register a small blip on the federal radar screens.

Stop this obscene war now

Dear Representative Hastings,

Are we Americans naïve? Power hungry? Overly patriotic? Or just plain stupid? The war in Iraq has been going on for more than four years, and the country is still twiddling its collective thumbs, waiting to see if the tide will turn in the next [__] months (fill in the blank).

This war is a national obscenity that must be stopped now. I can barely begin to describe my revulsion, disgust, and outright horror at what we have brought onto the Iraqi people, the countries in that region, and the world in general. And, of course, what we have brought on ourselves and generations to come.

That we now seem to be waiting yet another [__] months to see what effect “the surge” will have on the war is utterly insane. In fact, our behavior in this war might be a textbook definition of insanity, in that we’ve been living in a false reality while continuing to make judgments and decisions based on that lie. It’s time to stop this national psychosis, and hope that there is any national “soul” left to redeem.

I seriously doubt that our current commander in chief and his administration are going to work with Congress to find a viable solution to this god-awful national nightmare. He and his administration are the problem—a very big problem. You once voted to impeach a standing president. This time you would have my complete support if you were to vote to impeach our current president.

Sincerely, and with a sizeable amount of anguish,

Gene Weisskopf

PeaceMeal, May/June 2007

len_pitts.jpg (2431 bytes)King’s dream is a summons to act, not just to hope

by Leonard Pitts Jr.

And so Dream season rolls round again. That’s Dream, of course, as in “I Have A ....” We celebrate Martin Luther King Day, which means schoolchildren dutifully reciting the great 1963 oration, television news dutifully replaying the grainy black-and-white footage — and many people dutifully missing the point. At least, that’s how it often seems to me.

In some ways, King is a victim of his own success. The controversial ideals he championed and for which he was killed — voting rights for all, access for all, liberty and justice for all — have become accepted to a degree he would have found difficult to believe. The march he led, the one that troubled the president and riled the conservatives, has become revered as one of the signature moments of the American experience. And as a result, that speech he gave, that tough-minded recitation of American wrongs, that preacherly prophecy of American redemption, has become a Hallmark card, elevator Muzak, bland cliché.

I have a dream, the schoolchildren say. I have a dream, the news-casts say. I have a dream, the people say. I have a dream. A dream. A dream. They wax eloquent about the dreamer and the dream and, listening, you find yourself wondering if they realize that it was much more than a dream. That it was not, in other words, some airy-fairy castle in the sky to be reached by dint of hoping and wishing, but a noble place to which the nation might lift itself if people were willing to sacrifice and work. Nor did King counsel endless patience in expectation of that goal.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot,” he said, standing at Lincoln’s doorstep, “to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.” Over and over, he said it: “Now is the time. Now is the time.”

None of which is to demean “I Have A Dream.” To my mind, King’s speech trails only Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg on the list of the greatest public utterances in American history. But it seems to me that this most revered of speeches is also one of the least understood.

You see, King spoke to an audience that had been working for civil rights — not just dreaming. They were an audience of marchers and sit-in organizers, of boycotters and committers of civil disobedience. “I am not unmindful,” he said, “that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells.” Because these were people who had laid their bodies, their freedom, their time, their treasure, their very lives on the line for a cause they believed in.

I think of them when I am asked by young people, as I often am, “What can I do?” about the war in Iraq, or the encroachment of civil rights, or the genocide in Darfur, or the continuing intransigence of racism. They hate these things, they say, but feel helpless to respond. “What can I do?”

It always amazes me that people who command technology their forebears could not have imagined can feel so powerless after those forebears, armed with little more than telephones and mimeograph machines, went out and changed the world.

“What can I do?” I tell them to start by realizing that they can do. When did we become so narcotized, so benumbed and bereft, as to forget that? As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

That is one of the most enduring lessons of Martin Luther King’s life and career. One hopes that lesson is not lost on all the people quoting his most famous speech.

It is a fine and noble thing to have a dream. But having a dream is no excuse for accepting an onerous status quo and waiting passively on “someday” to make things right. A dream is not an excuse. It’s a responsibility.

And now is still the time.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald, where this article appeared on 15 January 2007.

(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.)

‘Surge’ won’t work

President Bush’s “surge” strategy for dealing with the horror in Iraq — to quell the violence by increasing the violence — does not address the underlying causes of the anti-American insurgency, which has not abated, nor the bloody sectarian civil war.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who previously advised President Bush that “victory” was the only way to exit Iraq, recently asserted that the much more limited goal now is to prevent the emergence of a “fundamentalist jihadist regime” in the country. Mr. Kissinger added, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that what we’re seeing now would be an odd appearance for a victory.”

And Reagan administration official Kenneth Adelman, who as a member of the Defense Policy Board infamously predicted that the U.S. invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk,” now holds Mr. Bush “ultimately responsible” for “the debacle that was Iraq.”

Sadly, the cakewalk has turned into a death march and escalation is doomed. President Bush’s inability to see the writing on the wall, written in the blood of so many, will prolong what is already an epic tragedy.

Would we give up if some foreign power occupied the United States for four years?

Jim Stoffels, Chairman
World Citizens for Peace

The above letter was published in the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald on 2 February 2007.

Bipartisan butchery

With 3,000 American troops sacrificed, tens of thousands maimed for life and mentally traumatized, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed and more than a million of them refugees fleeing the horror, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, comfortably ensconced in Washington DC, recently pontificated that the carnage is “worth the investment.”

I wonder if the Islamic mothers in the refugee camps in Syria and Jordan, who resort to prostitution to feed their children, would agree. Or the Iraqi police official who said to American soldiers last April: “I just wish you could put this country back to the way you found it.”

Secretary Rice’s statement echoes that of her Democratic predecessor, Madeleine Albright. After the United Nations reported in 1996 that the U.S.-led economic siege of Iraq was directly responsible for the deaths of more than one million Iraqis — more than half-a-million of them children — Secretary Albright stated on 60 Minutes: “We think the price is worth it.”

It’s hard to fathom such utter emotional detachment from an epic tragedy for which one shares responsibility. What kind of value system makes the bipartisan butchery “worth it”?

Jim Stoffels, Chairman
World Citizens for Peace

The above letter was published in the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald on 5 January 2007

Iraq burns, we shop

Americans are shopping while Iraq burns. The competing television news images on the morning after Thanksgiving were of the unspeakable carnage in Baghdad — where more than 200 Iraqi civilians were killed by a series of coordinated car bombs — and the long lines of cars filled with holiday shopping zealots that jammed the highway approaches to American malls.

There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was started by the United States, but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of personal responsibility for it.

With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans are indifferent to its consequences. This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities resulting from a war being waged in their name. While shoppers here are scrambling to put the perfect touch to their holidays with the purchase of a giant flat-screen TV or a PlayStation 3, the news out of Baghdad is of a society in the midst of a meltdown — with more than 7,000 Iraqi civilians killed in September and October alone.

The American troops dying in Iraq are barely mentioned in the press anymore. They warrant maybe one sentence in a long roundup article out of Baghdad, or a passing reference — no longer than a few seconds — in a television news account.

The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war.

The soldiers in Iraq are fighting, suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support. They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the malls and shop.

~ Bob Herbert, op-ed columnist, edited from The New York Times, 27 Nov. 2006
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 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.)

‘Islamo-Fascism’ misleading

Words and labels matter. As a member of a Christian church, I would be insulted if someone labeled me a Christiano-Fascist because of the actions of Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City.

Likewise, I imagine the millions of Muslims around the world are insulted by the term Islamo-Fascist — a term coined by the Bush administration. Presumably, the administration created the term as a way of instilling fear in Americans, justifying the loss of civil liberties, and justifying torture of prisoners.

Are Middle-Eastern terrorists really fascists? Look up the term “fascism” in an encyclopedia and you will find that fascists claimed to be the champions of law, order, Christian morality, the sanctity of property, and the rights of the upper classes against the masses.

Parliamentary democracy was belittled in favor of an authoritarian ruler. Other characteristics of fascism are extreme nationalism, disdain for human rights, identifying enemies to create patriotic frenzy, control of the media, obsession with national security, linking of government and religion, and protection of corporate privilege.

I suggest the Bush administration drop the term Islamo-Fascist before people start comparing the true definition of fascism with the actions and beliefs they themselves are promoting.

Paul L. Reeder
Richland, Wash.

The above letter was published in the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald on 9 November 2006

jim_stoffels.jpg (4037 bytes)Moral America

by Jim Stoffels, chairman & editor

Thousands of years ago, the question was asked: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The differing answers to that question today continue a fundamental conflict of values among those who answer “yes,” “no,” or “sometimes.” That conflict is very evident in the political arena, where part of the discussion revolves around the appropriate role of government in addressing the ills of society. In determining its answer to the ancient question, the corporate conscience of a nation is a product of all the individual consciences, which vary in their stage of development. And just as the individual conscience does battle with our lower instincts, such as the love of money, so does the conscience of a nation.

Slavery, for example, was practiced from the founding of our country because of its monetary returns — notwithstanding the declaration that all persons are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights. That shameful practice was outlawed in Great Britain 31 years before it was outlawed in the United States. Today we similarly lag most of the world in abolishing capital punishment.

Our democratic system of government exists for the people, not vice versa. Ideally at least, our government functions to secure the rights and well-being of all the people: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The United States of America was constituted specifically to “establish Justice” and “promote the general Welfare.” The sacred documents of our country loudly proclaim that the business of government is people.

 Through the more than two centuries that our country has developed and the population has grown, the affairs of society have become increasingly complex, generating greater demand for government regulation to promote efficient functioning. There was a time in our history, for example, when fire protection was not a government function but a private subscription service. Today we consider fire protection of life and property one of the essential roles of local government.

Differing viewpoints on the role of government were highlighted in two recent op-ed columns in the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald: “This country needs to take part in a religious debate” by Bob Parazin and “Social ills our responsibility, not the government’s” by Maria St. Hilaire.

Mr. Parazin champions broadening the spectrum of issues in the national political fora that are considered “moral” or “religious” to include poverty, corporate ethics, domestic violence and war. Ms. St. Hilaire, on the other hand, favors the existing limited range of such issues — abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research, contends that government should not address social problems, and particularly targets “our elephantine social bureaucracy.”

“Bureaucracy” is a legitimate issue in itself, but one distinctly separate from “values.” The values of our country, encoded in its laws, are implemented by the rules established for departments (that is, bureaucracies) of the government to carry out. One could equally take aim at the gargantuan military bureaucracy, which has 700,000 civilian employees — ten times that of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Pentagon itself is still the largest-capacity office building in the world, housing some 26,000 workers.

Where Ms. St. Hilaire does go astray is by assigning Mr. Parazin’s moral issues to works of charity, whereas they are truly issues of justice. Wife and child beating, for example, may have been taboo subjects hidden behind closed doors several generations ago, but today domestic violence is appropriately within the purview of our criminal justice system.

Moreover, “Justice”combined with “the general Welfare” is not limited to criminal justice, but includes civil justice, social justice, economic justice, etc. And beyond justice, even the president gives at least lip service to compassion.

I share Ms. St. Hilaire’s frustration that “voters have no power to stop practices they vehemently disagree with” in the way departments of government carry out policy. The torture and indefinite detention of prisoners is a current example that comes to mind.

In this regard, it is also important to recognize that the government structures we establish through law can further the cause of justice or thwart it. The executive branch, likewise, possesses great power to thwart the legislated will of the people.

There can be no “last word” in the developing conscience of our nation. Perhaps the first word was that of George Washington, who once posed the question: “Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity [i.e., well-being] of a nation with its virtue?”

Jim Stoffels is a retired physicist and former member of the Richland, Washington, City Council. His article is reprinted from PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2006.