Obama: peace president or war president?

stoffels_jim_04.jpg (9687 bytes)Jim Stoffels, Chairman and Editor

A pre-emptive Nobel Peace Prize wasn’t enough to overcome U.S. militarism in shaping President Barack Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. In an address to the nation the evening of December 1 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Mr. Obama laid out his plan to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total there to 100,000 soldiers and marines. With the first contingent to be sent within weeks, he served notice that he would begin withdrawing troops in 18 months — July 2011, but added the open-ended caveat, depending on “conditions on the ground.”

During his campaign for the presidency, Mr. Obama had stated that, if elected, he would deploy additional troops to Afghanistan. Now as president, he prepared for his decision with a three-month review of the war effort in Afghanistan that considered a variety of options for how to roll back the Taliban, disrupt and defeat al Qaeda, and turn the war over as quickly as possible to Afghan security forces. Is he now asking one of those 30,000 troops to be the last to die for a tragic mistake?

Barack Obama may not want to be a war president, but he has now made Afghanistan his war. To be fair, he inherited the awful mess there that was not of his making. However, I dispute the basic premise he reiterated in his speech — that we were “compelled” to fight a war in Afghanistan because of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the aftermath of those horrific suicide attacks that killed 2,976 victims, war was an easy sell. And we Americans bought into the fallacy that we can combat terrorism with military action.

On Oct. 7, 2001, President George W. Bush launched a so-called “war” on terrorism by invading Afghanistan to get al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden. But al Qaeda is not a nation state with an army. It is an international criminal organization — like the Mafia, with small cells in countries around the world. Fighting al Qaeda — like fighting the Mafia — requires police action, not military action. And that is how countries in Europe are fighting al Qaeda to achieve national security — with their police and the help of Interpol.

We can no more fight a “war” on terrorism with military action than we can a “war” on drugs or a “war” on poverty. The term “war” is only metaphorical. That’s why our troops have been in Afghanistan for eight years and haven’t gotten anywhere — because we’re using the wrong tool to fight the enemy and inciting an insurgent reaction in the process.

In September, the first official of the Obama administration resigned in protest over our war in Afghanistan. Matthew Hoh, 36, a former Marine captain and combat veteran of Iraq, joined the State Department early this year to help with development efforts in Afghanistan. But in short order, he concluded that our military action there is only fueling the insurgency — which is a no-brainer because, in Iraq, our generals reached that same conclusion. The sad thing is it took them 3 or 4 years, an equal number of thousands of U.S. troop deaths, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths to realize it.

The most recent development is that Afghanistan’s corrupt president, Hamid Karzai, the darling of the Bush administration, just succeeded in stealing re-election by stuffing the ballot boxes. Now we learn, according to U.S. officials, that President Karzai’s brother Wali Ahmed Karzai has been on the CIA payroll for eight years and is believed to be involved in the booming opium trade.

It has long been recognized that President Karzai does not govern his country. Outside of the capital city, Kabul, Afghanistan is a country of local tribal governments. And it is in many of those local tribal areas that we have lost the war for the hearts and minds of the people by our invasion and eight years of destruction, killing and occupation.

But Karzai’s influence in the United States has been much greater — his ability to influence U.S. policy in the Congress and the administration, to keep flowing the billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars that enrich him and others in a systemically corrupt government.

We can’t recreate Afghanistan in our own image.

Furthermore, it is important to recognize that the Taliban is not al Qaeda. The Taliban have no international terrorist goals, but they do have two distinct targets. The first is the U.S. military as a foreign invading force provoking nationalist resistance. What would we do if some foreign power invaded our country? Roll over and play dead?

The second target is the systemically corrupt, U.S.-backed Karzai government, which is rejected by many of the Afghan people because it has done nothing for them. That conflict is an internal civil war.

Life under the Taliban was oppressive by our standards — especially for women, but at least the people had peace and security in their own homes. The hundreds of thousands now living in plastic tents in displaced persons camps because we’ve destroyed their homes, they and their children living without adequate food, clothing and clean water, are now asking — as did the people in Iraq — for things to be put back the way they were before we invaded.

We cannot abruptly pull our troops out and leave a power vacuum that would result in chaos. A transition period is necessary to negotiate power-sharing agreements with the “good” Taliban members — those we funded and armed in the 1980s who are not allied with al Qaeda — in order to bring an end to this destructive war and occupation that has already gone on for far too long. But President Obama, while acknowledging that the United States is faced with terrible problems here at home, has chosen to spill more blood and red ink on intensified combat in Afghanistan.

Given the tenor of opposition-party animosity, politics certainly played a role in his decision. As Bob Herbert of the New York Times opined: “It would have been much more difficult for Mr. Obama to look this troubled nation in the eye and explain why it is in our best interest to begin winding down the permanent state of warfare left to us by the Bush and Cheney regime. ... It would have left Mr. Obama vulnerable to the charge of being weak, of cutting and running, of betraying the troops who have already served. The Republicans would have a field day with that scenario.”

Indeed, during congressional hearings that began the day after his speech to the nation, both Republicans and Democrats fired volleys at Mr. Obama’s strategy. Congress must be sufficiently satisfied with the strategy to approve an additional $30 billion that the escalation is expected to cost the first year.

It will take a miracle for President Obama’s way forward in Afghanistan to succeed. I believe in miracles — like the toppling of the Berlin Wall and demise of the Soviet Union — and pray for one here. It was, perhaps, too much to expect that the commander-in-chief would join us in saying, “We can’t make peace by making war.”

As things stand, I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would repeat his Vietnam-era denunciation of the United States government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

– PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2009

A shortened version of this article was published in the Tri-City Herald, March 7, 2010.

U.S. House turns a blind eye to U.N. report on Gaza war crimes

Jim Stoffels, Chairman and Editor

The U.S. House of Representatives on November 3 slammed a report by a special U.N. investigator alleging war crimes in Israel’s invasion of the Palestinian’s Gaza territory last December. By a vote of 344-36, House members passed a resolution that calls the report “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.” The non-binding measure also urges President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “strongly and unequivocally oppose” any discussion of the report or action on its findings in any international setting.

The Goldstone report, named after former South African judge Richard Goldstone who headed the inquiry committee, accuses both Israel and Hamas militants of war crimes during the battle that began in late December 2008 and ended in January. Goldstone was once the lead war crimes prosecutor for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

In what amounts to a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” defense of Israel, the House action summarily dismissed the 575-page report without examining the extensive testimony and evidence it contains.

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, without offering any facts, said, “I think the U.N. report is unbalanced and unfair and inaccurate.” But Democratic Representative Brian Baird of Washington, one of the minority who voted against the resolution, countered, “I have been to Gaza and I have read in its entirety the Goldstone report and I will tell you he says many things that, though unpleasant, are true and must not be obstructed.”

Baird reinforced his speech against the resolution with photographs of dead Palestinian children and Israeli children seeking shelter during a suspected Palestinian rocket attack.

Armed with American-made F-16s, Apache helicopters, tanks and bulldozers, Israel launched a blistering offensive in Gaza in retaliation for Palestinian militants firing thousands of homemade, unguided rockets into southern Israel over an eight-year period. The Israeli assault destroyed some 5,000 homes, as well as government ministries, police stations, courts, prisons, mosques and a university. The 22-day war left 13 Israelis dead and some 1,400 Palestinians.

Israel had tried to discredit the U.N. fact-finding mission from the start and refused to allow the investigators into the country. The U.N. Human Rights Council then paid for Israeli witnesses and Israeli victims to give testimony in Geneva.

The Goldstone report charged that, in 11 cases, the Israeli military carried out direct attacks against Palestinian civilians, including some in which civilians were shot “while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags.” In another case, the report said the destruction of a house in which nearly two dozen relatives died, appeared to be “the result of deliberate demolition and not of combat.”

The report cited other possible crimes by the Israelis, including “wantonly” destroying food production, water and sewage facilities and using Palestinians as human shields.

On the Palestinian side, the report said that firing rockets that either deliberately were aimed at Israeli civilians or were so inaccurate as to risk hitting civilians caused widespread psychological trauma and constituted a war crime. It found limited evidence that Palestinian fighters had deliberately used civilians as human shields.

The report also singled out Palestinian actions within Gaza, including killings and other abuse — not of Israelis but of members of the rival Fatah political movement, as a “serious violation of human rights.”

The Goldstone report corroborates a report released in July by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli army reservists critical of their country’s treatment of Palestinians, that includes the accounts of 26 veterans of the Gaza war, alleging that they used overwhelming firepower that caused needless deaths and destruction and used Palestinians as human shields. They described demolishing buildings, vandalizing homes, and using firepower that was “insane,” given the relatively light resistance they encountered.

The Israeli military responded that the accounts were anonymous and impossible to verify. Breaking the Silence said it decided to protect the identity of the soldiers, noting that many are still in the military and could face punishment for speaking out.

Judge Goldstone, who is Jewish himself, recommended that Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, face possible prosecution in the International Criminal Court if they fail to conduct credible investigations of the U.N. charges within six months.

On breaches of the Geneva Conventions as grave as those alleged in the reports, any nation that has agreed to the conventions has jurisdiction to investigate the crimes in their national courts. The Goldstone report recommends that those nations do so, setting up a possible situation of cases being brought against Israeli citizens elsewhere.

The U.N. Human Rights Council voted October 16 to endorse the Goldstone report and refer it to the Security Council. The report also received support from a group of nine Israeli human rights organizations, who said in a joint statement that they had recently written to Israel’s attorney general to demand that he establish an independent body to investigate the military’s activities in Gaza, but that he rejected their request.

Both the Obama administration and the Israeli government have warned that pursuing the U.N. report would undermine the prospects for peace talks with the Palestinians. But Sarah Leah Whitson, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch, said, “Instead of denouncing the report, the U.S. Congress should urge Israel and Hamas to break the cycle of abuse and impunity, which for too long has fueled hatred and hindered efforts at peace.”

The above op-ed was published in the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald, November 15, 2009, and in PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2009.

Galileo put us in our place

Jeffrey Bennett

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the year Galileo turned his first crude telescope to the heavens. Through it, he observed spots on the sun and shadow patterns proving that the moon had mountains and valleys. These visible “imperfections” helped overturn thousands of years of traditional belief that everything in the heavens must be smooth, perfect and unchanging.

Galileo also watched Venus over many months, observing phases that proved it was actually orbiting the sun and not, as had previously been believed, orbiting Earth. He observed Jupiter night after night, discovering that it was always accompanied by four “stars” that clearly orbited the planet. We now know these “stars” to be Jupiter’s four largest moons, and their existence offered definitive proof that Earth was not the center of everything.

The revolution was not Galileo’s alone. The idea was actually an ancient one, and other scientists had embraced it along the way. But it took him and the telescope he built to prove the truth to the masses: Earth is not the center of the universe.

Revolutionary change is never easy. Clear as the case may seem to us now, many of Galileo’s contemporaries put up fierce resistance. Some refused his invitations to look through the telescope for fear of what they would see. The pope summoned Galileo to Rome, where an inquisition found him “vehemently suspect of heresy.” He lived the rest of his life under house arrest.

Time and the passage of generations gradually weakened resistance to Galileo’s observations, and new discoveries strengthened his case. Today, we know not only that Earth is a planet orbiting the sun, but that our sun is just one among more than 100 billion stars orbiting in the vast Milky Way galaxy, and that our galaxy, in turn, is only one of about 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. In total, there are as many stars in the universe — and very likely, as many planets — as there are grains of sand on all the beaches on Earth combined.

The United Nations has declared 2009 the International Year of Astronomy, hoping to provide millions of people with the opportunity to learn more about the universe and about the discoveries of Galileo and others. This is a good thing. But astronomy is not just about science, and Galileo’s revolution was not just about knowing Earth’s physical place in the universe. It also was about human perspective — our cosmic perspective — and about how we should understand our place and purpose in the universe.

One need not be religious to see that a cosmic perspective gives some universal meaning to our lives. We may be only a tiny part of a vast universe, but we are here, and as a species, we have accomplished great things. We have created staggeringly beautiful works of art and music, we have performed acts of love and generosity that make even the most cynical among us quake with emotion, and we have developed mathematics and science that have enabled us to learn our place in the universe.

These are achievements of consequence. But the cosmic perspective also should teach us some humility, because the central lesson of Galileo’s discoveries is that we humans are no more central to the universe than our planet or star. Future generations and alien civilizations may enjoy our human creations, but no one will come running to our rescue if we choose to destroy rather than to create.

Sadly, this lesson in humility seems not to have taken hold, despite the 400 years we have had to absorb it. Nearly everyone is now aware that we are not the center of the universe. But emotionally and behaviorally, our species still acts as though the whole of creation somehow revolves around each of us personally. How else can we explain tyrants and dictators? Or religious fanatics who believe that their God actually wants them to kill those who think differently?

And before you let yourself off the hook, ask yourself honestly if you don’t at least sometimes think that those who are poorer, sicker or otherwise less fortunate than you are also somehow a bit less central to the universe than you are.

As we think about science during the International Year of Astronomy, let’s also show that we can finally absorb the lesson that we are not the center of the universe. This year, try extending a little more kindness to your fellow human beings, in recognition that we are all equally important. Try to demonstrate an understanding of the fact that we all share the same small planet by taking a better care of it. And perhaps most important, especially as we confront a time of crisis both for the economy and for international peace and security, remember that we must create our own legacy.

We can continue to act as though we are the center of the universe, but in that case we will suffer the consequences of our ignorance. Or we can develop a true cosmic perspective and set our civilization on a course to a better future for all.

Galileo once said, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.” In this 400th anniversary year of Galileo’s greatest discoveries, let’s hope that we can finally find their meaning within ourselves.

Jeffrey Bennett is an astrophysicist and author of books including “Beyond UFOs.” and the children’s book “Max Goes to Jupiter.” His article is edited from the Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2009.

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2009

(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.)

Separation of church and state

Joan Chittister

The notion of “separation of church and state” has been used repeatedly to justify the silence of churches in the face of evil. “When I go to church, I don’t want to hear about politics,” people say. “I want to hear about religion.” And so the separation of church and state becomes the separation of religion and life. What was intended by the early shapers of the U.S. political culture to guard the country against the imposition of any single state religion so that all religions could function freely has become a gag order on the human soul. Religion has become a social club to which people go for the sake of personal satisfaction rather than a public struggle to find the Good and walk in it.

It is no longer acceptable in this country, consequently, for the prophet to call the conscience of the king. We live in a country, as a result, where multiple theories of finance and business and profit and social theory are all admissible concerns in the debate on public policy, but where the notion that an action should be questioned, let alone rejected, because it may harm the social order or principles of human decency is met with both embarrassment and resistance.

We have not been able, therefore, to raise the question in Congress of whether or not a nuclear force with first-strike capability is a position we can tolerate morally.

We have not been able to discuss whether homelessness is a social sin or a personal failure.

We have not bothered to wonder whether the care of the elderly in this country even approximates the mandate to “honor your father and your mother.”

What we discuss is how our national actions will or will not make us Number One, not whether it is conscionable to even think of being Number One in a world where starvation has become a national reality around the globe.

The concept of separation of church and state was clearly never meant to suppress human morality. On the contrary, it was obviously meant to unleash it, from all sectors, in all places, at all levels, so that truth could be heard and truth rather than expedience served. To raise a voice now, however, in search of transcendent truth invites letters that call you a traitor to the country and a pariah on its rights.

Joan Chittister is a Benedictine nun and author on spirituality in Erie PA. The article, from her regular column, Ideas in Passing, www.benetvision.org, August 18, 2008, was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2009.

(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.)

Nationalism is blind

Sydney Harris

Most people fail to understand the difference between “patriotism” and “nationalism.” Patriotism is wanting what is best for your country. Nationalism is thinking your country is best, no matter what it does.

Patriotism means asking your country to conform to the highest laws of man’s nature, to the eternal standards of justice and equality. Nationalism means supporting your country even when it violates these eternal standards.

Patriotism means going underground if you have to, as the anti-Nazis in Germany did, and working for the overthrow of your government when it becomes evil and inhuman and incapable of reform. Nationalism means “going along” with a Hitler or a Stalin or any other tyrant who waves the flag, mouths obscene devotion to the Fatherland, and meanwhile tramples the rights of people.

Patriotism is a form of faith. Nationalism is a form of superstition, of fanaticism, of idolatry.

Patriotism would like every country to become like ours, in its best aspects. Nationalism despises other countries as incapable of becoming like ours.

Just as we fail to understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism, so many people fail to understand what “Americanism” rea1ly consists of.

“Americanism” was something utterly new in the world when it was conceived by our founding fathers. It was not just another form of nationalism. Indeed, it was a repudiation of all the then-existing nationalisms.

It was conceived as a form of government unrestricted to one geographical place or one kind of people. It was open to all men everywhere — no matter where they were born or came from. In this respect, it was utterly unique. Its patriotism was potentially worldwide.

The word “Americanism” must not be narrowed or flattened or coarsened to apply to one flag, one people, one government. In its highest, original sense, it asks that all men become patriots to an idea, not to a particular country or government. And this idea is self-government by all men, who are regarded as equals in the law.

This is why American patriotism — properly understood — is the best patriotism in the world, because it is for all the world, and not just for us. To confuse it with nationalism, to use it for ugly purposes, is to betray the dream of those who made it come true.

Sydney J. Harris (1917–1986), was an American journalist for the Chicago Daily News and later the Chicago Sun-Times. His column, “Strictly Personal,” was syndicated in many newspapers throughout the United States and Canada. His work landed him on the master list of Nixon political enemies. This column appeared in the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald, September 18, 1970, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2008.

(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.)

How to discuss politics nonviolently

With the 2008 presidential election campaign in full swing, candidates left and right are touting their originality, leadership credentials and the vision of their respective parties. It is also an opportunity for us to make our voices heard. Political dialogue is crucial to the health of our democracy, so we should embrace, rather than shun, the conversations and debates we share with family and friends. In this day and age, though, political differences seem to be at a high water mark, and our courage to engage in political dialogue may have dwindled to a level of meekness that does us all a disservice. If we keep silent, the loudest and often most ignorant voices will hold sway. There are ways to discuss politics without the conversation dissolving into petty, mean-spirited bickering. Here are some suggestions to keep the discussion constructive:

1. Be informed. When we discuss politics without actually knowing what we’re talking about, we run the risk of irritating the informed and misinforming others. Entire campaigns of misinformation exist nowadays, and they don’t need our help to spread falsehood and hyperbole. We owe it to ourselves and our nation to keep factually informed so we can responsibly discuss the political issues of the day. So, don’t rely on just one news source. Question all of them.

2. Be civil. Armed with current knowledge of politics, political discussions can rapidly degenerate into anger and bitterness that, once expressed, is hard to forget. The potential for hurt feelings and “making a scene” is why many people accept the old rule that politics is a taboo subject in social settings. But whether you’re talking to your family at the dinner table, a fellow guest at a social function, or a co-worker in the lunchroom, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t engage in political discourse. In fact, as citizens, we enrich one another and gain deeper understanding by talking politics. The key is to do it with civility and respect for all involved. No matter how passionately we may disagree, it’s important to keep the debate civil and friendly, always closer to laughter than to yelling and tears. So:

* Don’t raise your voice.

* Don’t interrupt; respect others enough that you allow them to speak.

* Don’t be arrogant; there are multiple sides to every issue.

3. Don't get personal. The discussion should never veer into the personal realm. If you’re talking with a wealthier person about tax cuts for the wealthy, for example, bringing up that person’s wealth doesn’t strengthen any political argument you have. It can potentially cause hurt feelings and ugliness.

 On the other side of the coin, political vitriol often results from our own tendencies to identify so strongly with certain political positions that we react to disagreement as a personal attack on us. We must resist that erroneous impulse.

4. Children hate condescension. If you want to encourage your children’s interest in politics, don’t be condescending. If you treat your children like ignoramuses, they may never want to discuss politics again. They may be so turned off that they never make an effort to be politically informed.

5. Children also dislike argument. Don’t let political discussions with your spouse turn into arguments. Your children will come to associate politics with yelling and bad feelings. Don’t be the one to cause them to have such negative associations!

6. The final reason to be well-behaved? You stand a much better chance of being heard and getting your point across if you are as polite and civil as possible. “Politics” and “polite” don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We should all talk politics, but always with civility and respect.

  – edited from www.howtodothings.com
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2008

(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.)

Bush, U.S. troops stuck in the sand

Jim Stoffels

Tri-City (Wash.) Herald, Sunday, April 27, 2008

It was May 1, 2003, when President Bush appeared on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln under the banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” Only a couple months later, U.S. troops — who were predicted to go home quickly — were stuck in an escalating, unconventional guerrilla war. It was way back then that the term “quagmire” was applied to the president’s war of aggression in Iraq.

The Bush administration has consistently ignored and sidelined military commanders who told the truth about the Iraq war, beginning with former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki. He rejected the administration’s “cakewalk” scenario and testified before the invasion that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq. Two-and-a-half years into the war, we didn’t even control the only road linking our military airport to our headquarters in Baghdad.

Where are we now, an unimaginable five years later? That is, five years, more than 4,000 dead American troops, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, and approaching $1 trillion later.

According to Gen. David Petraeus, the just-promoted commander of American forces in Iraq, our troops are still in the quagmire — bogged down in the sands of Iraq, spinning their wheels.

In his recent testimony before Congress, Petraeus laid out a no-win situation: If things in Iraq get worse, we can’t cut back, lest things get still worse. And if things get better, we can’t cut back either, lest we risk losing our gains.

He summed things up this way: “We haven’t turned any corners. We haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle’s been pushed to the back of the refrigerator.”

The Bush administration has long been criticized by members of Congress of both parties for not having an exit strategy to bring our troops home from Iraq. Instead of an exit strategy, the administration has extended tours of duty from 12 to 15 months and implemented the “stop loss” policy, which orders troops back for involuntary second and third tours.

As a result, exhaustion and combat stress are besieging our troops in Iraq. They sleep in their body armor on floors and in the sand and are tired most of the time. Increased desertions and absences add to the crisis situation.

Bush’s latest strategy was to reduce the violence in Iraq by increasing the violence with a troop “surge.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff were reported to be unanimously opposed to the surge because the administration did not have a defined mission to reverse the steadily deteriorating conditions in Iraq. Who — outside of the White House — was surprised that our military surge provoked an equally violent response from those wanting to drive our occupying forces from their country?

Baghdad residents described the resurging violence as worse than that during the initial U.S. invasion. President Bush described things as returning to “normalcy.”

During the recent congressional hearings, Rep. Howard L. Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asked Gen. Petraeus, “How effective could this effort have been when mortars and rockets can rain on the Green Zone? For more than two weeks, our embassy is bombarded. In all, the past two-plus weeks have seen the worst violence in the Green Zone since the war began.”

Even U.S. troops within the heavily fortified zone were killed in the steady barrages. The Green Zone includes the barricaded United States Embassy and the headquarters of the Iraqi national government.

There is no military solution to the quagmire in Iraq. In his congressional testimony, Petraeus himself emphasized that there is no such thing as a military victory possible. Yet the commander-in-chief offers our worn-out troops nothing but rigidly staying to his failed course of the past five years.

Albert Einstein defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Jim Stoffels, Richland, is chairman of World Citizens for Peace (WCPeace.org). He is a retired physicist and former member of the Richland City Council.

gene_w_b&w.jpg (3905 bytes)Too Many Years, Too Many Lives

Gene Weisskopf, Vice Chairman

... too many dollars, and too many lies. On the 15th of March, 55 members, friends and family of World Citizens for Peace (WCP) gathered in John Dam Plaza in Richland to commemorate the 5th anniversary of our Iraq war and occupation. It’s safe to say that no one in attendance had ever dreamed that we’d have occasion to meet five years after the war started, especially considering that the “Mission Accomplished” moment happened four years and 10 months ago.

The weather was pleasant, mild enough for an outdoor setting but not so nice that everyone had more recreational things to do. I felt honored to serve as the emcee but felt crushed to have to attend a rally to protest the war five years on, which was an underlying theme of my talk. Our nation’s unprovoked and unwarranted attack on Iraq, followed by — so far — five long years of belligerent occupation of that country, feels to me like defeat.

As a respite from my dark cloud, Bob Parazin and his guitar led us in “Study War No More,” which had an uplifting effect that group songs often have. Next, George Fearing spoke words that were moving on two levels. Like many of us, he’s been outspoken and steadfastly against this war, but George is also running for the Democratic nomination for our 4th district Congressional seat. Hearing someone “speak truth to power” when he’s trying to become part of that power structure was truly refreshing.

Victoria Lewis, our Peace Ambassador, then took to the podium and read several poems relating to how the Iraq war has affected American and Iraqi lives. Victoria was followed by her daughter Gizi, 14, who presented her perspective on how President Bush is showing disrespect for the citizens of the U.S. by continuing to prosecute the war on Iraq, when the majority of us believes that the war was unwarranted in the first place. We were delighted to learn that Gizi sent her comments to the Tri-City Herald, where her very first letter was being published the next day as “Letter of the Week.”

After Bob led us in another spirited song, “If I Had a Hammer” (“If I had a bell ...”), Chairman Jim Stoffels introduced the ringing of the Peace Bell. Jim’s normally soft edges seem to be getting sharper as the war drags on, and he did not hesitate to call the war illegal and immoral. He then invited everyone to come up and ring the Peace Bell and, if they wanted, to say a few words about peace. Just about everyone took advantage of the opportunity, and the spirited messages and tolling of the bell were truly uplifting.

We adjourned to the sidewalk along George Washington Way with our signs and flags and our message that five years was five years too many, and that the war should end NOW.

But the war did not end, and two weeks later, on Friday the 28th, we held a candlelight vigil on George Washington Way to commem-orate the 4,000 U.S. troop deaths in Iraq and the countless Iraqi deaths. A dozen of us took turns reading the names of the most recent 1,000 soldiers killed and ringing the Peace Bell for each name.

We didn’t end the war, but at least we all testified to the true price this blundering folly has cost in terms of lives lost and maimed, dollars spent, and our national integrity ravaged.

Ask not “for whom the bell tolls.”

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2008

ML King - Carlson - 50%.jpg (26277 bytes)Beyond war

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.

“Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.

“... I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. ... for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent. ...

“Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read [“Iraq”]. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. ...

“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view, we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.

“... I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.”

– excerpt from MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2008

Five years and continuing

Gene Weisskopf, Vice Chairman

On September 29, 2007 we again held our protest against the war on Iraq in Kennewick. It was a red-letter day, being the fifth anniversary of our sidewalk peace vigil. That’s correct, five years, or 260 weeks, or 1826 days (2004 was a leap year). The protest was initiated by World Citizens for Peace in 2002, almost six months before the invasion actually began. Jim Stoffels was the first one to put his shoe soles to concrete in the name of peace, along with Victoria Lewis, who put the soles of her feet to the concrete and went Barefoot for Peace, “until our troops come home,” she had planned.

It was a daily one-hour protest on the George Washington Way sidewalk by Richland City Hall. Realizing all that’s happened in Iraq and here at home since those early days, the “take to the street” reaction now seems prescient and not at all an overreaction, sad to say.

I joined the sidewalk in February 2003, figuring it was a small thing to do to counteract the propaganda, hyperbole, and utter insanity that was coming out of the White House through our so-called mainstream media. Declaring my opposition to the threatening war by holding a sign on a busy street was quite therapeutic, in that it gave me a way to express my opinion clearly and directly at a time when opinions were not being asked for and were widely regarded as treasonous. The sidewalk was also a good antidote to the faux-patriotic mania that was sweeping the country. Of course, those who saw us had vivid evidence that not everyone thought that war was a great idea. Maybe some of them actually started thinking about the issue.

To make the too-long history short, the United States invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003, and has been there ever since — longer than we were in World War II! “Disaster” is too soft a word to describe it.

In May 2003, we revised our sidewalk schedule to one day a week on a rotating basis. This year, we added a monthly protest in Kennewick on the last Saturday of each month. You can find a link to the current sidewalk schedule on our Web site: www.wcpeace.org

Five long years has strengthened the resolve of those who are against the war. There’s more reason than ever to protest: the deaths, the destruction, the torture of detainees, the refugees, the breeding of terrorists, and the ever-growing mountains of your grandchildren’s money that we’ve poured into this unnecessary war while neglecting so much at home.

But five years has also taken a toll on the sidewalk protesters, in that the number of shoes on the ground some days can be counted on one hand. The sidewalk crowd has been diminished by moves and even death. Victoria has had to go back to wearing shoes in order to carry on a life with some normalcy.

Does this parallel the same trajectory that our country has taken? An unnecessary war spanning almost five years, spread out in three to six-month increments of “waiting for things to turn around” as they deteriorate, waiting “to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Polls say that more and more of the country is fed up with this never-ending war, and yet it never ends.

If you’d like to counteract this national miasma, join us on the sidewalk — even just once — for the therapy, camaraderie, and to let your voice be heard.

– PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2007