PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

Holy Week Vigil at Creech Air Force Base by peaceprobe
April 7, 2009, 6:39 pm
Filed under: Digital/Star War, Militarism, Nonviolence

This morning here at Creech Air Force Base  in Nevada, 40 miles northwest of Las Vegas, the day’s first practice run of the Reaper (technically referred to as the MQ-9 Reaper Hunter/Killer UAV) took off at 7:06 am and circled to practice landings and take offs  every 18 minutes through the morning hours.  I have joined a group this Holy Week to vigil and pray under the banner Ground the Drones.  The training and piloting of the aircraft now carrying out their mission of information gathering and destruction in Afghanistan and Pakistan is headquartered here at Creech.  Unlike the first Predator, an earlier unmanned aerial vehicle now widely used and armed with 2 Hellfire missiles, the Reaper is pressed into service because it is capable of carrying 14 Hellfire missiles. 

Our group has enjoyed almost a cordial welcome from base workers, pilots, officers and enlisted people as they enter and depart the base. Many wave and occasionally the horns are tooted or the V sign is flashed in support.  Between these signs of positive connection are  challenges like the man yesterday who rolled down his window and shouted at me, “Do you have any idea how many American soldiers’ lives are saved every day by these aircraft?”   I replied that I didn’t know and he advised me that the true number of saved service lives was 20 to 30 per day.  I have not been able to confirm these numbers from any scientific source but I did remind him that the drone air crafts create enormous hostility in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq that will take generations to overcome. He was not impressed.

A chaplain from the base told a colleague who is vigiling here that disturbing dysfunctions are beginning to show up among officers and enlisted people who pilot and support these aircrafts. Flight crews of two, including a pilot and a technical support person called a sensor, sit here in  rooms with several monitors and digitally guide these crafts as they move through their missions thousands of miles away in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.  The pilot is experienced, but  the sensor is a fresh from basic training and technical school.  

These aircraft are capable of remaining airborne for extended periods of time.  According to the International Online Defence Magazine, “The availability of high performance sensors and large capacity of precision guided weapons enable the new Predator to operate as an efficient ‘Hunter-Killer’ platform, seeking and engaging targets at high probability of success.”   The Reaper also known as Predator II began flying missions in 2007.   It was pressed into service according to Defence Magazine because it filled a gap, “between conflicting demands for payload,, altitude, speed and persistence.”  Unlike the first generation Predator, the Reaper can fly at an altitude of 50,000 feet.  

In the coming months and years the full implications of the US military transformation to digital warfare will become apparent.  The outrage we now see in the countries where they are used and the signs of trauma now becoming visible among soldiers, designers and victims will signal a new era of brokenness and anger.  Yesterday US Secretary of Defence Gates announced a 127% increase in funding for drones and other digitally guided military hardware.  These crafts are much cheaper and believed to be less risky for military personnel than the more expensive weapons like the $350 million dollar F 122 which is to be cut. 

Our local communities here in the US host the corporations that develop these new and smarter instruments of war.  The workers who build them,  the designers who create them and the day by day operators of these wily crafts worship in our churches.  

The Indian Springs Motor Motel where our vigil group has rented a room for logistical support is packed solid with young marines, here for some last minute training in desert warfare and  basic training in coordination with the new age of digital war.  They are friendly, serious and some are worried.  Yesterday morning two of them described their inner conflicts and ambivalence as they recovered from a hard night on the town.   In a few days they will be off to the front lines.  

About three hundred yards down the road from the main entrance to Creech there is a small building set aside for two week training programs for military chaplains who are about to depart for duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We know that the military chaplain is one of the first to be contacted by soldiers who are disturbed and morally shaken by what they experience in combat.  Every month dozens seek a way out and often encounter enormous difficulty and little support even from chaplains, all of whom come from religious traditions that teach love and upholding of  life. 

Like the chaplains, all of us who claim faith are invited to reach deep into the wealth of our traditions that are built on the ethics of love and discern what our responses can be in this new age of digital warfare.  We will be further enabled to do this when our religious support structures –  churches, denominations and institutions – also reach deep into the humanizing and peaceful resources of holy tradition.  The desert here in Indian Springs, Nevada where native people once came for water to sustain life,  is waiting for the transformation inherent in our faith.


8 Comments so far
Leave a comment

April 7, 2009
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Barack Obama,

We are a group of U.S. citizens (several from Chicago) and citizens of other countries undertaking a nonviolent protest demonstration at Creech Air Force Base (Indian Springs Auxiliary Field) northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. We are protesting the development and use of drone hunter-killer aircraft in particular, and, in general, the use of military force in Afghanistan and Pakistan to try to generate greater security for the United States and its allies. We believe that drone aircraft are immoral, dehumanizing, will result in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, and will generate such hatred for the U.S. that our security will be substantially diminished, rather than increased.

Drone aircraft are part of the strong trend in the U.S. military to try to “automate” warfare. The impulse to do this is understandable, for war is always dangerous, and it is natural to try to protect and limit the casualties of one’s own military personnel as much as possible. But creating weapons that kill at long range, placing their users almost entirely out of immediate harm’s way, will have the effect of so angering those we attack that we will risk the most desperate, devastating, and merciless retaliation. Already, we have seen this in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Unable to defeat us in conventional warfare, our “enemies” resorted to secret, suicidal attacks against our civilian population.

MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drone aircraft are fitted to carry laser-guided bombs and guided air-to ground missiles. The MQ-9 can carry more than a ton of bombs and missiles. Manned aircraft, in which crews have had visual contact with targets, have been so unable to distinguish between combatants and civilians that, in recent military operations, particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, thousands of non-combatants, including many women and children, have been killed and maimed. There is no reason to believe that drone aircraft, controlled by operators perhaps thousands of miles away from their targets, are going to be any better able to distinguish between combatants and civilians. We can expect innumerable ghastly “mistakes” through the firing of munitions carried by drones.

In addition to the death and destruction that these weapons will cause, we deplore their psychological effect on those who operate them. It may be less dangerous to operators of drone weapons to kill from a great distance, but doing so dehumanizes warfare further, and makes the use of such deadly violence more likely. Because killing is easy and “safe,” drone operators will become more and more callous.

The development and use of drones are part of the entire, mistaken, idea that security ultimately can be founded on military force. Despite spending trillions of dollars on weapons since World War II, conducting almost continuous wars, and establishing a worldwide virtual empire of military bases, the United States is not more secure. Our policies have created weapons of mass destruction worldwide, found now in the hands of our potential “enemies” as well as friends. There are tens of thousands of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of at least eight nations. The universal danger of these weapons is so clear that our government is horrified by the thought of potential “enemies” like Iran and North Korea obtaining them. We are completely hypocritical in our anti-nuclear policies, denouncing the efforts of potential “enemies” to obtain weapons of mass destruction, while maintaining our own arsenals of thousands of weapons targeted at “enemy”cities, and continually spending billions of dollars to upgrade existing arsenals and develop new weapons.

We believe that you are right in seeing the need for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and that there is a connection between violence and poverty; that when people are poor, unemployed, and see no prospect for improving their lives, they will be more inclined to becoming involved in hate-motivated terrorist groups. We hope that you will come to understand that military approaches to preventing terrorist training bases from being established in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot help but kill thousands of innocent people, destroy a great deal of needed civilian infrastructure, and therefore will increase, rather than decrease the power of terrorist, revenge, movements. We hope that you will ground all of the hunter-killer drones, cease military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, initiate continual diplomatic efforts to settle all disputes, use our vast economic resources to overcome poverty wherever it is found, and encourage all other nonviolent means for opposing aggression and injustice.

Sincerely, The Creech Vigilers

Comment by peaceprobe

Dear Gene and Friends in the Desert,
We appreciate your nonviolent witness at Creech Air Force Base. Thank you for speaking truth to power! May your and our prayers be answered and the United States stop trying to rule the world with our drones and bombing planes and soldiers. May we live in peace with our brothers and sister around the word. Thanks to all of you for your lives and all you do.
Peace, David Hartsough

Comment by peaceprobe

Thanks, Gene, for this update. I do appreciate it, having printed out your March 29 blog announcement of the Lenten Vigil at CAFB, and placing it on the nearby prayer table.

We are in the middle of this sacred Holy Week. May you all continue to sense deeply the moving of the Spirit in this significant witness for Life.

Peace on Earth!! H

Comment by peaceprobe

Dear Gene,
Thanks for all your insightful writings on matters of peace and conflict. I usually access the abreviated versions via the CPT mailings, but I took the trouble today to follow up your more detailed full-length article on the Predator phenomenon. I would like to share it at Hope Mennonite Church this Sunday, if I may.
Easter Blessings to you and Dorothy!

Comment by Harold Neufeld

As I read this morning about U.S. military troops killing civilians in Afghanistan I want to say thanks to you for your protesting and it reminds me to do something. I have been reading your blog and found the letter to Joe the plummer especially thought provoking. Char

Comment by peaceprobe

Happy Easter,

I wanted you to know that I was able to use your piece ‘Holy Week at Creech…’ this morning at our Easter service. When I first read it I was struck by the stark contrast between the remote control warfare you describe, which creates maximum distance between us and through the use of power and technology minimizes our vulnerability – on the one hand, and the gospel message on the other, which inspires us to reduce the distance between us and our neighbors, friends or enemies and embraces vulnerability as essential for the ‘eastering’ of our humanity. How ironic that ministers of the gospel in their role as chaplains are in the business of massaging the guilt that comes from a repudiation of the gospel message. Harold

Comment by peaceprobe

Mountain Home AFB Good Friday witness in Idaho …

Thank you very much, Gene and friends,for your inspiring witness and excellent report. Although we did not know of your vigil beforehand, some members of our Mennonite congregation here in Boise, planned and last Friday (April 10)carried out the first vigil since the Vietnam war at Mountain Home AFB (Idaho), a key base for US global air strikes over the years in Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. About 20 Mennonites, Catholics and Quakers participated. Mountain Home’s F-15E ground attack jets are currently active in carrying out air strikes in the escalating Afghanistan war. We too got some positive, and some negative, responses from base personnel. The vigil went well and we are hoping to encourage other such actions (like yours!) to oppose the air strikes, including drone strikes, and war in Afghanistan/Pakistan, at Mountain Home AFB and other facilites across the country. [We just sent an update on this as well to our friend Weldon Nisly in Seattle.]
Gene, do you have an email address that you can send me [ via ], so that I can write you directly soon – I think I could share some more information that would be of interest and use to you.

Best wishes and peace of Christ to all there, and thank you so much for your witness

– Peter Lumsdaine

[My wife (Meg Lumsdaine) and I are currently serving as interim co-pastors of Hyde Park Mennonite Church in Boise, while their regular pastor is on sabbattical leave this Spring.]

Comment by Peter Lumsdaine

Hi, good post. I have been thinking about this issue,so thanks for posting. I’ll certainly be subscribing to your site.

Comment by How I Lost Thirty Pounds in Thirty Days

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: