Filed under: Digital/Star War, Nonviolence, Politics of Empire | Tags: Afghanistan, conscience, counter insurgency, digital war, drones, Nonviolence, pacifism, robotic warfare
Last week Predator drones attacked in Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan and mistakenly killed civilians. We don’t know how many. The incidents are another warning like the messages of protest that Pakistanis have been trying to send Americans for the past few years. Despite the much ballyhooed precision of these air crafts and their weapons, they still kill civilians because corroborating intelligence on the ground is unreliable and this leads to flawed targeting.
The protection of civilians has been a most basic plank of all notions of just war for many nations going back 1600 years. The slide towards increased killing of civilians in war by national armies and as a corollary, the use of civilians as human shields is often overlooked. Tactics arising from the use of robotic weapons of war may increase the slide of disrespect for civilian life in war. This trend that brought us civilian casualties from Dresden to Hiroshima, from IEDs in Iraq to drones in Pakistan reflect the broad lines of increased disrespect for civilian life into the 21st century warfare in regular and insurgent armies.
During the final week of Lent this year I expect to travel to Las Vegas and to Creech AFB 45 miles northwest where the Predator pilots and their staffs are trained and local control rooms guide the planes in the 24 hour surveillance and attack assignments over Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. As I go I know that the Predators are just a tip of a vast array of robotic technology now being developed to make modern warfare “safer” for soldiers but more lethal for civilians.
The Predator and their Hellfire missiles are the air weapon delivery system of choice right now but maybe not for long. In the future the work of disarmament will be made even more complicated by robotic instruments of all kinds. The U. S. Army is working with universities to build micro fliers, tiny bird like flyers to be used for intelligence gathering and surveillance through its Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology Collaborative Alliance. Joseph Mait, manager of the Army Research Laboratory says,“ Our long-term goal is to develop technologies that can produce a map of a building interior or detect bombs,”
Big unmanned Predator like aircraft have lots of problems. They are still expensive to build, maintain and fly although they are much cheaper than the earlier generations of bombers. They can also be easy to spot. In Pakistan I was told that children in remote areas have games they play called, “spotting the Predators”. Shrinking those vehicles to a few ounces will not only change the children’s games but will give an up-close view of who is doing what, when and where.
According to Discovery Magazine, Haibo Dong of Wright State University is working on a four-winged robot, the Wright Dragon flyer. The designers complain that it is more difficult to create than a two-winged flapping system but promises more speed and manoeuverability. Dong expects to have a prototype, about the size of a real dragon-fly, completed this year. “This small craft could perform surveillance, environmental monitoring and search and rescue,” he says.
At Harvard University roboticist Robert Wood is working on mechanical bee-like instruments to create a colony of RoboBees. These swarming robots will incorporate optical and chemical sensors as well as communications systems to make autonomous flight decisions and to coordinate with colony members during tasks such as searching for objects or people.
Robotic technology is already heavily used in all of America’s wars. As many as 4000 robots are already on the ground in Iraq. Tiny information gathering devices are complemented by robotic instruments designed to identify and disarm bombs. With ground mobility they can enter into dangerous settings where enemy soldiers are heavily armed. Some of these instruments are being adapted for or are already used for in the homeland security. Their phenomenal growth will change forever the arms race, the balance of power(s) in the world and the nature of police work.
The ethical implications of this revolution of arms, force and information gathering are daunting.
1. The development, deployment, and use of the instruments of robotic warfare are being carried out in at least 40 countries around the world. A robotic arms race is already under way. There are few if any forums that address the implications of this race for the future of life on earth and for the quality of life-like basic freedoms.
2. As the robotic arms movement unfolds, the possibility for back yard development of instruments of destruction reaches to the limits of imagination. Violent video games were just a beginning although they may have helped dull our sensitivity and create a culture of acceptance. The IED (improvised explosive device) an interim instrument for defence and attack for insurgents will have been just the first generation of a long line of sophisticated adaptation of off the shelf technology for killing. The distance between the safe researcher silently working in a sanitized laboratory and the field practitioner is narrowing. The absence of meaningful work for so many in this generation may become the void where new waves of imagination in the service of violence are unleashed. Nonviolence movements will match this challenge only with keen understanding of the implications of robotic developments and solid healthy organizations.
3. As civilian casualties grow, persons who believe that life is sacred are faced with enormous new challenges. Peacemakers and human rights workers have only begun to grasp the implications of robotic warfare. People on the ground in Pakistan told me that just 10% of the victims of Predator drone bombings are insurgent combatants. Ninety percent are civilians. The Pakistan Security Monitor, a project of the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University disputes these figures. I have travelled in Pakistan and have heard the estimated 90% figure from persons with access to the areas of impact with accompanying stories of travail and death to women and children..
For Christian pacifists the reach of research, development, and manufacture dips into every one of our communities. We are now faced with new challenges to our convictions about not killing. Unless we face those oncoming ambiguities without falling into legalism, the convictions will morph into fluffy cotton decoration over a core of words that are not backed up with action.
4. As we enter this new frontier of ethics and robotic warfare, our methods of witness for a nonviolent way will be forced to adapt. The centralization of the development and manufacture of killer instruments into fewer and fewer corporations and selected political powers is over. The time is here when ordinary people can go to the local computer store or amazon.com to order component parts for assembling a weapon. What will we do if the computer store owner even goes to our church or parish? What will we do if people in our church own stock in companies that produce the components? We won’t have to go to Washington or to some well-mannered legislative office to begin the discussion and to engage in public witness.
We are now swimming in the culture of robotics, a technology that is being adapted every day by nations around the world to myriad roles that include security and killing. We can watch in admiration or distaste as the magic is unveiled . In periods of transition and unfolding violence it takes a little time for our consciences to be awakened and the gift of stubborn resistance to become clear. The time has arrived.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Blaming the Victim, Digital/Star War, War and Poverty | Tags: counter insurgency, drones, Human Terrain Teams, Pukhtoon, revenge, Swat Valley
“A Pukhtoon never forsakes revenge.”
“A stone of Pukhtoon (enmity) does not rot in water.”
“A Pukhtoon enmity is like fire of a dunghill.”
“May Allah spare you a Pukhtoon’s Anger.”
“If a Pukhtoon takes his revenge after a hundred years, it is still too soon.”
– Proverbs of the Afghan and Pakistani Pukhtoon people
“The Pukhtoon loves fighting but hates to be a soldier; loves music but has a great contempt for the musician; is kind and gentle but hates to show it; loves his new rifle and his old wife; is hot-blooded and hot-headed; is poor and proud with strange principles; might be a loving friend or a deadly enemy; in general, he is very simple but very complicated in his simplicity.”
Ghani Khan: Pukhtoon poet and philosopher
* * *
The wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan could drag on for 10, 20 or more years. Viewed from the stance of many Pukhtoon villagers these wars have already lasted almost 30 years since the arrival of Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the early 1980s. Eventually the wars will end because outside forces including NATO, the US, and national armies of Afghanistan and Pakistan that are viewed as trouble makers or hostile interlopers will go away due to exhaustion. The wars may also end because of negotiations with villages, or some of the 60 tribes which are groups of villages that share specific customs, and in some cases larger coalitions. Negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban forces are happening at undisclosed locations in the Gulf States. The Pakistan military has a long history of communication and even support for the Taliban. These larger relationships and negotiations will not obviate the need for additional talks with traditional leaders that can lead to peace.
According to Ali Gohar, a child of Pukhtoon culture and respected leader in Pukhtoon communities of Northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan, any negotiations must be conditioned by customary law. He summarizes this in a recent monograph, “hospitality is one of the finest virtues, revenge a sacred duty and bravery an essential pre-requisite for an honorable life… These attributes also form the basis of the Pukhtoon code of honor and anyone who repudiates them is looked down upon by the society.” For the Pukhtoon peace is sustained by following norms, values and customary law.
Without authentic action of making things right by the perpetrator of a crime, badal (revenge) is a duty of a Pukhtoon tribesmen. The crime may come from those who invade and those who bomb with drones or air planes. The obligation of Badal rests with the aggrieved party and it can be discharged only by action against the aggressor, writes Gohar. If there is no means of revenge it may be deferred for years, but it is disgraceful to abandon it entirely. The whole tribe may be called upon to assist in retaliation.
In the Pukhtoon culture shame is for the victims. It can be equalized and therefore cancelled through revenge. Even though there is a strong religious belief that God will punish the wrongdoer here and in the hereafter, people still believe that revenge is their duty. A victim of kidnaping, rape or murder carries with her or him the shame of this crime done to them. This shame will persist for their whole life until and unless it is equalized by revenge. Shame is not just a matter for the individual. Shame is carried by the family and tribe of the victims for generations Only when traditional elders working through the council (jirga) of the community intervene with traditional law can the cycle of shame be broken without retribution.
There is no Pukhtoon word for “sorry”. If a person does something wrong, both the offender and the victim will suffer for generations until and unless it is equalized by applying the principal “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” By way of jirga intervention one may beg for forgiveness (nanawathay). Compromise through arbitration is also practiced when both parties agree to engage in a process.
In tribes and villages it is common for adult males to own a weapon. If a visitor comes to a village the males will line up and shoot their weapons as a sign of welcome. However, these weapons are also available in a time of need to form a police force in order to apply local customary law or as a militia when enemies from the outside appear.
This very sketchy smattering of Pukhtoon customs are at best a taste of what foreign armies, journalists and sincere helpers face in the present Afghanistan and Pakistani wars. An already complex social inheritance is made even more complicated by the introduction of various outside Muslim and non Muslim forces and home grown warlords now referred to as Taliban groups. In general however, any resolution will have to incorporate the deeply held values identified above and others if there is to be lasting peace.
I asked persons who live in the midst of Pukhtoon tribal society if there is any way that these tribal customs can become a resource for peace rather than a source of confusion and conflict. Their answer was an unqualified, “Yes”. “But” said one informer with deep roots in the region, “you can not send people from the military you must send civilians. We will not trust the military who send Hellfire missiles and bombs and soldiers.”
When I asked my informers if it would be safe for someone to come and talk they replied, “We honor our guests with our lives. They will be welcomed by a row of local people who shoot their weapons into the air as a sign of hospitality. We will guard you with our lives. Richard Holbrook would be welcomed tomorrow. Our most basic need right now is peace.”
“And who would Richard Holbrook or his Afghan or Pakistani counterpart talk to?” I asked. “A garget (community of elders) would be assembled in the tribe, the village, or region and we would start talking. It can happen.”
Revenge is a deep part of Pukhtoon life. But revenge for the coming decades is not inevitable. Every missile and every attack increases the deep margins of revenge in the Pukhtoon soul. Another proverb points the way in hope, “Where there is love a Pukhtoon will accompany you to hell but where there is force he will not even go to heaven with you.”
For information on how to access this new monograph Who learns from whom? Pukhtoon Traditions in Modern Perspective by Ali Gohar go to www.justpeaceint.org. It should be available shortly.
Note: In former posting I used the spelling Pashtoon. There are a variety of terms and spellings used to refer to the Pukhtoon people. For this piece I have been advised to use Pukhtoon.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Digital/Star War, Getting on the Way to Peacemaking, Iraq, Politics of Empire, War and Poverty | Tags: counter insurgency, digital war, drones, Human Terrain Systems, Human Terrain Teams, robotic warfare
From Viet Nam to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan a lot has changed. But some days I am surprised at how much has not changed in the approach to local people. In the absence of tools sometimes called weapons to win hearts and minds the military has turned in two directions, higher technology, and social research.
It is hard to get people to talk candidly with you about their goals, dreams, hopes and personal problems when you carry a gun. Well actually I don’t know this for sure because I have never carried a gun. But I have learned that conversations don’t go very far in villages when I enter accompanied with soldiers or if there is suspicion that I am connected to soldiers.
Modern warfare usually incorporates something called counter insurgency. An insurgency is a rebellion as in an armed movement against foreign invaders or their own government. Those who carry out insurgency usually fight with sticks, rocks, guns, and the forced or willing cooperation of the local population. Unless the powers that be kill everybody, break everything and completely cut off water and food the insurgency usually grows. Building schools, passing out candy or even building irrigation systems doesn’t usually change things fundamentally because the favours, funds and fountain of development helps one side in the community but makes those sides who do not get anything even madder. The battle is called winning hearts and minds. The notion of getting to the heart awakens the imagination to a love affair. You get to the mind through the heart. Thinking right requires consent of the heart.
To get hearts and minds headed in the right direction imperial armies and their coalition partners, local and international, need to know very precisely who leads the enemy so that they can be killed. The CIA was set up to track down the necessary information but very quickly in its history it was derailed to perform operational duties, carrying out secret attacks that could not be traced at least not right away. It takes dangerous and often gruelling decades long work to get good information. Reliable information is called intelligence but in the real world of agency intelligence the product is not always based on intelligent facts because no one was able to assemble reliable facts. So short cuts are needed like analysts who are supposed to be good at reading the signs or what use to be called tea leaves.
I learned this first in Viet Nam when occasionally I met well groomed American civilians – my age or only slightly older – swaggering through wherever I happened to be. Sometimes we would have relaxed conversations during which each of us tried to figure out what the other knew. It took me months and years to realize that these folks were working from a very different framework than the one that I was learning from villagers. At first I thought I was just naive, and unable to read the signs. Later I realized that these folks were not listening to the same people I was. Still later when I became convinced that the war in Viet Nam would come to nothing good, I lost confidence completely in whatever template the smart well dressed civilian contacts seemed to put forward.
From Viet Nam to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan a lot has changed. But, some days I am surprised, at how much has not changed in the approach to local people. In the absence of tools sometimes called weapons, to win hearts and minds the military and its operational partner, the CIA has turned in two directions, higher technology, and social research.
Unmanned vehicles (drones) now circle the skies of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan with precision cameras scoping out targets and precision laser guided missiles ready to release their terror at the push of a button from command room pilots and staff thousands of miles away. Hired informants, some of whom are double agents on the ground may suggest targets. These attacks in Pakistan have caused a furor among Pakistani people. The US Defence Secretary’s budget this year calls for spending $2 billion on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, with much of the money going to drones.
Complementing the drones, digital warfare’s current crown jewel, is another innovation, Human Terrain Teams (HTT), unveiled in 2005. HTT are as radically low tech, as Predators and other robots are high tech. The teams incorporate professional anthropologists, other social scientists, linguists and analysts, who are assigned to forward area units. The civilian and military HTT team members who advise commanders may or may not carry weapons. The researchers talk to and listen to the local population to understand power, conflict, and grievances so that responses both developmental, relief, and military may be wisely targeted, timed, and conditioned for maximum effect. The use of anthropologists has brought warnings from their professional association. The first ethical responsibility of an anthropologist is to “do no harm.”
Some Human Terrain Team members report that the hardest part is overcoming the suspicion of being part of the American military – no surprise to development, relief, and human rights workers or unarmed peacemakers who carry out their work in militarized zones. This year 40 million dollars more was added to the US defence budget for Human Terrain Teams.
Part of me is sympathetic to a military commander who is usually left to his or her elementary instincts in relating to a local population. I have never felt that I was sufficiently knowledgeable or listened enough to local people when I travelled in peacemaking work. Admittedly, I had a little less to contend with than the soldier. I wasn’t as encumbered by the confining traditions and culture of combat and enemy talk. But let’s face it basic survival instincts are common to all of us who work under life threatening situations.
Will the Human Terrain System work? We’ll see. Probably not! Insurgencies of all kinds have a lot of control over the initiative. Insurgents can figure out how to influence Human Terrain Team members. Interviews can be finessed. Local culture can be tilted to encourage attack on an intertribal or intra tribal enemy A good researcher should be able to sort the truth from the wasted words. But can they? There is little that is reliable fact in a war situation where the first victim is truth itself.
If social research gets to the truth why have there been so many disputed bombings in Afghanistan where so many civilians have been killed? Is the problem cameras from above, analysis or social research. The analysing industry will grow. Human Terrain Teams will become part of the lexicon of war like psychological operations units, civic action officers, special forces and other specialized units that someone once thought would change everything and make those elusive hearts and minds more accessible and manageable.
This leaves me with other kinds of peacemaking, the kind without uniforms, drone protection from the sky, a culture of enemy talk and personal arms. I may not have complete confidence in Human Terrain Teams but I believe peacemakers and development workers too can deepen their capacity to listen to and enlarge cultural understanding too. Peacemakers are not engaged in a contest over control of hearts and minds. The only victory is peace. The sounds and visuals along the way give encouragement and hope. Peacemakers believe that the seeds of peace already exist. The point is to have eyes to see the signs, ears to hear its cadence and a voice to talk it out. In the absence of enough unarmed civilian peacemakers if Human Terrain Teams can help this to happen I will be the first to celebrate.
“I tell you,” he (Jesus) replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)
Filed under: Digital/Star War, Peacemaker spirit | Tags: digital war, military contractors, military draft, pacifism, robotic warfare
Why I want you to read Wired for War: the Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P. W. Singer, The Penguin Press.
In 1958 when I turned eighteen years old I went to what was called Portage County Selective Service office in Ravenna, Ohio to register for the military draft. That board placed my name in the record as a conscientious objector which required very little paper work and I requested a student deferment. The deferment was granted with little problem. The Korean War had been over for several years but the Cold War was getting hotter all the time and Viet Nam was waiting in the wings. Five years later in 1963 when I completed college and a year of seminary I was ready ”to do service” as we said then. I contacted the Selective Service to request permission to do my two years of alternate service in Viet Nam. Again, no problem. Two years later after very little communication or accountability to the board I was informed that I had completed my service obligations, meaning I would no longer be drafted.
Today the decision about participating in organized military violence is incredibly diffuse. The long arm of military service reaches into every industrial sector, to contractors or subcontractors, into educational institutions including high schools and think tanks. Production of components for advanced navy, air or ground-based fighting takes place in most industrial areas. Military contracts, sub contracts, sub sub contracts and consulting services pay well, and on time. You can even become a highly paid modern mercenary, and guard supplies or provide specialized security by signing up with Blackwater or one of the other military security contractors. No part of the military complex is more dispersed throughout industry than the development, production and maintenance of the thousands of digital systems that wire the new armed forces, guide robots in battle where they defuse explosive devices, collect pictures of the enemy, shoot at the enemy and directly bomb or shoot people from unmanned digitally controlled vehicles.
Wired for War is not a 400-page book about how to lead a pacifist life. It’s a book about how war and advanced killing is unfolding. Singer tells us how the Talon robot “saves lives” by going places that are dangerous with its rapid fire gun, and how a warrior robot uncovers hidden roadside bombs. He introduces us to unmanned submarines that are increasingly used in the most dangerous underwater situations, and insect-like bioinspired robots that can fly up to windowsills, perch and stare inside, climb up walls or even into pipes to look things over for security purposes. And the revolution has only begun. Someday, in this century wars could be fought by Terminator-like machines. In fact, science fiction is here.
Singer, a Brookings Institution thinker and consultant for the departments State and Defense, CIA, and Congress, introduces us to the pilots, caretakers and commanders who are challenged to adjust their management ways, technical styles, and chat room manners to killing in the 21st century. Singer frequently returns to the ethical questions of where the transition to digital warfare will take us. He experiments with answers anchored in just war thinking. The uninitiated will be introduced to the vigorous reflections on the meaning of robotics for management (read Generals), tactics and long term strategy in military journals. He tells the reader that these new creatures or machines, already affect police work and hints that they will affect our larger culture in ways that will change us forever.
In my growing to adulthood the process of becoming a conscientious objector, performing alternate service and getting on in life was clearer, easier, and more cut and dry than it had been almost any time before American history. I have been in countries where young people, usually males, are rounded up on the streets and pressed into military service. By the time I had completed my alternate service there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans who found themselves in the throes of moral decision making about the Viet Nam war. Their choices were – join the military and get it over, try to get classified as a conscientious objector and do alternate service (where you then had to prove you were doing it for religious reasons), go underground and just disappear (estimated 500,000 draft offenders), flee to another country like Canada where you may be welcomed (estimated 100,000), or prove to the military that you were too sick or disabled to serve.
As the Viet Nam war unfolded the sleepy offices of the Selective Services where I moved through with nary a question were overwhelmed with petitions for exceptions. Things eventually got so far out of hand that in1973 under President Nixon the draft was ended. He had campaigned in 1968 to end the draft. The draft really ended because of the expressions of moral discontent from young people aged 18-26. The political costs outweighed whatever military gains once thought to justify a draft. The Selective Service System that administered the draft remains in place until now. The powerful influence of those draft resisters forty years ago can provide inspiration and perhaps deeper insight into how we organize to resist war making in our new context.
The Selective Service Board and exchanges at their offices once served as a rite of passage for millions of youth like me. My successors now entering the workforce are confronted with a plethora of decisions that will last a life time. Are they assured that they have a support structure of friends, churches, instructors, chat rooms, mentors and even families to cheer them on? Choosing to be pacifist in all these life decisions can feel like one is saying “NO”, to many opportunities and perks and sometimes not even realizing there is a decision to be made. .
Our lives today are honeycombed with the tentacles of the military infrastructure and the choices are not very sweet. The old one time decision to do alternate service is gone forever if it ever really existed. Today being pacifist is an exercise in repeated examination of industrial products, taxes, consumer goods and most of all the work place. And, this is just the outward journey, a walk that only makes sense if there is an inward journey of the spirit that informs our hope for the wholeness of all things. This complexity would have completely overwhelmed me as a young man 50 years ago. This is why all of us are invited to take responsibility to investigate and help sort this out.
My time in Viet Nam this winter brought me up to date on Agent Orange, a legacy from the Viet Nam war we hear little about any more. According to the Government of Viet Nam more than four million Vietnamese were affected by Agent Orange. The consequence of this poison spraying during the 1960s now can be traced into the 4th generation. Curbing its effects has required special medical programs, and new Peace Villages to treat residual effects including physical deformities like improperly formed arms, legs, or fingers and cancer such as leukemia.
The use of Agent Orange by the US Forces in Viet Nam was the result of strategic thinking including “ethical” reflection that its use would make the war winnable faster and thus would save lives. Those expectations turned out to be wrong. The war was not won. It was not fast. And, American fighters, Vietnamese fighters, civilians and their descendants continue to get sick and die because of it. Agent Orange lingers on reminding the third and fourth generation of the sins of their ancestors. The invention and use of chemical warfare in the 20th century was for a time thought to be a game changer in war making.
In 2003 the US government went into Iraq in part because of that country’s use of chemical weapons on Kurd population centers. The US wanted to eradicate Iraqi chemical weapons. It turned out that chemical weapons could not be found in Iraq (presumably destroyed). Technically Agent Orange is a herbicidal weapon and does not fall under international agreements related to chemical weapons despite the fact that it has created more death and destruction in the last 50 years than mustard gases or nerve agents still in storage at military sites.
Two weeks ago during Holy Week as I watched Predators and Reapers at Creech AFB in Nevada practice touch down and take off, my mind stretched back 40 years to my own days as a civilian volunteer in Viet Nam when for a time I was in denial. I refused to believe that the US would spray chemicals from the air to destroy crops, vegetation and people. I was wrong then and could kick myself for being such a slow learner. I missed it because I thought war strategists would have more concern for civilian victims.
The movement of digitally guided, unmanned systems on the ground, at sea, in the air and space are here for the duration. The technology, like the chemistry of Agent Orange is widely available and components can now or soon will be cobbled together from off the shelf. The players and advocates at the center of the movement are not yet sure of where it is going but I do know that split second decision making, often by young soldiers or civilians, will determine life and death for people. In each major transformation, nuclear bombs, chemical weapons, gunpowder, bows and arrows and others, new development has made war faster, and more deadly than the previous stage of military evolution. The digital age will further enlarge the distance between combatants and victims. There will be human, environmental and probably security costs, now only imagined in science fiction, 40 years down the road.
Today my gut still doesn’t want to believe that this generation of robotic warfare which is at the heart of the US Defence “transformation” is as dangerous as my brain knows it to be. After all I am typing this on a computer and I get really irritated when my internet connection goes down which happens here about once a week. Later, in May, I expect to visit Pakistan where some of the effects of digital warfare and this generation’s “saving lives” technology is being played out among the people.. My brain and my gut may get coordinated as I talk to victims, their families and their leaders who care about them.
In this age of globalization the Government of Viet Nam has welcomed relationships with the US and seeks cooperation to deal with the legacy of Agent Orange. But it can’t deny the agony that the US spraying of Agent Orange has caused Vietnamese people particularly in the South. When I visited the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City two months ago there were murals and displays that drew attention to the use and continuing effects of Agent Orange. At the Khe Sanh war memorial I saw additional material and in conversations I learned that it was a sizable and continuing health problem. Already in 1966 the North Vietnamese government charged that defoliants like Agent Orange caused congenital deformities in babies. Three years later in 1969 studies at US National Institutes of Health confirmed those findings. And yet the US continued to spray Agent Orange for two more years.
The debilitating health effects of Agent Orange have been carefully documented by Vietnamese scientists and their findings have been supplemented by scientific study elsewhere. The contaminant, dioxin, found in Agent Orange is a carcinogen associated with soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). A link has also been found between exposure to dioxin and diabetes. The US Veterans Administration includes these and other diseases on its web site as presumptive to Agent Orange exposure. Studies of US veterans have found a link between dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals known to science, and acute myelogenous leukemia in their children. Scientific studies of the effect of dioxin continue.
From 1962-1971, approximately 18 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed on millions of acres in Viet Nam to destroy jungle so that enemy forces could be identified, and to eradicate crops that may support them. According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs “Operation Ranch Hand,” code name for the Agent Orange project, an estimated 400,000 Vietnamese have died or been disabled from defoliants, primarily Agent Orange. Another 500,000 children have been born with birth defects.
As I have studied digitally networked warfare I notice that there are very few people thinking about where this will lead us, in this case all of us in the world. I can understand why any military would want to find the perfect weapon, a weapon that assures victory, kills fewer people particularly your own, does less collateral damage, and maybe even makes fewer people mad. When gun powder was discovered and perfected those who owned it thought they had the perfect weapon. It didn’t work out because over several centuries everyone had gun powder. Today centuries of change are telescoped into a few weeks because of the pace of invention and change.
According to the Bible, the legacy of sins like Agent Orange which are now in the 4th generation can not be expunged, forgiven or made right by human or divine effort until the 7th generation. The people who produced, purchased, shipped, paid for, and flew the C-123 air crafts to apply Agent Orange may or may not have anticipated this generation’s damage and pain that their work had caused. Probably no one warned them. The inventions related to digital warfare arising from a “transformed defence” that integrates the heavens and the earth, the sea and the land, remind me of my loss of innocence over Agent Orange. Now I think I need to participate in a gigantic global effort to place controls on these new magic bullets.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Digital/Star War, Getting on the Way to Peacemaking, Nonviolent defence
On Thursday, April 9, the day before Good Friday, Ground the Drones vigil participants entered Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs NV with the goal of meeting with commanders and pilots. The 14 people from all over the US, crossed into the base just before rush hour singing, “When the Saints Go Marching In”.
By extending the 10 day vigil of prayer and Holy communication from the base entrance more directly to the people inside we underlined the urgent need to think again about the implications of what will be done with the unmanned Predators, dropping their deadly bombs on civilians in Afghanistan or Pakistan. All the vigil participants who entered the base were arrested. The vigil and the entering Creech AFB is a public cry to think about the implications of drone warfare today and in the future.
After the vigilers entered there was some confusion as Military Police and contracted guards shuffled about furiously to prevent the group from moving deeper into the base. Some members of the military Police who had recently returned from Iraq stood with their M-16 rifles pointed at the those who had entered. By this time the vigilers were kneeling in prayer just inside the steel gate which was slammed shut behind them. Traffic was rerouted to the commercial entrance a mile away.
The sign at the entrance of Creech AFB tells it all, Home of the United States Air Force Desert Warfare Training Center. Pilots, officers, enlisted people and civilians had passed us all week, many in shiny foreign built vehicles – some in buses. We waved and prayed for their safety especially the Marines who had come for specialized training in desert warfare before deployment. As I stood there I wanted to write a new poster to hold, Drop the Drones: Develop the People or Drones Belong In Bee Hives but I couldn’t find a thick black pen.
Overhead the more advanced version of the wily digitally controlled Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper Hunter/Killer UAV, circled every six minutes as a column of them touched down and took off in practised precision bombing. They also rehearsed techniques for camera use and intelligence gathering. In a few weeks the pilots and their staff will be directing the same type of planes still from Creech AFB in Indian Springs as those planes take off from Bagram Air Force Base forty miles north of Kabul, Afghanistan. Those Predators will deliver their Hellfire Missiles and collect information in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I will continue to wonder if their powerful cameras took pictures of me as I stood with my sign and if they did, would they have printed it out for the bulletin board to entertain themselves over coffee.
Vigil participants remained on their knees on the hard paved road for more than an hour with guns pointed towards them until Nevada State Police arrived to write citations. Before the final act of arrest of the peace warriors, a Military Policeman from the air force was ordered to read a statement formally warning the warriors now deep in prayer that they would be arrested if they did not leave immediately. I watched with others outside the main entrance to Creech as my colleagues were hauled away in Nevada State Police vehicles after a citation was written.
Eventually all 14 participants were transported to the Las Vegas City jail 45 miles away for a cold overnight stay in a cell where rich and poor, disorderly drunks, addicts, street people, prostitutes and other vagrants are stowed away. According to those arrested there were no criminal Wall Streeters or Bank executives in the Las Vegas jail. My friends were released the next morning. The final gathering of those who vigiled was blessed with a rousing Easter poem urging Jesus to come on out of the tomb!
Video of the Vigil
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.