PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


The Mountain Tops are Crying and West Virginia Coal by peaceprobe
January 5, 2010, 10:12 am
Filed under: Getting on the Way to Peacemaking | Tags: ,

My Lord, what a mourning,
My Lord, what a mourning,
My Lord, what a mourning,
When the stars begin to fall.

You’ll hear the trumpet sound
To wake the nations underground,
Looking to my God’s right hand,
When the stars begin to fall.

– The Books of American Negro Spirituals, published in 1925-26 by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson

I slowed down for the curves and watched for signs to Hawk’s Nest Park as I approached Ansted. The State Park was established near Gauley Mountain on the New River where local people told me between 470 and 700 mostly African American miners died while working for Union Carbide from 1927 to 1933. The workers contracted silicosis in the mines while tunnelling through a mountain to build a hydro electric plant, one of the worst industrial disasters in the history of the Americas.

As I approached the mountain top on Highway 60 in my Ford Ranger I found myself humming the old Negro spiritual that I sang as a child, “My Lord, What a Mourning when the stars begin to fall” except in my version mourning had become morning. It was dark as I approached Ansted. The mountains were only remote shadows as snow began to fall. In the version of the song of long forgotten slaves I hum the lines that had been morphed as they travelled voice to ear over the decades..

“We’ll cry for rocks and rocks and mountains when the stars begin to fall,
Rocks and mountains they’ll not save you when the stars begin to fall.”

I searched for an hour along unlit one lane roads for Allen Johnson who would host me at a Christians for the Mountains facility. Modest homes that once housed mine workers were plentiful. As I searched for the guest house I listened to public radio for reports on the Copenhagen meeting. Finally, I gave up searching turned off the radio and called Allen. He met me at the Ansted Pharmacy and led me to the rented guest house beside a century old Baptist church. The old spiritual was still echoing from my unconscious.

As I approached my lodging I could see the outline of Gauley Mountain in the distance and Allen told me that just over the edge I would see mountain top coal removal but that would have to await the daylight. Allen had warned me that 500 mountain tops have been dynamited layer by layer in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee – Appalachia – to reach the seams of coal. The coal is carried by train, barge and truck to power plants to generate electricity and to factories where steel is fashioned.

Rocks from the blasting have buried a thousand miles of streams and destroyed 12 percent of West Virginia forests forever. The Appalachian mountains that once reached heights equalling the great Himalayas of South Asia rose 300 million years ago when coal was formed from trees, swamps and other vegetation. Part of the energy for the light that illuminates my screen as I write may come from this coal.

The price for coal is rising. Surface mining permits the only efficient access to thin seams of coal formed 50 million years before dinosaurs, that traditional underground mining can not reach. With the use of large machinery and explosives two and a half times as much coal per worker can be extracted as in underground mines.

My own life has a connection to Appalachia coal. Sixty years ago when my Northeast Ohio family used coal for heating, 125,000 people worked in the mines. Today that number has fallen to 15,000 because of mechanization. Already then, Appalachian miners with their children fled homes due to joblessness, health problems and poverty. Their special accent was a matter of curiosity in my second and third grade class. Later when I lived in Chicago the north side Uptown neighbourhood was populated by people seeking refuge from the coal fields, many suffering from black lung disease. Today Ansted is more than 60% retired people. Few residents now work in the coal mines. However, coal dust, sounds of dynamite, coal trucks, and plans for more mountain levelling threaten the town’s new vision, to transform itself into a tourist center.

On the day after I arrived people were loath to travel the mountain roads due to snow so I stopped by the Redeemer Episcopal Church. I cautiously entered the annex of the 120 year old church where ladies were holding a fund raiser. My caution was formed by a belief that an Episcopal Church like this one would have been founded to serve the owners of the mines. No sooner did I park myself in front of one of the woman’s cookie tables than I was asked, “Are you here to work to stop Mountain Top Removal?” in a tone that definitely suggested that I would be much more welcome if I would answer, “Yes”.

I asked the women selling cookies for more information about the mountains. Over hot cider and cookies a woman from the kitchen informed me that their church goes out to the mountains regularly where their priest leads participants from surrounding churches in BLESSINGS for the mountains. She inferred that these events were not popular with the coal companies. “I hope you are here the next time we do a Blessing.” said another woman.

Allen took me to visit his friend Larry Gibson at Keyford mountain twenty miles west of Ansted as the crow flies. “Thanks for finally coming to see me” said Larry who met Allen and me with a big hug and a hot cup of coffee. The use of the word “finally” in his jovial greeting was unmistakably firm. I knew it was meant for me. “We need your support.”

Larry’s family line traces its roots in Keyford mountain back 200 years and the evidence lies silently in the nearby cemeteries at least the graves that have not yet been dynamited away. Along the winding road to his mountain top memorial hide way I see the remains of another mountain that has been blasted away, a valley blocked with land fill, huge coal trucks and shards of chimneys from long burned out homes that once housed 10,000 people who lived off mining. Larry cares for the pristine property of his ancestors as a sign of resistance to dynamite, and power shovels. Five times a year on key holidays he invites hundreds of people to festivals like of celebration and remembrance of Keyford mountain.

But not all of Larry’s guests are friendly. Drunken thugs show up to frighten visitors away much like company hired goons once tried to break union organizing in the coal fields. He describes 15 years of struggle, the offers of millions to buy him out, intimidation, arrests and speaking tours before leading us out over his 59 acre mountain top spread, a living trophy to persistence and survival. We pass several cabins where distant relatives come for retreat. He points to bullet holes, a long closed store and finally we pass Hell’s Gate, the property boundary beyond which we begin to view the empty disappeared mountain top beyond.

Below I can see layers of coal and massive power shovels loading coal trucks for delivery to a processing site and later shipment for power generation. In another direction bulldozers slice off rock that has been loosened with blasts of dynamite for disposal in the valley below. A hardy but bland grass has been planted on the mountainside next to his property where mining was terminated. There are no trees, shrubs, mice or deer, just grass. I see the town of Dorothy in a hazy valley beyond, named a century ago in honour of the wife of a mining company owner.

Visiting with Larry Gibson was good preparation for the rally at West Virginia’s state capital, Charleston, called to stop mountain top removal at still another site, Coal River Mountain. The Monday, December 7 protest brought together hundreds from West Virginia and neighbouring states. Everyone gathered in front of the West Virginia state Environmental Protection Agency which has rubber stamped so many company mining initiatives. Cordoned off about 100 feet behind the rally and adjacent to the agency building were 150 counter protesters, some hired by mining companies from the village of Dorothy. Greeting many of the speakers as they rose to challenge the crowd were blood curdling blasts from the horns of coal trucks programmed by the coal industry to cruise just a block away but loud enough to be heard maybe as far away as Copenhagen,. Rally speakers creatively co-opted the horns with long chants that transformed their irritating noise barrage into future friends, “Hoooooonk if you love the mountains.”

As I departed a voice inside told me to go to wake the nations. The descendants of coal miners who live in the hollows and valleys believe that Appalachia can be saved. The industry claims that rallies like the one in Charleston are the result of outsider manipulation by tree huggers. In spite of the charges I found an expanding conviction in West Virginia that the dust of coal pollution and lakes of slime, artificial polluted reservoirs created from crushing and cleaning coal, will be stopped. When people work together to change things they create a culture for transformation.

Several days later as I pulled out of Ansted I flipped on the radio to check developments in Copenhagen. The sombre reports of disunity among the nations reminded me to be realistic but thankful for the people, some diplomats, demonstrators and lobbyists who by their actions remembered the coal fields and disappearing mountain tops. The snow had ended and the fog had lifted. I could see the mountains and knew there was hard work ahead beyond the mourning or was it morning. It’s a new year. It’s a new decade.

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I Don’t Like America by peaceprobe

The guest is the editor of an Urdu Newspaper and a writer of fiction known in Pakistan and India.   His life in Pakistan began in 1947 when he moved with his parents here from India to find a safe home in this newly established Muslim state.  We are almost the same age.  From separate viewing platforms we have travelled from the 20th century into the 21st. His leathery wrinkled face betrays little emotion.   But his words are firm. You give billions to this government of traitors who use it for themselves and stupid schemes that bring false security.  I know he is right but can’t figure out what to say to make things better. He continues.  I listen. I ask about his life, about meeting the daily deadline of a newspaper, about books.  I see the excitement in his eye when he speaks of his love of writing.  One of his books is about to be made into a movie by an Indian group.  Occasionally he returns to more talk of traitors and the stupid international people who support them, his words.  He looks at me long enough for me to know he is really thinking of the Americans.

 He and his wife delivered a lovely gift of sweets in honour of the new baby that arrived six weeks earlier in the home where some of us are staying.  After tea, he leaves and another guest arrives with more gifts to honour the baby. I was introduced and tried in my clumsy Midwestern way to put my best manners forward.   No sooner was this second guest introduced to the visiting American and I was greeted by an even stronger barrage of anger about America.  I listened.  I am now  into week two of my Pakistan pilgrimage and I have come to expect this list of grievances as a kind reminder of the world where I travel.   Here is the list, – you want to use Pakistan when you need us, you supported the military which brought us the Taliban, 10 billion dollars  over the last 8 years, you supported the Taliban against the Russians and now we are terrorized,  now you support our military which destroys our democracy, and you support Israel, you make us corrupt,  you just send weapons and  now they are killing us.  The list is completed for the moment and then the guest and I talk about life here in Islamabad. 

I know and she knows that this is one of the voices of deep frustration laced with fear that is part of daily conversations here.  I stumble to find threads of common perception and curiosity in the present situation.   I know that identifying myself with a peace delegation will not overcome the deep feelings of betrayal,  and the  suspicion that I am part of the American program.   Every day there are new threats of bombs, new worries for children now completing their end of year exams. And the children are angry too.  I am told not to go on the streets, not to look like an American.

These moments of testing of my national citizenship are not new.  I am no longer interested in being the nice American so people can like us.  Polite interruptions won’t fix a pattern of barren relationships based on exploitation.  International relations based on aid programs and harsh actions of military interventions have been the standard of the meandering configurations of American big power relations for so long that even the potentially useful aid is not trusted. The pattern leads to fundamental distrust that cannot be fixed with a single speech or short term policies that fix things until the next election cycle.

 These tough conversations awaken me to the fears unleashed when I first viewed the falling trade towers.   The American response was laced with vicious condemnations of Muslims by people from whom I expected more balance.   I have heard anger before in Palestine, Iraq, Jordan and from a chorus of lips. I remember the mothers and fathers clutching their children as they pour out their soul.  I know this raw emotion of anger may continue for generations. I wish it wasn’t needed.   I remember my own contorted responses when 9/11 came into our American lives.  The towers came down and blood flowed because of the same anger, betrayal, hatred and disappointment that I am hearing here.  But I am not hearing it from Taliban.  No!  It is too insecure to go into the Taliban controlled territories.  I will be stopped by check points.  The people I talk to are afraid of the Taliban.   Beheadings, car bombs and  road side explosions are part of their lives. And they blame a long list of perpetrators including Americans. Anger is not always coherent.  Anger just is.
   
 At the time I hoped  9/11 would be a wake up call for a generation of fairness.  Naively I thought it could mark the end of CIA and military schemes of force that too often kill other people’s children.  I thought the better American lurking underneath in the shadow of bravado and star wars would be jolted and awakened.  Instead we have witnessed new faceless weapons of interdiction and  picture taking from the sky.  And anger in the Us increases as factories that might have provided economic  life fade into bankruptcy.  Is this our own Taliban in the shadow?
    
 Today I will continue my listening and I know I will hear more puffs of anger, some bold and hardened over  time, others muted and leavened by the culture’s surface harmony. As I leave my quarters I will pass near the site of a projected  $736 million dollar US embassy complex. Another Green Zone like Baghdad?  I want to turn those thoughts off.  Maybe they will give the embassy a new name.  I have a suggestion – Fortress of Anger Management   
 
 Today I can still burrow my way through the suspicions of most persons I meet here.  I wonder if future generations of peacemakers will find people with whom honest conversation is a still a safe possibility.  Or will the political culture be the completion of a Taliban revolution?

I learn of the pain in so many people’s hearts here over a national educational curriculum put in place by an impatient military dictator anxious to build a myopic vision of Muslim society.  I hear the words of regret and a testimony to the fruits of a confined educational policy in this generation of university students. Their stories of delayed protest remind me of my own delays.  When have I challenged the school teachers in my family, my city or community to tell the harsh truth of America’s blundering missteps of enemy making, horror, and terror.  We teach about Taliban honour killings but we don’t teach about our own honour killings.    Can we tell the truth in our schools and universities? 
The children here are not protected from the naked truth of  terror. There are real answers, albeit painful, to the question that rippled across America in the days after 9/11  – Why do they hate us?  They hate us because we are dangerous to have around.



Pentecost in Pakistan: Minorities and Majorities by peaceprobe
June 2, 2009, 4:04 pm
Filed under: Getting on the Way to Peacemaking

      Though the region now called Pakistan includes some of the oldest settlements in South Asia dating back thousands of years, it was only  in 1947 that Pakistan became a nation state for Muslim people from colonial India who wanted a homeland. Mahatma Gandhi resisted the notion of a separate state for Muslims to the end.  The India that Gandhi and his colleagues dreamed of was a heaven of diversity and a cradle of kindness towards all. He was heartbroken when up to a million people were killed during the chaos of separation from India, migration and riots.

     This past week I attended a gathering here in Islamabad called Minorities Solidarity Convention, an event that recalls deeply rooted threads of unity in the diversity of this region. Christians here are now in the season of Pentecost, when they remember how the diversity of their ethnicities at the very outset melted into unity.  For the first time since the founding of Pakistan, a Muslim nation set apart to protect and lift up a life of Muslim justice, the government has established a law for minorities.  Here in Pakistan the definition of a minority is religious, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, and other. The new law calls for a five percent set aside government jobs for minorities.  In addition to political representation, activists hope that this will include official curriculum in schools and other marks of toughened respect.

     At its founding Pakistan was envisioned to be  a secular state for Muslims.  The notion of a secular Islamic state is an inherently confusing concept that suggests an autonomy for the state in the context of the dominant religion, Islam.  The notion of the separation of church and state which evolved in Europe and the Americas attempts to deal with the same matter.  Both approaches can be and are manipulated for political and religious ends.  With the growth of Muslim fundamentalism stretching from India through Pakistan and across South Asia the meaning of the nature of a secular Muslim state is being tested.  The stretch from secular on one edge is balanced (some would say abused) by the pull towards a stricter application of traditional Muslim law on the other.   Similar stretching has occurred in lands dominated by Christians.  Fanatic, fundamentalist and fascist expressions of faith and politics claw for power.

                I don�t think it is very helpful for Christians to lecture Muslims about state craft.  We Christians tend to forget the substance of our faith when we get power.  We forget that in its roots Christian faith requires transparency and vulnerability. Even Christian politicians who  come from the bottom  usually get snookered into heavy handed institutional notions of statehood and the exercise of power complete with tanks, mines, big armies that break things, and drone air planes.  Our arsenal is completed with nuclear weapons. The highest expression of our faith and maybe all faiths is very rarely shown in statecraft.  Our laws, their application, our market places and even our credit cards hide our deepest aspirations for equality, peace, a do unto others.., and the cautions about usury (lending money for interest) in both  religious traditions.  

This year my walk in Pakistan during Pentecost Sunday brings together threads of the ancient and modern world. At Pentecost, as described in the Book Of Acts, the divine was integrated in one place where there were people of many languages and memories of ancient conflicts were rife. That Pentecost gathering 2000 years ago was an event of the people from throughout an empire who were united around the mysteries that make for unity. We can speculate that they understood Jesus in various and even in confused ways.  The outpouring of the Spirit happened at their gathering in Jerusalem a tinder box city of fanaticism, oppression, gossip, armed forces, secret weapons and calls for insurgency. There was great potential for division, and violence. Instead unity broke out in the midst of all the potential for stupidity.  At the Pentecost gathering people understood each other despite the boundaries created by long held suspicions and language.
Today the peoples of this region hold tightly to their separate visions and boundaries, many of which were fashioned in an earlier age of empire.   The incomplete business of unity is everywhere visible to the point of violence, terror, and insurgency.

I really need to remember Pentecost this year in Pakistan where the friction of divisive convictions, some devoid of a single thread of compromise, threaten neighbourhoods, villages, cities, and nations.  I am in a place where a big imperial army with faceless weapons and intelligence operatives conjoined with local military forces are poised to make things come out right.   

But I am also in a place where the voices of fairness, unity and justice and peace are  finding ways to listen, act, report, organize and try to live out the better vision. Creating space for minorities is a sign. There are  hints of resolution in the mystery of the spirit that nudges toward truth, if the battalion who march through this place of invasion can be sent away.  There are brave people here.  Some days they are tired. Some may die because of their words and actions.  So on this Pentecost I pray that the decimated villages of Swat and the car bombs of Lahore are not punctuation marks along the way to destruction of this once glorious Indus Valley.  I pray that these are the last days of reckoning before a new unity where people who hardly talk now, will soon sing a new song together.



Winning Hearts and Minds II: Drones and Human Terrain Teams by peaceprobe

 

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 scooping 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)

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)



Viet Nam: Everything is the Same; Everything is New by peaceprobe
April 21, 2009, 7:38 pm
Filed under: Getting on the Way to Peacemaking

From south to north Viet Nam is a nation of earth moving equipment, towering cranes, motor scooters/cycles and very lush green fields. Forests have been cut down; some have been reforested.  Fields and crops teeter on the sides of mountains.  Towns and cities are exploding

Urban Building, My Tho, Viet Nam

Urban Building, My Tho, Viet Nam

upward to seven stories and outward enveloping former rice fields. Industrial zones announce their presence with truck traffic and huge buildings.  In the “pho” shops (the real fast food sector) noodles mixed with recipes of delicious stock honed over generations are served to lines of customers as they always have been.  

My travelling partners rightfully became impatient with me as I struggled with the value of the currency when we paid for food and services.  It took me about a week to get it through my head that a US dollar is worth 17,000 dongs and not 1700 dong.  Even the cashiers at the shops and hotels had to help me sort things out and seamlessly reached into my billfold to speed up my faltering calculations when it came time to pay.  How could a teacher live on $70 per month (that’s one million dong), drive a motor scooter and remain positive, I kept asking.  Everyone has other ways of generating income, I was told. 

The buses move a lot slower because of an apparent fear of police fines. When we told people how we use to live with military check points and fear on every road, a driver told us, “You lived with fear of check points and ambush and we live with fear of the traffic police.”  When a taxi cyclist gave me a lift, usually for five to ten thousand dongs, he reached under his seat to pull out a helmet for me to borrow for the ride.  Only twice in my month long visit did I see motor scooter riders daring the law and riding without helmets. 

Several incidents reminded me that police conduct in Viet Nam today is not unlike many other places I have lived in the world.  With enough money a fine can be made to disappear.  One driver told us that bus and transport companies have informal prearranged protection schemes in place with authorities so that traffic violations including speeding tickets go away.  These shades of the old pre unification Viet Nam remind me that change is hard, and tough regulation needs tough enforcement, a lesson that some over developed economies might learn as well.  

There are roads to places I once only dreamed of going.  In this land that President Johnson once made the poster child of terrorism no one spoke of a single terrorist.  “This is one place that is safe for foreign travellers,” bragged a merchant who serves backpackers.  Everything that is new in Viet Nam is built on the old Viet Nam – the national myth of invincibility, the traffic patterns of going with the flow like modern freeways but with scooters; sweeping statements of government mistakes, reliance on the great river systems, some street hustlers who apparently were trained in the old Viet Nam, and confidence in a future among the community of nations.

Church buildings, and pagodas are not the measure of a people’s spiritual life, but to the extent that rebuilding, polish and quantity are a tiny piece of some kind of test there is a lot happening.  Some are being rebuilt with government support but many are the projects of communities and people seeking to connect to another side of themselves.  These religious expressions are pushing out for more space.  Recently in Hanoi, Catholics of the region gathered with candles and sustained prayers to support their church’s tough negotiations with government over land issues.  As a result the disputed urban land is now becoming a park instead of a project site for developers.  Unlike some places I know, people here wait in line to attend seminaries and Bible schools.  Marxists in Viet Nam like post religious folks in the West turn to religious institutions as interesting expressions of art and creativity but generally devoid of spiritual meaning.   In Viet Nam something else is happening.   

When the four million Khmer people of the South, religious minorities or highland tribes demonstrate for more autonomy the Vietnamese answer sounds like the American response to Afghanistan’s growing conflict, “There needs to be better economic development.”  One person told me “those people need to learn to work with us”, another person said the problem was “fired up and uncooperative leaders.”  As I travelled the

 

Highland people near Lai Cai in the north at the Viet Nam, China border

Highland people near Lai Cai in the north at the Viet Nam, China border

highlands of central and northern Viet Nam I nervously viewed newly denuded forests on the mountainside, and the many more Vietnamese settlers interspersed between occasional highland tribal villages.  My Vietnamese friends always described the highlanders as poor but the greater number of fields and terraces that hugged the mountains, and their handicrafts available everywhere suggested to me that these one time hunter gatherers had now been “settled down” and were in an irreversible stage of learning to do business the Vietnamese way.  

I am still on a quest for answers to questions that gnaw at me, questions that may be fair or irrelevant.  What happens when the graduates of the one or more Universities in each of the 60 or more provinces become restless, impatient or just don’t share the hope of this present generation? What happens when the bulldozers and construction cranes go silent because of the global depression?   Without a Wall Street to blame who is left to shoulder the burden and heat? 

There were moments of pure joy in returning to Viet Nam after an absence of 34 years since my last trip.  The warmth that enters a situation when you communicate in a little Vietnamese moves things along as it always has.  I felt a little pride that I may have been part of a movement that helped end the American war.  Driving over the Ben Hai Bridge that once separated North Viet Nam from South Viet Nam was a vigorous reminder that things really do change even though they may not happen on my clock.  Again and again I found myself asking what would this nation have been like if it had not been catapulted into extended wars that lasted for thirty years from 1945 to 1975?  Would the reforested areas be more mature?  Would Viet Nam be a cradle for renewal not only for its own people but for the region?  Would the seven story buildings have grown into a  renaissance of life and hope for people everywhere?

I wished I could have met my old Vietnamese colleagues and friends. Most are gone and I could not find those who remained.  I couldn’t even find the houses I once lived in although some of them may have survived the seven story explosion as backyard storage areas or servants quarters.  Everything in Viet Nam is old, and everything is new.



Warriors at Creech Air Force Base by peaceprobe

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.

p40901401After 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

Vigil:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUWYYTv-3M0

Action:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPgzP0eL4wg



Desert Awe and Shock by peaceprobe
April 12, 2009, 7:44 pm
Filed under: Getting on the Way to Peacemaking

Indian Springs, NV: The wind blew from the North this morning as the MQ-1 Predator took off early for its practice run. It flew over the mountains towards Frenchmen’s Flats, a practice bombing range in one corner of the vast Nevada Test Site where nuclear weapons have been tested since 1945, the dawn of the nuclear era.  Our vigil support room here is located in a facility once called Atomic View Hotel where ordinary citizens could stay as they waited to watch the atmosphere  light up and clouds form as nuclear tests unfolded.  Until now the desert retains its eerie beauty.

MQ-9 Reaper on practice run over vigilers during Holy Week at Creech Air Force Base, Indian Springs, NV.

MQ-9 Reaper on practice run over vigilers during Holy Week at Creech Air Force Base, Indian Springs, NV..

This morning I stand with my colleague, Father Louis Vitali, a devoted Franciscan, and former air force officer. Louis has spent the last 25 years both listening to his former military colleagues and speaking out on the dangers of modern warfare and praying at sites like Creech Air Force Base, headquarters of the unfolding digital age of warfare. Louis and I watch together as the Predators disappear over the mountain where their laser guided dumb bombs are released with precision on the desert beyond, aimed at targets that simulate hard to reach villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With Predator engine sounds in the distance we wave to base personnel as they come and go.  Father Vitali teaches me how to give warm greetings to soldiers and workers without being too patronizing or communicating mushy niceness. As we vigil,  a caravan of seven buses with soldiers depart Creech. 

 I learn that the buses are on their way to Nellis Air Force Base located on the edge of Las Vegas. Nellis reaches through the vast desert territory and occasional mountains for 45 miles to our vigil site. Nellis AFB may have more nuclear bombs within its boundaries than any other site in the world. The troops are headed to and from exercises, training, recreation and study. Beyond the massive test site, 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas is Yucca Mountain where billions have been used in an apparent empty quest to find a safe place for spent nuclear fuel. The current US administration has rejected the use of this site for nuclear waste, but the problem of what humanity will do with this dangerous matter persists.

Holy Week Vigil at Creech Air Force Base

Holy Week Vigil at Creech Air Force Base

As the sun warms the cool dry morning desert air I realize I am standing in the midst of 65 years of military history that determines an inappropriately large part of my future. Forty-five miles away the world’s gathering place for gambling, Las Vegas, has lost 20% of its business but the gamble on life here continues. Casinos and nuclear energy interconnect with each other as civilization persists to defend a way of life and enjoy it.  Almost unnoticed here on the edge of Nellis AFB, beside the nuclear test site and Yucca mountain beyond and as lavish casinos light up the night sky in the distance, the robotic edge of the newest era of defence unfolds.

A Navaho man joins Louis and I and tells us that the local Shoshone Nation has declared the entire area as a nuclear free zone.  Across highway 95 from our vigil site there is a sign for Echos of Faith Christian Church.  Our native visitor’s words and the church sign reminds me that faith and spirit that was present at the creation of this magnificent canopy of beauty continues to hover even though we insist on finding ways to undermine the Creator’s security intentions.