PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


Why Blackwater Will Not Go Away by peaceprobe

In April 2004 the world was awakened to a horrible scene in Fallujah, Iraq. Insurgents had ambushed a vehicle carrying civilian U. S. Government mercenary contractors and killed them. Two of the burned corpses were hung from a bridge in downtown Fallujah where they dangled for several days as photos of them flashed around the world. Commentators immediately compared the Fallujah footage to that of dead American soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. The victims in Somalia were American soldiers. The victims in Fallujah were American mercenaries employed by Blackwater Inc., renamed XE in 2007.

In this century we are entering a new era of mercenary warriors. From the strategic point of view, modern mercenaries fulfill a crucial requirement. They provide logistical and selected security support for invading forces in the field, and in addition on the political level they allow policy makers to engage in off-the-record, arms length and clandestine activities on the margins and outside of the law. This was formally called “plausible deniability”. In the recent past mercenary soldiers for profit have also served in Bosnia, Liberia, Pakistan, and Rwanda. They have guarded the Afghan President Karzai and built detention facilities in Guantanamo and elsewhere. On February 10, 2010, the Iraqi government ordered all Blackwater Inc. including subsidiaries out of Iraq or risk arrest. The order includes anyone involved with Blackwater in the deadly shooting incident in 2007 when they killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

Due to a hostile local population the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan have required heavily armed guards, escorts, and sharp shooters to provide logistical protection for the millions of tons of military supplies. It is dangerous work and requires people who have been trained. The contractors, some from third world nations like the Philippines also staff the kitchens, the PXs (tax-free general stores for soldiers that offers rock bottom prices) and provide thousands of other support activities. Most mercenary contractors who carry out security related functions are former military. The Pentagon argues that despite lavish salaries, using military contractors is cheaper than training soldiers for the work. What is not said is that if the American armed forces were to carry out all these tasks the U. S. Government would have to implement a military draft which would be unpopular and set up the sons and perhaps the daughters of the privileged classes for the danger and inconvenience of military service.

Paramilitary units in Colombia, Philippines, Haiti, Afghanistan and many countries around the world perform similar functions to what private sector mercenary contractors do for the U. S forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. U. S. Operatives sometimes together with mercenaries have been involved in strategy formation, training, and sometimes in financing usually in conjunction with local government military groups. Even the Taliban got its start in the early 1980s as a paramilitary project developed and financed by U. S. personnel in conjunction with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Like the mercenary soldiers of Blackwater, virtually all of whom have had careers in the U. S. military, the Taliban grew up fighting and to this day this is the only profession they really know.

The Taliban and Colombian thug-like paramilitary units function at the margin of traditional customary law. Modern mercenary contractors often also function outside constitutional law. Both blur the lines between judicial process and police activity arrogating to themselves life and death decisions that any responsible society must legislate. These soldiers know the law of the gun. When or if constitutional government is restored they seek a place within the institutions of security work, but rarely leave their habits of threat, killing and improvised seat-of-the-pants law making. Former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld insisted that war by mercenary contract is cheaper but his calculations failed to include the re-education of the first generation of Taliban fighters back into civilian life from combat with the Soviets in the 1980s. Nor did his calculations include the cost to the American people of the expansion of its imperial culture of security.

Mercenaries working under private corporations also have carried out specialized tasks for the CIA including the loading of Hellfire missiles onto Predator drones. They have engaged in search, capture or assassination of enemy leaders in areas like the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Officially, the Blackwater mercenaries killed in the 2004 events in Fallujah were in the line of duty “to protect food shipments.” However there is apparently some doubt if there were in fact any food shipments on that day.

In 2003-4 I made several trips to Iraq. At the close of the first trip, an Iraqi with whom I had consulted extensively, rushed to the CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) apartment. He insisted that I must meet with some very important people for an extended lunch 16 hours before I was to depart from Baghdad. Our CPT schedule was piled full of planning and projects. I didn’t want to go to the dinner because I suspected I was about to be the recipient of a mountainous request that CPT had neither the personnel nor the money to respond to. But I agreed to go with other CPTers. The dinner turned out to be a gathering of representatives from some of the senior families of Fallujah. I figured it out about two thirds of the way through introductions. The entire group was made up of leaders. I waited knowing that they wanted something.

They asked about CPT. I knew that they already knew a great deal because two persons in the circle had spent extended time with us. We explained our decision to focus on detainees, house raids and the rights of Iraqis. We gave two examples of cases we were working on. We were frank about our limitations. There was some silence, and then one person asked if we ever do anything outside of Baghdad. We said, “Yes.” Have you every been in Fallujah? “Yes we have visited Fallujah.” I thought I knew where the conversation was going so I didn’t ask anything further so that the conversation about Fallujah could not develop. I didn’t want them to ask if we could put a team in Fallujah. They persisted with broad hints about the needs of Fallujah.

As I left that meeting, the spokesperson of the group took me aside. He identified himself as a senior police officer in Iraq. As he prepared to say something to me his cell phone rang. It was his counterpart, a U. S. Colonel. I waited and tried not to listen to what was being said. The call ended. He looked at me and said, “The U. S. Forces detained my nephew some weeks ago. We can’t find him. Could CPT help us find my nephew?” I said we could try although our team was already over committed. We tried but we were not successful. I don’t know if his nephew survived detention. I don’t know if the police officer survived the last seven years.

This encounter took place six months before the first battle of Fallujah which followed the killing of Blackwater contractors. As I write this I wonder how many of the people in that circle on that day are still alive, still live in Iraq or have any normalcy in their lives. I wonder if an unarmed peacemaking team in Fallujah might have made a real difference to the U. S. strategy, leading not once but twice to the destruction of that city. I believe trained and disciplined unarmed peacemakers in good numbers could have done without arms what armed soldiers could not accomplish — protect the people of Fallujah.

The story does not have to end here. We are not condemned to surviving in a world where the law is decimated by successive generations of paramilitaries. But the answer will probably not come from the Pentagon nor from the White House which may not be able to escape the grasp of a citizenry whose houses of worship celebrate the institutions of violent intervention. Congressional efforts to rein in support for paramilitaries or mercenaries have been timid. We will know if unarmed spiritually based peacemakers can do this when we become even more resolved to create a corp that can be in the Fallujahs that are waiting to happen.

Every one of us is impacted by a dominant culture that insists that military or police force will make things right. Every day that culture tells us that dirty tricks usually done in secret are required for our survival. After all, it’s argued, someone has to do this dirty work. It’s called a noble work and the Blackwater mercenaries are required for the work. It will take an expanding world wide but grass roots culture reaching beyond national borders to fashion a body of Christian peacemakers to be an effective power to block the guns and be part of transforming each impending tragedy of war. Little by little there will be change.



Robotic Warfare: Making This World Safe? by peaceprobe

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.



Surge: Strategy for Successful Negotiations? by peaceprobe

The President Obama – General McCrystal surge in Afghanistan is now in full motion. Last week US Marines, NATO, and Afghan forces attacked in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan to set the stage for negotiations. The Pentagon and the White House hope that the show of force will create the conditions for the their eventual departure. Taliban resistance includes multiple improvised explosive devices (IEDs), also known as homemade roadside bombs, the weapons of choice for insurgencies today, and widely scattered landmines to inhibit foreign and Afghan government forces. By chasing down the Taliban and holding territory the US hope is that the occupying forces from abroad will weaken regional Taliban commanders and thereby force negotiations that can lead to normalization over the coming 18 months.

The multi-year strategy, the surge, attack, negotiate, withdrawal (probably with residual forces left behind) was outlined by President Obama at his West Point speech in December. This is a familiar strategy for nations when they see that a foreign occupation has become expensive, unwinnable and unpopular. Something like this was contemplated for Afghanistan by the Soviets 20 years ago, and 40 years ago by the US in Viet Nam. Both were intended to cover the negative consequences of a withdrawal where success was not achieved. In both cases the hoped for solution backfired and the imperial armies were pushed out by circumstances at home. A similar strategy is now proceeding in Iraq but we won’t know the real outcome for several years.

The process of winding down the Afghan war by means of a surge will be lubricated with generous financial incentives rumoured to be as much as 1.5 billion dollars, available for use by US commanders as encouragement to create the path for realignment. Despite Afghan President Karzai’s tenuous mandate to rule, the negotiations and leaky reconciliation effort will plod forward under his leadership. The Taliban movement is a loosely coordinated effort that does not function under unified command. Last year some Taliban leaders participated in an early attempt at conversations in Saudi Arabia. Most Taliban leaders, however, have sworn loyalty to Mullah Omar who is the closest to a human symbol of a unifying figure.

In the background veteran State Department diplomat, Richard Holbrooke who pushed through the Dayton accords precursor to the Bosnia surge, monitors progress, and provides stimulation for all the parties, Pakistan, India, Central Asia, the U N security council, NATO and other big powers. Holbrooke has estimated that 70% of the Taliban fight for local reasons or money and can be won over.

The Afghan Taliban leadership which is Pakhtoon will be weaned from their need for safe havens in Pakistan where two-thirds of the ethnic Pakhtoon population lives. American, Canadian and other officials hope that incentives like money and positions in Karzai’s Afghan government will bring Taliban commanders and their followers into Kabul’s orbit. There is plenty of precedent for incorporating Taliban-like warlords into Kabul’s government. In 2001 when the Taliban government, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan fell, the US supported forces were led by the Northern Alliance one of several warlord groups that had been beaten back earlier by the Taliban. Karzai’s government has consistently included warlord leaders who still command militias from non Pakhtoon, sectors of Afghanistan. Though the non Pakhtoon peoples make up only slightly more than half of Afghanistan’s population, the Taliban now has shadow governors in thirty-three of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces. However their real strength remains in the Southern provinces populated by Pakhtoon people.

In a November 2009 press release for the festival of Eid which celebrates the end of Ramadan Mullah Omar hinted at flexibility while urging fighters on with a jihad that will lead to peace. The “negotiations” last year between the Afghan government (by implications the US and NATO) and the Taliban may or may not have started to move things toward a longer term negotiating process. Renunciation of Al-Qaeda is probably Washington’s one non-negotiable demand despite the fact that U. S strategists believe Al-Qaeda’s strategic importance still centred in Pakistan is much diminished. The principal demand of the Taliban is that foreign forces must announce a timetable to leave Afghanistan. President Obama hinted at a 18-month timetable in his West Point address.

In December 2009 President Karzai called for a Laya Jirga to which the Taliban would be invited as a way to bring the insurgency to an end. A Laya Jirga or grand council in the Pakhtoon tradition has been used among the tribes to settle disputes going back to ancient times and is rooted in Pashtunwali, the code of ethics of the Pakhtoon people. Karzai is said to have insisted that Mullah Omar be invited to participate. The response of the international community, the language used by Karzai to refer to the Americans, was caution. In addition to demanding assurances that the Afghan Taliban have revoke any relationship with Al-Queda the international community urged that Karzai demand that the Taliban accept the Afghan constitution. This points to the debate about the role of Sharia law in a future Afghanistan. Karzai has also called for an end night raids and that all prisoners be turned over to the Afghan government. He has continued his criticisms of the use of bombing raids by international forces that lead to massive death for civilians. In Helmand province, the site of the current U. S. and allied offensive up to ten civilians were killed in a Hellfire missile attack by a drone last week.

Even if the outlines of this precarious plan are successfully stitched together, it holds little promise of ending the work of the dragon, 9/11, whose fangs ignited this era of international terror, revenge and invasion. The end game leaves Afghanistan desperately poor and probably alone when the international community heads home as it will. The U. S. will finally have to attend to paying the sky-rocketing debt for its military adventures.

Surge, attack, negotiations have a ring of familiarity. Not all of us are confident that it will bring peace. What if the Taliban refuses to abandon their covenant with Al-Qaeda? What if Pakistan decides that an Afghanistan of warlords including Taliban warlords no longer tethered to Pakistan is too dangerous because India, its primary adversary, may exploit the situation?

What if the momentum of distrust and corruption can’t be stopped and the scaffolding for negotiations never develops? What if the better angels in Afghan culture and village life cannot be called forth to rescue everyone from the 30 year habits of violence? What if the external forces often called stakeholders, Pakistan, India, Iran, China, the neighbours to the North of Afghanistan, and the big powers including the US, NATO and Russia, all with interests in Afghanistan will not agree? What if violence, anarchy and warlords resurface with a vengeance as they did when the Soviets departed in the early 1990s? Will Afghanistan be turned back again to the warlords to compete for the spoils and grind the people down even more?

Stay tuned to this blog site as we explore some other approaches to Afghanistan and the region.



Why I like Santa Claus by peaceprobe
December 22, 2009, 8:01 pm
Filed under: Connecting Across Borders | Tags: , , ,

Santa Claus was never a big part of my life until I let my white beard grow long.  That was twenty years ago.  My beard sometimes closes doors for North American Caucasian who think I never got out of the 1960s.   But the beard opens more portals to wonderful conversations
in places like Viet Nam where they called me Karl Marx.  Elders in Afghanistan admired my beard and apparently trusted me.  They addressed me as Baba (Uncle) Noel.  Once in Mexico City airport I got stopped eleven times by mothers with young children who wanted their child to meet Senior Noel.   It was summer and I didn’t have a single gift to give, not even a piece hard tack candy.

When late November arrives I know I am in for surprise greetings every time I go out.   The words from strangers carry positive energy because people have good thoughts about Santa except for children age seven and older who have become suspicious that Santa talk is a ruse and he can’t be trusted to be what they were taught about him.

The home I grew up in acknowledged Santa.  We didn’t have a fire place so it was confusing to me how Santa would get into the house by way of a chimney that went to a coal furnace.  Somehow he made it and the stockings were full when I awoke on Christmas day.  There was at least one small present, an orange and some hard tack candy, not my favourite but I didn’t complain because I didn’t want to stop a good thing.

I first really became aware of the power of Santa and St. Nicholas, during the 1990s when I regularly visited Palestine where Muslims, Jews and Christians alike used my appearance as a conversation starter.    When the second intifada (uprising) broke out in 2000 there were violent exchanges between Israelis and Christian villages like Beit Jala, near Bethlehem.  In Beit Jala I was seriously introduced to St. Nicholas, their patron saint who gave special protection to the villagers since the 4th century. The story is that St. Nicholas was a pilgrim to Beit Jala in the years 312-315 and he lived in buildings and caves built by monks a century earlier. The people of Beit Jala told me story after story about how St Nicholas had saved their village over the centuries up to and including modern intifadas.

The original Saint Nicholas, one of the sources of modern day Santa lived in 4th century Turkey in the city of Myra and was known to be a prolific and secret gift giver particularly to people who left their shoes out for him.  According to legend St Nicholas spoke up for justice and was imprisoned under the Roman emperor, Diocletian. He later became a church leader, bishop and according to historians participated in the Council of Nicaea of course after he was released from prison under Emperor Constantine the first emperor to court the support of church people.  St. Nicholas died Dec. 6, 343 and according to reports a unique relic called manna formed on his coffin. The manna had special healing powers.

The merging of Santa Claus, in his flying sleigh and St. Nicholas, the gift giver and healer with the birth of Jesus has really only happened in the last several hundred years.  The choice of December 25 to remember Jesus birth didn’t occur until 350 years after Jesus’ birth.  It is almost certainly not Jesus birthday.  It is winter in Palestine and shepherds are not likely to be in the fields at that time of year.  The date was probably chosen because it was the Roman holiday that celebrated the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere. Today Christian and non Christian cultures celebrate Christmas.

Somewhere between my childhood and the 1990s I learned that the combination of St Nicholas in the fourth century, European mythology, and imagination gave birth to the modern Santa Claus.  There is just enough magic in all of the sources to maintain curiosity in children and adults.  In the final chapter of this mashing together to make Santa Claus, the holiday season has become a marriage of commerce and advent that conveniently invokes Santa in order to escape the more demanding implications of the story of Jesus birth, the politics of domination, poverty, infanticide, peace, and hints of universal claims from the Magi.

The power of Santa is invoked to sell lots of stuff, in fact the whole economic year hangs on December sales.  By the time Santa Claus works his wonders in the market place he has been thoroughly trivialized and there is not much connection to St Nicholas, gift giving, generosity,  or even reindeer..

I have never played Santa for a commercial establishment, but I have impersonated Santa for events of gift giving.  Commercial establishments need a lift from Santa because it is very hard to sell Christmas shoppers with a story about someone being born in a manger probably with goat manure on the dirt floor.  Commercial life demands immediate results, the kind that a newly minted and happy Santa can offer.  It does not need a birth story about unknown parents who are manipulated or forced by an emperor with no compunctions about using terror to impose his will, into travelling to that forsaken place where Jesus was born.

One time I visited Toys R Us dressed like Santa and accompanied by a team of elves.   It was a few days after Christmas so the symbolism was still solidly implanted in people’s brains.  I entered the store with my staff of elves and immediately requested the manager to remove violent war toys from his shelves.  I explained to him how dangerous the toys were and that I had determined that the bad toys must be permanently removed for the safety of children.  He replied that what was on his shelves was not my business to which I replied that toys are always my business.

We then used the shopping carts to load assorted dangerous toys from throughout the store that my staff of elves had marked for removal.  By that time the police had decided to intervene to stop what they called a disturbance but what we designated a recall.  TV cameras were also present.  I informed the police that  my staff and I would leave the store as soon as we had completed our work.  The police threatened arrest.  We had a quick staff meeting, elves and Santa, and judged that the police would never arrest Santa or his staff.  We were right, however the police blocked our progress as we pushed our carts from aisle to aisle and finally into the backroom where we instructed the  workers to hold toys for pick up by United Postal Service and prompt shipment to my workshop.

So you see Santa can be firm and hard nosed.  That is why hard nosed adults should put Santa Claus and his ancient partner Saint Nicholas back into the holiday season!



Nobel Prize: Peace Or Just War by peaceprobe

What is the meaning of the Nobel Peace Prize?  Alfred Nobel, Stockholm native and the inventor of dynamite and other explosives was chagrined that his inventions were used in cruel ways. In the late 1800s towards end of his life he dedicated his considerable fortune to those who had made the greatest contribution to humankind. Each year prizes are awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics and peace.

Two sitting American Presidents Woodrow Wilson (1919) and ninety years later Barack Obama (2009) have been presented the Nobel peace prize.  Both men believed that they had an overarching role to move history in a more peaceful direction.  Wilson was disappointed and died in office.  His League of Nations was crippled from non support at home and then burned in the ashes of World War II.  We hope for a better outcome for Obama.  Former President Jimmy Carter received the prize in 2002, 22 years after he was defeated by Ronald Reagan for a second term. Henry Kissinger accepted the peace prize for negotiating with the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam (North Viet Nam) in the early 1970s while B52s simultaneous bombed his enemy.  His counterpart Le Duc Tho of North Viet Nam refused to accept the prize.  The war continued for two more years after the Paris Peace agreements.  Between 1973-1975, another half a million Vietnamese were killed and wounded, 340,000 of them civilians.

President Obama’s eloquent speech accepting the Nobel Prize on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day laid out the necessity of war and ruminated on his nation’s understanding of just war – “war waged as a last resort, or in self-defence; if the force used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.”  To his credit he defined what theorists believe is a just war.  He did not identify how his administration purports to fine tune war making to meet the criteria of a just war in two big wars, Iraq, according to him a dumb war and Afghanistan, a necessary conflict.

How will those who target drone attacks, and other expressions of air war make certain that no civilians are killed?  How will a new chapter in just war be written in the basic training manuals of soldiers preparing for deployment, for interrogation of the enemy, for treatment of captives, and for clean up of military waste?   Can Alfred Nobel’s dynamite and its prolific offspring ever be controlled?  Will the apparent unlimited use of U S wealth for military purposes bankrupt its citizens as once happened in Rome?

For a century the Nobel Prize for peace has hovered in that space between active peacemaking represented by monumental efforts towards peace and justice like land mine eradication, civil rights, or relief efforts, and the work of nations to create a framework that will constrict war and its effects on civil society.  The prize was not primarily intended to celebrate pacifist solutions to war although people who questioned all war and violence like Martin Luther King and Jane Addams received the award.  The acknowledgement of their achievements gives hope.

In his speech President Obama deftly distanced himself and his office from pacifist traditions as a President with responsibilities consistent with empire must do.  To his credit he did so without the normal checklist of charges of idealism, lack of realism and or even naiveté, a checklist deeply embedded in the pillars of liberal democratic thinking upon whose shoulders his politic relies for ideological ballast.

President Obama didn’t tell us if there are any serious negotiations with adversaries, coalitions of Pakhtoon villages or Taliban groups.  In a part of the world where negotiations have been practised for 3000 years it is hard to believe that something isn’t happening to find an end to armed conflict.  How is the conduct of the Afghan-Pakistan war creating the context for real peace, democracy or development?  The people I talked to in Pakistan are not sure.  How will his administration encourage or even mandate the military chaplain corps to become a genuine conscience and moral compass for  “just combat” in the field.  What about the thousands of soldiers who joined the nation’s forces and, in the process of soldiering, developed a conscientious objection to war?  Will they be allowed to get out without having their dignity and personal integrity dishonoured?

For many peace people, church members and third world nations Obama’s speeches on Afghanistan and the acceptance of the Nobel prize despite their eloquence was a time of disappointment.  This was the moment when I realized that my long-term hope for ending the practice of war in say a century will require harder more focussed work than ever.  I believe I can use this experience as a time to bound forward.  The speeches remind me that the Lamb of God with even wider reach in the stretch for justice can overcome the god of empire that imposes chaos and destruction under the guise of democratic order.

The speeches remind us that fundamentalist preachers or pundits are tethered together with the liberal establishment on the question of war.  Both stumble through various versions of just war ethics as the Predator drones drag us into a scary future.  Above all the speeches remind us of the very limited options that are available to an imperial President in matters of peace and war.  This is the moment to pull up our pants, turn off the T V, awaken our imaginations, and listen to God’s spirit of compassion for all human kind, and get on with our work.

Some of us will be called to unexpected sacrifice of time, career, and life itself.  The goal of a world without war is worth all of the sacrifice of a great army of unarmed soldiers.  This dream of a nonviolent world may be the only realistic vision now, despite the fact that our leaders doff their hats to just war.  The renewal of our spirit will come one step at a time in fresh and even larger ways as our spirits are awakened to the politics of renewal and hope, a politic like Jesus himself, that is never dependent upon a president who himself is often powerless to transform an imperial culture that devours good policies and strong words.

The universality of this season’s mantra, “Peace on Earth Good Will Towards People” is a good place to start and it gets the best angels involved. If the mantra is going to bring down the institution of war we better be prepared with discipline and armfuls of imagination infused with love.  When we are called idealists we do well to give the realist answer, all of creation is groaning for something better.  That is where we will put our energy.  Even elder Alfred Nobel might cheer us on.



Corruption Medicine by peaceprobe


Corruption is in the news again always with tough talk about what the next phase of US troops in Afghanistan will look like.  As a young volunteer in Viet Nam in the early 1960s I was assigned to work with a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) sponsored program called hamlet education.  At the time I thought that education was always good and it never occurred to me that I might be part of a larger plan to entice the Vietnamese government to embrace the U. S. Government agenda.  As I got into my work I was warned of corruption.  American government advisors told me that money for the program was lifted all along the way from Saigon ministry people, through province leaders and on down to district governments that administered the disbursement of money. I was never told what to do about it.  I had not enrolled in a class that might have been called History of Corruption in the Western World although given the soiled history of US intervention in so many places over the last 40 years it should have been a required course.

At the local level where I worked, the district chiefs contracted to have the schools built.  Vietnamese and Americans warned me that the contractors would cut corners by using insufficient amounts of cement and lower quality construction materials.  According to these same people contractors were required to kick back a certain percentage to the district chief.  It took forever for the paperwork and the money to work its way through the system down to the hamlets.  So American advisors along the way were encouraged to pressure, nice talk, and occasionally throw a fit to get hamlet education and all the other counter insurgency programs moving.  Eventually I figured out that I was the final link in that pressure process.

District chiefs told me that the blame for the slow pace of implementation order was due to the Viet Cong, or the general slowness of the Vietnamese way.  Eventually schools were built, dedicated and opened.  There were plenty of children.  Occasionally when I visited schools there was propaganda on the school walls condemning American imperialists.   I learned that when those signs appeared the schools usually closed shortly thereafter and if I went to those villages people continued to be polite and there was still tea to drink but the villagers didn’t want to talk about the school.

As the military build up proceeded I noticed that the US military civic action people took great interest in schools, loved to paint schools, and give support to projects.  Like me they also believed that schools would bring a better future   As security broke down such projects lost their luster.  But many of the programs continued to be carried on the Saigon government books and something called corruption grew as the distance from money to effective implementation became more remote, often impossible, due to war.  This led to more accusations of corruption and an influx of more American advisors always with their generous hardship pay.  Like me they arrived generally underqualified in the local arts of communication, culture and corruption.   Back in the White House situation room war councils were a weekly affair.

President Obama has promised to announce his Afghanistan decision next week in time for Christmas.  West Point, his choice of location does not suggest to me that he or his advisors have learned what I thought I learned in Viet Nam about how war and corruption embrace each other usually with the language of economic improvement and development for the people.   I can hear the generals and other senior advisors now in the situation room fine tune the use of new miracle weapons and at the same time integrating Canada, NATO and whoever else into the strategy of targeting the foe.  And then some highly medaled general or civilian security advisor will ask about how the counter insurgency plans are coming along. Somebody pontificates about “the people” and someone else describes a conversation they had in Afghanistan recently. Maybe there is a silence in the room and then someone from USAID, the civilian counter insurgency agency, reports on how many new people have been sent in to advise and track roads, schools and other development work.  Overall the mood is sombre and no one wants to say the strategy won’t work.  Someone asks about negotiations.   But that discussion doesn’t seem to go anywhere either.  One of the elephants in the room reminds the solemn gathering how embarrassing it is to give money to a government that is corrupt so someone suggests that we have to get the press to cover a success story.

Corruption usually gets worse in war because people’s survival instinct tell them to think short term and clutch at every opportunity for golden nuggets, money, or anything that has value and can be traded.  I doubt that the $500 dollar per day civilian advisors will stamp out survival corruption.  I have not heard evidence that these pricy civilians are any more prepared with communication, culture and corruption medicine than I was 45 years ago.  An Afghan’s monthly salary is less than half the amount a U. S. aid worker earns each day.  It costs about $500,000 per year to put these pricy civilian advisors and corruption doctors in the field, including the cost of their housing, transport, and security (usually provided by even higher paid contractors).  A soldier costs the American people about one million dollars per year.

But the suspension of legal and moral strictures so evident in conditions of war has its first cousins in New York and Washington where there isn’t a war.  We don’t use the word corruption unless it’s a Ponzi scheme.  By keeping the boundaries of the law as wide as possible in order to encourage free enterprise our rule of law here is respected even though people, corporations and syndicates plunder one another and feed on those who are not organized to escape the insatiable grasp for more money.  It is this kind of condition that incensed the Old Testament prophets when they warned Israel about the fate that awaits the greedy nation.  Corruption doctors are needed right here in North America, not the $500 a day kind that are sent to Afghanistan but the kind who have demonstrated with a life of bold words, or prudent action that the future is worth protecting.  Preachers and modern day prophets whose thought and wisdom have tasted from the well of sustainable economy can help.  Listeners and readers should, however, beware of the false gospel of perpetual prosperity celebrated in so many religious and economic holy places like some mega churches and Wall Street.

In Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan the word corruption is used when sharply dressed foreign advisors, who should know better, need someone to blame.   Let’s face it, corruption is universal.  Publius Cornelius Tacitus, roman senator, and historian who prosecuted a proconsul of Africa on corruption in the first century said “The more corrupt the state, the more laws.” We still have a habit of passing more laws to build a moat around corruption and deal with lapses in moral judgement.

The terms of the debate on Afghanistan are in need of change from corruption and blaming to respect and honest talk.  Foreign power and might will not change the outcome in Afghanistan although generous doses of explosives from outside will certainly lengthen the war.  The challenge of American powerlessness in Afghanistan now faces President Obama and his advisors. If he reaches back to his time as a community organizer he will get some hints of how to address the nation and the world when faced with powerlessness. Community organizers don’t take on campaigns that are not good for the community.  A healthy campaign reaches out with the possibility of real gain for all the participants

Foreign fighters in Afghanistan from the Muslim or the Christian world  can ill afford to pay for this war.  This chapter of warfare can be closed by loading up the trains, trucks, and air planes with all existing and spent war equipment.  By bringing instruments of war past and present, mines, spent tanks, everything, home for recycling it will not be used by anyone in Afghanistan or elsewhere to extend anyone’s conflict.  Then the world can turn its attention to binding up the wounds from broken relationships, the tangle of terrorism, and building a world that is incorruptible.



Fort Hood Shootings: Tragedy Waiting to Happen by peaceprobe

Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter was caught in an impossible matrix of shame.  As a Muslim he was asked to support the killing his fellow religionists.  Islam forbids the killing of other Muslims.  As a military man he was belittled and perhaps harassed for his growing Muslim convictions.  Good soldiers do not identify with the enemy.  Every day as a counselor and psychiatrist he was reminded of his impossible dilemma as he listened to the dreadful stories of broken soldiers caught in the vise of post traumatic stress syndrome disorder (PTSD).  Their stories of fatalism, guilt, suicide and other life changing experience in combat killing reminded him that he was a part of the system that kills other Muslims. He was caught between two shaming systems and there was no place to turn for help.

The military does not allow for selective conscientious objection.* Soldiers, including officers of all religious and secular persuasions who try to extricate themselves from previous military commitments are belittled.  And the bureaucratic path leads through months and even years of lonely and tortured hearings, appeals, reviews and rejections. Some go absent without leave (AWOL) only to grow exhausted over time with their semi underground life and loss of hope for a normal life. They may turn themselves in or even join the ranks of the homeless.  In previous wars they were welcomed in countries like Canada where they took up new lives.  Canada is no longer welcoming to objectors.

Objectors who are in uniform tend to act out of the deepest instincts of conscience that is available to them, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or humanist.  Major Nidal Hasan is one in a long line of soldiers whose deep inner conviction led them to refuse to cooperate.  He did it in a more destructive and dramatic form.  If you want to meet other objectors you can visit Under the Hood Café outside of Fort Hood where G Is with objections to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan congregate.  I met six of them in a recent trip to Austin.  All of them described thoughts of suicide, anguish over their desire to get their lives back, frustration at the way the military refused to believe them when they objected, and counselling sessions with people like Major Hasan that helped little.   In our conversations the group of objectors thoughtfully contemplated various versions of objection, selective conscientious objection (not recognized by the military), complete pacifism (recognized by the military) or continuing to run.   However in the confusion of their stress, I was not sure if one or more of them could turn to violence directed at their families or even aimed at the military.

Like Major Hasan the non Muslim objectors were people who believed what the military recruiters who are required to meet quota, told them.  They thought they would get money for advanced education.  They believed that they were going to fight and kill persons who may terrorize America.  They believed what they would do was right, good, honourable and even heroic.   The reality and innocence of the people they have now killed overwhelms them.  Their consciences were stirred by a more deeply rooted universal respect for human life. When they acted on their conscience it was interpreted as disloyalty to the military and to their nation and their lives are not celebrated like the media reverently acknowledges those who die in America’s wars.

Despite the macho cultures from which these non Muslim soldiers came their bodies and minds are now closed down to more war. For the young soldiers I met in Austin TX, massive killings by air, sea and land were enthusiastically approved and roundly supported by their superiors and political leaders.  Each soldier I talked with has his or her own story of willy nilly, random shootings that are never investigated.  In Major Hasan’s culture, suicide attacks are encouraged as the way to leave a mark or discourage the enemy.  The dominant thread in both cultures is the ancient model, an eye for an eye and both have teachings about just war that are ignored by commanders, soldiers and the religious teachers who back them up.

The lessons from the Fort Hood shootings is one that all of us must hear and believe.  There are great numbers of people returning from the modern battle field who are wounded in spirit.  The belief in a system that threatens, shocks and kills does not bring real security.  We all need to listen to people like Major Hasan and his colleagues at Fort Hood and help them find a way out of the system that is killing them and others.   One way out for them would be a system of selective conscientious objection.  We can press for that.

We can also push for a democracy that provides as many rewards for unarmed warriors, peacemakers and service workers outside the military as those promised to military recruits.  Maybe we should even advocate a draft that  recruits the sons and daughters of the ruling class first.  In the long term we need to press for a dramatic cut in the military budget.  And for all of us who dream of the day when a culture of peacefulness without killing might prevail we need to get serious about all kinds of experiments that build a culture where conflicts are settled without weapons.

*Major Nidal Hasan June 2007 notes for speech at Walter Reed Hospital advocating option for Consciencious Objector status for Muslims in the conclusion.