Filed under: Digital/Star War, Nonviolence, Politics of Empire | Tags: Afghanistan, conscience, counter insurgency, digital war, drones, Nonviolence, pacifism, robotic warfare
Last week Predator drones attacked in Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan and mistakenly killed civilians. We don’t know how many. The incidents are another warning like the messages of protest that Pakistanis have been trying to send Americans for the past few years. Despite the much ballyhooed precision of these air crafts and their weapons, they still kill civilians because corroborating intelligence on the ground is unreliable and this leads to flawed targeting.
The protection of civilians has been a most basic plank of all notions of just war for many nations going back 1600 years. The slide towards increased killing of civilians in war by national armies and as a corollary, the use of civilians as human shields is often overlooked. Tactics arising from the use of robotic weapons of war may increase the slide of disrespect for civilian life in war. This trend that brought us civilian casualties from Dresden to Hiroshima, from IEDs in Iraq to drones in Pakistan reflect the broad lines of increased disrespect for civilian life into the 21st century warfare in regular and insurgent armies.
During the final week of Lent this year I expect to travel to Las Vegas and to Creech AFB 45 miles northwest where the Predator pilots and their staffs are trained and local control rooms guide the planes in the 24 hour surveillance and attack assignments over Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. As I go I know that the Predators are just a tip of a vast array of robotic technology now being developed to make modern warfare “safer” for soldiers but more lethal for civilians.
The Predator and their Hellfire missiles are the air weapon delivery system of choice right now but maybe not for long. In the future the work of disarmament will be made even more complicated by robotic instruments of all kinds. The U. S. Army is working with universities to build micro fliers, tiny bird like flyers to be used for intelligence gathering and surveillance through its Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology Collaborative Alliance. Joseph Mait, manager of the Army Research Laboratory says,“ Our long-term goal is to develop technologies that can produce a map of a building interior or detect bombs,”
Big unmanned Predator like aircraft have lots of problems. They are still expensive to build, maintain and fly although they are much cheaper than the earlier generations of bombers. They can also be easy to spot. In Pakistan I was told that children in remote areas have games they play called, “spotting the Predators”. Shrinking those vehicles to a few ounces will not only change the children’s games but will give an up-close view of who is doing what, when and where.
According to Discovery Magazine, Haibo Dong of Wright State University is working on a four-winged robot, the Wright Dragon flyer. The designers complain that it is more difficult to create than a two-winged flapping system but promises more speed and manoeuverability. Dong expects to have a prototype, about the size of a real dragon-fly, completed this year. “This small craft could perform surveillance, environmental monitoring and search and rescue,” he says.
At Harvard University roboticist Robert Wood is working on mechanical bee-like instruments to create a colony of RoboBees. These swarming robots will incorporate optical and chemical sensors as well as communications systems to make autonomous flight decisions and to coordinate with colony members during tasks such as searching for objects or people.
Robotic technology is already heavily used in all of America’s wars. As many as 4000 robots are already on the ground in Iraq. Tiny information gathering devices are complemented by robotic instruments designed to identify and disarm bombs. With ground mobility they can enter into dangerous settings where enemy soldiers are heavily armed. Some of these instruments are being adapted for or are already used for in the homeland security. Their phenomenal growth will change forever the arms race, the balance of power(s) in the world and the nature of police work.
The ethical implications of this revolution of arms, force and information gathering are daunting.
1. The development, deployment, and use of the instruments of robotic warfare are being carried out in at least 40 countries around the world. A robotic arms race is already under way. There are few if any forums that address the implications of this race for the future of life on earth and for the quality of life-like basic freedoms.
2. As the robotic arms movement unfolds, the possibility for back yard development of instruments of destruction reaches to the limits of imagination. Violent video games were just a beginning although they may have helped dull our sensitivity and create a culture of acceptance. The IED (improvised explosive device) an interim instrument for defence and attack for insurgents will have been just the first generation of a long line of sophisticated adaptation of off the shelf technology for killing. The distance between the safe researcher silently working in a sanitized laboratory and the field practitioner is narrowing. The absence of meaningful work for so many in this generation may become the void where new waves of imagination in the service of violence are unleashed. Nonviolence movements will match this challenge only with keen understanding of the implications of robotic developments and solid healthy organizations.
3. As civilian casualties grow, persons who believe that life is sacred are faced with enormous new challenges. Peacemakers and human rights workers have only begun to grasp the implications of robotic warfare. People on the ground in Pakistan told me that just 10% of the victims of Predator drone bombings are insurgent combatants. Ninety percent are civilians. The Pakistan Security Monitor, a project of the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University disputes these figures. I have travelled in Pakistan and have heard the estimated 90% figure from persons with access to the areas of impact with accompanying stories of travail and death to women and children..
For Christian pacifists the reach of research, development, and manufacture dips into every one of our communities. We are now faced with new challenges to our convictions about not killing. Unless we face those oncoming ambiguities without falling into legalism, the convictions will morph into fluffy cotton decoration over a core of words that are not backed up with action.
4. As we enter this new frontier of ethics and robotic warfare, our methods of witness for a nonviolent way will be forced to adapt. The centralization of the development and manufacture of killer instruments into fewer and fewer corporations and selected political powers is over. The time is here when ordinary people can go to the local computer store or amazon.com to order component parts for assembling a weapon. What will we do if the computer store owner even goes to our church or parish? What will we do if people in our church own stock in companies that produce the components? We won’t have to go to Washington or to some well-mannered legislative office to begin the discussion and to engage in public witness.
We are now swimming in the culture of robotics, a technology that is being adapted every day by nations around the world to myriad roles that include security and killing. We can watch in admiration or distaste as the magic is unveiled . In periods of transition and unfolding violence it takes a little time for our consciences to be awakened and the gift of stubborn resistance to become clear. The time has arrived.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Blaming the Victim, Iraq, Peacemaker spirit, Taliban, Viet Nam | Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan troop surge, conscience, drones, pacifism, peace, robotic warfare
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.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, War and Poverty | Tags: Afghanistan, anti American, conscience, Muslim, pacifism, peace
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.
Filed under: Militarism, Peacemaker spirit | Tags: air force, conscience, Human Rights, pacifism, spirit
Two weeks ago I spoke at a gathering in Austin TX on Honouring Conscience. As I prepared I revisited those times in my life when I had listened to my own conscience. And then I began to make notes of people around the world who had acted out of conscience. I remembered troubling days of decision making many had reported to me. I recalled the joy and freedom that lit up their faces as they told their story and the consequences including changed relationships to neighbours, nation and colleagues that flowed from their decisions. I had never experienced such energy and confidence in preparing for an event as I did for this one.
At our gathering we celebrated acts of conscience in an honouring ceremony where persons from many walks gathered for special words of blessing and recognition, former soldiers, tax resisters, community activists, educators, professionals, workers, and Conscientious Objectors. As the words of recognition were spoken, my mind was also illuminated with a cloud of witnesses with whom I had worked from every clan, culture and nation where I served. It was humbling to be in the presence of this sacred trust of inner light, a force more powerful than law or might.
Immediately before this honouring ceremony I attended a workshop where the presenters included six former and current soldiers from Fort Hood north of Austin, one of the major finishing schools and launch sites for soldiers going to Iraq and Afghanistan. Each soldier described his own journey through patriotic acts of killing to preserve “our way of life”. They spoke of the estranging space deep inside called PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), where the meaning of their acts intermingled with their conscience.
One described the “first” Iraqi child he killed because he thought that child would grow up to be a terrorist. Another described a 36 hour odyssey in the field of killing. Each soldier spoke of suicide thoughts, broken relationships, abusive behaviour, lying, stealing, legal and illegal drugs and alcohol in the journey to find safety from the memories. Now they stumble through college classes in a world where there are few jobs. When asked if anything helped in their journey to recovery they agreed that the spirit and compassion of Cindy Thomas who runs a coffee shop called Under the Hood, just off the base gave them hope. Cindy’s active duty husband’s experience and the decision of her son to join the marines compelled her to open this center. The soldiers couldn’t think of anything else that helped them.
But the Iraq veterans were not the only former military people at this event. An important spirit behind the celebration of conscience was Garland Robertson former air force pilot and chaplain. Garland’s journey included his own renewal of conscience when as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force he reached a boundary within that would not allow him to go on without speaking more directly about militarism. A multi year battle with his superiors through rejection, hearings and court cases led to his retirement and current pastoral work at the Austin Mennonite Church. His firm persistent familiarity with the Spirit encourages people around him to be alive to the life of conscience.
As these heroes spoke I remembered the Iraqi soldier I met in Baghdad who refused to serve in Iraq’s army. His ear was partially cut off as a permanent reminder of his disobedience. I remembered the paramilitary soldier in Columbia who showed up one day seeking help to disappear from his comrades who would surely kill him if they knew he was trying to leave. I remembered the local heroes, pastors, prophets, imams, monks and human rights workers who listened to conscience and saved lives in the Philippines, Viet Nam, Burma, Indonesia each in a special time of political emergency. In Pakistan this past June I met a Pakhtoon man from the part of Pakistan where the Taliban are strong who travelled for two days by foot and bus to tell the story of the bombing that his people live under and plea for help to save lives.
Did Albert Einstein really mean what he said, “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.” Conscience is not something that is owned by a particular class, nation or sect although it is foundational to the life of faith. Nor can it be destroyed when people find ways to listen to it and act on it. Tyranny finds its place when people of conscience fail to act. Listening to conscience does not make us over into perfect specimens of our species. When conscience choices are made the darkest hours of our common life become points of light for all humanity. Even a child understands the voice of conscience.
Before there was law, conscience already existed. That is why the breaking of law is not disrespect for the law. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from the Birmingham jail wrote, “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
Filed under: Iraq | Tags: conscience, counter insurgency, Human Rights, ICRS, listening to the people, Nonviolence, torture
The most terrifying condition in a culture where terror is practised is the disappearance of the suspect. The victim is at the mercy of the captors. The family is totally devoid of information and feels helpless. Responses from supporters range from outrage to violence or depression. Absolute uncertainty and raw fear fills the void created by the absence of information. A person may be tortured, molested, and killed and no one may know for a generation or forever.
State officials normally deny or claim an absence of information that the vanished person is in fact detained. The final days of Jesus life included attack on his spirit and body. We don’t know all the details. However, experiences with US and other foreign forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and domestic armies in Latin America help us fill in some of that detail. By tuning ourselves more closely to these tragedies we gain greater access to the core of the Jesus we read about in the gospels. According to a study by the Pew Research Center 62% of white American evangelical Christians polled said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified to engage in torture to gain information from suspected terrorists. Would a faith that fully understands Jesus’ last days lead contemporary Christians to a more confident life of nonviolent sacrifice?
In my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams I spent time in Baghdad in 2003, four months after the occupation began. Before I arrived in late July families had already begun to contact the team seeking help and information on disappeared family members who were snatched by American units. In our search for information on the status of disappeared persons we tried various tactics. One day we went to Abu Ghraib prison to seek entry and information.
When we arrived we were greeted by hundreds of family members of the disappeared who overwhelmed us with tragic stories. Because we stopped to listen to some of their appeals for help it took a long time to approach the gates of the prison. We were denied both entry or information. The anger and raw fear outside the gates was palatable. For several hours we listened. Some in our group took notes.
In explosive conditions like that day my conscience vacillates between two responses, don’t give false hope or delve deeply into each case. On the one hand I hesitate to listen too much because even listening is an indication of commitment to find information and create a strategy of intervention. At Abu Ghraib on that particular day my colleagues and I had no response method for individual cases except to publicize the trends through our church and human rights channels. This was not enough.
My second response was to lean more deeply into each individual case to follow through with specific actions and to accompany the fear stricken families to the few offices in the occupation administration that existed. We had tried that route before with no success. With hundreds screaming for help we were overwhelmed. In those days we could have set up a table for complaints outside of Abu Ghraib every day and we could have taken stories from sun up to sun down. Such a strategy would could have been dangerous but danger is inherent in authentic nonviolent work. We didn’t do that in part because we had so few ways to help the desperate family members. Maybe we should have.
On another day we went to Baghdad Airport to seek information about prisoners held there too. Once again we encountered hundreds of persons outside the gates who were beside themselves seeking information on disappeared family members. Again we were overwhelmed with stories. The American guards tried to help. A sargent even went to get his lieutenant to talk to us. He could not help. Finally, in desperation the sargent pleaded with us to go but promised to take the matter up with his colonel, the senior officer . We never heard anything and the disappearances continued as house raids increased throughout Baghdad. Later we went to military bases, holding areas and restricted offices set up to support Iraqis where we encountered more scenes of desperate people literally grasping for help and information. Only months later when a low level military person gave us access to a data base of detainees were we able to provide at least rudimentary information for some desperate families.
Each day before we departed on these missions of fact finding and intervention among foreign soldiers we gathered for prayer, reflection and strategizing. We were reminded of the efforts of Jesus’ followers and family to keep track of him during his interrogation, trial and execution. Little did we know that Jesus’ last days of torture were being reenacted inside the walls of the places that we visited. We saw his bold and pushy follower, Peter, in a new light. We remembered Peter’s denial as he sat in the courtyard around the fire with the religious leadership who instigated the arrest. But now we recognized the Peter within ourselves who went to the place of disappearance, interrogation and mocking to try to track Jesus’ treatment. Peter wanted to protect the disappearing one, but his own survival meant denial of association, a kind of quick interim ethic that shows its face among allies convinced they must help the targets of torture..
We remembered the women of Jesus’ life at the execution and seeking the body at the tomb in order to perform the rites of death and purification of the corpse. For them, disappearance of the corpse was shocking. Even the apparent appearance of two unexpected persons at the tomb did not overcome their terror until their memories were jolted about his earlier words. When they went to inform friends and supporters of Jesus’ absence from the tomb the story was treated as an idle tale. Belief, disbelief, rumours, depression, and urgent attempts to do something and keep the network informed, are all present in this story, a story that reflects the culture of the disappeared and their supporters today.
In the modern world we have two widely acknowledged resources to follow the disappeared. The International Committee for the Red Cross is charged by international customary law to make contact between prisoners and their families through letters. In August 2003 the Baghdad offices of the ICRC were bombed, severely curtailing the ability of the ICRC from doing its work in the unfolding emergency. Secondly, we have the widely established principal of habeas corpus in modern law, a writ ordering that the prisoner be brought before a judge in order to protect the prisoner from illegal imprisonment. Those rights were suspended for detainees in Iraq.
Disappeared (the word is now used as a verb) detainees is one of the most terrifying forms of control that political authorities engage in. According to the UN more than 70 countries have “disappeared” people since 1980. The story of the interweaving of the culture of fear surrounding the arrest of Jesus is one in the long history of the use of this tactic to control populations.
Among Peter and the women who were close to Jesus we see a very personal and moral response more akin to what families everywhere must do in their reach for information and hope. At Abu Ghraib I learned that our responses in those moments calling for urgent action are determined by a lifetime of preparation.
Filed under: Japan, Militarism | Tags: conscience, Hiroshima Day, peace, revenge
On August 15 1945 I was five and a half years old. My mother and I were in the house when the news arrived by radio. I didn’t realize that it was so important. I had never known a time in my life when there was no war. War was normal and it didn’t affect me except for the brown sugar we had to use instead of white sugar for our cereal. My mother asked me to run to the barn and tell Dad that the war was over. I felt an urgency in her voice.
I ran out the cement side walk to the barn and tried to find my father. Going to the barn with a message was normal. Usually it was about someone in the community or church. Occasionally it was about an emergency that my father, a minister needed to tend to. This time was different because it had to do with the whole world. So I ran as fast as I could. He wasn’t in the barn so I looked in the milk house and then the granary, the shop, and the chicken house and finally I found him on the barn bridge repairing something.
Out of breath I ran up the barn bridge as fast I could and said. “Mom said I should tell you the war is over.” There it was I had said it. Dad looked down at me and said, “Oh, I am so glad.” He said it again, “I am so glad.” His response seemed strange because usually when I delivered a message he would race off to the car or to the house to make a telephone call and I would race after him to get in on the action. “Oh, I am so glad.”, he said it again and then he was silent. In the distance we heard the sound of explosions and Dad said, “I think they are celebrating the end of the war.” I was confused because I didn’t understand the meaning of the word, celebrate. My mission was completed. My final words to Dad that day, “But who won?” His answer, “Nobody won.” For months I wandered around trying to understand why, “Nobody won.”
The Little Boy in me is still contemplating how nobody could win. Little Boy was the name of the bomb that exploded over western Hinshou island on August 6 1945, nine days before my mother sent me on my first war ending mission. Some people may have forgotten the name of the bomb that hit Japan.. Most of us may not have known its name.
The images of incinerated Japanese children, parents, soldiers, buildings and playgrounds never get easier to look at. The bomb that destroyed so much within us and killed so many was built by the Manhattan Project (1) an effort the size of the pre war auto industry incorporating the work of 130,000 people. The 5 ton bomb exploded 1,900 feet above Hiroshima directly over a parade field where Japanese soldiers were doing calisthenics at approximately 8:15 am. Enola Gay, the B-29 aircraft named in honour of a favourite fictional character of the pilot’s mother, was already 11½ miles away when it felt the shock of the blast. At first Colonel Paul Tibbet, the pilot thought his airplane was taking flak. After the second shock wave the crew looked back at the city and described what they saw, “The city was hidden by that awful cloud . . . boiling up, mushrooming, terrible and incredibly tall,”
The spiritual cloud of Little Boy from the misted-over memory of my childhood now hovers over all of us. Colonel Tibbet retired in Columbus, Ohio the city where I joined American Mennonites last month for the biannual church assembly. About piloting the Enola Gay he said, “I’m proud that I was able to start with nothing, plan it, and have it work as perfectly as it did… I sleep clearly every night.” Shortly before his death in 2005, he said, “If you give me the same circumstances, I’d do it again.”
I still want to deliver my own Little Boy message of August 15, 1945 because the war set in motion by the Hiroshima event is not over. Almost all of us recognize how dangerous it has become. Most of us know that the chances of more Hiroshima explosions anywhere in the world remains very high. So we push it from our memory or leave it to government authorities who work in secret. Sixty-four years ago it took an effort the size of the car industry of the time to build and deliver the nuclear bomb. Today it would take only a handful of motivated and reasonably educated people to deliver one. Moral conviction combined with the fear that we may not survive has held us so far but that dam may break.
“Nobody won,” a teaching passed to me by my father and passed to him from generations before him hints at another way of thinking about winners and losers, attack, revenge and enemy work. On that day 64 years ago Dad started to teach me to suspend my instantaneous need for judgement, punishment and pride of victory. Sometimes I remember to practice these lessons. That is also when hope settles over me so that I can see a unity in the cosmos that may reach beyond my generation.
Filed under: Militarism, Politics of Empire | Tags: conscience, counter insurgency, digital war, military contractors, Robert McNamara, robotic warfare
There once was a very smart man who built cars and figured out ways for big organizations like governments and businesses to do things better. He had what a lot of people called a liberal sense of morality towards the world. Many people were liberal at that time. He wanted to do good and make things better, more democratic. He was a good father who welcomed friends of his children into his home even when they demonstrated against the big military system that he supervised.
At the beginning of the reign of JFK, the emperor called him in Detroit where he was making cars. Emperor JFK asked him to oversee the Defence of the Empire. He replied that he was not trained to take on such a responsibility. The emperor told him there is no school that prepares people for these jobs. So Robert McNamara like many people of his time went to Babylon to serve the people with the best intentions. He wanted to do good, make things more efficient, save the people’s money, and create systems where there was a better chance for good decisions.
His country was about to enter a very big war in a little known area of the world, Viet Nam. The country was already locked in a very hot fight that had the strange name, Cold War. When he took up his job as Defence Secretary his generals believed that if that Cold War went nuclear there must be massive retaliation and as much of the enemy as possible should be destroyed. Within a few years he realized that such massive retaliation might lead to a terrible outcome, mutually assured destruction. So he started looking for ways to trim the atomic weapons. Also in the year of our Lord 1963 Robert McNamara ordered the entire defence system to implement Equal Opportunity for All Minorities. Because of the order the military became the most integrated unit in all of the empire, ahead of churches, restaurants, and businesses.
But sadly most of his time went into that old fashioned war at the edge of the empire. He was a loyal servant of the emperors of the time and tried his best to understand the enemy. Despite misgivings he sent 535,000 soldiers and air planes to that distant land to decimate villages, and roads – anything that would kill or destroy the enemy’s spirit. But bombs, chemicals and killing only made the enemy stronger and smarter. One and a quarter million people in that land, more than the population of the capital of the empire, were killed during his time. He travelled to that distant land many times and tried to be nice to the people. Even that didn’t work very well. One time when he left Viet Nam he tried to say “Long Live Viet Nam” in the local language. His tones and accent was severely lacking and what he said was “Viet Nam wants to lie down”.
Robert liked good information. He felt like he failed to understand the enemy so he invented something called counter insurgency, a collection of programs intended to make the enemy like his people and the empire’s other allies. It didn’t work very well. The intelligence people around him couldn’t get the right information. Even if they found information they didn’t know how to separate truth from falsehood. They got into the habit of buying and trading information although they never actually went so far as to commercialize it on Wall Street. Even expensive information was not very reliable.
One time he said, war is “impossible” to win. He hinted that if his country had lost World War II the people who engineered the bombing in that war may have been prosecuted for genocidal destruction. But Robert, like the liberals of his day, persisted despite their troubled consciences. He did not resign his work or speak out except many years later when from hindsight he identified his doubts and mistakes. Many blamed him for defeat. Many more blamed him for overseeing the overwhelming outrage of that war.
His country would not be the same again. The nations of the earth would no longer trust the good intentions of his country’s people. When the war finally ended seven years after he stopped serving the emperor, his country was tired and spent. People did not utter the word, Viet Nam. No one said defeat, not even Robert, but almost everyone knew that they had been part of a dreadful epic fight where something had gone horribly wrong. And the people pushed their pain, confusion and guilt deep inside themselves where it festered and made them sick.
Robert McNamara died this week at age 93 and people are unsure how they should remember him. Some people used to think that the world had set a limit to war beyond which the empire dare not go because of the moral outrage surrounding Robert’s war. But now 40 years later it seems like those limits have not been learned or honoured. Others in the empire, those who wanted Robert to send more troops and bombs, believe that the innovations and organization that Robert brought to war, counter insurgency, military might, tricks of the intelligence community and electronic barriers to the enemy still can make things come out right.
Some people search their belief system, and their confidence in the great myths of the time wanes. In these days like in the days of Robert McNamara a new emperor has been crowned and the people want things to turn out better. They want to believe that they are a special righteous race who deserve prosperity. And the new emperor tells the people what they want to hear. Hope is mixed with warnings and forgetfulness.
The Emperor’s soldiers of the new age are turning to smarter bombs, better missiles, and more intelligent machines called robots. But these don’t bring victory. Others have turned to nonviolence, an old force but newly discovered by those who resisted Robert. Even non-violence is studied for ways it can be used or manipulated for imperial ends. Bits and pieces are borrowed but disembodied nonviolent tactics are lifeless without authentic love, a vision for transformation and conviction behind them.
The Emperor and his entourage two generations after Robert still can not find a way to explain to the world why a big powerful country would pound the life out of very poor people. The enemy is still described as a terrorist. But some people of the world have become wiser and they know the real meaning of terrorist. They use the term terrorist for those who operate the foxy new robotic weapons, missiles and smart bombs in the same breath as surprise attacks from below by people who build road side bombs and use hi-jacked air planes as missiles to destroy great buildings.
The people of the world remain restless about the empire. And at home, out of sight of the great weapons factories, polished floors of lobbyist offices, and defence contractors, all those who live from the fruits Robert’s systems, there are bands of street people and broken lives now made even worse by hard times.
Robert McNamara is about to be buried. An aging street person in Colombus, Ohio limps past the statue of another Emperor, William McKinley assassinated 102 years before JFK. The street person fought bravely for the empire, and remembers the day that Robert sent him off to battle. He curses and talking to no one in particular asks if the lessons from Robert’s time will be buried with him.