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 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.

Massacre: Remembering the Holy Innocents by peaceprobe
December 30, 2009, 9:36 am
Filed under: Politics of Empire | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

In this final week of the year, Christians who follow the church calendar remember that children were massacred at Bethlehem. Life stopped. We are always shocked whenever life stops because of events like this, 9/11 or US drone bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The surviving victims and the onlookers stammer as they ask, how this could happen? How can people do this?

From what I know about Herod who ruled when Jesus was born the story of the murder of children is entirely plausible. As a politician and Roman vassal Herod was caught between the demands of an empire and his unpopular regime at home. His dynasty ruled because of Roman blessing not because of the grace of God. The local Jewish population distrusted his intentions and had grown restive over his taxation policies and cruelty. In foreign affairs he cleverly used a combination of diplomacy and good guess-work to convince Roman rulers, sometimes in the midst of their own power struggles, that he was reliable and could deliver strong political rule that would not cause the empire headaches. That is what empires want from their vassals.

Herod’s rule included territory roughly equivalent to ancient Israel. It brought him power but little favour with the people who disliked his decadent life style. Herod claimed to be a Jew but his mother was Arab. Herod’s tenuous claim to Jewish faith was further eroded by his compliance with Rome’s public religion, emperor worship in shrines created at his monumental construction sites. These facts fed unrest.

The gossip that a new King of the Jews had been born was a mortal threat to Herod’s rule. Thirty some years before Herod had been elected to that office by the Roman Senate after angling for the position in the midst of Caesar Augustus’ rise to total power. He may have known of this new threat through his police, palace guards or intelligence service before the arrival of the wise men. However, a diplomatic call by foreign dignitaries called Magi with access to mystery knowledge from the stars alerted him that there may be serious trouble ahead and still manageable ways to crush another impending rebellion. Always on the look out for a coup or usurper of royal office Herod, like his contemporaries today had an insatiable appetite for intelligence information and its first cousin, popular gossip sometimes called news. Information meant that suspects disappeared often for good.

To be safe the dignitaries slipped away by “another road” without checking in with King Herod after they visited the new King in swaddling clothes. This act of avoidance, perhaps rude in the context of routine diplomatic niceties awakened Herod’s deeper suspicions, and the action he settled on was the killing of all children born in the most recent two years in or near Bethlehem, the site of the usurper’s birth. A political killing of infants was Herod’s preferred option given the restive and rebellious nature of public opinion. There was precedent for the use of infanticide as an instrument of national security in the history of the Jewish life in Egypt and in other nations.

This sequence of stories in Matthew’s first two chapters includes five dreams and a message from the stars. In times like these when life and death nudge one another, access to all the insights available to people seeking to do the right thing is urgently required. The break through of wisdom from the unconscious were gifts that illuminated the journey of escape to Egypt and provide the prologue for Matthew’s story of the community of liberation.

Politicians caught in dilemmas that threaten their regime resort to brutality. The killings of all children under the age of 2 was a fear based warning to the population, no regime change, not now, not ever. Looking tough in the midst of unpopularity is essential . Despite the collateral damage, death to mostly innocent children meant that the gains from a limited massacre, only the area of Bethlehem, outweighed the risks. There was no time to consider the long term effects on political culture.

Behind this story recorded in Matthew but not mentioned was the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. Every nation and principality in the Empire understood the nonnegotiable demands made of vassals, demands for stability, reliability, ideological harmony and access to material or human resources when the need arose. The empire had financial and military limits and local rulers were left to their own devices including secret police to create at least the fiction of security and prosperity. The empire preferred to have its local strong man to carry out the heavy lifting of domination and cruelty to manufacture order. The interrogation, torture, and killing of enemies, often called terrorists is the work for lesser tetrarchs. The empire’s troops were only sent in as a last resort. The imperial heartland was reserved for pomp and endless repeating of the myths of its glory.

But there is another thread in this story of empire, client states, vassals, intrigue, and massacre. It involved the parents of the King baby, who listened the their dreams. It involved unexpected partners who offered protection and generous help along the way. The story of escape, return and new life is happening today too for those who have eyes to see, ears to hear and wise instincts to recognize the signs of the times.

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.

Lucky in Vegas by peaceprobe

The invitation to a gathering of reflection on peacemaking in Las Vegas came several months ago.  I was honoured to join the group for a day because the question of how to respond to America’s current wars, its plans for dominance in space and the unfolding movement of robotic warfare challenges all of us, young and old, to think in fresh ways.  My time in Vegas would be completed with another adventure in contemplation in the desert sands where Creech Air Force Base trains pilots for robotic warfare.

The collapse of world wide finance and my lack of confidence in the big players may be creating a greater space for imagination.  When I complained to one participant, Vincent Harding, that I still have little confidence in what to do he gave me a little pastoral advice from an African proverb.  “How do you eat an elephant,” he asked. “One bite at a time.”  I left Las Vegas where the demons of irrational luck seem to be in control determined to free up the mirage of powerlessness in my mind.

I am done with letting the big players and gaming machines control the culture.  I know more than I have acted upon.  Economics is also a matter of spirit.   My mind’s deep freeze has kept me from the light within and the possibility of light in my opponents, the people who manage the remaining collapse of a world that takes care of the people who are “too big to fail”. Truth happens in experiments.   It is backed by courage and preparedness for the teachable moments.  My time in Las Vegas was one of the moments when I was taught.

My wake up call to finance capital was completed in the biggest detention center of Las Vegas.  But first I had to go to Creech Air Force Base 45 miles northwest in the desert. I wanted to meet a commander at Creech to discuss the work of Predator I and II, the drones that I heard so much about from Pakistani people when I visited that Muslim country in June.   I joined a group of seven. But, as we began to walk along the commercial entry way to Creech AFB we were detained by Clark County police behind a large movable cement barricade.  We were placed in the care of military police with heavy belts who pointed their big black guns at us.  It gave me a little extended time to think about the finances that pay the bill for Creech.

As we waited in front of the guns to be transported to Clark County Detention Center, two blocks from the Golden Nugget, one of Las Vegas oldest sanctuaries of luck, my colleagues asked me to redeem the time by giving a full voiced report on my recent trip to Pakistan for the benefit of my fellow detainees and our guard – caretakers.  With apologies to my friends back in Pakistan for the absence of tea service I was able to represent truthfully some of what I learned about their fears of being the objects of Predator drones and their hopes for an unfolding of justice with peace in South Asia.

By midnight six hours after the pilgrimage into Creech began, I had been fingerprinted several times, questioned repeatedly, tested for TB, had my blood pressure checked, asked if I had recently tried to commit suicide, and I repeatedly spelled and corrected my last name for the vast criminal bureaucracy of the Las Vegas region.   Somewhere along the way I was relieved of my shoes, socks, watch, ID, money, and everything but my pants and shirt.   Later in the night I was pushed into a 10 foot by 20 foot holding cell where 18 other people were already making some kind of peace or silently plotting revenge at police who had shouted or insulted them on their road to detention.

The sounds of the cell included broad sustained snores, other body noises and loud television,  a cacophony that reminded each of us non sleepers that we had reached a peculiar moment of truth.  By approximately four am a gruel like slop arrived for breakfast.  Most of us could not face the Wonder Bread and whatever else there was.  Nausea teased our stomach muscles.  The guards had thoughtfully placed a large plastic bag in the middle of the floor and told us to put any left over food that we couldn’t eat or would not stay down into it. “If you make a ‘blankety blank’ mess,” screamed the guard. “You can plan to be in the holding area for two more weeks.”

By the time of my release the second and third “gruelling” meals had come and gone.  As those hours passed, I got to know my cell mates.  Several had been picked up for the high crime of jay walking evidently a matter of major concern in the city of mostly bad luck.  Others were picked up for traffic violations.  Everyone except me had some other kind of outstanding legal problem.  For several men, simple records had never been updated.

My loss of shoes and socks became a matter of considerable concern since the temperature in the holding area of lucky town is just south of a cool fall day near the solar ice cap. While the street people slept through the fog like another day on the tracks, the rest of us shared our stories.

One man, a high roller was tracked for outstanding debts of $125,000 at two casinos when he was stopped on a traffic violation.  A couple calls and he zipped up his $700 dollar shoes and was off to another race. He told me he once won $600,000 in two hours but admitted his career on the strip had lost his family a lot more than he had won.  I managed to get a modest applause, enough to wake up the permanent sleepers when I told them I was in for “disturbing the war” at Creech AFB.

Actually I think I got lucky in Vegas because I was introduced to at least two angels in waiting.  I haven’t had a chance to talk to them very much yet.  You see angels always come to me in unkempt and upsetting ways.  First, the angel of unearned and unconscious powerlessness showed up in the gathering to do peace visioning.  I will be talking to that angel.  The second appeared in both the shouts of the Clark County Sheriff’s officers and in the up close and personal discussions with other detained people. My cell mates were curious about Afghanistan and Pakistan but they also reminded me to watch out for bully behaviour wherever it shows up, in Afghanistan, in Las Vegas police uniforms, on the back streets of Vegas or on Wall Street.  I will be having more conversations with this angel too.   The light and dark of the desert has gotten me revved up again.  I guess that is what a reflection session and retreat is supposed to do.  Thanks!

Afghanistan: The Right to Life by peaceprobe

In the heart of Kandahar, Afghanistan (population 450,000) a bomb went off last week killing 43 people.  “Anything can happen to ordinary Afghans. We are not safe. We are without value. We have no right to life,” said one victim whose family is among the living wounded.  Who does he turn to?  Who will speak for his family?

In 2002 I was in Afghanistan with Christian Peacemaker Teams.  It was a time of change.  Our peacemaking mission was welcomed.  People allowed themselves to dream that the 20 years of war that began when the Soviets invaded might be ending. I returned home hoping that we could place peacemakers there because I saw signs that suggested unarmed violence reduction could augment what villages, groups, and individuals already had, based upon their own patterns of peacebuilding developed over generations.

I listened to village elders describe how they deal with violence, murder and injustice.  I heard people describe the bombs that fell near or on their homes after 9/11.  I was surprised by people’s candour, their hospitality and their confident formulas for conflict resolution.  I am old enough to know that hospitality may be a means of masking the truth, but I also know that by accepting their generosity we each became surer of one another’s sincerity.

I saw rubble and rusting hulks from the Soviet period, the acres and hectares of destroyed city where warlords once fought for spoils.  On the road to Bagram Air Force Base I witnessed deserted fields, irrigation systems and villages where crops of wheat and vegetables once fed people of Kabul.  “Where have you been all these years?”  asked an Afghan when he heard we were sent from the people working for peace.  Similar sentiments came from others too, in small gestures of kindness and big dreams shared privately over tea.

I learned from seasoned Afghans that armed and uniformed soldiers would have great difficulty creating the conditions for reconciliation.  Even as a civilian I was not convinced that I had a secret instrument for peace.  I wanted to be honest but worried that Taliban and the war lords would ignore my fumbling peace probes.  Being a foreigner particularly an American didn’t help.  After decades of work in conflict situations I had learned to live with my uncertainty.   My instinct told me to test and try various words, actions, suggestions in conditions where violent conflict resolution had become routine.   Surprise!  Something usually works even when society seems to be coming apart .

The signs of the futility of foreign military intervention have been there for at least eight years, and for centuries for those of us who take the time to read the pointers in Afghan history.  When a nation is submerged in the political economy of war, turning the dial towards a peaceful direction is more difficult than juggling American citizens to consensus for health care reform.  The promise of more foreign troops erects an even higher threshold.

Neither drones, nor F-15s nor brilliantly trained marines can find the path to harvest a new political economy where the things that make for peace sprout and blossom.  If the dominant threads of development, crop improvement and infrastructure, are combat-clothed, security is lost for everyone.   Suspicion, and opportunism always win in conditions of war.  We should not be surprised by the daily rants from the foreign press describing corruption and opportunism. War and development don’t mix.  Even the recent elections are exercises in political entertainment, devoid of trust.  Our huge social-cultural mind set that violence can be redemptive does not work.

As American or Canadian or British soldiers continue to depart for the conflicted front I hope someone tells them about the kindness of the Afghan people.  I hope the soldiers can listen in ways that generations before them would not or could not.

If they do listen they may come home early, not because of bullet wounds or truck bombs, but because they learned that they were sent into a conundrum of the impossible.  They will remember the wise voices in the villages where they took extra time to listen.  For some foreign soldiers those voices will resonate within because their hearts have been prepared.  For them this will launch a new vision that includes all of humanity.  I want to support them.

The US and its NATO partners are tired.  The people of Kandahar are tired.  Everyone is less secure.  The 2500 Canadian soldiers in Kandahar, like their partner to the south are stuck.  The government of Canada, its people and its soldiers anxiously await 2011 when the government has promised to end the military “mission”.  Meantime the United States is preparing to send 20,000 additional soldiers.  Without a “right to life” where is the hope?  The way we invest in Afghanistan is more costly and treacherous than security swaps on Wall Street.  Must we wait until all sides are exhausted to end it?

For the past 8 years I have been thinking about what we can do for Afghans who ask, “Where have you been”?  Peace people, let us find our voices. Here are three suggestions.

1.  Listening delegations can be organized to spend time in Afghanistan to learn and feel the void of meaning in the violence.  Their experience will rev up all of us to engage.

2.  Local efforts of listening to returning soldiers will help them sort out their story and complete at least a piece of our own.  What have they learned from the Afghan people?  about war?  about this war?  about themselves?  about what is worth living for or dying for?

3.  When the town meetings happen or the legislative telephones wait to ring, how about a simple message, “The Afghan War is bad for my health”.

Find the local and national organizations who are already working on these items.

For people of faith there must be a response for the words from Kandahar, “We have no right to life.”  When I came back from Afghanistan in 2002 despite my best efforts I could not find the people and financial support to place teams in the field there.  A whole team of peacemakers could have been placed there for the cost of just one foreign soldier.  And for the cost of another soldier several local teams could have been trained and put to work.  Those bold words are still calling out to me.  “Where have you been all these years?”  And, where are we now?