Filed under: Nonviolent defence, Politics of Empire | Tags: Afghanistan, drones, military contractors, military draft, peace, peacemaker teams, Taliban
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.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Blaming the Victim, Politics of Empire | Tags: Afghanistan, Canada, corruption, counter insurgency, military contractors
Corruption is in the news again always with tough talk about what the next phase of US troops in Afghanistan will look like. As a young volunteer in Viet Nam in the early 1960s I was assigned to work with a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) sponsored program called hamlet education. At the time I thought that education was always good and it never occurred to me that I might be part of a larger plan to entice the Vietnamese government to embrace the U. S. Government agenda. As I got into my work I was warned of corruption. American government advisors told me that money for the program was lifted all along the way from Saigon ministry people, through province leaders and on down to district governments that administered the disbursement of money. I was never told what to do about it. I had not enrolled in a class that might have been called History of Corruption in the Western World although given the soiled history of US intervention in so many places over the last 40 years it should have been a required course.
At the local level where I worked, the district chiefs contracted to have the schools built. Vietnamese and Americans warned me that the contractors would cut corners by using insufficient amounts of cement and lower quality construction materials. According to these same people contractors were required to kick back a certain percentage to the district chief. It took forever for the paperwork and the money to work its way through the system down to the hamlets. So American advisors along the way were encouraged to pressure, nice talk, and occasionally throw a fit to get hamlet education and all the other counter insurgency programs moving. Eventually I figured out that I was the final link in that pressure process.
District chiefs told me that the blame for the slow pace of implementation order was due to the Viet Cong, or the general slowness of the Vietnamese way. Eventually schools were built, dedicated and opened. There were plenty of children. Occasionally when I visited schools there was propaganda on the school walls condemning American imperialists. I learned that when those signs appeared the schools usually closed shortly thereafter and if I went to those villages people continued to be polite and there was still tea to drink but the villagers didn’t want to talk about the school.
As the military build up proceeded I noticed that the US military civic action people took great interest in schools, loved to paint schools, and give support to projects. Like me they also believed that schools would bring a better future As security broke down such projects lost their luster. But many of the programs continued to be carried on the Saigon government books and something called corruption grew as the distance from money to effective implementation became more remote, often impossible, due to war. This led to more accusations of corruption and an influx of more American advisors always with their generous hardship pay. Like me they arrived generally underqualified in the local arts of communication, culture and corruption. Back in the White House situation room war councils were a weekly affair.
President Obama has promised to announce his Afghanistan decision next week in time for Christmas. West Point, his choice of location does not suggest to me that he or his advisors have learned what I thought I learned in Viet Nam about how war and corruption embrace each other usually with the language of economic improvement and development for the people. I can hear the generals and other senior advisors now in the situation room fine tune the use of new miracle weapons and at the same time integrating Canada, NATO and whoever else into the strategy of targeting the foe. And then some highly medaled general or civilian security advisor will ask about how the counter insurgency plans are coming along. Somebody pontificates about “the people” and someone else describes a conversation they had in Afghanistan recently. Maybe there is a silence in the room and then someone from USAID, the civilian counter insurgency agency, reports on how many new people have been sent in to advise and track roads, schools and other development work. Overall the mood is sombre and no one wants to say the strategy won’t work. Someone asks about negotiations. But that discussion doesn’t seem to go anywhere either. One of the elephants in the room reminds the solemn gathering how embarrassing it is to give money to a government that is corrupt so someone suggests that we have to get the press to cover a success story.
Corruption usually gets worse in war because people’s survival instinct tell them to think short term and clutch at every opportunity for golden nuggets, money, or anything that has value and can be traded. I doubt that the $500 dollar per day civilian advisors will stamp out survival corruption. I have not heard evidence that these pricy civilians are any more prepared with communication, culture and corruption medicine than I was 45 years ago. An Afghan’s monthly salary is less than half the amount a U. S. aid worker earns each day. It costs about $500,000 per year to put these pricy civilian advisors and corruption doctors in the field, including the cost of their housing, transport, and security (usually provided by even higher paid contractors). A soldier costs the American people about one million dollars per year.
But the suspension of legal and moral strictures so evident in conditions of war has its first cousins in New York and Washington where there isn’t a war. We don’t use the word corruption unless it’s a Ponzi scheme. By keeping the boundaries of the law as wide as possible in order to encourage free enterprise our rule of law here is respected even though people, corporations and syndicates plunder one another and feed on those who are not organized to escape the insatiable grasp for more money. It is this kind of condition that incensed the Old Testament prophets when they warned Israel about the fate that awaits the greedy nation. Corruption doctors are needed right here in North America, not the $500 a day kind that are sent to Afghanistan but the kind who have demonstrated with a life of bold words, or prudent action that the future is worth protecting. Preachers and modern day prophets whose thought and wisdom have tasted from the well of sustainable economy can help. Listeners and readers should, however, beware of the false gospel of perpetual prosperity celebrated in so many religious and economic holy places like some mega churches and Wall Street.
In Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan the word corruption is used when sharply dressed foreign advisors, who should know better, need someone to blame. Let’s face it, corruption is universal. Publius Cornelius Tacitus, roman senator, and historian who prosecuted a proconsul of Africa on corruption in the first century said “The more corrupt the state, the more laws.” We still have a habit of passing more laws to build a moat around corruption and deal with lapses in moral judgement.
The terms of the debate on Afghanistan are in need of change from corruption and blaming to respect and honest talk. Foreign power and might will not change the outcome in Afghanistan although generous doses of explosives from outside will certainly lengthen the war. The challenge of American powerlessness in Afghanistan now faces President Obama and his advisors. If he reaches back to his time as a community organizer he will get some hints of how to address the nation and the world when faced with powerlessness. Community organizers don’t take on campaigns that are not good for the community. A healthy campaign reaches out with the possibility of real gain for all the participants
Foreign fighters in Afghanistan from the Muslim or the Christian world can ill afford to pay for this war. This chapter of warfare can be closed by loading up the trains, trucks, and air planes with all existing and spent war equipment. By bringing instruments of war past and present, mines, spent tanks, everything, home for recycling it will not be used by anyone in Afghanistan or elsewhere to extend anyone’s conflict. Then the world can turn its attention to binding up the wounds from broken relationships, the tangle of terrorism, and building a world that is incorruptible.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Politics of Empire, Taliban | Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan troop surge, counter insurgency, military contractors
This week General McChrystal’s review of what is needed in Afghanistan began to make its rounds. Although the unclassified “multi disciplinary assessment” might not titillate your breakfast musings, it sets the tone for the coming debate and if we want to engage in the discussion, we better know what it says. In a word the report calls for the ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force which includes NATO and other forces to change its internal culture by getting closer to the people, protecting the people, and tightening up its command structure while it decentralizes in order to respond to local conditions. It repeatedly calls for the mission to be properly “resourced” which is Pentagonese for more troops and it urges more ability in language and cultural skills to relate to local people.
The memo reminds the Afghan government that it needs to clean up its act. It alludes to the mantra of corruption as if this is a new characteristic of a “counter insurgency” situation. The pages note that the abuse of power and privilege by the Afghan government has not helped. However it does not remind its readers that corruption, abuse of power and opportunism, also standard form in US politics at home, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, are common themes in war and particularly where there are insurgencies.
The report is silent about religion or traditional communal decision making of Afghan village culture as a component for healing – well the memo actually does not use the term healing. It makes no mention of gender roles or how traditional justice processes work among the various ethnic groups. It vaguely acknowledges the possibility of selective negotiations and uses the term reconciliation. But the central theme is a call for what it names as a new strategy and warns that without it and proper resourcing things can get worse, much worse.
The memo lets us know that “conventional warfare culture is part of the problem”. Immediately I thought of the US Air Force or the newly conventionalized robotic war machine at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas. Would these projects and units like them that do so much damage to relationships, trust and long term confidence be shut down? I tried to conjure up images of how a marine unit might look, devoid of its Hummers, trucks, and helicopters and ready access to a plethora of communication devices just a few of the elements of the conventional warfare culture that I know.
It’s a stretch to think of a marine unit “tasked” to build relations with the local people, sitting in circles of elders, sharing food, brain storming about what works and what doesn’t work. I imagine those marines travelling by bicycle, without arms, uniform or even candy to give out. Maybe a sign somewhere on the bicycle would say “I am an unarmed soldier and I am here to help”. I thought that General McChrystal should know that imaginations like the one implanted within me creates images for an army that could embrace serious internal cultural change.
For the record, McChrystal should be reminded that beginning one century ago an unarmed nonviolent army of 100,000 like the marine unit I described once existed among the tribesmen like the people McChrystal’s army now fights in border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Badshah Khan, its leader, was buried in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in 1988. The cultural changes advocated here are not as remote to Afghanistan as conventional thinking might consider them to be. I know that General McChrystal would still be worried about the security of his unarmed troops. Should he be worried? Yes! Would ISAF death rate be worse than it is presently with all the armour, the weapons, and airplanes removed.. Probably not!
A bonus to a major cultural shift towards simplicity for foreign forces in Afghanistan may be its attractiveness back home in a society that is rooted in notions of sacrifice. For conservatives it would mean lowering the costs. For liberals it would appeal to notions of really helping rather than breaking things. Going low budget with constant self reflection has been tried by private groups and it works. Implementation will require a different kind of consultant, contractor, trainer and analyst. The new strategy could silently eliminate all the armed mercenaries that repeatedly sully the image of our country. Everybody would win with this strategy, Afghans, Americans, conservatives, liberals even the Pakistani and Iranian neighbours who would feel less pressure to keep up in terms of missiles and military hardware. Successful implementation of the new culture of the International Security Assistance Force would clearly mean less troops, not more, as the values behind the new culture take root.
Another suggestion that I liked in this memo is the call for people to think. To break through the fog of the more than 130 military acronyms in this document does require thinking. But why not take General McChrystal at his word and think more deeply with him about what might work. Neither President Obama nor his White House staff are particularly experienced in Afghanistan although some of them have done unarmed community projects and that is a plus if they take time to remember how they connected with communities.
One of the ways in which the Afghanistan effort has been “under resourced” for the last 8 years is thinking. I don’t presume to have all the answers about security. However I believe that the people I have known and worked with in villages, provincial towns, and cities across this world including Afghanistan really have useful thoughts and solutions. The problem is that no one can get to them because the contractors, the Hummers, the drones and the conventional warfare culture gets in the way. It’s a big deal to change a culture. General McChrystal will need a lot of support because he will get mean opposition if he in fact survives long enough to work out a vision.
The memo is reaching for something that may have a moral equivalency to conventional war. Any soldier who resolves to find a way for change outside the standard instruments of war is stepping into testy waters. That is why he or she thinks more troops are needed just in case nothing works. The memo fails to show how more resources will bring the mission closer to success. Military thinkers like the rest of us stumble around when we know we must work outside the box. If more resources just brings escalation and deepens the resolve of both sides for victory using terrorism if necessary, the mission will fail. If this process of culture change can turn us to deeper things, like how justice is accomplished, the conversation before us may help.
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.
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Islam | Tags: conscience, counter insurgency, drones, military contractors, robotic warfare
When I arrived in Pakistan May 25 the Pakistani military (617,000 active personnel and 517,000 reservists, 7th largest in the world) was three weeks into an operation in the Swat valley designed to liberate this one time Buddhist kingdom from the Taliban. The upbeat news carefully crafted by civilian-military writers since journalists were not allowed in the area trumpeted the killing of about 20 Taliban every day plus one to three Taliban commanders. The impression then was that the operation would take about a month after which the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons formerly referred to as refugees) would be allowed to return. In the weeks that followed IDP numbers grew from one million to two and three million people.
IDPs from temperate climates now found themselves in sweltering refugee complexes or with relatives in lowland cities where temperatures in the summer exceed 100 degrees. They left behind wheat fields ready for harvest, fruit orchards, schools, universities and a developing economy. Many left hurriedly on orders from the military with nothing but the clothing they wore. Without a massive outpouring of volunteer help from Pakistanis everywhere their situation would have been even more desperate.
But the operation in Swat continues and the daily body count remains constant almost like the body counts of Viet Nam more than 40 years ago where numbers were also manufactured. The decision to move against Taliban rule in Swat came quickly when truck loads of Taliban forces moved into another neighbouring district without warning to enlarge their reach. The Taliban lust for control sent a message to the majority population centers in Punjab and Sindh provinces to the South where there was little love for the Taliban, only a grudging acknowledgement that they are Muslims too. Suddenly in May of this year Pakistani people who had been engaged in questioning drone attacks and the American influence rose up to pressure its own military to stop fiddling and clean out the truck bombers, suicide missioners, and Taliban utopians.
Swat is a land of unusual natural beauty that is populated by Pashtoon people, an ethnic group of some 42 million people that occupy the harsh mountains of western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. The Pashtoon people are unified by a Persian related language that has many dialects among is various tribes. The Swat Valley begins about 100 miles from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad and rises towards the Hindu Kush mountains to the north. Swat has many village names that date back to the Greek influence when Alexander the Great made his conquering and pillaging trek across Asia.
Despite its size the Pakistan military is ill prepared for the kind of war it faces in Swat Valley or the other boundary areas of Pakistan. For sixty years all of Pakistan has sacrificed to build its military for the purpose of defeating India in Kashmir and if necessary on the Punjabi plain. To complement this overwhelming threat the Pakistan military sought to defeat its enemies on its west frontier like the Soviets and the Soviet successors in Afghanistan through proxie armies and guerilla forces of various persuasions but unified under the label Taliban. In 2001 when the Americans decided to go after Osama Bin Laden it turned out that he was considered a important guest of selected Pashtoon tribes. Local custom dictates that tribes care for and protect their guest with their lives.
The Pakistani military has been reluctant to abandon its carefully nurtured asset, the Taliban. In Swat and other border areas Taliban check points and operations were often coordinated with the Pakistani military. The fact that Taliban were Muslim brothers, allbeit militant activists was not necessarily troubling to military commanders. In fact when some military groups were ordered to attack and kill Taliban, selected officers resigned because of their conscientious objection to killing Muslims. During my recent visit I was told of soldiers killed in battle who were not honoured for their service when their bodies were returned to their native villages because they were killed in war against Muslim brothers.
This history of the Pakistani military and the current nation wide engagement over the question of what it means to be a Muslim nation, brings us to the present. The United States government has set aside 736 million dollars to build a new fortress embassy and refurbish its consulates in Pakistan because of the deteriorating security situation. The US has also targeted $400 million for counter insurgency assistance for Pakistan this year. And, the US has announced its intention to provide $1.5 billion in assistance to Pakistan for the next five years. Even for the US government which has gotten into the habit in Iraq of throwing around money very casually this adds up.
It suggests a absence of confidence that the Swat operation will be completed in one or two months that in fact it will go on for months, maybe years. It is a monumental commitment for a nation like the US that is not particularly distinguished, experienced or successful in countering insurgency. Right now Washington is happy because they think they have finally gotten the Pakistan military to start fighting the real enemy, the Taliban.
These are dangerous times. We now face a situation where a nation of 175 million people is engaged in a major violent internal struggle for its existence. Every week if not every day there is a car bomb somewhere. Questions of development, education, and nutrition will have to be put off longer while the rupees and dollars buy hellfire missiles and better guns. How will Pakistan weather this violence and threat over time? There is not a deep residue of confidence in Pakistan about American advice because of the inconsistent and sporadic nature of US aid and reliability over the last 60 years. The regional conflict which also includes Afghanistan is now Obama’s war and it could destroy his administration if things unravel as they might.
Pakistan is gifted with a layer of South Asian wisdom and I was the recipient of some of that during my recent visit. Some of these voices will probably be silenced and imprisoned in the coming months but their spirits will endure. Our work on this side is to find ways to lift the veil of secrecy. This situation is complex but complexity should never deter us from working through the fog to the pull towards authentic reconciliation. Most of all Pakistan needs space to sort out its own priorities and determine how Muslim convictions can energize it into the future. Another quirky US green zone, Marine guards, civilian contractors, and advanced digitized security gimmicks in a Muslim country will do little to give space for this to happen.
Filed under: Christian Peacemaker Teams, Nonviolence, Peacemaker spirit, Scripture: Nonviolence | Tags: Blessed, conscience, military contractors, Nonviolence, pacifism
In theatres of war where I have worked I have met people who don’t want to participate any longer. In Colombia I talked with paramilitary soldiers seeking ways out of their previous commitments because the killing they have seen is so distasteful. Israeli soldiers have built a succession of organizations and support groups for persons not wishing to participate in specific wars. In Iraq I met former Iraqi soldiers who opted out of military service with great difficulty.
For these people their own participation in war was the trigger that unleashed a flood of personal questions about war making in general and witnessing against the sources of war. For some the flood of questions leading to new vision was set off by spiritual conversion. Despite the modern tendency among popular Christianity to link religious life with national purpose and militarism, people find a peace position often from their own study of the Bible.
Twenty years ago I was contacted by a person who was curious about Christian Peacemaker Teams. He wished to become involved and support the work. He had just resigned from a job in a corporation that was heavily involved in military contracts and he wanted to do something “positive”. We talked several times and eventually he helped to develop our internet based work. From time to time I had to call him at very inconvenient times of the day and night so he could make critical information available on the internet regarding a crisis event. He never once complained about my disruptive calls despite his own work and family obligations. He always wanted to do more and made me feel like I was doing him a favour by providing a route for him to effectively make use of the energy that was released within him when he made his decision to take pacifism to a new level in his personal life and career.
Another friend, a pastor told me of a dilemma that entered his life. He had been a supervisor for fuelling airlanes at a regional airport. His job included providing fuel for private planes of companies who stored their executive aircraft at a regional airport. Over time he realized he was providing gasoline to fuel a US military contractor whose work was shrouded in mystery. He needed work. One day the contractor demanded that he put more fuel in the airplane than regulations allowed. He refused to do so but was ordered to comply by his superior because the contract was very important to the small airport. He complied but over the next year and a half he continued to ponder his dilemma, being a peacemaker who fuelled jets that managed the delivery of modern weapons. Eventually he resigned.
People often approach me when I travel to discuss a career dilemma where family income depends upon design, development or fabricating the instruments of violence. Sometimes the discussion is not ready for decision. At other times it is. Those decisions always intersect with questions of economic survival, ethics, and peacemaking. Pacifist churches, meetings and associations are not exempt from these emotional and life changing opportunities for taking a decisive stand. People who are facing hard decisions know very well that any decisions they make will affect all their relationships for good and bad. What they don’t know and what I can only vaguely explain is that wide margins of new energy and creativity often follow decisions of dissent when the voice of conscience is acknowledged and acted upon.
Pacifism is not a static condition or position. I have recently learned that the word pacifism comes from two Latin root words through the French word pacifisme. Pac is traced back to the Latin word, Pax that means peace or harmony. Fism derives from the suffix ficus which comes from the Latin ficere that means to act or take action. In the Bible the Greek word eirenopoios (peacemakers, Matthew 5:9) is translated into Latin as pacifici, which means those who work for peace. Though in our day we tend to abstract ideas from actual living, the original meaning of pacifist was to be an active peacemaker. A pacifist inherently takes action.
Pacifism rejects the use of violent means despite the fact that the tree of violence reaches through contract and contractor into the main streets of most of our communities. The contradiction inherent in modern economy brings the production, ideological formation and general culture of violence inside our homes and work life. At one time it may have been possible to be a wedge into the organized violent suppression of violence by simply refusing military service. For most of us that expression of pacifism, refusal to join the military, is no longer the only critical boundary for a life of peacemaking. However, in some countries, like Israel, Colombia and Iraq the decision not to participate in the military is still the flashpoint. In systems where there is no longer a draft the decision by active duty soldiers to get out because of moral convictions is often transforming and costly.
There are three possible responses to violence to which we are connected in Afghanistan, Iraq and Cleveland, violent opposition, passivity, or militant nonviolence. The active even militant nonviolence inherent in pacifism transforms life from static hum drum and rules, to dynamic engagement with the power of active living. In the Bible peacemakers (the Latin translation used the term pacifist) are called Blessed.
To be Blessed according to Roman Catholic tradition is to be beatified and worthy of veneration. Perhaps not everyone who does peacemaking wants to be beatified by the Roman Church or venerated. However the root meaning of pacifism, peacemaking with all the release of energy that it implies, still holds. Being pacifist is not a rigid formula for action. Pacifism is the awakened conscience and the willingness to act on it sometimes alone, but preferably with some support. The blessing is inherent in the action itself, and the surprise that follows.
Filed under: Digital/Star War, Peacemaker spirit | Tags: digital war, military contractors, military draft, pacifism, robotic warfare
Why I want you to read Wired for War: the Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P. W. Singer, The Penguin Press.
In 1958 when I turned eighteen years old I went to what was called Portage County Selective Service office in Ravenna, Ohio to register for the military draft. That board placed my name in the record as a conscientious objector which required very little paper work and I requested a student deferment. The deferment was granted with little problem. The Korean War had been over for several years but the Cold War was getting hotter all the time and Viet Nam was waiting in the wings. Five years later in 1963 when I completed college and a year of seminary I was ready ”to do service” as we said then. I contacted the Selective Service to request permission to do my two years of alternate service in Viet Nam. Again, no problem. Two years later after very little communication or accountability to the board I was informed that I had completed my service obligations, meaning I would no longer be drafted.
Today the decision about participating in organized military violence is incredibly diffuse. The long arm of military service reaches into every industrial sector, to contractors or subcontractors, into educational institutions including high schools and think tanks. Production of components for advanced navy, air or ground-based fighting takes place in most industrial areas. Military contracts, sub contracts, sub sub contracts and consulting services pay well, and on time. You can even become a highly paid modern mercenary, and guard supplies or provide specialized security by signing up with Blackwater or one of the other military security contractors. No part of the military complex is more dispersed throughout industry than the development, production and maintenance of the thousands of digital systems that wire the new armed forces, guide robots in battle where they defuse explosive devices, collect pictures of the enemy, shoot at the enemy and directly bomb or shoot people from unmanned digitally controlled vehicles.
Wired for War is not a 400-page book about how to lead a pacifist life. It’s a book about how war and advanced killing is unfolding. Singer tells us how the Talon robot “saves lives” by going places that are dangerous with its rapid fire gun, and how a warrior robot uncovers hidden roadside bombs. He introduces us to unmanned submarines that are increasingly used in the most dangerous underwater situations, and insect-like bioinspired robots that can fly up to windowsills, perch and stare inside, climb up walls or even into pipes to look things over for security purposes. And the revolution has only begun. Someday, in this century wars could be fought by Terminator-like machines. In fact, science fiction is here.
Singer, a Brookings Institution thinker and consultant for the departments State and Defense, CIA, and Congress, introduces us to the pilots, caretakers and commanders who are challenged to adjust their management ways, technical styles, and chat room manners to killing in the 21st century. Singer frequently returns to the ethical questions of where the transition to digital warfare will take us. He experiments with answers anchored in just war thinking. The uninitiated will be introduced to the vigorous reflections on the meaning of robotics for management (read Generals), tactics and long term strategy in military journals. He tells the reader that these new creatures or machines, already affect police work and hints that they will affect our larger culture in ways that will change us forever.
In my growing to adulthood the process of becoming a conscientious objector, performing alternate service and getting on in life was clearer, easier, and more cut and dry than it had been almost any time before American history. I have been in countries where young people, usually males, are rounded up on the streets and pressed into military service. By the time I had completed my alternate service there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans who found themselves in the throes of moral decision making about the Viet Nam war. Their choices were – join the military and get it over, try to get classified as a conscientious objector and do alternate service (where you then had to prove you were doing it for religious reasons), go underground and just disappear (estimated 500,000 draft offenders), flee to another country like Canada where you may be welcomed (estimated 100,000), or prove to the military that you were too sick or disabled to serve.
As the Viet Nam war unfolded the sleepy offices of the Selective Services where I moved through with nary a question were overwhelmed with petitions for exceptions. Things eventually got so far out of hand that in1973 under President Nixon the draft was ended. He had campaigned in 1968 to end the draft. The draft really ended because of the expressions of moral discontent from young people aged 18-26. The political costs outweighed whatever military gains once thought to justify a draft. The Selective Service System that administered the draft remains in place until now. The powerful influence of those draft resisters forty years ago can provide inspiration and perhaps deeper insight into how we organize to resist war making in our new context.
The Selective Service Board and exchanges at their offices once served as a rite of passage for millions of youth like me. My successors now entering the workforce are confronted with a plethora of decisions that will last a life time. Are they assured that they have a support structure of friends, churches, instructors, chat rooms, mentors and even families to cheer them on? Choosing to be pacifist in all these life decisions can feel like one is saying “NO”, to many opportunities and perks and sometimes not even realizing there is a decision to be made. .
Our lives today are honeycombed with the tentacles of the military infrastructure and the choices are not very sweet. The old one time decision to do alternate service is gone forever if it ever really existed. Today being pacifist is an exercise in repeated examination of industrial products, taxes, consumer goods and most of all the work place. And, this is just the outward journey, a walk that only makes sense if there is an inward journey of the spirit that informs our hope for the wholeness of all things. This complexity would have completely overwhelmed me as a young man 50 years ago. This is why all of us are invited to take responsibility to investigate and help sort this out.