Filed under: Digital/Star War, Nonviolence, Politics of Empire | Tags: Afghanistan, conscience, counter insurgency, digital war, drones, Nonviolence, pacifism, robotic warfare
Last week Predator drones attacked in Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan and mistakenly killed civilians. We don’t know how many. The incidents are another warning like the messages of protest that Pakistanis have been trying to send Americans for the past few years. Despite the much ballyhooed precision of these air crafts and their weapons, they still kill civilians because corroborating intelligence on the ground is unreliable and this leads to flawed targeting.
The protection of civilians has been a most basic plank of all notions of just war for many nations going back 1600 years. The slide towards increased killing of civilians in war by national armies and as a corollary, the use of civilians as human shields is often overlooked. Tactics arising from the use of robotic weapons of war may increase the slide of disrespect for civilian life in war. This trend that brought us civilian casualties from Dresden to Hiroshima, from IEDs in Iraq to drones in Pakistan reflect the broad lines of increased disrespect for civilian life into the 21st century warfare in regular and insurgent armies.
During the final week of Lent this year I expect to travel to Las Vegas and to Creech AFB 45 miles northwest where the Predator pilots and their staffs are trained and local control rooms guide the planes in the 24 hour surveillance and attack assignments over Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan. As I go I know that the Predators are just a tip of a vast array of robotic technology now being developed to make modern warfare “safer” for soldiers but more lethal for civilians.
The Predator and their Hellfire missiles are the air weapon delivery system of choice right now but maybe not for long. In the future the work of disarmament will be made even more complicated by robotic instruments of all kinds. The U. S. Army is working with universities to build micro fliers, tiny bird like flyers to be used for intelligence gathering and surveillance through its Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology Collaborative Alliance. Joseph Mait, manager of the Army Research Laboratory says,“ Our long-term goal is to develop technologies that can produce a map of a building interior or detect bombs,”
Big unmanned Predator like aircraft have lots of problems. They are still expensive to build, maintain and fly although they are much cheaper than the earlier generations of bombers. They can also be easy to spot. In Pakistan I was told that children in remote areas have games they play called, “spotting the Predators”. Shrinking those vehicles to a few ounces will not only change the children’s games but will give an up-close view of who is doing what, when and where.
According to Discovery Magazine, Haibo Dong of Wright State University is working on a four-winged robot, the Wright Dragon flyer. The designers complain that it is more difficult to create than a two-winged flapping system but promises more speed and manoeuverability. Dong expects to have a prototype, about the size of a real dragon-fly, completed this year. “This small craft could perform surveillance, environmental monitoring and search and rescue,” he says.
At Harvard University roboticist Robert Wood is working on mechanical bee-like instruments to create a colony of RoboBees. These swarming robots will incorporate optical and chemical sensors as well as communications systems to make autonomous flight decisions and to coordinate with colony members during tasks such as searching for objects or people.
Robotic technology is already heavily used in all of America’s wars. As many as 4000 robots are already on the ground in Iraq. Tiny information gathering devices are complemented by robotic instruments designed to identify and disarm bombs. With ground mobility they can enter into dangerous settings where enemy soldiers are heavily armed. Some of these instruments are being adapted for or are already used for in the homeland security. Their phenomenal growth will change forever the arms race, the balance of power(s) in the world and the nature of police work.
The ethical implications of this revolution of arms, force and information gathering are daunting.
1. The development, deployment, and use of the instruments of robotic warfare are being carried out in at least 40 countries around the world. A robotic arms race is already under way. There are few if any forums that address the implications of this race for the future of life on earth and for the quality of life-like basic freedoms.
2. As the robotic arms movement unfolds, the possibility for back yard development of instruments of destruction reaches to the limits of imagination. Violent video games were just a beginning although they may have helped dull our sensitivity and create a culture of acceptance. The IED (improvised explosive device) an interim instrument for defence and attack for insurgents will have been just the first generation of a long line of sophisticated adaptation of off the shelf technology for killing. The distance between the safe researcher silently working in a sanitized laboratory and the field practitioner is narrowing. The absence of meaningful work for so many in this generation may become the void where new waves of imagination in the service of violence are unleashed. Nonviolence movements will match this challenge only with keen understanding of the implications of robotic developments and solid healthy organizations.
3. As civilian casualties grow, persons who believe that life is sacred are faced with enormous new challenges. Peacemakers and human rights workers have only begun to grasp the implications of robotic warfare. People on the ground in Pakistan told me that just 10% of the victims of Predator drone bombings are insurgent combatants. Ninety percent are civilians. The Pakistan Security Monitor, a project of the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University disputes these figures. I have travelled in Pakistan and have heard the estimated 90% figure from persons with access to the areas of impact with accompanying stories of travail and death to women and children..
For Christian pacifists the reach of research, development, and manufacture dips into every one of our communities. We are now faced with new challenges to our convictions about not killing. Unless we face those oncoming ambiguities without falling into legalism, the convictions will morph into fluffy cotton decoration over a core of words that are not backed up with action.
4. As we enter this new frontier of ethics and robotic warfare, our methods of witness for a nonviolent way will be forced to adapt. The centralization of the development and manufacture of killer instruments into fewer and fewer corporations and selected political powers is over. The time is here when ordinary people can go to the local computer store or amazon.com to order component parts for assembling a weapon. What will we do if the computer store owner even goes to our church or parish? What will we do if people in our church own stock in companies that produce the components? We won’t have to go to Washington or to some well-mannered legislative office to begin the discussion and to engage in public witness.
We are now swimming in the culture of robotics, a technology that is being adapted every day by nations around the world to myriad roles that include security and killing. We can watch in admiration or distaste as the magic is unveiled . In periods of transition and unfolding violence it takes a little time for our consciences to be awakened and the gift of stubborn resistance to become clear. The time has arrived.
Filed under: Getting on the Way to Peacemaking | Tags: mountain top mining, Nonviolence
My Lord, what a mourning,
My Lord, what a mourning,
My Lord, what a mourning,
When the stars begin to fall.
You’ll hear the trumpet sound
To wake the nations underground,
Looking to my God’s right hand,
When the stars begin to fall.
– The Books of American Negro Spirituals, published in 1925-26 by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson
I slowed down for the curves and watched for signs to Hawk’s Nest Park as I approached Ansted. The State Park was established near Gauley Mountain on the New River where local people told me between 470 and 700 mostly African American miners died while working for Union Carbide from 1927 to 1933. The workers contracted silicosis in the mines while tunnelling through a mountain to build a hydro electric plant, one of the worst industrial disasters in the history of the Americas.
As I approached the mountain top on Highway 60 in my Ford Ranger I found myself humming the old Negro spiritual that I sang as a child, “My Lord, What a Mourning when the stars begin to fall” except in my version mourning had become morning. It was dark as I approached Ansted. The mountains were only remote shadows as snow began to fall. In the version of the song of long forgotten slaves I hum the lines that had been morphed as they travelled voice to ear over the decades..
“We’ll cry for rocks and rocks and mountains when the stars begin to fall,
Rocks and mountains they’ll not save you when the stars begin to fall.”
I searched for an hour along unlit one lane roads for Allen Johnson who would host me at a Christians for the Mountains facility. Modest homes that once housed mine workers were plentiful. As I searched for the guest house I listened to public radio for reports on the Copenhagen meeting. Finally, I gave up searching turned off the radio and called Allen. He met me at the Ansted Pharmacy and led me to the rented guest house beside a century old Baptist church. The old spiritual was still echoing from my unconscious.
As I approached my lodging I could see the outline of Gauley Mountain in the distance and Allen told me that just over the edge I would see mountain top coal removal but that would have to await the daylight. Allen had warned me that 500 mountain tops have been dynamited layer by layer in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee – Appalachia – to reach the seams of coal. The coal is carried by train, barge and truck to power plants to generate electricity and to factories where steel is fashioned.
Rocks from the blasting have buried a thousand miles of streams and destroyed 12 percent of West Virginia forests forever. The Appalachian mountains that once reached heights equalling the great Himalayas of South Asia rose 300 million years ago when coal was formed from trees, swamps and other vegetation. Part of the energy for the light that illuminates my screen as I write may come from this coal.
The price for coal is rising. Surface mining permits the only efficient access to thin seams of coal formed 50 million years before dinosaurs, that traditional underground mining can not reach. With the use of large machinery and explosives two and a half times as much coal per worker can be extracted as in underground mines.
My own life has a connection to Appalachia coal. Sixty years ago when my Northeast Ohio family used coal for heating, 125,000 people worked in the mines. Today that number has fallen to 15,000 because of mechanization. Already then, Appalachian miners with their children fled homes due to joblessness, health problems and poverty. Their special accent was a matter of curiosity in my second and third grade class. Later when I lived in Chicago the north side Uptown neighbourhood was populated by people seeking refuge from the coal fields, many suffering from black lung disease. Today Ansted is more than 60% retired people. Few residents now work in the coal mines. However, coal dust, sounds of dynamite, coal trucks, and plans for more mountain levelling threaten the town’s new vision, to transform itself into a tourist center.
On the day after I arrived people were loath to travel the mountain roads due to snow so I stopped by the Redeemer Episcopal Church. I cautiously entered the annex of the 120 year old church where ladies were holding a fund raiser. My caution was formed by a belief that an Episcopal Church like this one would have been founded to serve the owners of the mines. No sooner did I park myself in front of one of the woman’s cookie tables than I was asked, “Are you here to work to stop Mountain Top Removal?” in a tone that definitely suggested that I would be much more welcome if I would answer, “Yes”.
I asked the women selling cookies for more information about the mountains. Over hot cider and cookies a woman from the kitchen informed me that their church goes out to the mountains regularly where their priest leads participants from surrounding churches in BLESSINGS for the mountains. She inferred that these events were not popular with the coal companies. “I hope you are here the next time we do a Blessing.” said another woman.
Allen took me to visit his friend Larry Gibson at Keyford mountain twenty miles west of Ansted as the crow flies. “Thanks for finally coming to see me” said Larry who met Allen and me with a big hug and a hot cup of coffee. The use of the word “finally” in his jovial greeting was unmistakably firm. I knew it was meant for me. “We need your support.”
Larry’s family line traces its roots in Keyford mountain back 200 years and the evidence lies silently in the nearby cemeteries at least the graves that have not yet been dynamited away. Along the winding road to his mountain top memorial hide way I see the remains of another mountain that has been blasted away, a valley blocked with land fill, huge coal trucks and shards of chimneys from long burned out homes that once housed 10,000 people who lived off mining. Larry cares for the pristine property of his ancestors as a sign of resistance to dynamite, and power shovels. Five times a year on key holidays he invites hundreds of people to festivals like of celebration and remembrance of Keyford mountain.
But not all of Larry’s guests are friendly. Drunken thugs show up to frighten visitors away much like company hired goons once tried to break union organizing in the coal fields. He describes 15 years of struggle, the offers of millions to buy him out, intimidation, arrests and speaking tours before leading us out over his 59 acre mountain top spread, a living trophy to persistence and survival. We pass several cabins where distant relatives come for retreat. He points to bullet holes, a long closed store and finally we pass Hell’s Gate, the property boundary beyond which we begin to view the empty disappeared mountain top beyond.
Below I can see layers of coal and massive power shovels loading coal trucks for delivery to a processing site and later shipment for power generation. In another direction bulldozers slice off rock that has been loosened with blasts of dynamite for disposal in the valley below. A hardy but bland grass has been planted on the mountainside next to his property where mining was terminated. There are no trees, shrubs, mice or deer, just grass. I see the town of Dorothy in a hazy valley beyond, named a century ago in honour of the wife of a mining company owner.
Visiting with Larry Gibson was good preparation for the rally at West Virginia’s state capital, Charleston, called to stop mountain top removal at still another site, Coal River Mountain. The Monday, December 7 protest brought together hundreds from West Virginia and neighbouring states. Everyone gathered in front of the West Virginia state Environmental Protection Agency which has rubber stamped so many company mining initiatives. Cordoned off about 100 feet behind the rally and adjacent to the agency building were 150 counter protesters, some hired by mining companies from the village of Dorothy. Greeting many of the speakers as they rose to challenge the crowd were blood curdling blasts from the horns of coal trucks programmed by the coal industry to cruise just a block away but loud enough to be heard maybe as far away as Copenhagen,. Rally speakers creatively co-opted the horns with long chants that transformed their irritating noise barrage into future friends, “Hoooooonk if you love the mountains.”
As I departed a voice inside told me to go to wake the nations. The descendants of coal miners who live in the hollows and valleys believe that Appalachia can be saved. The industry claims that rallies like the one in Charleston are the result of outsider manipulation by tree huggers. In spite of the charges I found an expanding conviction in West Virginia that the dust of coal pollution and lakes of slime, artificial polluted reservoirs created from crushing and cleaning coal, will be stopped. When people work together to change things they create a culture for transformation.
Several days later as I pulled out of Ansted I flipped on the radio to check developments in Copenhagen. The sombre reports of disunity among the nations reminded me to be realistic but thankful for the people, some diplomats, demonstrators and lobbyists who by their actions remembered the coal fields and disappearing mountain tops. The snow had ended and the fog had lifted. I could see the mountains and knew there was hard work ahead beyond the mourning or was it morning. It’s a new year. It’s a new decade.
Filed under: Iraq | Tags: conscience, counter insurgency, Human Rights, ICRS, listening to the people, Nonviolence, torture
The most terrifying condition in a culture where terror is practised is the disappearance of the suspect. The victim is at the mercy of the captors. The family is totally devoid of information and feels helpless. Responses from supporters range from outrage to violence or depression. Absolute uncertainty and raw fear fills the void created by the absence of information. A person may be tortured, molested, and killed and no one may know for a generation or forever.
State officials normally deny or claim an absence of information that the vanished person is in fact detained. The final days of Jesus life included attack on his spirit and body. We don’t know all the details. However, experiences with US and other foreign forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and domestic armies in Latin America help us fill in some of that detail. By tuning ourselves more closely to these tragedies we gain greater access to the core of the Jesus we read about in the gospels. According to a study by the Pew Research Center 62% of white American evangelical Christians polled said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified to engage in torture to gain information from suspected terrorists. Would a faith that fully understands Jesus’ last days lead contemporary Christians to a more confident life of nonviolent sacrifice?
In my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams I spent time in Baghdad in 2003, four months after the occupation began. Before I arrived in late July families had already begun to contact the team seeking help and information on disappeared family members who were snatched by American units. In our search for information on the status of disappeared persons we tried various tactics. One day we went to Abu Ghraib prison to seek entry and information.
When we arrived we were greeted by hundreds of family members of the disappeared who overwhelmed us with tragic stories. Because we stopped to listen to some of their appeals for help it took a long time to approach the gates of the prison. We were denied both entry or information. The anger and raw fear outside the gates was palatable. For several hours we listened. Some in our group took notes.
In explosive conditions like that day my conscience vacillates between two responses, don’t give false hope or delve deeply into each case. On the one hand I hesitate to listen too much because even listening is an indication of commitment to find information and create a strategy of intervention. At Abu Ghraib on that particular day my colleagues and I had no response method for individual cases except to publicize the trends through our church and human rights channels. This was not enough.
My second response was to lean more deeply into each individual case to follow through with specific actions and to accompany the fear stricken families to the few offices in the occupation administration that existed. We had tried that route before with no success. With hundreds screaming for help we were overwhelmed. In those days we could have set up a table for complaints outside of Abu Ghraib every day and we could have taken stories from sun up to sun down. Such a strategy would could have been dangerous but danger is inherent in authentic nonviolent work. We didn’t do that in part because we had so few ways to help the desperate family members. Maybe we should have.
On another day we went to Baghdad Airport to seek information about prisoners held there too. Once again we encountered hundreds of persons outside the gates who were beside themselves seeking information on disappeared family members. Again we were overwhelmed with stories. The American guards tried to help. A sargent even went to get his lieutenant to talk to us. He could not help. Finally, in desperation the sargent pleaded with us to go but promised to take the matter up with his colonel, the senior officer . We never heard anything and the disappearances continued as house raids increased throughout Baghdad. Later we went to military bases, holding areas and restricted offices set up to support Iraqis where we encountered more scenes of desperate people literally grasping for help and information. Only months later when a low level military person gave us access to a data base of detainees were we able to provide at least rudimentary information for some desperate families.
Each day before we departed on these missions of fact finding and intervention among foreign soldiers we gathered for prayer, reflection and strategizing. We were reminded of the efforts of Jesus’ followers and family to keep track of him during his interrogation, trial and execution. Little did we know that Jesus’ last days of torture were being reenacted inside the walls of the places that we visited. We saw his bold and pushy follower, Peter, in a new light. We remembered Peter’s denial as he sat in the courtyard around the fire with the religious leadership who instigated the arrest. But now we recognized the Peter within ourselves who went to the place of disappearance, interrogation and mocking to try to track Jesus’ treatment. Peter wanted to protect the disappearing one, but his own survival meant denial of association, a kind of quick interim ethic that shows its face among allies convinced they must help the targets of torture..
We remembered the women of Jesus’ life at the execution and seeking the body at the tomb in order to perform the rites of death and purification of the corpse. For them, disappearance of the corpse was shocking. Even the apparent appearance of two unexpected persons at the tomb did not overcome their terror until their memories were jolted about his earlier words. When they went to inform friends and supporters of Jesus’ absence from the tomb the story was treated as an idle tale. Belief, disbelief, rumours, depression, and urgent attempts to do something and keep the network informed, are all present in this story, a story that reflects the culture of the disappeared and their supporters today.
In the modern world we have two widely acknowledged resources to follow the disappeared. The International Committee for the Red Cross is charged by international customary law to make contact between prisoners and their families through letters. In August 2003 the Baghdad offices of the ICRC were bombed, severely curtailing the ability of the ICRC from doing its work in the unfolding emergency. Secondly, we have the widely established principal of habeas corpus in modern law, a writ ordering that the prisoner be brought before a judge in order to protect the prisoner from illegal imprisonment. Those rights were suspended for detainees in Iraq.
Disappeared (the word is now used as a verb) detainees is one of the most terrifying forms of control that political authorities engage in. According to the UN more than 70 countries have “disappeared” people since 1980. The story of the interweaving of the culture of fear surrounding the arrest of Jesus is one in the long history of the use of this tactic to control populations.
Among Peter and the women who were close to Jesus we see a very personal and moral response more akin to what families everywhere must do in their reach for information and hope. At Abu Ghraib I learned that our responses in those moments calling for urgent action are determined by a lifetime of preparation.
Filed under: 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.