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Sunday, November 16, 2014

U.S. and Its Nukes: "We just have kind of taken our eye off the ball here"

I was thinking about a focus for #NoNukesTuesday on November 18 -- when I got wind of the Pentagon press conference.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was going before the media to 'fess up to embarrassing lapses in control and administration in the U.S. nuclear program ... and to propose spending a whole lot more money to "strengthen" the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

(l-r) Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, the commander of Air Force Global Strike
Command, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, and Defense
Secretary Chuck Hagel (Image source: AP / Evan Vucci)

And that was when Hagel shrugged his shoulders and said, "we just have kind of taken our eye off the ball here."

Could there be a more succinct statement of why it is urgent to move forward with elimination of nuclear weapons?

The movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons is gearing up for mass mobilizations in spring 2015, timed to coincide with the every-5-year review of the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons), to be held in May at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. One way we're getting the word out is with #NoNukesTuesday -- a weekly social media effort.

How can we reach the vast numbers of U.S. citizens who, if they comprehended the risk the world faces from U.S. (and other) nuclear weapons, would join in a mass movement for their total elimination?

 #NoNukesTuesday - what's YOUR way of mobilizing the people?

Related posts

In light of the upcoming review of the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) and the fact that organizations throughout the country and worldwide are organizing to press the U.S. to substantially reduce its stores of nuclear weapons, it seems like a good time to use social media to get EVERYONE on board!

(See 5 Ways YOU Can Make a Difference on #NoNukesTuesday )

Do we have a way to immerse ourselves in the experience of what the use of those nuclear weapons would really mean -- prospectively -- so that we can truly cause ourselves to confront our own inaction?

(See Stop engaging in risky behavior )

There are three centers of power that will impact nuclear disarmament: the President, the Congress, and the people. One of them will have to make nuclear disarmament happen.

(See Countdown to U.S. Nuclear Disarmament (With or Without the Politicians) )

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why Are These Military Experts Saying CUT CUT CUT Nukes?

I was shocked by this sentence in The New York Times four years ago:

"The Pentagon has now told the public, for the first time, precisely how many nuclear weapons the United States has in its arsenal: 5,113. That is exactly 4,802 more than we need."

(See "An Arsenal We Can All Live With" by Gary Shaub, Jr., and James Forsyth, Jr., May 23, 2010 in The New York Times.)

I was even more shocked when I read the identities of the authors:

Gary Schaub Jr. is an assistant professor of strategy at the Air War College.

James Forsyth Jr. is a professor of strategy at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies

Who are Schaub and Forsyth? Why do they say the U.S. should hold no more than 311 strategic nuclear weapons -- less than 1/10 of its current levels?

Anti-nuke? Not by a long shot . . .

Gary Schaub
Gary Schaub taught at the Air Force Research Institute and Air War College, both at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He is currently a tenured Senior Researcher at the Centre for Military Studies of the University of Copenhagen, where he and his colleagues "conduct research-based consultancy work for the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Defence Committee of Parliament as well as scholarly research on international security issues."

Here's James Forsyth, Jr.'s profile from the Air University website: "Dr. Forsyth received his PhD in International Studies from the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. While there, he studied international and comparative politics, as well as security studies. He has taught at the Air Force Academy and Air Command and Staff college, where he served as Dean. His research interests are wide ranging and he has written on great power conflict and war."

Schaub and Forsyth are military experts.

And, in general, they favor the existence -- though not the use -- of nuclear weapons.

They come right out in their op-ed and say, "The idea of a nuclear-weapon-free world is not an option for the foreseeable future. Nuclear weapons make leaders vigilant and risk-averse. That their use is to be avoided does not render them useless. Quite the opposite: nuclear weapons might be the most politically useful weapons a state can possess."

Still, they have called for deep cuts in U.S. nuclear weapons.

Doing the math

Col. B. Chance Saltzman (left)
in his capacity as 460th Operations Group commander
( U. S. Air Force photo/Dennis Rogers, 7/7/2011)
Schaub and Forsyth's op-ed grew out of a paper: "Remembrance of Things Past : The Enduring Value of Nuclear Weapons", which they published in conjunction with B. Chance Saltzman (Colonel, USAF) in Strategic Studies Quarterly, Spring 2010.

Even if you are usually unconvinced by the game theory and other heuristics usually relied upon by proponents of nuclear strategy, the "Remembrance" paper is worth reading, because it does something insightful: it points to the degree to which the U.S. (and others) have been constrained by the relatively small arsenals of other countries (e.g. China). They suggest that, in fact, a significantly reduced nuclear arsenal would accomplish deterrence. 

In addition, they provide useful discussion of the need to reach reductions by steps -- i.e. steps that even those resistant to reductions can swallow.

What is "strategy," anyway?

If you're wondering what Schaub and Forsyth have up their sleeve, it may be contained in these sentences:

"We need a nuclear arsenal. But we certainly don’t need one that is as big, expensive and unnecessarily threatening to much of the world as the one we have now." (emphasis added)

Two little words -- "unnecessarily threatening" -- go a long way to suggesting why Schaub and Forsyth think the U.S. would be better off with fewer nuclear weapons.

Any advocacy for the elimination of nuclear weapons must sooner or later get around to the specifics of the steps by which we get to zero. U.S. nuclear strategists recognize that 311 is still a large number of strategic nuclear weapons for the U.S. to hold. Shouldn't our minimum demand be to get U.S. to this level (or below)?

Related posts

How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons?  How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position -- will always be in the position -- to say, "No" ?  At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will never give up its nuclear weapons, because it has the power and the rest of the world doesn't?

(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

There are three centers of power that will impact nuclear disarmament: the President, the Congress, and the people. One of them will have to make nuclear disarmament happen.

(See Countdown to U.S. Nuclear Disarmament (With or Without the Politicians) )

In light of the upcoming review of the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) and the fact that organizations throughout the country and worldwide are organizing to press the U.S. to substantially reduce its stores of nuclear weapons, it seems like a good time to use social media to get EVERYONE on board!

(See 5 Ways YOU Can Make a Difference on #NoNukesTuesday )

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry )

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

5 Ways YOU Can Make a Difference on #NoNukesTuesday

#NoNukesTuesday art ... courtesy @natriverascott

In light of the upcoming review of the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons)
and the fact that organizations throughout the country and worldwide are organizing to press the U.S. to substantially reduce its stores of nuclear weapons (see: CALL TO ACTION: Spring/Autumn 2015 Mobilisation), it seems like a good time to use social media to get EVERYONE on board!

What if we chose a day of the week -- say, Tuesday -- to join our voices and lift up the demand for the elimination of nuclear weapons? Could we help build toward a powerful spring 2015 nuclear disarmament mobilization?

The antiwar movement had a good experience with this type of social media activity in recent years with #AfghanistanTuesday . . .  in the run-up to the NATO protests in Chicago in May 2012 . . . . The time has come to turn up the volume again.

How about it? #NoNukesTuesday anyone?

Here's how you can make a difference:

(1) Tweet, Retweet, "Me-Tweet," Follow on #NoNukesTuesday

If it's Tuesday, it's time to say: #NoNukes . . .
Nuclear Disarmamanet
If you can only invest a few minutes every Tuesday, you can help by going to #NoNukesTuesday on Twitter and adding your voice:

* retweet (RT) the #NoNukesTuesday tweets you find valuable

* augment/paraphrase ("me-tweet" - MT) #NoNukesTuesday tweets you find valuable

* add your OWN tweets with the hashtag #NoNukesTuesday
* follow others who are participating in #NoNukesTuesday

Let's go for a new form of "proliferation" -- making the nuclear disarmament message fill cyberspace every Tuesday!

(2) Pull in local organizations

What are the peace and justice organizations that you work with in your community?

Ask them to participate in #NoNukesTuesday -- and encourage them to devise a BIG presence in the spring 2015 nuclear disarmament mobilization!

"Fromm: Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament"
on the Peace Couple blog
(3) Link to your own writing on nuclear disarmament

Do you have a blog? Or have you been intending to start one? Now's the time to introduce others to what you have to say about nuclear disarmament.

Share you blog posts about eliminating nuclear weapons on Twitter using the #NoNukesTuesday hashtag.

(4) Tie in to other social media

The peace and justice movement is barely touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the vast array of social media that can be used to make #NoNukesTuesday big. There are all kinds of unexplored possibilities . . .

Tuesdays are the days when you can introduce others to ways to tie into the nuclear disarmament movement on other platforms: Facebook . . . Tumblr . . . Reddit . . . Instagram . . . .

Check out the #NoNukesTuesday community on Google+!

Join us! Tweeting every Tuesday in a movement to
eliminate #nuclearweapons #NoNukes #NoNukesTuesday
(5) Invite more people to #NoNukesTuesday

As everyone knows, when a genie gives you three wishes, the third wish should be . . . for more wishes.

The way to make sure #NoNukesTuesday becomes more and more effective is for EVERYONE to invite more people -- every week -- to be part of it.

These are just 5 ideas . . . I'm sure there are at least FIFTY ways all of us can make a difference on #NoNukesTuesday .

Let's get to work . . .

5 Ways YOU Can Make a Difference on #NoNukesTuesday

Related posts

There are three centers of power that will impact nuclear disarmament: the President, the Congress, and the people. One of them will have to make nuclear disarmament happen.

(See Countdown to U.S. Nuclear Disarmament (With or Without the Politicians) )

There is an eerie similarity between events in the book Paul Revere's Ride and events in our world today. I'm thinking particularly of how a network of mass resistance springs into action.

(See New World Counterinsurgency: Deja Vu All Over Again)

People assemble every week -- in growing numbers -- to lift their voices together in opposition to continued U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.

It may get loud . . . .

(See #AfghanistanTuesday - ALL LINKS)

I've realized that when we ask ourselves, "What is it that we hope people will do?" we must include an element of recursivity: One of the things we want people to do is to involve more people in doing it. In a way, that element of recursivity -- dare I say "evangelism"? -- defines what it means for people to really become part of a movement.

(See Invite More People into Activism! (Pass It Along!) )

Monday, November 10, 2014

What Would It Take for Friendship to Trump War?

Jim (French) and Jules (Austrian)
carry Catherine in Jules and Jim
I can't stay long - I'm rushing down to the Siskel Film Center to see Jules and Jim - part of their retrospective of WWI films.

I was trying to explain Jules and Jim to my daughter -- trying to lure her away from her college art class to see it with me, if truth be told -- and I wondered: would she be more interested in the situation of the woman character (Catherine, in an unforgettable performance by Jeanne Moreau)? Or would she, like me, be struck by the dilemma of the friends, Jules and Jim, who are called to fight on opposite sides when war breaks out?

Is Jules and Jim about romance? Or triangles? Or is it simply about friendship?

[Watching the film: this is what I was remembering . . . both of them talking about their fear that, in the course of their service, they will kill the other . . . . ]

Why do we let a thing as grotesque as war supersede that most human of impulses - friendship?

Strange meeting

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Veterans Day falls on November 11, in recognition of the WWI armistice that came on the "11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" in 1918.

I'm thinking a lot about -- and listening to -- Benjamin Britten's War Requiem in connection with the day. The work combines the form of a requiem mass with the poetry of Wilfred Owen. The whole work bears close study: the valiant trumpets lead the enthusiastic young fighers into battle in section 3, the true wrathful face of battle in section 9, and much, much more.

Wilfred Owen's regiment
(Source: Voices Compassion Education website)

But I am particularly struck by section 18, which quotes from a poem, "Strange Meeting", describing an encounter between the narrator and a spectre he meets after leaving the battlefield:

“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.”
“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also . . .

. . . .

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.

Let us sleep now. . . .”

(You can listen to "It seemed that out of battle I escaped" from the War Requiem on Youtube.)

Owen never returned from the war. He was killed November 4, 1918 - 7 days before the armistice.

Purple berries

The War Requiem couldn't be more different than the music of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and yet I find nearly the same sentiment in the song "Wooden Ships":

I can see by your coat, my friend,
you're from the other side,
There's just one thing I got to know,
Can you tell me please, who won?

Friends pick mulberries together
" . . . we stopped and had a few berries . . . . "
(Source: Pass the butter please blog)
Like Wilfred Owen talking about two former "enemies," CSN see a simple desire to live and share:

Say, can I have some of your purple berries?
Yes, I've been eating them for six or seven weeks now,
haven't got sick once.

Probably keep us both alive.

If you want to hear a really angry antiwar ballad, listen to this live performance of "Wooden Ships."

If you smile at me, I will understand
'Cause that is something everybody everywhere does
in the same language . . . .

In Chicago, there are mulberry trees that, in the summer, are filled with purple berries you can eat. I don't know how many times I've paused on a summer morning to pluck a berry, and have thought, "If you smile at me, I will understand . . . ."

Related posts

It's time for us to get honest about the true costs of war, including the long term health consequences for people who serve in the military, and the corresponding long-term costs that our society must commit to bear.

(See How to REALLY Honor Veterans)

Have you ever wondered . . . instead of just tsk-tsking about "The Great War," why doesn't anyone actually seize the occasion to try to put a stop to future wars?

(See Everyone Talks About World War I, But No One Does Anything About It )

Today, it may seem quaint to think about the role that trains played in the cataclysms of the 20th century. Could something as simple as a bunch of trains, once set in motion, possibly put people on a course they couldn't reverse? And yet . . . what if I told you that the hyper-organized planners of the U.S. government have a timetable to make 100 drone bases operational in our country in the near future?

(See War By (Drone Base) Timetable? )

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fighting Back: It's alright as long as you're a Christian, right?

Somali-Americans at prayer in St. Paul, MN
Detail of image that ran in the Chicago Tribune print edition
October 23, 2014, entitled "Countering the pull of extremists:
A Somali-American  fights recruiters seeking youths to join
militants abroad" (See online version)
Here's one reason I am very troubled by the latest developments in Iraq and Syria, and in particular the high profile of ISIS: it seems to have provoked (or re-provoked) an expectation in Western society (particularly the U.S. and U.K.) that if Muslims want to be tolerated, they must demonstrate active and enthusiastic opposition to the choices of some of their young people to affiliate with armed groups in the Mideast.

(See, for instance, "How Muslims can halt extremism" by Junaid M. Afeef; "Let’s Talk About How Islam Has Been Hijacked" by Aly Salem; the #NotInMyName campaign; and the story of Abdirizak Bihi in St. Paul: "Somali American fights militant Islamist recruiters in U.S. heartland".)

I have three questions about this.

First, what is the letter of the law on youths joining militants abroad?

Second, what do our values tell us about youths joining militants abroad? In particular, is this a Muslim value? Is it a Christian value?

Third, what is the appropriate response to what's happening abroad? Is "do nothing" a better response than "go take up arms"?

These aren't easy questions to answer. But we need to try.

What is the law?

I am aware that many Muslims have been prosecuted in the U.S. on a range of charges, some relating to their desire to go and fight in struggles in other countries.

The document "Victims of America's Dirty Wars: Tactics and Reasons from COINTELPRO to the War on Terror" by Stephen Downs, Esq., raises a very good question: in fact, is it illegal to go and fight in other countries? Downs writes,

It is natural for American Muslims to feel strongly about the conflicts abroad that involve their ancestral homelands, where they have family and cultural ties. When they see their ancestral families and culture threatened in places like Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, they naturally want to defend the people and culture they love, and believe that defending these people and culture will not in any way hurt the U.S. Romantic, idealistic, and self-sacrificing young men (and women) are often those most attracted to defend such foreign homelands. (See For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway.) Thus it seems particularly harsh that even unsuccessful attempts to attend training camps abroad by Muslims should be punished by long prison terms.

Americans in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade fought in the
Spanish Civil War (1936-39)
It appears to me that U.S. law says, in effect, fighting for a foreign country is not illegal, provided it doesn't involved fighting against the U.S. The website of the U.S. State Department says,

Military service in foreign countries, however, usually does not cause loss of nationality since an intention to relinquish nationality normally is lacking. In adjudicating loss of nationality cases, the Department has established an administrative presumption that a person serving in the armed forces of a foreign state not engaged in hostilities against the United States does not have the intention to relinquish nationality. On the other hand, voluntary service in the armed forces of a state engaged in hostilities against the United States could be viewed as indicative of an intention to relinquish U.S. nationality.

(See Advice about Possible Loss of U.S. Nationality and Foreign Military Service)

There has been bluster recently about taking away the citizenship of people who fight overseas. Steve Chapman explains, in "Even terrorists have a right to citizenship", why that would be unconstitutional.

(And by the way, if you're carrying a gun because you're on the U.S. payroll, or the payroll of a corporation which is, itself, on the U.S. payroll, that's another story. See The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security by Ann Hagedorn.)

Of course, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress after 9/11 allows the U.S. government a very sweeping definition of who is an enemy of the U.S.  Numerous other laws create penalties for anyone interacting with any group that has been deemed "terrorist."

The upshot is that, while there is today no practical way of fighting in a foreign struggle without running a very high risk of being prosecuted, in principle and based on our political theory, it remains a right of U.S. nationals.

What is the theology?

Muslim leaders are called upon to demonstrate active and enthusiastic opposition to members of their community fighting in a foreign struggles.

I can't help feeling that:

(a) This perpetuates the perception that Islam has a greater tolerance for violence than Christianity. In my opinion, there is ample material in both traditions for practitioners to justify a range of behaviors.

(b) This crushes what would otherwise be an opportunity for interfaith dialog -- a dialog about what the posture of what Muslim and Chrisitan communities of faith ought to be in the face of injustice.

"Onward Christian Soldiers"
FDR, Churchill, officers, and crew worship aboard
H.M.S. Prince of Wales during negotiation of the
Atlantic Charter (August, 1941)
(Click to view large image)
I was reminded of the truth of point (a) just a few weeks ago when I spent several hours watching a Ken Burns documentary about the Roosevelt political dynasty.  The documentary described Winston Churchill meeting Franklin D. Roosevelt on board a ship, to convince him to bring the U.S. into the hostilities in WWII. They held a Christian worship service during their time together on shipboard, with hymns specially selected by Churchill, including "Onward Christian Soldiers." (Watch the video!) As the two left the service together arm in arm, FDR turned to Churchill and said, "That is what we are, isn't it? Christian soldiers!"

Numerous Christian activists in the U.S. have expressed their opposition to the idea of "just war" -- an ideology based on the work of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. I want to lift up the words of Jack Gilroy, an activists who is currently serving a sentence for civil disobedience at a U.S. military base in upstate New York -- a place where U.S. military personnel guide drones that murder people in Mideast and South Asian countries. As Jack explains, generations of students in Catholic schools have been taught that "it’s okay to go to war and kill as long as you have good reasons provided by your country’s leadership." Among many other activities, Jack has written a play called The Predator which seeks "to quicken the moral juices" of everyone who has acquiesced in "just war" rationalizations. (See "How Communities Are Using the Play The Predator to Question Drone Warfare" on the Awake to Drones website.)

At the same time, faith-based activists oppose "quietism" -- the failure to act in the face of injustice. Which is worse, the believer who responds in violence? Or the believer who avoids the conflict completely?

Indignation at injustice

As a Christian trying to learn more and more about Islam, I am struck by the fact that there seems to be a great deal of concern in Islam for injustice, and particularly for the impoverishment of ordinary people.

"The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is home for 160,000 
refugees who have escaped the brutal Syrian civil war"
(Source: AFP/Getty on the Daily Mail website)
(Click to see large image)
I wonder if the outrage that many Muslims seem to feel at the suffering of other Muslims doesn't put us Christians to shame.

I wonder if the Muslim ideal of a prosperous ummah -- global community of believers -- isn't more faithful than my Christian acceptance of the fact that billions live in physical misery and spiritual despair.

I am thinking of this particularly after spending time about a week ago learning with others about the prophetic witness of the Roman Catholic bishop and liberation theologist Hélder Câmara. I can't resist quoting from the Invocation at the mass he commissioned, Missa dos Quilombos:

[I]t is important, Mariama, that the Church of thy Son not just say the words, not remain a cheering spectator.
It is not enough to ask forgiveness for the errors of yesterday.
We have to take the right steps today, regardless of what they will say . . . .
Enough of all injustice!
Enough of having some who do not know what to do with all their land, and millions without a handful of land to live on.
Enough of some having to vomit to eat more and 50 million starving in a single year.
Enough of some having corporations spreading over the whole world, and millions not having a corner where they can earn their daily bread . . .

I wonder if some of our Muslim brothers and sisters would be surprised to know that these words come from Christian leader. (I wonder if some of our Christian brothers and sisters would be similarly surprised.)

When, where, and how is the dialog between Muslim and Christian communities on these issues going to begin?

Related posts

Perhaps the most troubling residue of the Syria crisis is that so much of our national discussion was centered on what our interests are, and whether we can force others to do what we want, and who our friends and who our enemies are. What's missing in all this is the question: what can we do to alleviate the suffering of the people of Syria?

(See Syria: Where Have We Ended Up?)

It's way too easy to launch U.S. missiles. (Maybe if it were a little more costly, challenging, or painful to carry out these attacks, they would at least require someone to give an explanation that makes sense first.)

(See AMERICANS: Happy As Long As They're Blowing Something Up )

The Predator challenges us with the question: What do we think about "Just War" Theory? In the introduction to the play, Gilroy says, "This play hopes to quicken the moral juices of Jesuit students who have been taught it’s okay to go to war and kill as long as you have good reasons provided by your country’s leadership." As the antiwar activist says near the end of the play, "No war is just."

(See How Communities Are Using the Play "The Predator" to Question Drone Warfare on the Awake to Drones website)

"Missa dos Quilombos" asked for forgiveness and sought healing for the legacy of slavery in Brazil. Dom Helder celebrated the Quilombo Mass. He said: "Mariama [Mother Mary], we aren't here to ask that today's slaves be tomorrow's slave masters. Enough of slaves! Enough of masters! We want liberty!" The beating of the drums was overpowering, they exploded like the screams of our souls!

(See Hélder Câmara and Liberation Theology 101: Where? When? Why? Who? )

Other related links

October 23, 2014 - "The Homegrown Jihadist Threat Grows" by Joseph Lieberman and Christian Beckner The Wall Street Journal illustrates how scare-mongering about "high tech recruitment by Islamic militants" creates an opportunity to call for more federal intervention in the speech, thought, and faith pursuits of U.S. citizens.

November 2, 2014 - "Convert to Islam Tests Boundaries of Germany’s Terror Laws" by Anton Troianovski in The Wall Street Journal: "More than 450 German residents have traveled to Syria to join or support Islamic militants, security officials said . . . . German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said these travelers threaten domestic security because many will return home more radical and inured to violence."

November 3, 2014 - A drama is currently being played out in Chicago as federal authorities seek to detain a 19-year-old area man. The criminal complaint against Mohammed Hamzah Khan "alleged that he planned to meet in Turkey with a contact who would take him to Islamic State locations in Iraq or Syria. He allegedly told agents he expected his position to be 'some type of public service, a police force, humanitarian work or a combat role,'' according to "Officials: Siblings with Bolingbrook teen in bid to join Islamic State" by Jason Meisner in the Chicago Tribune.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Approaching Hiroshima: A Challenge for Children's Literature and Peace Education

My Hiroshima by Junko Morimoto
As best I can remember, it was 1971 when I became my mother's typist.

She was 50 years old and was making the heroic trek several days a week from our home in New Jersey into Manhattan to attend classes at Columbia University. She was working toward her Master of Library Science (M.L.S.) degree, so that she could begin a new career as a librarian.

I was 11, and had barely learned asdfjkl; but when it came time for Mom to do her masters thesis, I set up on a card table in the "sun room" and started to type.

Mom's thesis was on children's literature, and she had researched dozens of versions of a single story: Little Red Riding Hood. The thesis contained a synopsis of every single book, and a long bibliography.

And so I learned at a very early age that every story gets told in many different ways. And to love lists of books.

My Hiroshima

When I had children of my own, books became one of the major ways we spent time with each other.

I have a very clear memory of being in the children's section of a Border's store in Philadelphia (where we lived at the time) and laying my hands on My Hiroshima by Junko Morimoto. Its bright colors and social purpose appealed to me. My two sons were about 8 and 5 at the time.

Junko Morimoto, author of My Hiroshima
(Read more at "80 year old artist paints the horror
of atomic bombing live" on Japan in Melbourne)
I'm not sure My Hiroshima made an impression on either of them. It is a beautiful book, and I love it. I think its value for us was really the impression it made on me. It started me thinking about the difference between what appeals to an adult and what appeals to a child.

I went down to the children's section of the main branch of the Chicago Public Library a few weeks ago and refreshed my memory about My Hiroshima. I had forgotten how interesting it was in the way it mixed many styles and genres: the depiction of everyday life scenes during the prelude to the bombing reminded me of anime; a section of pictures of the aftermath closely resembling drawings by survivors; and a very activism-oriented section at the end, providing facts and figures about the consequences of the bomb and explaining about the growth of the modern peace movement centered on Hiroshima.

For me, My Hiroshima stands for the proposition that educating young people about the threat of nuclear weapons is a multimedia endeavor, and is an ongoing proposition.

Hiroshima No Piko

I first came across Hiroshima No Piko by Toshi Maruki because of a book for adults by the important historian of the U.S.'s 20th century conflict with Japan, John Dower: Hiroshima Murals: The Art of Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki. That led me to a video -- Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima -- and then when I got to the children's section of the library, I found Hiroshima No Piko.

There is a wonderful reading of Hiroshima No Piko -- showing all the illustrations -- on Youtube.

I was struck in particular by the image of the aftermath of the atomic bombing shown here:

Hiroshima No Piko: aftermath of the bombing

In the lower right quadrant of the picture, a woman hunches over the child she cradles in her arms, protecting it. This posture was strikingly reminiscent of a sketch that my daughter did when she was about 8 years old:

Parents escaping Pompeii, cradling baby (after Benzoni)
(Sketch by Alanna Huck-Scarry)

The story of my daughter's sketch is in the blog post "The Children Are Waiting." The experience of seeing my daughter develop that sketch led me to realize how perceptive children can be about the most terrible disasters, particularly when they view it through the lens of the children involved, and that of the relationship of those children to their parents.

The rest of the shelf . . . 

My trip to the library reminded me that there are lots of books for children about Hiroshima and the issue of nuclear weapons.  (Two additional examples are Shin's Tricycle and Sadako and the Thousand Cranes.) There is so much to sort out . . .

The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki by J. Pools
in the "Great Historic Disasters" series
* There are many books proffered to children that provide justifications for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The discourse on the use of atomic weapons is certainly a worthy topic of study for young people of a certain age. However, there is a distinction between critical reading of atom bombing history and passive receiving of atom bombing dogma. I am wondering about how this can be effectively broken down.

* There are more and more materials about the atomic bombing being offered online. (See, for instance, Hiroshima: A Survivor's Story, offered by Scholastic.) Quite apart from the dogma embedded in online materials, it seems important to question the pros and cons of the online medium itself for this kind of teaching. On the plus side, there are huge advantages to the kind of interlinking that can be done online, giving access to enormous quantities of resources to everyone. On the other hand, there are benefits associated with physical books, including the way in which families and other groups experience them together.

* There are many books and other resources -- lists and lists, and lists of those lists -- about the atomic bombing. (Perhaps compiled by people with MLA degrees?) Just two examples are "Nuclear Holocaust in Contemporary Children's Fiction: A Surprising Amount of Agreement" and "New Miseries in Old Attire: Nuclear Adolescent Novels Published in the United States in the 1980s", and I'm sure there are many more.

There are abundant resources for teaching children about the problem of nuclear war.

I think that what we need now is curation. In particular, we need people who will carefully sort out what kinds of materials can best be used with children of various ages. (Perhaps all of this curation can be coordinated through a website or blog?)

In Chicago on November 22, 2014, there will be a social justice curriculum fair. My next step is to go to this fair and investigate what materials are being provided for teaching children about the problem of nuclear war. (Is anyone holding a "social justice curriculum fair" anywhere near you?)

Related posts

I don't think Alanna and I ever talked about what it must be like to be trying to escape a shower of sparks and hot ash. But she seemed to know that the sparks and hot ash are too important a part of the picture to be left out.

(See The Children Are Waiting )

It is the combination of the fire and the fact that it is a couple of children that are up against it that makes the reality of Grave of the Fireflies so undeniable.

(See Can We Confront the Fire and Blast of Nuclear War and Still Remain Human? (Watching "Grave of the Fireflies") )

I'm marveling at the adjacency of a piece of public art -- one with a very clear message about the risk of human ambition and self-absorption and heedlessness -- to the center of political power in the city of Chicago.

(See NUCLEAR WEAPONS: Who will bring us down to earth? )

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Apostles

from Wings of Desire - a film by Wim Wenders
Our congregation has been having a conversation -- one that many congregations are having, I believe -- about what our purpose is, and particularly about how our big old church building fits into that purpose (or not).

In the course of that conversation, one of our very long time members used the term "revolving door" to refer to the fact that, as a congregation in a vibrant neighborhood of Chicago, we attract lots of new, young members but many of those same members move to new locations after a short time.

My initial reaction was to groan and mutter, "Right: the 'revolving door problem'!" But then it hit me: maybe it's 'revolving door opportunity'?"

And in the slow dawning that followed, in which I can imagine an observer actually able to see the slow grinding of the wheels in my mind, I thought, "Could it possibly be that we're not supposed to try to hang onto people? Is is possible that we're supposed to prepare people, and then let them go??"

Is it possible that the "monument" that is St. Luke's Logan Square consists not of a brick-and-mortar building, but of a network of people who have experienced significant formation there, before going on to diverse other places?

Apostles Act

This vision of St. Luke's as a hub of active apostles is something about which our pastor, Rev. Erik Christensen, has talked about often. (See in particular his sermons on being a "school for prophets" and the simple need that "apostles act.") At St. Luke's, we often speak of "equipping" people, and we don't shy from asking, "Am I being effective?"

Peter Falk talks to Damiel (from Wings of Desire)
"I wish I could . . . tell you . . . so many good things . . . "
(watch scene on Youtube)
It occurs to me that we have a narrow window in which to equip apostles to act. When I'm thinking in nostalgia mode, cherishing memories from the New Jersey congregation I was a part of in the '60s and  '70s, I think in terms of membership measured in decades. When I'm thinking in here-and-now mode, looking at the way people live in Chicago in 2014, I think in 3-year increments.

If people are churning through our congregations at a fast pace -- and why shouldn't they be? they're apostles, they act -- don't we need to be extremely intentional about what we do to equip them for the brief time they're with us?

Shouldn't we be at least as organized and impactful as your run-of-the-mill business trainer?

And that's when it occurred to me, "Yes, this is sort of like Stephen Covey . . . . "

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Apostles

In the '80s, there was a small industry built around Stephen Covey and his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The habits that Covey championed -- be proactive, think win-win, sharpen the saw, etc. -- verge on common sense. But Covey did a good job of illuminating them with stories, and helping us see why we often behave in ways that prevent these behaviors from becoming habitual. (Hmmm . . . . )

I'm not sure the "7 habits of highly effective people" are necessarily identical to the "7 habits of highly effective apostles." But they do pose an interesting framework to consider building from.

Wings of Desire: Cassiel listening . . .
(watch scene on Youtube)


* Begin with the End in Mind - Offhand, I can think of a half dozen passages in which Jesus is trying to help people think about how they would live and act if they were to really see the big picture (including the span of their own years). Are the apostles that we are preparing today equipped with the habit of "beginning with the end in mind"? (How is this kind of equipping done?)

* Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood - A core of the Bible study and other small group activity at St. Luke's is an emphasis on listening more carefully -- to notice what's in the text, and to notice what those around us have to say.  What I've noticed is that listening is hard work. I wonder: what level of "equipping" might it require in order to make this a habit?

* Sharpen the Saw - We certainly circle around this habit when we talk about "self-care" and "continuing education" and the need to "avoid burnout" and the need for "sabbath." I wonder if this relates to the challenge we seem to face today in encouraging people (myself included) to value and engage in prayer. To put it simply: are we equipping our apostles to pray? (Do proactive apostles resist praying? Do they feel prayer somehow stands in opposition to action?)

Those are just brief thoughts on how a few of the habits Covey emphasized might be important habits for apostles.

What do you think? What do you think are the 2, or 3, . . . or 7 highly effective apostles?

What is your congregation doing to equip apostles with these habits, so that they can go out and act?

Damiel in living color (from Wings of Desire)

Related posts

We busted out of our big Neo-Gothic church building on Sunday and gathered for worship on the Boulevard. (Or, to be more precise, beneath the trees on the median alongside Logan Boulevard in Chicago, during the weekend-long "Boulevard Fest" sponsored by our congregation.) I've decided to embrace this new feeling of exposure and try to learn some lessons. I put them under the rubric "Congregations that worship in glass houses . . . (complete the sentence) . . . . "

(See Congregations That Worship in Glass Houses . . . )

In gratitude to John Kass, and in keeping with what I perceive to be our shared desire to place our faith "in the world" and share the good news (while at the same time not turning people off with too much Jesus talk) -- in short, keeping my tough guy cred intact -- I herewith share some scenes from my Holy Week 2014.

(See Holy Week 2014 in Chicago - Making a Spectacle of Ourselves )

Faced with chorus of voices saying, "Isn't it time for you to tone it down? Can't you be more reasonable? What is it you want, anyway?" Jesus kept right on doing what he was doing. And that was a sign to us about how to live our lives . . . .

(See WWJD? Occupy! )