Back in the days when I traveled frequently to China, I had an opportunity to visit a historic site called Yueyang Pavilion, on the banks of Lake Dongting.
Yueyang Pavilion is famous for inspiring one of the most famous essays in Chinese history, about the obligations of leaders, by an official named Fan Zhongyan. The key line in the essay is: “Before anyone else thinks to worry, you are worrying; only after everyone else is enjoying joy, do you experience joy."
I thought of it yesterday when people who have been working hard as part of the resistance to U.S. wars and aggression met up in Chicago's Federal Plaza to address the winding down of the war in Iraq.
One group of people saw a need to celebrate. They saw the need to focus on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as a reminder that Barack Obama rose to prominence on a promise to reverse the Bush march to war in Iraq, and that Obama was elected with the support of many antiwar activists.
This was billed as a celebration, but do these people look like they're having a good time?
When I look at the picture of the "celebrators," it makes me realize: it's just not possible to look back on war and turn it into a "feel good" moment -- especially not for anyone who is still involved in the resistance to continuing U.S. wars.
Another group of people saw the need to use the occasion to emphasize the need for continued resistance. Yes, a lot of U.S. troops are coming out of Iraq, but what about the ones who are staying? And the contractors? And the ones staying in the region? And what about continued U.S. occupation in Afghanistan? And drone attacks there and in Pakistan, and Yemen, and other countries? What about what the U.S. did in Libya? And is threatening to do in Iran? And what about the extension of the possibility of indefinite detention by the military (a la Guantanamo) to all U.S. citizens?
These people look, well, kinda scraggly. They don't look particularly joyful, either. However, they weren't making any claims of joy for the day.
All in all, this occasion made me realize that celebrating the success of politicians in ending wars is not likely to be something we are going to have the opportunity to do, at least not with a clear conscience. Instead, those of us who see the need for permanent resistance are going to stay focused on the work that remains to be done.
When I watched the ABC coverage of the event, I got the distinct impression that they thought the questions of the permanent resisters were very important. They dwelled for a long time on this sign, and I don't think any viewer could miss the message:
We're not done yet, not by a long shot. The resistance must be permanent.
Photos: ABC coverage of Chicago event marking U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq, December 16, 2011.
September 10, 2014 in Chicago - Andy Thayer introduces speakers from 8th Day Center for Justice, Anti-War Committee of Chicago, Gay Liberation Network, No Drones Network, Veterans for Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, and World Can't Wait, all speaking against the Obama administration's latest war escalation.
(See Obama Didn't Invent Permawar. He Just Perfected It.)
I'm glad that we're starting to debate drone warfare, but I'm concerned that Americans are stuck at the surface of the problem -- the technology, the politics -- and not getting deep enough into the psychology that allows us to tolerate the injury being done to others.
(See Does America Need a Spiritual Awakening?)
I'm grateful to my friend, Jim Barton,
for framing the problem in a way that is adequately broad, and yet
contains a measure of hope. It's about the future, and whether we have
one -- or can construct one -- he said. Young people today are asking:
Do I have an economic future? Does the planet have a future? Will
(nuclear) war extinguish everybody's future?
(See A FUTURE: Can we construct one? )