Monday, June 30, 2014

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

Saturday was the hundredth anniversary of the assassination that marks the beginning of World War I, and predictably the media was full of coverage. The stories will probably continue for the next four years, straight through until the 11th day of the 11th month of 2018, when we will mark the hundredth anniversary of the WWI armistice.

It's a full employment act for the journalists. And everyone will be reading and talking about WWI.

But 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?

"I've had enough of war."
Have you?

A new campaign has been launched to build mass opposition to the institution of war. Unsurprisingly, almost no one is really for war. So the challenge now is get the "silent majority" who oppose war to come out of the closet.

Check out the World Beyond War video and support the effort.

Don't just talk about war without end. Do something about it.

Related posts

If you want to hear a really angry antiwar ballad, listen to "Wooden Ships" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash:

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

(See What Would It Take for Friendship to Trump War? )

Consider the moment in the film All Quiet On the Western Front when the young soldier returns to visit his old high school. The soldier visits the class of the teacher who had goaded him and many of his classmates to enlist in the first place. Encouraged by his teacher to tell about the "glories" of being a soldier, he delivers a damning verdict . . . .

(See Back to School (All Quiet On the Western Front))

We have had a window of opportunity -- nearly 70 years in which the constitution of Japan has explicitly renounced war, pointing the way for the rest of us. What have we imagined we were supposed to do?

(See Renouncing War: An Opportunity Not To Be Missed)

It's a pitch-perfect antiwar tale -- timeless.  You can read about it on the Michael Sporn Animation blog, and watch it in two parts on Youtube. I don't know what part of "The Hat" I like best: the totally convincing dialogue (spoken by Dizzy Gillespie and Dudley Moore)? the original soundtrack they created?  the mythic arc of the story? the exquisite drawings? Where are we going to get more of this kind of work to power the movement to abolish war?

(See Antiwar Animation: A Lost Art? )

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Guantanamo Echoes: Ai Weiwei Depicts State Repression in (China? USA?)

Ai Weiwei

I was at the screening of the film about the Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei at the Siskel Film Center in Chicago several nights ago: Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case. Ai Weiwei is a fascinating character, and particularly interesting to me because of my years of involvement with China. But at some point I started to wonder if the situation of Ai Weiwei and other dissidents in China isn't just too remote to be relevant to most Americans.

Strangely, even though the whole story was about Ai Weiwei being detained illegally because of his politics, I didn't make the connection to the work we are doing here in Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S. on exactly the same issues until late in the film when a completed art exhibition was depicted.

S.A.C.R.E.D. - detention by State Security officers

S.A.C.R.E.D. is a work of six life-size dioramas, executed in ceramics and mixed media, depicting Ai Weiwei's detention by State Security officers.

S.A.C.R.E.D. - sleeping

(You can read more about the S.A.C.R.E.D. project in WIRED: "Ai Weiwei’s Shockingly Detailed Remake of His Life in a Chinese Prison" by Kate Stinson)

Somehow it was only when I saw these re-creations of the detention experience that I saw how directly connected the experience of Ai Weiwei is to that of people the U.S. persecutes, and that I work on behalf of week in, week out.  In fact, that's what I had been working on earlier that day:

Chicago, June 26, 2014: On the International Day in Support of Victims and
Survivors of Torture
, protesters call for reparations for victims of Chicago
police torture. The rally was supported by members of the Chicago Coalition
to Shut Down Guantanamo and others. (Photo by Mark Clements)

Seeing the physical body -- and power relations in real space -- brings the reality of this home in a way that can be easy to lose if we are just conceptualizing it or talking about it.

Related posts

It may be difficult to see today that the success of our movement in the future will depend on Chinese activists having the same freedoms that activists in the West enjoy. But, I predict, that is precisely what will make all the difference.

(See What is the US Peace and Justice Movement Doing for Dissidents in China?)

My most prominent memory of my first viewing of the Guantanamo film, The Response, is of one of the stars of the film -- Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek fame -- participating in a panel after the screening. I was blown away when she said, "I did this because our civil liberties in our country have been gravely damaged and we all need to contribute to repairing them."

(See Understanding What Guantanamo Means)

More than any other part of the day, I was moved by the assurance with which Alderman Joe Moore, the resolution's sponsor, stated, "I expect this resolution will pass UNANIMOUSLY."

(See summary of testimony offered in Why Chicago Must Become a Torture-Free Zone )

The term yin quan or "power patronage," comes from the idea of a tree that grows in the shelter of others. Cronyism and power patronage are a constant problem in Chinese politics.

(See I {heart} HK )

Friday, June 27, 2014

Armed Drones Over Iraq: A Force Multiplier (Which Is Precisely Why They Are So Dangerous)

It happened faster than I expected.  Armed U.S. drones are being used over Iraq.

The U.S. has committed "just" 300 "advisors" -- of which about half are already on the ground. The foot in the door . . . .

Today came the announcement that armed drones are now "supporting" the work of those advisors in Baghdad -- "protecting" them.

In other words, the U.S. can get more "bang for the buck" out of each pair of boots it puts on the ground, because -- through the magic of robotics -- it can back up those boots with Hellfire missiles and 500-lb. bombs.

For the folks back home, it helps maintain the illusion that the U.S. isn't really intervening in a way that risks escalation.

(Feelin' lucky?)
For the population of the affected areas of Iraq, it helps maintain the balance of terror -- because those armed drones are just part of a much larger fleet of drones that is patrolling the skies over Baghdad.  ("Is that drone overhead aiming . . . or just 'looking'?" From the ground, one has to assume they're all aiming . . . . )

Make no mistake: whereas the Bush administration went into Iraq without a clue about how it was all going to play out, the Obama administration knows exactly what it's doing. When you see "advisers . . . oh, yes, er . . . advisers supported by drones" piling into Iraq, you can be sure the U.S. is setting itself up to be there calling the shots for a long time to come.

Related posts

In my opinion, the reason to focus on drones is this: when we focus on drones, the general public is able to "get," to an unusual extent, the degree to which popular consent has been banished from the process of carrying out state violence. (Sure, it was banished long ago, but the absence of a human in the cockpit of a drone suddenly makes a light bulb go off in people's heads.) It takes some prodding, but people can sense that drone use somehow crosses a line. And that opens up the discussion about how our consent has been eliminated from the vast range of US militarism.

(See "Why focus on drone attacks?")

Isn't "adviser" just another word for "pre-escalation"?

(See Military Advisers to Iraq: What Could Go Wrong? )

The United States perpetuates a state of permanent war. The names change -- hell, sometimes they change by just a single letter -- but the result is the same. Call it "permawar."

(See #Permawar)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Layman Reads Obama's "Targeted Killing" Memo

Memo author Barron: Lots and lots of "trees"
Now that it is available online, every American should read the Justice Department memo approving the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki.

There is a lot in the memo, much of it recitation of precedents, and teasing apart of legal categories like "non-international armed conflict" and "public authority," and the parsing of the precise definition of terms like "taking no active part in hostilities" and "unlawful killing."  Readers with law degrees could spend years dissecting it.  And once you get into it, it can be easy to miss the forest for the trees.

That's where being a non-lawyer comes in handy. Because if you don't know enough about legal theory to become fascinated with the minutiae, you are more inclined to sense the big thing that is missing here, namley, the "facts" upon which the government based its decision to go to war against Anwar Al-Awlaki.

The memo seeks to circumvent the rule of law -- in which a person is charged with a crime, a trial is conducted (including presentation of evidence, contesting of evidence, and findings of fact and findings of law), a verdict is reached, and in the event of a guilty verdict a sentence is passed, after which the sentence is carried out -- and replace it with a justified act of war.

But what is missing in the "targeted killing" memo are the evidence, the contesting of the evidence, and the finding of fact. And by offering nothing to make up for the jettisoning of these parts of the process, the U.S. government leaves us unconvinced that abandoning legal process can be justified.

Let's face it: the Obama administration and the rest of the U.S. government know that they have a big problem: they want to go to war against anyone they suspect is an enemy -- and skip the rule of law. They wish that a miracle could happen and everyone would just let them do it.

The closest they can come is some hand-waving and fast talk, ending with the words, " . . . and that's why we can skip legal process and go to war against (fill in name here)," and then hoping like hell that Americans fall for it.

But Americans aren't such pushovers.  Sure, not every American has figured out what's going on yet. But they will. And when they do, there will be political consequences for the leaders that have been trying to pull the wool over all of our eyes.

Related posts

If the public will join us in asking the question "Who decides?" about drone executions, I believe they will rapidly come to realize that they are utterly dissatisfied with what the government is saying.

(See Who Decides? (When Drones are Judge, Jury, and Executioner) )

Eric Holder addressed a group of Northwestern Law students and others. Afterward one audience member summed up the speech as he left: "He pretty much said he can kill anyone he wants." The details of that speech will turn you more topsy-turvy than anything Alice experienced when she ventured through the looking glass.

(See Eric Through the Looking Glass)

By now, everyone knows about the New York Times article describing Barack Obama's personal administration of drone killing around the world. What few people are willing to face up to is that Obama 2012 partisans actually see this as a way to get a lot of Americans to like Obama: "This is the candidate; you MUST support him!"

(See Being a Team Player for "Mr. Forceful": Obama and the Dems )

Friday, June 20, 2014

Military Advisers to Iraq: What Could Go Wrong?

One word: Vietnam.

"U.S. Adviser Planning Operations with South Vietnamese Troops"
From The U.S. Army in Vietnam: Background, Buildup, and Operations, 1950-1967

Isn't "adviser" just another word for "pre-escalation"?

February 18, 1963: Letter to JFK from family member of US soldier killed in Vietnam

For the full 1963 Bobbie Lou Pendergrass letter to JFK and more, see: Military Advisers in Vietnam: 1963 - Lesson plan at

[UPDATE - June 26, 2014 - good to see Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman agrees: "In Iraq, echoes of Vietnam: What we learned in Southeast Asia but forgot"]

Related posts

For alert Americans, the announcement that "As part of the deal with Manila, the U.S. is promising to step up military assistance and training with the Philippine military . . . . " is worrying. The first question to ask is this: how many "military advisers" is the U.S. putting in the Philippines, and what is it leading to?

(See "Military Advisers" - The Third Rail of US Engagement in SE Asia )

I don't know how this strikes other people, but it seems to me like the School of the Americas (SOA) model has been transferred to Afghanistan. The SOA model is to use U.S. money and ideas to enable power holders in another country to persecute and kill ideological enemies, while denying that the U.S. is engaging in violence in that country, much less exposing U.S. combat troops to violence in that country, and making every effort to disavow the consequences of U.S. guidance of the violence (and crimes) being carried out in that country.

(See Is the SOA Coming to Afghanistan? )

There is a very dangerous tendency to justify military intervention in Africa as "humanitarian." This is particular true in light of recent history, in which the international community failed to intervene successfully in violence like the genocide in Rwanda. We have a lot of confusion about the need to intervene, the definition of humanitarian, and the temptation to use power, force, violence.

(See AFRICOM: The Heart of Darkness )

Other related links

"Will Syria Be Obama’s Vietnam?" by Fredrik Logevall and Gordon M. Goldstein in The New York Times, October 7, 2014: "In the very week in which he professed to see 'no daylight' in the struggle, [President Lyndon B.] Johnson initiated Operation Rolling Thunder, the graduated, sustained aerial bombardment against North Vietnam; also that week, he dispatched the first combat troops. More soon followed, and by the end of 1965, some 180,000 men were on the ground in South Vietnam. Ultimately, the count would top half a million."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Fire and Blast of Hiroshima: Why Are We Still Hiding It?

Hiroshima injuries
We had a long car ride last week, and that gave us the opportunity for a long conversation. One of the things we talked about was the problem of nuclear weapons.

One of my sons said, "The thing is, they're just too horrible to contemplate, so it just has to be that they will never be actually be used."

And that led me to think, "That's right, the thing we really don't want to do is to actually confront what nuclear weapons really do."

1945    Hiroshima    Nagasaki    2015

Under the shattered structures amidst the excruciating flames.
Parent left child, child left parent,
husband left wife, wife left husband.

Nowhere to escape to.
Figures fleeing in all directions.
This was the Atomic Bomb.

In the midst of this, how eerie--
Mothers' loving arms shielding their babies from death, dying themselves.
There were oh! so many.

From “Mother and Child”, 11th of The Hiroshima Panels by Maruki Iri and Toshi

(Please retweet this message and follow @scarry on Twitter.)

A few years ago we did a commemoration of Hiroshima in Chicago, and at that time I re-read the book Hiroshima by John Hersey, together with some other materials.

Each time one reads Hiroshima, one has this shocked and sickening feeling of remembering reading the words before and wondering how one could have possibly forgotten them. In the moment it feels like they should be seared into our memories.

Account (with illustration) by
survivor of Hiroshima bombing
Around that time I studied a book of images created by survivors of Hiroshima. I thought at that time, "It's not enough to remember this just once a year; it's not enough that we make a single book -- Hiroshima -- required reading, and never go beyond that. There should be a whole canon that people study progressively, year by year, to grasp and retain the horror of this."

There is a somewhat better understanding of this in Japan. People who have survived the atomic bombing and now carry the witness of that event in their bodies are distinguished by a special term: hibakusha. At the same time, I wonder if even there it is possible to avoid the natural urge to put the reality of nuclear war out of view.

What would it take to motivate us to do what we hate to do -- to confront the reality of nuclear war?

And how could we do it without falling prey to abstraction?

Is even a word like "danger" too abstract? (Are we talking about "risk"? About "odds"? Or about burned and destroyed bodies?"

When will we stop taking about it like a game . . . and start seeing the fire and blast?

Hiroshima: after the fire and blast

Related resources

Resource list for teaching all ages -- including diverse formats -- at Exhibit - Remembering Hiroshima: Working for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World

Related posts

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 )


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 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 )

We have had a window of opportunity -- nearly 70 years in which the constitution of Japan has explicitly renounced war, pointing the way for the rest of us. What have we imagined we were supposed to do?

(See Renouncing War: An Opportunity Not To Be Missed )

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 )

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.

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

There are so many people to thank . . .

Through the visual arts ... photography ... film ... teaching ... activism ... publishing ....

So many people are making a difference in eliminating nuclear weapons . . . . 

(See GRATITUDE: People Are Making the Difference in Eliminating Nuclear Weapons )

Monday, June 16, 2014

Want to Understand How U.S. Is "Helping" Iraq? Watch this video . . .

Why are people such doubters?

They act as if the U.S. entry into Iraq is unlikely to be helpful.

Don't they believe the U.S. knows what it's doing?

"Medicine is not an exact science, but we're learning all the time . . . "
watch video of Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber

It worked out so well the last time . . . .

Related posts

Isn't "adviser" just another word for "pre-escalation"?

(See Military Advisers to Iraq: What Could Go Wrong?)

 "Humanitarian intervention" -- the great pretext for US intervention in Africa. Glenn Greenwald gave an outstanding talk in Chicago in May, 2012, in which he warned against humanitarian interventions: "The US -- no, everybody -- always says the reason for military intervention is 'humanitarian.'  . . . "

(See Greenwald Was Right: "Humanitarian" War in Syria? It's Just More War)

The U.S. can get more "bang for the buck" out of each pair of boots it puts on the ground, because -- through the magic of robotics -- it can back up those boots with Hellfire missiles and 500-lb. bombs. For the folks back home, it helps maintain the illusion that the U.S. isn't really intervening in a way that risks escalation. For the population of the affected areas of Iraq, it helps maintain the balance of terror -- because those armed drones are just part of a much larger fleet of drones that is patrolling the skies over Baghdad.  ("Is that drone overhead aiming . . . or just 'looking'?" From the ground, one has to assume they're all aiming . . . . )

(See Armed Drones Over Iraq: A Force Multiplier (Which Is Precisely Why They Are So Dangerous) )

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hong Kong Keeping the Memory of June 4 Alive (Who Knew?)

When the UK handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997, I thought it spelled the beginning of the end for any kind of democracy and dissent in Hong Kong.

Recent events have not only proved that dissent is alive and well in Hong Kong, but that creative resistance is a Hong Kong strong suit.

The June 4, 2014, commemoration of the Tiananmen Massacre in Hong Kong included these images:

A sign of hope if ever there was one.

See Visual Imagery of Hong Kong Protests Jan 1 2010

Sign the "We will not forget June 4!" appeal.

Other related posts

"How can it be that no one is speaking directly to what happened?" I wondered. "Should I say something? Is it just me? Can it be possible that most people aren't like me, tremendously troubled by how we should respond to what has happened in China?"

(See Remember June 4)

She said, "Don't you think they went too far with the 'Democracy' statue?"

(See HK's Goddess of Democracy )

Despite the difficulties associated with engaging in effective solidarity with dissidents in China, it is important to make the effort. A fundamental tenet of all peace and justice activism is that if we have the power to speak we can do anything, and if "they" succeed in shutting us up, it's the beginning of the end.

(See What is the US Peace and Justice Movement Doing for Dissidents in China?)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What Happens When People Talk With Each Other (My Graeme Reid Moment)

I'm sitting in a quiet inn in the far north of Michigan, waiting for the hour of my daughter's high school graduation this afternoon, and turning over the events of the last several days in my mind.

On Friday, an event occurred that feels very important to me: the Metro Chicago Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) passed a resolution at its 2014 synod assembly stating, in part, "RESOLVED, that the Metropolitan Chicago Synod stand in solidarity with those in our companion synod and throughout Africa who are experiencing and resisting the rising tide of hatred and harsh anti-lbgti legislation in many African countries . . . . " (Read the full resolution here.)

The theme of the 2014 assembly:
"Into all the world..." (Mark 16:15)

The resolution was brought about in large part because of a relationship that has been developing for many years between people here in Chicago at St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square and Rev. Judith Kotze and her colleagues from Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) in South Africa. You can read a bit about how that relationship has developed on the St. Luke's blog, and you can see more of the fruits of it in the form of the Chicago Forum on LGBTI Solidarity in Africa.

The Metro Chicago Synod has a companion relationship with the Central Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa (ELCSA). Forty-five (45) other ELCA synods have companion synod relationships in African countries. Our hope is that, through the successful passage of this resolution, we may help to stimulate important conversations in the Lutheran denomination - throughout the U.S., and beyond.

So here's my little slice of life in all this . . .

A few nights before the synod assembly, I was sitting in the lobby of the Gene Siskel Film Center, waiting for the beginning of a film being presented as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival: Valentine Road, a film about a middle-school boy who was murdered because of his sexual orientation. I was busily working on my Blackberry -- exchanging notes about the upcoming resolution debate with colleagues -- when someone from the next table greeted me.

"Hi - you were at the film we did last week . . . " said Jobi Cates, the Chicago director for Human Rights Watch. I said yes, and explained that I was particularly interested in the film this evening because of our upcoming Forum on LGBTI Solidarity in Africa. "Oh! Well let me introduce you to Graeme Reid!" she said.

Graeme Reid, Human Rights Watch
Graeme Reid is the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. He also happens to be from South Africa. We talked about the upcoming Forum, and especially about the upcoming resolution debate at the synod assembly.  In the space of a couple of minutes, Graeme told me four things that I found very valuable.

First, he affirmed that South Africa is distinct in a way from much of the rest of Africa (and the rest of the world) in that it explicitly enshrines equality for LGBTI people in its constitution.

Second, he confirmed that South Africa was not immune from the rising tide of attacks on LGBTI people in many parts Africa. He informed me that, just in the past several weeks, the Justice Ministry in South Africa had launched an unprecedented campaign of public service announcements and other publicity to counter this problem.

Third, he advised me to look into the recent statement by the continent-wide African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. (I discovered that this body, which oversees the implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, "wrapped its biannual meeting in Angola earlier this month with a resolution reaffirming the human rights of all Africans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and explicitly condemning acts of discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals." [See Human Rights Commission Reasserts Rights of LGBT Africans])

Fourth, he counseled me, "Tell people at your synod assembly: in the African context, what the Church does is so important, it has so much influence . . . . "

When the time came for the hearing on the resolution at the synod assembly a few days later, everyone got a chance to speak. I had my two minutes, like everyone else. I used my two minutes to share Graeme Reid's "four things." Many other people spoke from their diverse experience, including many personal connections to Africa.

Shortly after the hearing, the resolution was brought to the floor of the assembly.  After a few remarks from speakers for and against, the resolution was brought to a vote. The votes were tallied. The resolution passed.

Afterwards, turning over these events in my mind, I thought, "how far away . . . and yet how close . . . " We sometimes think of places like South Africa and the other countries of Africa as being a world away -- much too far to attend to.  And yet the fact is that we live in a world today in which all of us are already in various conversations with people from very far away -- people like Rev. Judith Kotze and Graeme Reid, and many others. And we have plenty of opportunities to be in more and more of these kinds of conversations.

What would happen if we connected more of these kinds of conversations?

Related posts

On the weekend of June 13-15, we will again have the wonderful experience of welcoming the Rev. Judith KotzĂ©, from Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) in South Africa. IAM advocates that the South African religious communities should become more welcoming and affirming towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people. In addition to its work in South Africa, IAM partners with others in Kenya, Leosotho, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, to advocate for justice throughout Africa. Judith’s visit this year builds on meetings with her and IAM colleagues here in Chicago over the past several years. This year the Chicago events are the most in-depth and varied yet, involving a growing number of Chicago partners.

(See June 13-15, 2014 - LGBTI Solidarity in Africa Weekend )

A group of us from St. Luke's Lutheran Church Logan Square  was in Springfield with thousands of other Illinoisans to encourage our state legislature to pass the marriage equality bill (SB10). Even if you weren't there, you can get a sense of what it was like -- raindrops and all! -- thanks to the dozens of photos my friend Frank took. Enjoy!

(See Marriage Equality Is a Human Right )

I believe when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine and said "Remember me this way," he was much more interested in encouraging us to keep having conversations -- conversations that really matter -- with others . . . and finding ways to be in relationship with our neighbors  . . . all the while reminding us "never underestimate the power of food"  . . .

(See Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Have A Conversation Today (Welcome to the Ministry))