After the previous fiasco with trying to slow the juggernaut of war, I decided to go with a simpler message. A much simpler message.
I decided I'd simply say, "killing people is always wrong."
And then I decided I'd put the message on postcards to every member of the House of Representatives, the Senate, to the President, Vice President, Governor of New York, and to my New York Assemblymember and Senator.
So I went to the Post Office website and found four-up sheets of postcards preprinted with "Forever" postage — pretty much the cheapest option for a physical letter with each postcard costing barely more than postage. I figured fourteen 10-packs would be enough to have a few spare after printing up all 540 I'd need. I set up a mail-merge in OpenOffice (which is annoyingly difficult but I did get it to work.) (I made the template 4x normal size then printed it four-up to fit the postcard pages.) I collected the names and addresses from various government websites and made a spreadsheet (here's a tab-separated file that includes the vacancies in the House notated pretty well). Then I made a PDF and went back several times to fix errors before performing the final four-up output.
Then the fun began. It took a couple hours to split the sheets into individual postcards, and then another hour to sign each one in a 5-inch-tall stack. I did find two errors that I had to correct.
I could have simply sent a mass e-mail, but in the end I found it rather rewarding to read every person's name. Just people … like a graduation roster or a phone book … and me sending a thought to each one of them.
I don't know if my message will be read as I intend it, but I know for sure that by doing nothing and saying nothing, that nothing will change.
(If you want to follow progress of this, I set up a tag that's an acronym for the central message: KPiAW which I'll tag on any posts detailing any response I get.)
I have been haunted by this image of dead children. It appeared on Facebook on November 19. This site identifies them all as members of the Dalou family, killed in Gaza by Israeli bombs. Maybe the man to the left is their father. But whether these specific facts are absolutely true is not as important as believing that bombs kill people, and sometimes children.
What can an attacker say to that? "Oops"? This is not a natural disaster. It is not an accident. It is a direct action of human beings. People make guns and bombs to kill other people. People organize wars. People pull triggers. People kill people.
This is direct, purposeful action, and that makes me sick.
People working for peace are often accused of being foolishly idealistic. But isn't it more foolish to think that killing people is a step toward a greater good? Whether a child is killed or an adult man is killed doesn't matter: killing is wrong. Whether it's people flying a plane into a building or shooting a man and dumping him in the sea: killing is wrong.
The image also gave me perspective. I got to see what it looks like for a country to attack another country and kill people. This is what it looks like to others when America does that. And we do it often. Far too often.
But what to do about it? I pay taxes which predominantly fund military spending which cause the killing. It overwhelmingly pains my heart to be party to it, and someday I'll have the courage to not pay taxes because of that.
Until that day, I was going to try and get the War Powers Resolution of 1973 and all laws like it repealed, but after a discussion with a friend, I realize that's not the problem for it formalizes limits on Presidential power to run the military. United States military action has been a disaster worldwide with the virtually unchecked use of American killing power.
War is morally bankrupt, violently socially divisive, ecological disastrous, and economically destructive. We need to stop our country from engaging in this any longer.
I was inspired to see what Captain Paul K. Chappell will discuss had to say in a discussion titled Why Peace is Possible and How We Can Achieve It. I heard rumors that — as a graduate of West Point and having served in the army — he had concluded that it was possible to redirect the efforts of the U.S. military toward true peacekeeping rather than the delusion of using war. He spoke at The Interfaith Chapel at the University of Rochester (Wilson Blvd.) and the lecture was recorded by C-SPAN. (If I hear about a link to the recording I'll note it here.) I was quite inspired indeed.
Chappell grew up being taught that world peace is a "naïve idea". Central to the argument is that human beings are naturally violent. But is that true?
According to him, the greatest problem of every army is getting soldiers to be willing to die, and it's even hard to get people to fight. An effective technique is to instill the notion of a "band of brothers" so everything becomes self-defense. For instance, West Point teaches to treat your fellow soldiers as your family.
Second, no war has ever been fought for money or oil — at least not officially. In fact, people desire peace so much that every leader claims to be "fighting for peace". War is traumatizing because people are naturally peaceful.
Create psychological distance such as derogatory name-calling — everything from "barbarian" (which comes from Greek interpretation of foreign language sounding like "bar bar bar") to a more subtle term like "illegal alien".
Create a moral distance by declaring your enemy to be evil.
Create mechanical distance (physical distance). For instance, the Nazis switched to gas chambers because shooting was too traumatic for the soldiers — they were protecting the executioner from psychological damage.
Chappell asks, "why would this be necessary if humans were naturally violent? If we are not naturally violent, why is there so much war?"
We're told we need war to stop war, violence to stop violence violence. Most soldiers want peace but that is not the means they are taught to use.
Chappell notes that at West Point he learned that the nature of war is drastically changing. It's now about "winning hearts and changing minds". This leads most directly from media coverage, since "collateral damage" is no longer acceptable: you can't kill any civilians. Yet, historically, the most people killed in past war were civilians.
So how do you win hearts and change minds? The masters of this were peaceful like Ghandi: someone able to transform an enemy into a friend; someone actively waging peace. This includes peace marches such as were used for civil rights or for attaining voting rights. (From Chappell's example, consider that prior to the 1830's, only a small percentage of tax paying people could actually vote, and it was through peaceful protest that we now take for granted that "no taxation without representation" is the bedrock of our country.) These peace movements of our country should be taught in schools as being at least as important as the wars.
Waging war or waging peace share many needs: people, strategy, unity, tactics, and winning hearts and changing minds. However, Chappell points out that there are tremendous differences as well:
Peace has truth on its side, war has myth.
War is about killing people versus peace which is about making a friend.
All war is based on deception. (He pointed out that in all cultures, the fundamental behavior of the "devil" is that of a deceiver.)
The people who perpetuate war control lots of wealth and power — just as the enemies of the civil rights did.
So what does being "pro-military but against war" look like? Well, pretty much like Star Trek in a lot of ways. For instance, what if the army was chartered with disaster relief and we had the worldwide reputation of arriving to help then leaving?
Chappell said that Eisenhower was the first to ask why the Middle East dislikes the U.S. He found it was because our policies block democracy and instead support or install dictatorships — they are angry that we don't live up to our ideals. As such, we need to hold our politicians accountable to change foreign policy so it is in line with the ideals we profess.
Chappell concluded by saying that war is not inevitable, and world peace is possible. Consider that 200 years ago, the only democracy in the world was America and even it was only fractionally so. And we don't need to convince everyone — for instance, the Civil Rights movement succeeded with only 1% of the population actively participating.
During the question-and-answer, some evocative questions were asked.
First off, can the world be united? Chappell noted that in the United States, we have moved from state-identity to national-identity. And consider Europe: can you imagine Germany declaring war on France today? This progress can be expanded to all nations.
I asked about how, prior to the Iraq war, 250,000 people marched to protest it yet it happened anyway, so is protesting dead? He said that people romanticized the past: while the Vietnam War was being debated, it was not uncommon for students to try and attack peace protesters. To my specific example, he said that the government learned how to defuse protest from what happened in Vietnam: to avoid risk of a draft, they censor the media by embedding journalists in military units, privatize the military, and by propagandizing "if you don't support the war you don't support the troops". As such, protest needs to evolve too.
In a later question, Chappell was asked what techniques should we use? He said we have lost our way to positive change. Consider how the Tea Party movement called attention to issues that were the same everyone cares about, but liberals were too busy calling them stupid. Remember to never demonize your opponent: identify with your opponent. In many cases the problem will boil down to hatred and ignorance. Remember that the government retains control of people by dividing them. So start with common ground and don't reinforce divisiveness.
In another question, someone asked, given that peace is an active task, what would non-violent passion look like? Chappell said it's easy today to isolate yourself today in peer groups and reinforce demonization of others. To be passionate is to defeat ignorance and to defeat hatred.
Another question had to do with conscientious objection: that by paying taxes, we are actively participating in and supporting war. To that, he said we should focus on how war makes us less safe, and how preparation for war is economically destructive. Consider Eisenhower's "Cross of Iron" speech where, in the central argument against "the way of fear and force", and what would be the worst- and best-case scenarios, he says:
The worst is atomic war.
The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms in not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.
It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.
It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.
We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.
We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.
This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
Chappell echoed this, reiterating that our infrastructure is hurting because of war. He suggested we seek out the works of Douglas MacArthur and President Eisenhower as he had.
The concluding question asked if peace is based in truth, yet battle and conflict is a fact of nature, how can we be truthful? Chappell said the language of "waging peace" is accurate. We are trying to defeat ignorance and hatred, but the person is not the enemy. So ask yourself: how can I most effectively attack ignorance and hatred without hurting the person?
I woke up in the middle of the night, and as often happens, the demons in my head took hold and won't let me get back to sleep. This time it's that I'm trying to reconcile killing someone for my own convenience.
The United States is at war with Iraq. What that means is that there are people sent by the U.S. who are encouraged by us to stay. There are a lot of people in Iraq, on the other hand, who want those people to leave. We sent our people there with all sorts of weapons so they can kill the people who want us to leave — and likewise, the people who want us to leave try to kill the people who we sent.
This will continue until our President shakes hands with somebody and people sign some papers and then the people we sent will come back home.
So switching to the concrete, there is someone in Iraq right now whose direct relative has been killed by an American. That is, there is someone whose brother, sister, father, mother, husband, wife, son, or daughter has been killed by an American.
There is no way anyone can convince me that this is a good thing.
The reason that person was killed is because the U.S. sent someone there who killed them. If that American were never there, then that person would not have been killed.
I pay my taxes and I will continue to do so. If I don't, I'll go to jail. My life will be disrupted in an unfavorable way, but there is pretty much no risk that I'll die if I don't pay.
However, those taxes have been used to fund the war. If I had not spent that money, perhaps there would be one person who didn't go to Iraq. And because they wouldn't have been there, then some person in Iraq wouldn't be dead tonight. And their living relative would not have to experience the unbearable loss of their kin.
That's the nature of the faulty logic of my sleepless mind.
However what keeps me from going back to sleep is that someone is dead — and more importantly that someone is being killed right now, and tomorrow it will happen again. And again and again.
Think about the person you love the most in the whole world right now.
Now bang: they're dead.
Somewhere there's a person who knew this was going to happen. What he did to stop it was to write a couple letters to people telling them he thought it would be a bad idea. But he also sent those people money — a lot of money — knowing full-well that they intended to use it to kill your loved-one. To be completely fair, that person would have his life disrupted — he'd go to jail if he didn't pay the money.
So on the one hand, you've got the corpse of your loved-one. And on the other, you've got someone who wasn't willing to spend a couple years in prison to stop it. Both are cases of lost years, but in one case it's the absolute remainder of one's life and in the other, a few years of my life.
I can't figure out the morality of the whole thing, but I sure feel terrible that someone's loved-one is dead because I didn't want to stop it.
The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) showed Happy Birthday, Wanda June and Ali and I got to see it, despite the terrible road conditions getting there. It was a film based on a play by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. with a very theatrical feel, giving it a bizarre edge. It was funny and poignant, making the point that war is really quite pointless and that there really isn't any value in the "heroism" of fighting and killing. Oh, and how incredibly silly and dangerous the idea of "heaven" is.
The plot of the film follows a woman and her son. Her husband has been out-of-contact for 8 years on some kind of heroic journey — wars, killing animals and the like. She gets a college degree and begins to piece her own life together by courting two men: a pacifist doctor and a hero-worshiping vacuum cleaner salesman. Her husband makes a surprise return and tries to retain his brazen, hero's status.
The point, in a way, is to ask, "what the fuck is so heroic about killing?" It really resonated with me. I had been asking more-or-less the same question for a while. For instance, it's common knowledge that you thank soldiers for defending the country. But given our eternal conflict in Iraq, it's become … unsatisfying … for me to do so. When you fundamentally disagree with the idea of war in the first place, and then add on that further fighting is only inciting existing enemies and creating more then how can you thank someone for making America less safe? It gets to the point of patronizing — like thanking the neighborhood cat-murdering idiot for keeping your house safe from cat infestation.
In fact, it's more about fear. I feel compelled to thank a soldier for the sake of not getting in trouble, yet my opinion of the situation is so bad that I want to tell them, "stop fucking volunteering!!!!" [With extra exclamation points, even.] Please.
And what scares me more is people who believe in an afterlife — especially those who think it's the promised land of 57 varieties of virgins. And before you think I'm bashing Islam alone, ask a Christian how much they're looking forward to meeting Jesus and how lucky people are whose miserable earthly existence is cut short. It's really quite scary. I really would like it if people believed like I did: that we get one shot at life and that we should make the best of it and help everyone else to make the best of theirs too.
But that makes me some kind of Godless monster, right? I mean, true evil in the world comes from the Others — the people who don't read the Bible and don't go to church and don't hate gays and don't believe women are just baby incubators.
Sorry … I digress …
The response from war hawks is always the same: "your pacifist beliefs are all well and good, but what happens when someone sticks a gun in your face?" Well then the rules change, don't they? If you believe in the value of life — especially that you only get one go around — then you'd better believe I'm going to try and avoid kisses from bullets rushing to show me the love.
The trick is this: "peace first". Or, if you must, "war last".
In other words, if you come upon people who say, "we hate America," figure out why first. At present, the only reaction is to blow the fuck out of them. You see, we can talk and understand and resolve for a long time — even have an ebb and flow about the whole thing — but you can't un-blow the fuck out of someone. So save that for last.