Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The World Traveler Arrives at SFO

After a 14-hour trip from Zagreb, Croatia, Jess arrives bearing the infamous "box". She and Sergio lugged "the box" throughout South America and Eastern Europe.

It seems this parcel had a habit of being left behind, so Jess resorted to extreme measures to keep it "top of mind" (as marketers love to say.)

A Visit to Golden Gate National Cemetery

A day after Memorial Day, the National Cemetery in San Bruno was still decked out in a colorful display of flags. I had some difficulty locating my parents' gravesite. I should have looked for the shovel.

The crew was moving in a new neighbor.

The foreman asked if I were "family". I pointed to the stone with the shovel and said it was my parents' grave. With an unnecessary apology, he quickly moved the shovel, the John Deere, the tamper and replaced the small American flag.

The reverse side, with Mom's memorial.

1 comment:

Drew Kampion said...

Thanks for headin' down there, Tim. It's emotional to see those two names marked on that cold ol' stone.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Paying for War at the Pump

by Robert Scheer

What’s it got to do with the price of gas? Would some reporter with access to the Republican presidential candidate please ask John McCain why he wants to continue President Bush’s Mideast policy when it has proved so ruinous for American taxpayers? Because McCain is determined to ignore our economic meltdown and shift the debate to foreign policy, shouldn’t he have to explain why an open-ended military presence in the Mideast will make us economically and militarily more secure when the opposite is clearly the case?

Let’s not waste too much time on the military side of the equation. The argument that troops on the ground have made us militarily more secure is absurd on its face. American resources and lives have been squandered in an inane effort that McCain aptly criticized before becoming a presidential candidate. As a Senate watchdog, he distinguished himself by sharply denouncing one defense contractor boondoggle after another in cases involving hundreds of billions for modern weapons that had nothing to do with fighting cave-based terrorists. But as a presidential candidate, McCain now unabashedly apologizes for every twist of the downwind spiral of the Bush administration foreign policy, from wasteful weapons to inhuman torture.

McCain’s strategy is clearly that of distracting attention from the calamitous economy by sounding the demagogue’s alarm about enemies at the gate. This week, McCain again blasted Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on the grounds that he underestimated the threat from Iran while ignoring the vast increase in Iran’s power — an increase actually resulting from Bush eliminating Iran’s only effective enemy, Saddam Hussein. The other winners in this folly have been the oil kingdoms that Hussein periodically threatened, led by the Saudi royal family. Seizing upon the opportunity presented by the 9/11 attacks, Bush knocked off not the Saudis, who had produced Osama bin Laden and 15 of his hijacker minions, but rather the royal family’s sworn enemy in Iraq, who had absolutely nothing do with 9/11.

And how did the Saudis thank us? Just check the price of oil, which has increased more than sixfold since 9/11. On Friday, Bush went to dine at Saudi King Abdullah’s bizarrely opulent horse farm and pleaded for an increase in oil production, but to no avail. Bush received the same rebuff in April 2005, when oil was selling for $54 a barrel. On Tuesday, it sold for $129, and the price rise is a good measure of Saudi gratitude for the Bush family’s unwavering support over past decades. Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, couldn’t have been more condescending when he turned down Bush’s request with the observation that “presidents and kings have every right, every privilege, to comment or ask or say whatever they want.” He added at a press conference, “How much does Saudi Arabia need to do to satisfy people who are questioning our oil practices and policies?”

Enough to get the price back down to where it was when we saved your sorry oil-well excuse for a country, you ingrate, Bush might have retorted. But our bold leader was too polite for anything like that. “He didn’t punch any tables or shout at anybody,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. “I think he was satisfied.” Why? Instead of pointing out that the Saudis could easily open their spigots in gratitude for our keeping them in power, the president threatened the Saudi king not with an invasion but with a U.S. recession. “My point to His Majesty,” Bush warned in an interview with The New York Times before encountering the great man himself, “is going to be, when consumers have less purchasing power because of high prices of gasoline — in other words, when it affects their families, it could cause this economy to slow down. If the economy slows down, there will be less barrels of oil purchased.”

He’ll show them — we’ll have a recession, our families will suffer and, boy, will the Saudis be sorry. A regular Teddy Roosevelt. There is no better measure of the failure of Bush’s foreign policy than that, five years after we conquered the second-most important pool of oil in the world, the American taxpayers who paid for this grand imperial adventure are rewarded with skyrocketing prices at the pump.

At least when Bush first hyped his Iraq invasion plan, he had Paul Wolfowitz telling Congress that Iraqi oil would more than pay for it all. Not so McCain, who is so charged with imperial hubris that he is willing to commit to a 100-year lease on Iraq without expecting a penny in oil revenue in return.

Robert Scheer’s new book, “The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America,” will be released June 9 by Twelve.

Copyright © 2008 Truthdig, L.L.C.

Presidential Race Ignores Arms Race

Published on Thursday, May 22, 2008 by TruthDig.com

by Amy Goodman
As the U.S. presidential race continues, so does the arms race worldwide. People — civilians, children — are being killed and maimed, on a daily basis, by unexploded cluster bombs and land mines. Thousands of nuclear missiles remain at hair-trigger alert. The U.S. government rattles its saber at Iran, alleging a nuclear-weapons program, while at the same time offering uranium to Saudi Arabia. And with the war in Iraq well into its sixth year, one of its architects, Douglas J. Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy under Donald Rumsfeld, has predictably penned a revisionist history of the war and the decisions behind it.

Feith said this week: “So while it was a terrible mistake for the administration to rely on the erroneous intelligence about WMD — and, I mean, it was catastrophic to our credibility — first of all, it was an honest error and not a lie. But even if you correct it for that error, what we found in Iraq was a serious WMD threat. Even though Saddam Hussein had chosen to not maintain the stockpiles, he had put himself in a position where he could have regenerated those stockpiles in three to five weeks.”

In an interview I asked Hans Blix about Feith’s comments. He was the United Nations’ chief weapons inspector, in charge of the WMD search. Reflecting back five years, he said: “To prove that there is nothing is almost impossible. I think that if we had been in Iraq for a couple of months more, it would have been enough to make it extremely clear to everybody that the chances were real that there were no weapons of mass destruction.” Instead of waiting for the inspections, the Pentagon was busy trying to discredit Blix. I asked him about the allegations that the U.S. was bugging his office and home. He said, “I wish to heaven that they had listened a little better to what I had to say, if they did listen.”

Blix describes the current state of the world as a “Cold Peace”: “It is hard to avoid the impression that — almost 20 years after the end of the Cold War — military calculations still dominate the long-term thinking about major global relations. Terrorism is formally made the chief enemy, but precautions are taken against the growing power of China and Russia.” President Bush’s nuclear-cooperation pact with India, Barack Obama’s stated willingness to unilaterally strike nuclear-armed U.S. ally Pakistan, Hillary Clinton’s promise to Iran to “totally obliterate” the nation of 70 million (should it attack Israel), and John McCain’s hard-line position on Russia, including the deployment of a missile defense in eastern Europe, all point to a reliance on military solutions that Blix sees as a path to conflict and war.

In a remarkable demonstration of hypocrisy, the Bush administration has pledged to deliver enriched uranium to Saudi Arabia. Anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman said: “The idea of giving enriched uranium to the Saudis while threatening war with the Iranians for enriching uranium is astonishing. The idea that the Saudis are going to somehow lower the price of oil on the basis of possibly getting nuclear reactors in the future is just almost staggering to think about.”

I asked Blix what is the single most important thing the U.S. could do to support world peace. Sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, he said: “Then I think it’s very likely that the Chinese, who have not ratified, will follow. If China does it, maybe India does. If India does, Pakistan does, etc. And the treaty would enter into force. It would be a great thing if we outlawed any nuclear-weapons tests in the future.”

Nuclear weapons are not the only weapons of mass destruction. As I spoke to Blix, hundreds of people were meeting in Dublin, Ireland, to craft an anti-cluster-bomb treaty, the cause Princess Diana championed in the last years of her life. The Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions is dedicated “to negotiate a new instrument of international humanitarian law banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.”

The conference in Dublin has 128 participating nations. Absent is the leading producer of cluster munitions, the United States. Russia and China are also not there.

From nuclear proliferation to the use of cluster bombs — coverage of the presidential campaign should focus more on the arms race, less on the horse race.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 650 stations in North America. Her third book, “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times,” was published in April.

© 2008 Amy Goodman

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions

The United States, the largest producer, stockpiler and seller of cluster munitions, has declined to participate in this conference. Russia, China, Pakistan and Israel also declined. The U.S. has used these weapons in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel used them most recently in southern Lebanon. Press Release from Jane's Information Group:
Cluster Munitions Conference opens with cautious optimism By Brooks Tigner 20 May 2008 The Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions opened on 19 May, with international negotiators expressing high levels of confidence that the forum will complete its negotiations on 30 May with a binding treaty that contains few loopholes for the weapons to be produced, stockpiled, transferred or used. The draft treaty under consideration would outlaw the use, production or trading of cluster munitions that cause unnecessary harm to civilians and lay down a deadline of six years - after the treaty enters force - for the destruction of all existing stocks. Around 210 different kinds of cluster munitions have been produced in 34 countries and used in at least 30 wars during the last four decades. Billions of cluster bomblets and grenades are stockpiled in approximately 75 countries, according to UN and humanitarian estimates. Dublin is the final diplomatic conference of the Oslo Process, which began in February 2007. Forty-six governments met in the Norwegian capital to conclude a new treaty to ban cluster munitions, provide assistance to victims, destroy existing stocks and decontaminate affected regions around the world. "When you consider that Oslo got off the ground only 15 months ago and that we are ready to adopt a final text, this has moved with unprecedented speed," Irish foreign minister Michel Martin said during statements opening the conference. © 2008 Jane's Information Group
(For an unbelievable comment from Stephen Mull of the U.S. State Department, see this link.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Obama Responds to Bush and McCain Foreign Policy Attacks

Barack Obama responds to President Bush's and John McCain's cowardly and treasonous claims that those who would negotiate with our so-called "enemies" are "appeasers", just like those who appeased Hitler.

The gloves are coming off.

First, Let's Define "Appeasement"

Poor Kevin James gives Conservatives a bad name.

(Thanks to Jeff for pointing me to this entertaining, if one-sided, "debate".)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bush and McCain Together in "Never Never Land"?

Now these guys have resorted to merely "dreaming it so". Together, they have done virtually nothing to bring about the dream of peace in the Middle East. To the contrary, their hawkish positions have pushed the dream further from our grasp.

Yesterday, President Bush told Israel's Knesset:

...as we mark 60 years from Israel's founding, let us try to envision the region 60 years from now...

Israel will be celebrating the 120th anniversary as one of the world's great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people. The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved -- a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror. From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade. Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, with today's oppression a distant memory and where people are free to speak their minds and develop their God-given talents. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas will be defeated, as Muslims across the region recognize the emptiness of the terrorists' vision and the injustice of their cause.

At virtually the same time, McCain, speaking in Columbus, Ohio said:

By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced. Civil war has been prevented; militias disbanded; the Iraqi Security Force is professional and competent; al Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated; and the Government of Iraq is capable of imposing its authority in every province of Iraq and defending the integrity of its borders. The United States maintains a military presence there, but a much smaller one, and it does not play a direct combat role.

The threat from a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan has been greatly reduced but not eliminated. U.S. and NATO forces remain there to help finish the job, and continue operations against the remnants of al Qaeda. The Government of Pakistan has cooperated with the U.S. in successfully adapting the counterinsurgency tactics that worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan to its lawless tribal areas where al Qaeda fighters are based. The increase in actionable intelligence that the counterinsurgency produced led to the capture or death of Osama bin Laden, and his chief lieutenants. There is no longer any place in the world al Qaeda can consider a safe haven. Increased cooperation between the United States and its allies in the concerted use of military, diplomatic, and economic power and reforms in the intelligence capabilities of the United States has disrupted terrorist networks and exposed plots around the world. There still has not been a major terrorist attack in the United States since September 11, 2001.
I'm tempted to think they have the same speech writer. Or at least "do their homework together."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Victory for the Polar Bear...or is it?

In a move reminiscent of President Bush's ubiquitous "signing statements" (where he signs a law into effect but reserves the right to violate that law), Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has made the decision to list the polar bear as "threatened", not "endangered", a more critical classification. (If our own USGS government studies projected, as a result of Global Warming, 60% of of the global human population would die within the next few decades, don't you think we'd consider the Human Race "endangered"?)


US lists polar bear as threatened species

By H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writer

The Interior Department declared the polar bear a threatened species Wednesday because of the loss of Arctic sea ice but also cautioned the decision should not be viewed as a path to address global warming.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne cited dramatic declines in sea ice over the last three decades and projections of continued losses, meaning, he said, that the polar bear is a species likely to be in danger of extinction in the near future.

But Kempthorne said it would be "wholly inappropriate" to use the protection of the bear to reduce greenhouse gases, or to broadly address climate change.

Read more

The Endangered Species Act "is not the right tool to set U.S. climate policy," said Kempthorne, reflecting a view recently expressed by President Bush.

The department outlined a set of administrative actions and limits to how it planned to protect the bear with its new status so that it would not have wide-ranging adverse impact on economic activities from building power plants to oil and gas exploration.

"This listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting," said Kempthorne. He said he had consulted with the White House on the decision, but "at no time was there ever a suggestion that this was not my decision." (Emphasis added)

Kempthorne, at a news conference, was armed with slides and charts showing the dramatic decline in sea ice over the last 30 years and projections that the melting of ice — a key habitat for the bear — would continue and may even quicken.

He cited conclusions by department scientists that sea ice loss will likely result in two-thirds of the polar bears disappearing by mid-century. The bear population across the Arctic from Alaska to Greenland doubled from about 12,000 to 25,000 since 1960, but he noted that scientists now predict a significant population decline. Studies last year by the U.S. Geological Survey suggested 15,000 bears would be lost in coming decades with those in the western Hudson Bay area of Alaska and Canada under the greatest stress.

Kempthorne said that it is melting sea ice and not subsistence hunting and energy development that poses the threat to polar bears. While some subsistence hunting by Alaska natives is allowed, the United States bans hunting bears for sport.

Canada allows limited sports hunting of bears. The Hudson Bay bear population off Canada has decined by 22 percent in the last 20 years, according to one study.

But when asked how the bear will be afforded greater protection, Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, had difficulty coming up with examples.

Better management of bear habitat on shore and making sure bears aren't threatened by people including hunters, more studies on bear population trends and their feeding habits were among the areas mentioned. "I don't want to prejudge recommendations for (bear) management," said Hall whose agency administers the Endangered Species Act.

Environmentalists were already mapping out plans to file lawsuits challenging the restrictive measures outlined by Kempthorne.

"They're trying to make this a threatened listing in name only with no change in today's impacts and that's not going to fly," said Jamie Rappaport Clark of Defenders of Wildlife and a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director.

Members of Congress also were skeptical.

The Bush administration "is forcing the polar bear to sink or swim," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of a House committee on global warming.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., called it "a lifeline for our last remaining polar bears" but said the bear's survival won't be assured without limits on oil development in the same Arctic waters where the bears are found.

Despite the new listing, the announcement underscores the need to approve climate legislation that would limit the release of greenhouse gases and avert the future effects on climate change, said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Environment Committee.

Scientists have blamed global warming for the disappearance of sea ice which is vital for the bear's survival.

Summer ice surrounding the North Pole declined an average of 10 percent per decade since 1979, with a loss of about 28,000 square miles per year, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Last year was the sharpest drop, as the amount of sea ice in September fell to 1.65 million square miles, or 23 percent below the previous low in 2005.

Kempthorne proposed 15 months ago to investigate whether the polar bear should be declared threatened under the Endangered Species Act. That triggered a year of studies into the threats facing the bear and its survival prospects.

A decision had been expected early this year, but the Interior Department said it needed more time to work out many of the details, prompting criticism from members of Congress and environmentalists. Environmentalists filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing a decision and a federal court on April 29 set a May 15 deadline for a decision.

A species is declared "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act if it is found to be at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future. If it does not make progress toward recovery, it can be declared "endangered" meaning it is at risk of extinction and needs even greater protection.

Monday, May 12, 2008

White House vs White Bear: Judge Says Bush Must Decide Whether To Save The Polar Bear As The Ice Melts

by Geoffrey Lean

It’s a classic stand-off between one of the world’s best loved animals and one of its most unpopular leaders, between the planet’s largest bear and its most powerful man. And it comes to a head this week.0512 01 1

On Thursday, by order of a federal judge, George W Bush must stop stalling on whether to designate the polar bear as a species endangered by global warming. The designation could have huge consequences for his climate-change policies; his administration would, by law, have to avoid doing anything that would “jeopardise the continued existence” of the mammal whose habitat is melting away.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the administration has sought to avoid the decision. It has delayed it for months, and was seeking to put it off for months more. But two weeks ago Claudia Wilken, the judge, ruled it had long been “in violation of the law”, and ordered it to act by 15 May.

Polar bears depend on the sea ice for hunting, mating and moving around. Last summer, 200,000 square miles of ice - more than twice the size of Britain - melted for the first time, shrinking the frozen sea to an extent that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted would not occur until 2050. More and more scientists believe the Arctic could be ice-free in summer in little more than 20 years.

In February 2005, US conservation groups petitioned their government to list the polar bear as the first species to be endangered by global warming, starting a long battle with the White House. The conservationists have won the argument. A study commissioned by the Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, from the US Geological Survey concluded that two-thirds of the world’s 20,000-25,000 polar bears would vanish by 2050.

In December 2006, the administration was forced by court action to propose designating the bear. This was meant to be finalised in January 2008, but has been delayed until now. In the meantime the administration has sold oil companies 448 rights to drill in prime polar bear habitat for a staggering $2.6bn (£1.3bn).

Kassie Siegel, of the Center for Biological Diversity - which has led the fight - says: “Polar bears need our help now, not whenever the Bush administration feels like getting round to it.”

© 2008 The Independent

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Dismantling Peace Movement Myths

by Frida Berrigan
A speech for Peace Action Maine on April 26th, 2008

* * *
Thanks so much for inviting me and for making me feel so welcome. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to say this evening.
Frankly, it is a tall order to stand up in front of a group of people who have just eaten and be expected to say anything that can compete with the natural digestive process. And it is tough to fly from New York and assume that what I would prepare to say would automatically be relevant or interesting to this Maine community as you come together to celebrate and honor a few of your own.
Oh, just to add to my challenge, this is not a college auditorium or a lecture hall. This is a peace supper, not the right venue for a simple recitation of the broad array of depressing and demoralizing statistics with which you are all already too familiar.
So, what I am trying to say is: I did not want to risk winging it. This moment in time contains so much hope and possibility and so much death and destruction. These are not easy times and they are not getting easier — and so I thought that I would take on some of the myths that burden, complicate and undermine our peace movements.
We have internalized some of these myths pretty deeply. We even reinforce them with one another. So, I thought it might be a valuable exercise to spend some time together dismantling a few of them.
What follows is my high subjective (and certainly incomplete) compilation of the myths of the peace movement.

  • In the 1960s, the peace movement was so much more powerful and so much cooler than we are.
  • There are no young people active in the peace movement. Don’t they care?
  • We are marginalized and we are not having an impact.
  • We’re not smart enough to oppose the war.
  • All we need to do is get the right person in the White House and then they’ll enact our solutions.
Does any of this sound familiar? This is what I hear from brothers and sisters over and over again. Now, these myths are not equal — some are bigger than others. And some have a kernel of truth (which is why they are myths and not lies) but cumulatively this constant bombardment is a real bummer.
So, I’m saying they are not true — I’m saying that there are young people, and we are having an impact, and that no one person in any position of power is going to offer any answer automatically or just because they promised they would.
I’m saying we are the ones we have been waiting for, that we are creating the alternative. If that is what we are doing, not just going through some exercise of opposition, some knee-jerk resistance or recalcitrance, then we have a lot of work ahead of us — and need to take the work more seriously, and ourselves less so.
And that starts with dismantling myths.
Myth One: In the 1960s, the peace movement was so much more powerful and so much cooler than we are today.
I want to start with the 1960s one. 2008 is a big year for revivals and recollections and reunions for the historians and the academics and the activists. 40 years since: the police riot in Chicago, the assassination of Martin Luther King and of Bobby Kennedy, Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the black power salute as they received their Olympic medals, since Catonsville. And those are just a few of the things that happened in the U.S. that year — around the world there was Prague Spring, the massacre at Tlateloco, the Paris uprising, the Biafran war. Here we are forty years later, and it is a potent moment for reflection.
But, the demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer are happening under the slogan “Recreate Sixty-Eight.” Disclaimer: Now, I don’t mean to undermine or disparage the work of activists and organizers in Denver and all of the friends who will go to Colorado this summer to demonstrate, and at the same time implore the democratic party to be the party of the people.
I like the rhythm of language a lot. And I love alliteration. In that way — Recreate Sixty Eight is AWESOME. I love how it sounds. The organizers have their reasons for choosing it beyond how cool it sounds. There are a lot of lessons to learn from that era, and a lot of good things that happened that year.
But “recreate sixty-eight”? We cannot and should not recreate sixty-eight. The parallels between today and forty years ago are clear and compelling, and as I said there is a lot to learn from that period.
But here we are in 2008 and we need to be building a movement and building bridges between movements (because we are not a monolith) that is rooted in an analysis and understanding of this moment, this place, this context.
I was struck to read recently that at the beginning of 1968, less than half the American people believed the war in Vietnam was wrong, 45%, and that more than 15,000 U.S. soldiers had been killed and nearly 100,000 wounded. So the Vietnam War was both more bloody and more popular than the war and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are in 2008.
In every way, this nation is less homogeneous than it was 40 years ago: we are racially, ethnically, religiously more diverse and more stratified. We are so much poorer, and so much richer than we were forty years ago. We are less innocent. We are less naïve. In short — we are different. And this war is different. And so our movements must also be different.
But the media compares ‘68 and ‘08, the peace movement then and now. Some activists then and now compare us, some leaders (those who survived) compare that time to now as they seek new relevance.
But, we must not fall sway to this comparison.
We live in the United States of America — a deeply nostalgic and deeply ahistorical nation saddled with a case of amnesia that approaches pathology. My SAT prep teacher would be so proud of that sentence. This is a dangerous and counterproductive combination — nostalgic amnesia. And it infects our peace movements. We are tempted to fetishize the past instead of learn from it. The past is constantly being rewritten and repackaged and then sold to us as a distorted reflection in a house of mirrors. So, we don’t want to recreate sixty-eight; we want to harness some of that energy, that sense of power and possibility and apply it to our very different context today.
Myth Two: There are no young people active in the peace movement. Don’t they care?
And that leads to an interconnected myth: “Where are the young people?” I was at a college in Connecticut a few years ago and I think I was talking about war profiteering. It was a Friday afternoon and one of those early spring, warm days where the flip-flops get dragged out of the back of the closet.
Needless to say, there were not a lot of students there — but those who were there were active, engaged and very, very earnest. The dialogue was going great until a professor stood up and asked me: “Where are the students? Where are the young people? They don’t care. In my day, we were so radical. If there was a draft, man, then they’d know.”
“If there was a draft…” It struck me as so spiteful. That would teach ‘em. They’d be sorry they never paid attention in my class. I did not hear from him a sense of responsibility as a professor. No understanding of who these young people are he has made it his career to teach. And, no sense of agency, that he could help them do or be anything different.
So, I responded in a few ways: 1) There is a draft — it is a whole series of backdoor drafts, the people who are fighting these wars don’t want to be there and they cannot easily and legally leave — they are drafted. 2) There will not be another draft — so hoping that instituting a draft will catalyze a new generation of resistance is a non-starter (as Cheney would say) 3) The draft during the Vietnam war turned out lots of people against the war, but organizing under the banner “bring our boys home” meant that when Nixon “Vietnamized” the war, the mass anti-war movement packed up and went home — long before the war was over, long before the killing stopped.
It was for many people a movement based on self-interest — which may be bigger, but is in many ways less powerful than one built on principle and solidarity. The average “lifespan” of a 60s activist was about six months — from tuning on at their first protest to tuning out and going back to Middle America. You don’t end war in six-month increments — no matter how much you rage during that period. Can we see ourselves today — in 2008 — building an anti-war movement founded on the idea that war is a failure of the imagination, that war is wrong, and that it must be resisted and opposed even if it is not affecting one personally? I think we can.
This question — where are the young people? — is heart-breaking. It misses all the incredible and courageous work that young people are doing all over this country. It says that young people are not doing peace and justice work because they are not doing it with us.
And it misses the fact that young people today have so much more to lose — unless they are from very poor or very wealthy backgrounds, young people graduate from college saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and no guarantee of a job. That debt is a kind of draft — college grads are drafted into a life-cycle of taking on more debt, working two jobs, having little time for friendships or community. And all the time the culture whispers: go ahead and buy it –you deserve it — and a little more debt doesn’t matter. But, step out of line, miss one payment, and the house of cards collapses. We need to understand our young people and what they are up against.
But, we are at war and young people are at the forefront — not just of the college-educated, debt-burdened variety. But urban and rural high school students are finding the new Students for a Democratic Society and creating a new legacy for that 60s-era organization. And there is something else that is missed by that “where are the young people?” question. More and more young people are in uniform. And they are calling cadence of the anti-war movement. And the war is not an abstraction for them: they know what 138-degree heat under Kevlar feels like. They see the lies up close. They have tasted fear and witnessed and participated in war crimes. They are paying the price for this administration’s hubris and imperial designs with part of their bodies. They come home haunted and broken and hopping mad.
So, there are young people. And they need support and guidance, not condescension. One of the best things the War Resisters League has done in the last 10 years or so is to sublet space to Iraq Veterans Against the War in New York City. And over coffee and at the copy machine a dialogue between principled pacifists and people who volunteered for military service begins. It is a dialogue that will need to continue for years. It is a dialogue that makes us stronger, and it ensures that the next generation of peace activists will be more powerful and more sophisticated than the last — understanding the past, but looking and moving forward, never back.
Myth Three: We are marginalized and we are not having an impact.
At the War Resisters League, we have had to relearn the fine art of the press release, because a few years back we realized that not only was the media coming out to our demonstrations, but they were lifting whole sections from our press releases — warts and all, and we had better write better ones if we wanted better coverage.
We were so used to being marginalized and written off and now there we were on the front page. It took some adjustment. Starting in 2003, just about every demo we’ve organized has gotten great press coverage. Sometimes the tone is snarky, and reporters always ask why we did not have more people — but we got covered.
Eventually, I realized we were getting press coverage not just because of our cutting edge, awesome demonstrations. But because we were manifestations of popular sentiment against the war. At a time when the administration is desperately trying to distract the American people from the war and the economy those two things are becoming fused in people’s minds, and we are part of triggering, directing and sustaining that discussion. And that discussion turns the wheel of action.
We are still small. But, we speak for the majority of Americans every time we go into the streets. And it leads to this interesting sense of accountability. I am not just here for me. I am here for many people who cannot be here because they are working or they are afraid or they don’t know this is happening — but would be happy if they did.
We are having an impact. So let’s use it while we have it. Because it will not always be that way. Whenever I am at a protest and it is all thumbs up and honking horns, I think about World War II, and what it would have been like to be a peace activist then.
Two of the peace activists I most admire — my mother and father — both supported the war in their own way. My mom was just a girl then, and talks about collecting cigarette and gum wrappers that they turned in. They were told that the wrappers would be made into ammunition. Everyone was part of the war effort. People planted victory gardens — and at one point during the war, 40% of people’s food came from those gardens, even in urban areas. I am staying at a friend’s house and they have a sign from that era that says: “Save waste fats for explosives. Take them to your meat dealer.”
My dad served in the Army in WWII. He was a field-decorated lieutenant. My uncles Jerry, Tom and Jim all served in WWII and my Uncle John was in the army, but did not go overseas. Of six brothers, only one — my Uncle Dan who had already entered the Jesuits — did not enlist.
People in the U.S. suffered because of WWII. Sacrificed was demanded and expected. Food and gas were rationed and Americans were called on to buy war bonds. At the height of the war, 40% of gross domestic product went to fund war.
Ralph DiGia, Bill Sutherland, the others who refused to serve in the military during World War II had to withstand that propaganda, and I cannot imagine how difficult that was.
So, today we are not opposing a popular total war.
We are resisting a war that barely registers on many peoples’ radar screens. But — when it registers — the war is profoundly unpopular. The latest polls about the war have more than 70% of Americans opposed to the war, and when the question gets more general — 80-something percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction this country is going.
But, we risk falling into a moebius strip logic trap: the war is unpopular; people oppose the war, war ends. But, it has not ended. It has ground on for five long years in Iraq, for seven for the long global war on terrorism.
Myth Four: We are not smart enough to end the war.

We have to dismantle the myth that only experts can get us out of Iraq, and unless we can formulate a rock solid plan for withdrawal from Iraq, we cannot really oppose the war.
Why? Why? Why does the war go on if the American people don’t want it? There are many answers to this question and I don’t have all of them — but the one I see most often and most clearly is this: even good people who would like there not to be a war don’t see a clear way out. And they don’t understand the complexities — you start talking Sunni, Shiite, Awakening, Badr Brigades, Nouri al-Maliki, Sadr City, phased redeployment and you have lost them one, two, three, seven times over. And not seeing a clear way out, and not being completely fluent in the language of deadly quagmire on an epic scale, they tune out.
We have a role and a task here as peace activists and organizers. And our role is not to teach them the grammatical nuances of the language of deadly quagmire on an epic scale.
Our role is to say: you do not need to have a PhD in foreign affairs to say that the war is wrong, to say that withdrawal needs to be immediate and complete, to say that we should not be spending our blood and treasure on wars of preemptive aggression based on lies. In fact, it is the PhDs and the experts, the arm chair warriors who got us into this war.
It takes courage, and moral and political clarity to reject the “pottery barn” maxim of foreign policy — we broke it, we bought it. No, we need to say: Iraq is not a vase or a candelabra. We need to say to Washington: you broke it. And we did not buy it. And, at the same time acknowledge that we will be paying for Iraq forever — $3 trillion and counting is the estimate that Stiglitz and Bilmes are using these days.
But we cannot occupy that country forever. The U.S. occupation is a catalyst and cause of violence, not the deterrent. The immediate and complete withdrawal is not a process; it is an executive order.
Myth Five: We can elect our way to an end to war.
But, if we can’t stand up for all of that, we fall back on another myth — the myth that we can express our anti-war sentiments through candidates. That the democratic majority in Congress — the so-called revolution of 2006 — or an Obama or Clinton in the White House — will fulfill our anti-war agenda. The myth is that the right politician will say the right thing at the right time. Those magical incantations will part the quagmire like Moses parted the Red Sea and allow a new administration to do right what Bush did so wrong. It is a myth.
It is a myth. And I am not just saying this because I have found the last two years of campaigning emotionally and physically exhausting. And I’m not even running. Just watching it is irritating at this point.
Politicians will not save us. Democracy is not lever pulling or chad punching. It is not branding and messaging and framing and divining the new micro-interest group. It is not one day every two or four years. And it certainly is not the elaborate and vicarious puppetry spectacle and pageantry of the last eight years. It is hard, sustained, incremental, engaged work.
The name plate on the desk in the Oval Office is a very very small part of what we need to be working for. And yet the election sucks all the oxygen out of the room — especially this one when there are racial and gender milestones at stake. And it sucks all the money out of the room. And it sharpens the lines that divide us.
And when we cede the answers to some politician, we invest in other people and in other systems what we really need to be investing in ourselves, in one another and in our movements. It puts our hope and our energy in the hands of people with other agendas and other masters.
And that brings me to my stirring conclusion — it is us. It is you and I. It is Peace Action’s platform to Reclaim Maine (a great — and meaningful — name). We are the alternative. This room is full of good people who work so hard — war tax resisters making a principled decision not to pay for war and philanthropists who are generous and dependable, carpenters and green thumbs, computer whizzes and luddites, visionaries and implementers.
We are the alternative. We are the answer. And if you are looking around this room thinking “uh-oh,” that’s a good thing. Because coming to grip with this truth in the midst of all these myths means we need to be self-critical and challenge each other. It means we should do more — be more — reach out more and welcome more in.
We cannot wait. We cannot wait for a leader. We cannot wait for “the plan.” We cannot wait for things to get worse. We cannot wait for the answers.
We have the answers, and it is us.
What is the alternative to depression and recession? Sharing.
What is the alternative to subprime mortgages crisis? Collective ownership.
What is the alternative to hunger? Farms and gardens.
What is the alternative to war and terrorism? International cooperation, universally accepted and enforced norms for nation-states, development that meets peoples’ needs.
What is the alternative to prison, to soulless schools, to militarized borders? to capitalism and market driven globalization? to cluster bombs?
We answer these questions together and we create the alternatives together. We enact news truths that replace the myths.
Peace Action Maine invited Frida Berrigan, who serves on the board of the War Resisters League and works for the New America Foundation’s Arms and Security Initiative, to speak at their annual Peace Supper in Portland, Maine.