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Nonviolent peace activism.

IT IS AN HONOR TO BE PART OF A PANEL WITH SO MANY DEDICATED PEOPLE WORKING for social justice. This panel on "Human Rights Activism and the War on Terrorism" makes it clear that it is very difficult to talk about the war on terrorism without addressing our own government's acts of terrorism. As is well known, at least in our circles, the goal of the United States is to become an empire and superpower. On paper, our country's original ideals sounded good. We were to be a nation grounded in democracy. The people would govern. Capitalism would allow for a healthy, competitive economy and would encourage people to use their talents and resources. Reality, however, has proven differently.

For many decades, the military-industrial complex has been our reality. Some of us have known nothing other than a military economy. Like it or not, war and the preparation for war is our number one business.

Occasionally, the government's true aspirations slip into the mainstream. Perhaps it is done purposefully to see how much they can get away with. For instance, on March 8, 1992, the New York Times ran a front-page story about a 46-page document entitled "The Defense Planning Guide." The first objective was to "prevent the reemergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere." Together with a number of other objectives, the argument pointed in the direction of building and protecting the U.S. empire. This document is worth looking up simply to see how insane this nation's policies have become. They are at the expense of millions of lives, our environment and natural resources, any kind of nonmilitary economy, our talents, and our youth. With nuclear weapons the cornerstone of militarism, it is even at the expense of the unborn. Moreover, the price tag will be in the trillions of dollars. Already, the U.S. military budget exceeds that of the next eight nations combined.

Enemies are needed to justify such policies and expenditures, and sustaining this plan requires exploiting world resources. From this perspective, every war, declared or undeclared, is an act of aggression and terrorism to attain and sustain our imperial status. Our wars, including the most recent war against terrorism, have never been about defending ourselves or defending weaker or oppressed nations. Who attacked us on September 11, 2001, and who knew of these impending attacks? I am not promoting a conspiracy theory in the sense that heads of different departments sat around a large table to devise a plan that would justify the U.S. goal of world domination. The government does not deserve that much credit. There is, however, much more to the story of September 11 than we have heard, and a very different picture, one that is credible and verifiable, is beginning to emerge.

First, oil resources are of primary national interest and are needed for maintaining our way of life. Since oil is a finite resource, an ongoing search for new sources is necessary. The Caspian Basin is loaded with oil and discussion of building a pipeline across Afghanistan has been underway for years. In 1998, the House of Representatives held hearings on U.S. interests in Central Asia. Unocal Oil's Vice President John Maresca testified about the feasibility of installing such a pipeline. He told the committee that such a project would be impossible until a recognized government was in place in Afghanistan that could gain the confidence of other governments, lenders, and the Unocal Corporation. In other words, they needed a pliable government that would play ball with U.S. corporate interests. Could or would Osama bin Laden or the Taliban regime fit that bill?

Between 1998 and 2001, the FBI and CIA were ordered to back off from their investigations of the bin Laden family, even though Osama was wanted for the 1993 World Trade Center car bombing and the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa. In May 2001, Colin Powell's State Department gave $43 million to the Taliban regime. Moreover, in July 2001, Osama bin Laden received treatment for kidney disease at an American hospital in Dubai. CIA officials met with him and did nothing to detain him, even though he was wanted for previous terrorist attacks. Also in July 2001, three American officials met with Pakistani and Russian intelligence officers in Berlin to tell them of U.S. plans for a military strike against Afghanistan in October.

Throughout the summer, the CIA was warned repeatedly of impending terrorist attacks using hijacked commercial airplanes. An Iranian man called U.S. law enforcement officials to warn of an imminent attack on the World Trade Center during the week of September 9. Additionally, Russian intelligence warned the CIA that 25 terrorist pilots had been trained for suicide missions. In August 2001, President Putin of Russia, along with Russian intelligence agents, warned the U.S. in the strongest terms possible of imminent terrorist attacks. Just weeks before the attacks, the stock market went crazy with abnormal trading patterns for United Airlines and American Airlines stocks. On September 11, 35 minutes (from 8:15 to 9:05 a.m.) passed before anyone notified George W. Bush that four planes had been simultaneously hijacked and taken off course, even though it widely known within the Federal Aviation Administration and the military. It was not until 9:30 a.m. that Air Force planes were scrambled to intercept. By then, it was too late. The National Command Authority waited for 75 minutes before scrambling aircraft, even though an unprecedented four simultaneous hijackings had occurred.

At best, our military, intelligence, and government leaders were negligent and should all resign. At worst, U.S. officials allowed these attacks to happen and criminal charges should be levied against them. How do we deal with this and with the fact that we have been held hostage by the bomb for over 57 years? How do we deal with our government's use of nuclear weapons in three, if not four wars? Depleted uranium, which constitutes a nuclear weapon, was used extensively in Iraq and the Balkans. It is most likely being used in Afghanistan. Of course, we know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How do we deal with the fact that the CIA has repeatedly overturned officially elected governments and installed dictators with unfathomable human rights records? How do we deal with the millions of people killed, maimed, and injured by nuclearism? How do we deal with the fact that this century is the bloodiest on record, with most of the bloodshed coming at the hands of the U.S.? How do we deal with the thousands upon thousands of children who died in Iraq because of our sanctions? How do we deal with a nearly decimated environment, knowing that the U.S. military is responsible for most of the harm? How do we deal with global warming, the manipulation of the weather, the experimentation with the ionosphere, and the militarization of space as the latest frontier for U.S. domination? How do we deal with this latest nuclear posture to create acceptable, mini- and ground-penetrating nukes? How can this insanity ever be acceptable? And let us not forget the renewed efforts to criminalize dissent.

Before us are sizeable questions and our task is not an easy one. The situation is reminiscent of Gulliver's Travels, the story of a village of little people invaded by a giant that was so large that not one or even a few of them could see it in its entirety. All of them had to observe the giant from different angles. They had to communicate with each other and then strategize with each other to rope it down. For us, roping and ridding ourselves of it might better be conceived of as transforming it into something life giving. There is not a single or right way to handle such a task.

The situation in this country has been bad for quite some time. This latest crisis is simply another manifestation of a government gone mad. The necessary work of building social justice will continue over the long haul. For close to 30 years, Jonah House has been an intentional community of faith-based activists dedicated to living out nonviolence, community, and resistance to militarism. We are currently a community of nine people, ranging in age from seven to 78. We are a community of men and women, lay and religious, families and single people. We are part of a larger loose-knit community of peace activists and Catholic Worker communities along the East Coast, known as the Atlantic Life Community (ALC). Together, we are about 200 strong, including some 60 children. It is said that if you cannot get people to join, you can always breed them.

We believe in nonviolence as a way of life, not just a tactic. This is not an easy goal since it requires us to strive to live nonviolence on a personal level, as well as publicly. Many of us are rooted in some sort of spiritual faith. Although many have said that religion is the opiate of the people, our faith is for the most part a great agitator and catalyst for direct action.

The Jonah House community has embraced the "Plowshare" as one of its major actions. Following the prophet Isaiah's vision to beat swords into plowshares, we go to a weapon system and pound it with household hammers to begin the process of conversion and disarmament. We pour our blood on the weapons to expose their bloody purpose, demonstrating we would rather spill our own blood than shed the blood of another. We then indict the war makers and manufacturers for their involvement in war crimes. The likelihood of our being indicted for "criminal activity" is great, and conviction and imprisonment are generally assured. Yet we stand with our conviction through the kangaroo trials and the jail sentences. Over 70 actions have taken place since 1981, mostly in the U.S., but also in Europe and Australia. In the United Kingdom, people have even been acquitted, having managed to place the weapons themselves on trial. Despite appearing to be a tactical flop, there is no indication that such trials will cease. For over 25 years, we and others from the ALC have held protests three times each year at the main institutions of power in Washington, D.C. We go to the Pentagon, the White House, and the Department of Energy, as well as to the Air and Space Museum, various embassies, the Department of Justice, the World Bank, and the IMF. Blood has been poured on the Pentagon so many times that they have applied a plastic coating on the pillars at the entrances that makes it possible to wash them off without sandblasting. During the Iraq War, the fountain on the front lawn of the White House was filled with so much blood and red dye that the water turned red. Many of us are members of coalitions in our local areas. Some have participated in international delegations and actions, although most of us are committed to challenging our own government for its continued crimes at home and around the world.

We are now looking at the power of non-cooperation. Inspiration is drawn from the history of national strikes around the world and the empowerment people derive from such work. In one form or another, everyone could participate in a national strike aimed at our military economy. There would be no shortage of work in this endeavor: joining boycotts, building communities to support and sustain the boycotters, and involving people in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience.

Bonnie Urfer, a friend from the Midwest, is serving a federal prison sentence for disarming a component of the Trident nuclear submarine system. In prison, you see things through different eyes. Bonnie read that the year 2001 had the lowest recorded number of anti-nuclear arrests in over 19 years. She also read that George W. Bush received public approval to dump radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain. "I can't help but see a connection," she wrote. After silencing all external noise and distractions, I can also see the connection. Gandhi called on the people of India to fill the prisons in their campaign to free themselves from oppressive British rule. Perhaps we, too, ought to fill the prisons. One way or another, the wholesale killing and destruction of life at all levels must stop. If not now, when? If not us, who?

MICHELE NAAR-OBED holds a graduate degree in Medical Pathology and is a longtime activist for peace and social justice. Her political trials include Jubilee Plowshares East (May 1996) and Good News Plowshares (April 1993), as well as numerous smaller trials and courtroom appearances for nonviolent resistance related to militarism. The author has published a collection of essays, Maternal Convictions, on community, spirituality, and nonviolent resistance.
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Title Annotation:IV. Human Rights Activism and the War on Terrorism
Author:Naar-Obed, Michele
Publication:Social Justice
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2003
Words:2149
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