Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

BPFNA Statement Against the Escalation of Afghanistan War

The statement against the Afghanistan escalation by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America can be found here.   The statement has also been endorsed by my denomination, The Alliance of Baptists.  I hope other Baptist bodies (denominations, conventions, agencies, congregations, seminaries, etc.) will endorse this statement and spread it widely. I also hope that other Christian and other faith groups will also speak out against the escalation and for just peacemaking  transforming initiative for longterm peace.

December 11, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, Baptists, peacemaking | Comments Off on BPFNA Statement Against the Escalation of Afghanistan War

Blood on My Hands

In some ways, it is harder to take Obama’s warmongering escalation of the war in Afghanistan than it was Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.  After all, I voted against Bush–twice.  I not only voted for Obama, but I endorsed him on this blog. I actively campaigned for him. I contributed money to his campaign–something I had not done for any presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1980.  I volunteered at his KY campaign headquarters. I phonebanked on several primaries.

So, I know now how those voters must have felt back in WWI: Voting for Wilson who campaigned on “He kept us out of war,” and then he betrayed them and led us straight into the war.  Obama has yet to close Gitmo which he said he would on day one. He has forbidden torture, but ruled out prosecuting torturers, so no one will be held accountable (and making it likely that a Pres. Palin could just reverse this “policy dispute” again). He has defended Bush policies of rendition, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detention–at least for some.  The indefinite detention at Bagram in Aghanistan is probably larger than that at Gitmo.  And now the war and bloodshed escalates. Welcome to the presidency of Bush III–another War President.

And the blood of the innocent is on my hands and head.

December 1, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan | 31 Comments

Obama’s Heroes Would Not Approve of His War in Afghanistan

Thanks to Derrick Crowe of Rethinking Afghanistan and Return Good for Evil for this video.

We have to speak truth to power–always. In season and out, regardless of change of administrations.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, foreign policy, nonviolence, peacemaking, U.S. politics, war | 11 Comments

Book Review: We Who Dared to Say No to War

WeWhoDaredWe Who Dared to Say No to War:  American Antiwar Writing From 1812 to NowEd. Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods, Jr.  Basic Books, 2008.

I have just read a public library copy of this gem and it is on my Christmas list for my own copy.  High school and college courses in U.S. history should use this as a supplement.   Beginning with the War of 1812, the editors collect writings against war during every war fought by the USA:  The Mexican-American War, the U.S. Civil War, the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Iraq and the “War on Terror.” 

A major strength of this collection is the ideological range of the selections.  One editor, Murray Polner, comes from the liberal end of U.S. politics (he leans toward democratic socialism). The other editor, Thomas Woods, Jr., is a strong conservative (libertarian).  But, popular myth to the contrary, war is not a “conservative vs. liberal” issue, but a moral issue that has been opposed on many different grounds. (Likewise, there have been both liberal and conservative militarists.)  Some of the writers collected here were against all war, but others wrote only to oppose particular wars. 

Here we find writings from the famous (Daniel Webster, Henry Clay,  Transcendentalist-Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, Abraham Lincoln (while a U.S. Congressman–against the Mexican-American war), Alexander Campbell (founder of the Disciples of Christ), William Jennings Bryan, Helen Keller, Jane Addams, Eugene V. Debs, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Daniel and Philip Berrigan and others.  But we also find writings from those who are nowhere near as well known, such as Jeanette Rankin (Republican Representative from Montana, first woman elected to Congress and only member of U.S. Congress to vote against entry into both WWI and WWII), John Randolph, Church of Christ minister David Lipscomb, Russell Kirk, Elihus Burritt and others.

I am not certain why the editors began with the War of 1812 rather than the U.S. Revolutionary War (or some of the wars during the Colonial period), nor why the Korean War was omitted, but this is an amazing collection that shows that anti-war speeches and writing is a thoroughly American tradition.  A nice bonus is a comilation of “Great Antiwar Films” described and rated one to 3 stars by historian Butler Shaffer.  Scenes of anti-war protest from every period of U.S. history are illustrated by a great selection of photos scattered throughout the volume.  A great bibliography finishes out the fine volume.

The reading can be depressing since it shows how seldom peace folk have been able to stop the war machine.  It is depressing to realize how many times the press abandoned its duty to uncover propaganda and lies–this cheerleading in place of investigation did not start with the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. (In fact, it is bizarre to find that many of the same bogus arguments were given for invading Canada in 1812 as were given for invading Iraq in 2003.)

But this collection need not be read in such depressing light.  Those who are against war, especially in time of war, often feel isolated and the drumbeats of militarism and shrill cries of their neighbors claim that they do not love their country.  The warmongers try to claim the heritage of the nation for themselves.  A collection like this shows that anti-war feeling and action have a strong claim to the central American tradition.  Protest, agitation, resistance are all part of the warp and woof of this nation (and doubtless of many other nations, too).  Learning this history empowers ordinary people to join in the antiwar tradition–and can work to change the nation from its embrace of a culture of imperialist warfare to a culture of peacemaking.  A war-state undermines democracy and liberty, but working against war strengthens a democratic republic.

It’s now on my Christmas list–put it on yours, too.

October 23, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, books, citizenship, democracy, Iraq, just peacemaking, peace, politics, social history, terrorism prevention, U.S. politics, violence, war | Comments Off on Book Review: We Who Dared to Say No to War

Just Peacemaking Practices and Afghanistan

I can’t reproduce this article because it is copyrighted, but I can link to it  on Glen Stassen’s sight since he had permission from author David Cortright to reproduce it there. Cortright is a major peace scholar with Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute on Peacebuilding and founder of the Fourth Freedom Foundation.  He argues that embracing just peacemaking principles, not widening the war, is the best way forward in Afghanistan

September 9, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, just peacemaking | 2 Comments

Afghanistan: Reaping the Poison Fruit of Counterinsurgency

This is a link to a great article by Derrick Crowe.  Unfortunately, it reinforces my continued belief that Afghanistan will be to Obama what Vietnam was to LBJ.  I highly recommend the article and wish the Obama admin. was not getting trapped in the D.C.  bubble.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, foreign policy, just peacemaking, pacifism, U.S. politics | Comments Off on Afghanistan: Reaping the Poison Fruit of Counterinsurgency

Afghanistan’s Law Allowing Marital Rape

As you may have heard, the Afghanistan legislature passed a law last week that requires married women to have sex with her husband up to four times per week unless she is ill or unless sex would aggravate an illness!  At European and American objections, President Karzai promised to review the law (which the United Nations is calling a legalization of marital rape) has promised a thorough review of the law, but so far “doesn’t find anything objectional.”  The law is causing problems for the U.S. and NATO as we send both more civilians to help nation-build and more troops to hunt al Qaeda, protext civilians, and train Afghan military and police–an escalation I object to and predict will backfire. (By the way, anyone notice that the supposedly successful Iraqi “surge” is coming undone?)

When asked, Pres. Obama called the law “abhorrent” and I agree.  I think we should pressure Afghanistan to reverse this horrid law.  But before we in the West start to act superior and call this an illustration of how backward Afghanistan is or how patriarchal and sexist Islam is, etc., let’s use this nasty legislation as a time for a good hard look in the mirror.  In MANY Western countries “marital rape” is still unknown AS A LEGAL CONCEPT.  And before we act shocked at this Afghan law, let us remember in how many cultural contexts it would be assumed that wives give up all right to say no to their husband’s sexual advances.  How many of your own relatives, especially of a certain age, would speak of constant sexual availability as among a wife’s “marital duties?”

Here in Kentucky, we passed a law outlawing marital rape for the first time in the late 1990s.  Speaking with attorney friends, I can tell you that the law has proved unenforceable.  A wife appealing to it sometimes incurs domestic abuse–the opposite of the law’s intention.  And getting a KY jury to convict a husband of raping his wife has so far proven impossible.  It’s been tried 12 times since the law was signed. Zero convictions.  And many other U.S. states (including many which have far more liberal reputations than my adopted home here in KY) do not yet even acknowledge marital rape as a legal concept.  And conservative Christians are among those who most often respond to polls by denying that wives can morally refuse their husbands.

Sure, legalizing the inability of wives  to  say no, as the Afghan law does, is even more horrible.  But maybe we better start by acknowledging just how patriarchal and sexist our own religion and culture is, how far from sexual equality are the heterosexual  marriages in OUR cultures, before we act as if the Afghanis (or their Islamic heritage) is uniquely anti-woman.  Protest this law? Yes. Stand up for women everywhere and against the kind of cultural relativism that would sweep this under the rug? Definitely.  But not out of false  feelings of moral superiority–only with humility and a renewed determination to stand up for women, including married women, in our own lands and cultures and faiths, too.  Anything less is just hypocrisy.

UPDATE:  Good News:  Karzai has scrapped the law, for now.  Bad News:  The law’s failure will probably be a recruiting tool for the Taliban. Sigh.

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, Christianity, family, feminism, Islam, sexism | 11 Comments

Just Peacemaking: More than Just “No War.”

I’ve been involved in actions for peace since I became a pacifist and conscientious objector in 1983.  In that time, I have discovered many different approaches to peace.  Some, like the Amish, ignore the world outside. They seek to create a culture of peace and simplicity that interacts as little as possible (fair trade of simple, but beautiful,  handcrafted goods) with others.  If they influence others, it is only by example.

Of those, like myself, however, who believe in helping to create a more peaceful world, some believe that one should only denounce politicians who aren’t as pure in their commitment to peacemaking as they are.  Anyone who is not a committed pacifist is a “warmonger.”  This type is represented by my regular critic “Kathy” and by Cindy Sheehan yelling “to hell with Obama.” I believe this is NOT HELPFUL.  It is like the Republicans showing up with an alternative “Budget to Nowhere” that had no numbers.  Absurd.

Instead, I am contacting the heads of as many peace organizations in the U.S. (especially faith-based ones, since I know them best) and seeking to create a practical alternative.  Obama was opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning, but not because, like me, he believes that all war is wrong.  I heard him (just  as state senator from IL then), speak to an anti-war crowd in Chicago in 2004 (on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq). Seeing the many “War is Not the Answer” signs in the crowd, Obama respectfully told the crowd that he disagreed. Citing WWII, he said that sometimes war IS the answer.  Obama declared that he was not against all war, just a DUMB war–which he believed Iraq was.  I disagreed, but I understood the position.  It falls within the dominant Just War tradition of the West, mixed with American pragmatism.

The Obama I first heard on that cold March morning in ’04, is the same one who later became U.S. Senator and then President.  He has been remarkably consistent, especially on his approach to foreign policy:  War is a last resort, but not to be ruled out altogether.  He is ending the Iraq war as slowly as he is, because he believes that has the best chance of keeping Iraq from falling apart when we are gone. He worries about the stability of the region–Bush’s invasion has destabilized the entire Middle East.  Obama is fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan because he believes he has no choice. The alternative,  he believes, is to allow al Qaeda a safe haven from whence they will continue to attack  others around the world, including the U.S.  He doesn’t like it, but believes it necessary.

To get Obama to adopt a different policy regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan, peace folk have to do more than show the problems of the way he is choosing, he sees those problems. We also have to show a better alternative.  My overarching paradigm is a strategy which does not seek to DESTROY  al-Qaeda or the Taliban by force, but to make them IRRELEVANT and unnatractive to would-be recruits, to drain their power and their support.

To this end, I am proposing a comprehensive strategy for the U.S. peace movement:

  1. We hold a series of conferences with just peacemaking experts on alternative strategies for fighting terrorism and for Afghan and Pakistan stability.  If possible, we get representatives from Congress, the State Department, the United Nations, and the White House to attend at least some of these conferences–trying to get them beyond the “Washington bubble” where “Pentagon thinking” rules supreme,  regardless of person or party.
  2. We get these ideas into the media, so as to change the terms of the debate.  Because of the many other problems at home, the media is asking more questions about the war in Afghanistan than at any time since 2002.  The giant “yes machine” and “echo chamber” is less airtight than at any time since 9/11.  If we can get alternatives into the media,  we can change public opinion.
  3. We build power in the streets.  This will take time, but the latest Gallup Poll shows that 42% of Americans now believe even entering Afghanistan in response to 9/11 was a mistake. The poll did not ask if they believed we should now leave. It was a flawed poll in wording.  But it gives us a place to start.  We work to build public pressure against continued troop escalations in Afghanistan (or spreading to Pakistan) and for a concrete exit strategy and timeline for withdrawal.  I think that by the time of the Midterm elections in 2010, we will have built enough public power to be a powerful political force.
  4. We seek allies in Congress. We began to shift the debate on Iraq in 2004 with the formation of the “Out of Iraq Caucus” in Congress, led Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-CA), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). It now has 73 members, one of the largest of Congressional caucuses.  We need to try to form a “Just Peacemaking in Afghanistan & Pakistan” Caucus.  I suggest we try to recruit Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and the three women from CA above.  In the Senate, I suggest we try to recruit Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the only self-described Democratic Socialist in the U.S. Congress, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Sen. Barbara Walters (D-CA) and maybe others. They will know whom to recruit in Congress.  The New York Times also indicates that Vice President Biden has been the voice of caution against escalation into quagmire during the WH internal debates.  So, we seek to enlist VP Biden, and to strengthen his voice over the hawkish advice of Defense Secretary Gates (and the even more hawkish advice of the Generals on the ground).  Biden and Clinton are responsible for the development and  anti-corruption parts of the plan and Biden for limiting the troop escalation and for narrowing the U.S. goals.  Obama apparently split the difference between his  civilian and military advisers.  So, we have possible allies even within the administration.  Our strategy must include ways to strengthen them and weaken the influence of the hawks and “counterinsurgency experts.”
  5. We seek a major role for the United Nations and we hope to pressure the U.S. for a course change using diplomatic pressure from our allies.
  6. We take independent initiatives for peace ourselves that do not wait on government figures of any party, including nonviolent, unarmed “guards” accompanying villagers in Afghanistan.  I have been a part of such efforts in Nicaragua in the 1980s. They are risky,  but they can change the hearts and minds of ordinary people.  These efforts MUST include the participation of Muslim Peace Activists so that they do not simply seem like a Western or Christian model imposed on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but an alternative to Islamist terrorism that faithful  Muslims can embrace.  (The participation of the Muslim Peace Fellowship will be essential.)   These initiatives should be as international as possible.

There is no guarantee that such an approach will meet with success–either in bringing a just peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan or in getting the U.S. to change course.  It will take the brains and organizational skills of many people much brighter than myself (and I am already contacting as many as I can this weekend).  But I believe this is better than simply saying “NO” to war (as important as that is).  It is much better than calling the president names. (By the way, why is it that U.S. peace activists can push for treating dictators and mass murderers with enough respect to enter into negotiations, but find that they cannot take the  same approach with our own politicians?  Maybe you consider Obama to be your enemy, but, if so, then my religion tells me that you must pray for him.) It is more useful than Cindy Sheehan yelling, “To hell with Obama!” on national TV.

This is the path I am choosing, whether or not it seems “prophetic” enough for some or not.

March 28, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, just peacemaking | 4 Comments

Obama & Afghanistan: Good News & Bad News

I’ve just finished reading Obama’s new plan on Afghanistan.  It’s not all bad, but there are definitely things that peace activists must oppose and protest.  I’ll start with the good news because peace folk are likely to miss them.


  • It refrains from the Bush fantasy that Western-style democracy can be imposed at the point of a gun.  I believe in democracy.  I even believe in democracy. I also believe, as Glen Stassen and others have pointed out, that spreading democracy is a peacemaking practice. But it cannot be done at the point of a gun, nor imposed from outside a nation.  It must be grown from within–and a culture has to be prepared for it.  Obama gives up the idea that America can impose a Western democracy on Afghanistan (or Iraq, etc.).  Fantasyland is abandoned.
  • Obama knows that a purely military solution is impossible.  He has a realistic, even classicly conservative, grasp of the limits of military power.
  • The plan focuses on making the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists irrelevant in Afghanistan and Pakistan by creating an economy and civil society that does not depend on them.  The focus will be to build infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and train civil servants and create small (non-drug) businesses throughout the countryside.
  • The plan involves the region, using carrots to get Pakistan involved. It will also take constructive  involvement by Iran. 
  • The plan recognizes that “Taliban” is a broad term and seeks to negotiate with the elements which can be won over, reserving combat for the hardcore that protect al-Qaeda terrorists. Military action is limited to fighting the terrorists rather than trying to do everything.

The BAD:

  • The troop escalation is still a military escalation which is likely to be an escalation into a quagmire.  It looks far too reminiscent of the initial escalation by JFK into Vietnam or, more recently, the Soviet entrance into Afghanistan.
  • I don’t see enough involvement by NATO, the EU, or the United Nations.  I especially would want to put UN peacekeepers in blue helmuts for the mission of protecting civilians.
  • The plan, even if everything goes perfectly, will take YEARS and WAY TOO MUCH MONEY and TOO MANY LIVES.  Obama thinks the alternative is to leave America too vulnerable to terrorist attack, again, but there is neither the money nor the political will for this longterm strategy.  IF we had not invaded Iraq and IF we had taken this approach to Afghanistan back in ’02, we may now be approaching an exit these 7+ years later.  But we don’t have 7 more years and all the counterinsurgency experts say that it would take at least that long for the counterinsurgency to work.
  • Afghan Pres. Karzai likes this plan and that’s a good sign. It may also have popular support, initially, though I doubt anyone’s doing surveys of the Afghan people.  But for how long?  I think the Afghan people’s tolerance for our presence in their country, especially our MILITARY presence, will not last more than 2 more years, tops.  If we stay when they want us to leave, we will TRULY be in an unwinnable quagmire, much like Vietnam.

I urge peace folk to push for Obama to double or triple the civilian components of the plan and to internationalize (via NATO and the UN) the military presence–and to give us a timeline and an exit strategy. Congress should demand the same before releasing any funds for this plan.  We stand at a crossroads:  This can either be the beginning of an end to the Afghan war or the beginning of a deeper swamp of war.

Let me clear: We are going to need bodies in the streets protesting the military aspects of this.  Get out your “Troops Home Now!” signs.  This struggle will be difficult.  Wage PEACE!

P.S.  It’s not helpful to attack other peace folk. That’s an “epic fail” way to lose.  We need to be hard on the problem, not each other.  I also see no need AT THIS POINT in spewing anger at Obama.  That’s not a way to get him to listen.  I wrote polite (but firm) open letters to Bush against invading Iraq and proposed alternatives.  I never liked him, but tried not to personalize my opposition.  I only grew personally angry after he dismissed 1  million people (myself included) in the street in opposition to the invasion as “a focus group.” (Also, Bush lied to the people. Obama has not. He may be completely wrong, but he has not misled us.  He ALWAYS told us he would add troops to Afghanistan.)

March 27, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, just peacemaking | 8 Comments

Poll: More Americans Now Against Afghanistan War

Well, THIS NEWS is sooner than I expected.  I didn’t expect to see this much support for ending the Afghanistan war until next year.  UPDATE: I have changed the title because I read the poll too quickly.  The poll says that 42% of the people now think  going INTO Afghanistan was a mistake.  This surprises me even more.  The poll doesn’t ask how we get out or what to do, now. It’s not a perfect poll.

But I think this rules out the Petraeus model of counterinsurgency.  That model expects us to be in Afghanistan for at least 8 more years, increase  troop levels to 600-700,000.  But that is politically and economically IMPOSSIBLE.  If you try to get those kind of troop levels without a draft, you are pulling troops out from the DMZ between North and South Korea and other other geopolitically sensitive places.  What if we had another Katrina-style disaster without, once again, enough National Guard troops available?  The other way to get those kind of troop levels would be with a draft. Good luck getting that through Congress.  And if 42% of the public are now calling the decision to go to Afghanistant “a mistake” (much higher than any time previously), then there is no way that the public would tolerate a continued high-volume presence for another FOUR years, never mind  EIGHT.

Whatever the plan is for Afghanistan, it must be something that is politically and economically possible and doesn’t make the nation more vulnerable in the process.  That’s going to demand a different, peacemaking approach.  I don’t know if the president is talking to the right kinds of people to shape such an approach, but I hope so.

I hope the president is listening because I still fear that Afghanistan could be for Obama what Vietnam was for LBJ: derailing a progressive domestic agenda.

March 17, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan | 6 Comments