Iraq — and Everything Else

A peace activist’s manifesto

Nathaniel Batchelder, 10/15/2005
Social Justice Forum — Norman, Oklahoma

The author has worked at a peace center in Oklahoma City 18 years. He is a Vietnam veteran and active member of Church of the Open Arms, UCC.

This is about Iraq — but it is more about the soul of America and the possibilities for humanity. As bad as the Iraq War is, I believe it is a last gasp of those with an obsolete view of the world. What is called for is not simply to end a bad war, but to completely transform the vision and spirituality of our nation into alignment with a future that serves humanity’s real needs: physically, mentally, intellectually, and spiritually.

The Neoconservatives currently misruling the White House and controlling Congress are, of course, the polar opposite of the leadership which a transformed vision of humanity calls for. Indeed, they are simply the culmination of 30 to 40 years of politics reflecting NOT the common good and general welfare of Americans and the rest of humanity who are our neighbors on earth — but rather the interests of profit-making by an elite minority invested in transnational corporations. Their agenda is a single-minded drive to deregulate finance, business and industry so that corporations may enjoy the cheapest possible labor and operate with the fewest possible environmental regulations, the fewest possible worker protections, the least possible financial oversight, and the lowest possible taxation or return investment into society.

This savage view of the world is terribly short-sighted because it is not sustainable economically or environmentally, and is clearly not aligned with the needs of the great majority of people or humanity’s future.

It is a vision grounded in selfishness like that of an addict or an alcoholic who is just unable to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. They herald as praiseworthy the most base and selfish impulses of financial gain and disregard for everything else.

A brief review of the state of things — taking of stock of where we are — is troubling and even frightening, but we can never reach the best without taking a full look at the worst. Cancer must be diagnosed before it can be cured. The solutions I will then propose will, I hope, be both hope-giving and inspiring to us as human and spiritual beings — because the solutions are not only politically necessary for our nation’s and the world’s economic stability and survival, they are actions and politics reflecting and expressing humanity’s important spiritual motivations as emotional and sentient beings in community with one another, to express and live out our possibilities for life in harmony with Nature and all others on earth.

First, the bad news.

The War in Iraq — planned and waged by people in government, but even more by those who pull their strings from international financial institutions and board rooms of transnational corporations — is very simply about global dominion by a super-power willing to smash anything in its path to gain control over the resources needed to fuel its addictions: in this case the region of the world where petroleum is found.

The lies and disinformation broadcast to sell the war before it started — that Iraq had or was building nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, and that Iraq was a hotbed of terrorism with links to Al Quaeda and the 9/11 terrorist attack, have all proven false. The Downing Street Memos from the highest levels of British intelligence reveal that the administration was fabricating evidence to gain the support of a manipulated American People and United Nations for war.

The projections of the administration that the war would be a cake-walk because American forces would be welcomed as liberators also proved false — and was either the grossest miscalculation by the war-planners, duped by their own deceptions, or was just more of the most cynical and deceitful propaganda put out to manipulate the American People into supporting war.

On a wall of names of the almost 2000 Americans killed since this war began, which was displayed at the recent ANTI-WAR FAIR in Oklahoma City on September 24th, there were 12 columns of names with about 160 names in each column.

Some two-thirds of the way down the FIRST COLUMN of names is the note that, at that point, President Bush announced “Mission Accomplished” from that aircraft carrier. More than 90% of the dead were killed after Bush proclaimed victory and that the fighting was over.

Worse, reports of people closer to the fighting and killing reveal their suspicion that numbers of Americans killed may be much higher, masked by technical mathematics … that the wounded evacuated to Germany and elsewhere who die later may not be listed as killed in Iraq … or that individuals killed in non-hostile events may not be listed as War casualties.

In any case, we veterans of the Vietnam War know that there are already — and will be more — tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands whose wounded bodies, minds, and spirits will result in lives knocked off the tracks into alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, depression and rage, resulting in domestic violence, social incompetence, and personal dependence on decades or lifetimes of counseling and support to struggle back into productive and satisfying lives.

This war was not engineered by people who served in combat themselves, or who have any personal insights into the grave social costs of war. The vast majority of those planning and executing this war were born to elite families whose sons and daughters rarely serve in combat, but avoid military service entirely. The privileged sons and daughters of their families avoid the grime of military service in favor of college and life in the Country Club set who perceive themselves above the class giving military service when their nation goes to war.

And, in this war, untold tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed by military sweeps of cities like Fallujah where planners ordered a “scorched earth” policy to destroy pockets of what may have been support or sympathy for an insurgency which reflects the natural inclination of any people to throw out an occupying military force.

Planners of this war totally ignored the political, social, and religious complexities of Iraq and its factions of Baathists, Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and others which had been held in a tension of civility by the oppressive Saddam Hussein government. Today, some of these opposing forces seem on the surface aligned as working for development of a new government — a hopeful possibility — but underneath is the other reality about which so many express apprehension: that these factions are temporarily aligned around the desire to cast out the foreign military which they view as occupying Iraq, but may well devolve into civil war as soon as the American military leaves.

The United States is losing its soul in more ways in Iraq, by stooping to mass imprisonment and interrogation of thousands of Iraqis in a desperate quest to smash the insurgency, sinking to degrading torture and humiliation to gain knowledge of who and how the insurgency is organized and carried out. More than a year ago, we read about national leaders considering a “Salvador Option” for Iraq — in short, the implementation of techniques utilized or tolerated during the decade of the 1980s in El Salvador to smash the insurgent revolution there through mass killings, scorched earth policies, torture houses and death squads to identify and assassinate those who sympathized with or supported the revolution.

In this caldron of tensions, violence, and degradation, what is the ‘Right Course’ for America?

What we must call for with one voice is to end the war now and bring the troops home. This is not a criticism of America’s military forces, but rather an admission of bad decisions by the government which sent them to war in the first place. The growing insurgency and political dissolution in Iraq require that the United States agree to turn the situation over to some body of nations willing to take over the crying needs in Iraq for security, to supply a police force to maintain some kind of order while a new government forms and US forces are withdrawn.

Many people, and certainly I, believe that the continuing US presence in Iraq is the very lightning rod energizing the insurgency, and that American forces must be removed before peace can be achieved. The US is an unwelcome military presence in Iraq and the Middle East — and about this I believe the entire Middle East and Moslem world are in agreement. This is not Central America — what the United States considers “our back yard” where military control and economic policies from Washington, DC, can be implemented and reasonably controlled.

The Middle East is too far away, too large and too foreign to us in language, culture and religion for the United States to control as the planners of this War dreamed was possible. The War in Iraq is a train wreck based on false assumptions, false hopes, incompetent planning, and arrogant reliance upon US military force. It is the culmination of decades of self-serving national policies which placed so-called “US interests” above all other human and civil considerations.

So we must end the war, and we know that. But more, we must be about the transformation of American society back into the kind of society which our parents or grandparents remember after World War II.

That was a time in which Americans really believed that our nation had helped to defeat evil in the world, and had helped bring about the possibility for expansion of democracy, human rights, and global human development which could reach into every corner of the world where poverty, ignorance, disease, and political oppression caused suffering.

The great social programs of the Franklin Roosevelt era caused an explosion in this country of repair and development of America’s infrastructure serving human need: …. railroads, highways, schools, public buildings, libraries, civic centers and concert halls including Oklahoma City’s Civic Center, built by WPA in 1936. Social Security for the first time extended a guarantee of dignity to retired older people. Huge development projects extended electrification, safe water and sanitation to virtually every community in the country. Our postal service was the finest in the world. Telephones brought communication to virtually every home. It was a time of unbridled expansion of prosperity for average working families, and missionary zeal that the American Way was indeed the hope for the world.

But, incrementally, especially in the last 30 years, beginning with the so-called Reagan Revolution, virtually all of that has been compromised by growing mountains of legislation which have slowly but surely chipped away at that commitment to the Common Good and the General Welfare.

The litany of tax cuts to America’s wealthy citizens and corporations — sold as investments in economic vitality — have simply resulted in the expansion of the unimaginable wealth of a few at the expense of public and social services benefiting America’s working and poor families.

The passage of all the so-called “Global Free Trade Treaties” facilitated the exodus from America of tens of millions of jobs providing wages and benefits regulated to ensure worker safety, job stability, health care and retirement guarantees.

Millions of jobs were exported — and are still leaving — going to the farthest reaches of the world where women and children work for two dollars a day and less, with no protections from dangerous working conditions, chemical and environmental hazards, no health benefits, no retirement guarantees, virtually no protections at all.

This has been a profit bonanza for transnational corporations able to reduce labor costs to virtually nothing, and to operate without environmental and other regulations achieved in the US through decades of social struggle by and for the American people.

For hundreds of millions of Americans, this has brought economic insecurity, lower wages, and an environment where corporations like Walmart can pay the lowest wages and employ workers with so few benefits that many of their workers remain in poverty, needing social services, Food Stamps and Food Pantries to get through the month.

Meanwhile, the numbers of billionaires in America, according to Forbes Magazine which tracks such things, has grown from some 17 in 1983 to more than 300 today. America’s growing disparity of wealth between rich and poor is already the greatest of any other nation. We are a nation of expanding wealth among the elite, and expanding numbers of families in poverty, whose desperate circumstances exist in “Pockets of Poverty” exposed by the recent hurricane which flooded New Orleans. Hundreds of thousands simply had no means to evacuate the city, and were left when the hurricane arrived, not “high and dry” but flooded, ignored, and uncared for by a government which has simply turned its back on the needs and plight of its most vulnerable citizens.

And — if you follow environmental matters — you have watched and resisted to the best of your ability the alarming reversals and compromise of America’s environmental regulations protecting our air, waters, and land from the degradation of corporate exploitation. When regulations are removed or non-existent, competition of corporations inevitably reduces standards of behavior to the lowest common denominator. Bill McKibben’s book “The End of Nature” first published in 1990, is one of hundreds outlining ways in which the human use and misuse of natural resources, spaces and Nature itself are degrading the very environmental systems which support life. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s book published in time to be read before the 2004 elections: “Crimes Against Nature” outlines more than 400 reversals and compromises of environmental regulations just during the four years of the Bush administration since 2000.

These and more reveal the extent to which the US government is handing over responsibility for clean air, safe water, and productive land to the very corporations willing to degrade them all for short-term profit. Ultimately — as I have said — these short-sighted and exploitative policies are unsustainable.

The world outside the United States understands that human and corporate activity are changing the climate and weather around the world. Environmental and public health experts predict negative health effects upon populations from deregulating industries which pollute the environment.

Even more ironic, such policies are not even financially sustainable. How can an economy continue which enriches only those at the top while impoverishing virtually everyone else. As wages and disposable incomes of 80% of Americans stagnate or decline, purchases of the very fruits of capitalist production also decline, with the ultimate result being something like the collapse of the 1930s — the Great Depression — brought about when America’s warehouses were full but people were too poor to buy.

To you and me — and the vast majority of Americans — such an economic collapse looks bleak: a time when bankruptcies and foreclosures result in millions losing homes, farms, and businesses.

But, frankly, and quite cynically, such a collapse is a windfall bonanza for the rich, who can then buy houses, real estate, and businesses at a national tag sale for ten cents on the dollar. There are financial wizards lurking on the top rungs of America’s economic ladder who see the looming economic collapse which a 30-year spree of profit-taking may well bring about, and they don’t see it as all bad.

As the wizened economist says in ads for a leading investment corporation, “When the economy goes up, our clients make money; when the economy goes down, our clients make money.”

As a nation whose government professes to hold as a top priority the Common Good and General Welfare of all its citizens, America has truly lost its way.

WHAT SOLUTIONS ARE THERE?

As individuals, it may seem as though our impact is too small to make much difference, but it is high time that all of us lived as though all of our choices do make a difference, because they do: socially, economically, spiritually, environmentally, and politically.

Win, lose, or draw in this great effort to humanize and civilize our nation and the world, we will always feel better about our own lives if we made a best effort.

First, we must live personally as though all our choices make a difference, because they do. Many of you are already doing this: living more simply, reducing your environmental impact, driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, living communally, buying food from Coops supporting sustainable food production, becoming vegetarians.

An internet search for “Ecological Footprint” reveals websites providing information about lifestyle choices which really make a difference in reducing our environmental impact on earth.

Many of you already monitor your purchases to avoid corporations with the least socially responsible policies — Walmart being one of the worst — and endeavoring to support companies whose policies are labor friendly and environmentally sustainable. Numerous websites guide consumers to socially responsible purchasing. Such information must be shared widely.

More than ever now we must nurture and encourage our immediate communities of friends and family to support one another in better choices, wiser purchases, shared resources, and communal consciousness of the ways we live which affect the natural world near and far, and which affect workers and families in this country and around the world. This spiritual connection, one to another, I believe is key to our personal and social health and energy for living in ways that contribute to the Common Good and General Welfare of all people and Nature. It is really taking the first steps toward changing what we do as a part of changing the world.

Then, as we are cleaning up our act at the personal level, we are liberated to more cleanly seek change in the larger world around us.

We can become effective advocates of social change and political change at all levels — local, state, national, and global — as we study and learn how this is effectively done. I stress the crucial value of NOT isolating oneself, but in working with and through communities of like-minded citizens supporting one another in small gatherings that are joyful and loving, but also politically astute and realistic about what it takes to implement small and large changes in society.

If we would build a world where love for humanity and Nature are paramount, where compassion for society’s most vulnerable citizens is a shared common value, where the elderly and mentally ill and families in poverty find access to resources lifting them above the status of discarded garbage into a world where the common concern of all extends the hand up they need — then our lives, our spirits, and our manners must reflect that love and possibility in all our interactions and choices.

In short, we must demonstrate, as have all the prophets, that love CAN conquer all. The human potential for compassion and service are deeply rooted in us all, and can — if we WILL it to happen — come to infuse all our political and economic systems with that same spirit.

Difficult as it often feels, this means that we must work as effectively as we can with those who currently hold the seats of power in government … even as we empower ourselves and others to become involved in the political arena where candidates run for office, and candidates get elected to public office.

It is ultimately up to us, individually and collectively, to bring to the political and economic arenas the love and compassion for humanity and Nature which fuels our hope and vision for the world.

And — even more difficult — we must do this reflecting the very love, compassion and hopes which underlie all our lives and which inspire our spirits to seek a better world. I don’t believe we can ultimately change the world for the better through energy based primarily upon our anger, resentments, hostilities, and rage.

Of course these are present in everyone working for justice and for leadership better than the current self-serving and short-sighted zealots. Anger at violence, greed and savagery proves that you are still alive and fighting for something better. Anger about what is simply wrong proves your love of a higher vision.

But, in contending against wrong we must struggle not to become wrongly contentious ourselves. For when we do, we simply slide into oppositional contests which gentle people usually lose anyway. And we compromise our better spirits which seek to implement policies of compassion and love for humanity and Nature. Operating out of angry contention may seem cathartic in the moment, and it may even seem politically advantageous during one election cycle, but it is not truly sustaining, for it taps into the same roots of aggression and contention which our better natures seek to overcome and to dissolve. It saps the good energy we feel when grounded in joy and loving spirit. We should not give our opponents this victory over us.

I have found it true that, to be really effective, our campaigns and our lives must also be joyful, happy and creative. As we go about our work for change, we must celebrate all the things in the world which are beautiful and worthy of exalting, like glorious days, family picnics, and outings in Nature. We must celebrate living things and obscure species which share the earth with humanity and contribute to the beauty of Nature.

We must celebrate and participate in music, art, poetry, sculpture, dramatics, weaving, carving, pottery, tapestries, quilts, gardening and every other form of human creativity which lift human life above mere survival into something which exalts the human potential.

We must celebrate and love our own sexual natures and the sexual natures of others as expressions of the free gift to humanity and the good energy for loving and pleasure which sexuality is meant to be. Have you noticed how the authoritarian powers of both the political-right and the religious-right, which usually support the systems of human greed, exploitation, conquest, aggression and war, generally reflect no appreciation for art, creativity, personal expression, sexual love and the personal freedom of being fully alive to Nature and the world?

No — they are afraid of such free expression of creativity, energy, love and sexuality. Their dysfunctional twisted maladjusted souls want you to compromise yourselves too: to become as self-serving and materially acquisitive and unconcerned about the future and humanity as they are.

In every moment we are alive, we can say “YES” to life and personal freedom, and “NO” to the death-dealing politics of personal selfishness, military aggression and fundamentalist religiosity which would crush the human spirit and make a world where a few live in obscene excessive consumption while the rest live less-than-human existences.

This is our choice: Will we say “Yes” to life and all its possibilities for humanity to live in harmony with our natural surroundings and one another? Or will we compromise our better natures and just “go along to get along,” living half alive as bystanders, tolerating systems that exploit people and Nature, because we have given up on the possibility that our lives can make a difference?

It is not given to us to know at the outset whether we shall “win” or “lose” in this great struggle for everything on earth which has meaning. But I say at the outset that from my perspective, my own life has more meaning and more satisfactions when I find expression of my love for the world and my hopes for humanity’s possibilities through daily actions in the social and political arenas where great decisions are made.

They would like us to give up, but we will not.

They would like us to descend into cynical and angry oppositional tactics, proving that we are just like them, but we will not.

They would like to reshape us in their image, into people whose desperate pathetic lives are defined by material possessions and wealth, but we will not.

They would like us to go away, move to a different country, silence our calls for social change and environmental sustainability, but we will not. They would like to contain and constrain our spirits and have us become automatons serving the systems they support, and become people disconnected from our own creativity and loving and sexual natures, but we will not. Look around you and recognize that we are the ones we have been waiting for. There is no one else but us. There is no one else but you. This is the time. Now is the moment.

Let all of us henceforth live our lives as though every breath we take and every move we make can be our contribution to a better world, living harmoniously with Nature, other species, other nations, cultures and religions, building a world where the needs of every working family, mother and child, becomes a high priority of societies and governments the world around.

Let us live life as though our lives matter, because they do