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Nathanial Batchelder (click image to read news and views from Peace House OK's Director, Nathaniel Batchelder)

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How It’s Really Like Vietnam, Mr. President

September 1, 2007
Oklahoma Peace Strategy Newspaper

As one who lived through the Vietnam era, there are not many things said about that war that make me more angry than for someone to say “we just should have stayed to win—the only thing we did wrong was to leave too soon.” It’s not something you hear many people say anymore—it has been widely discredited. But last week President Bush, for the first time acknowledging any comparison between Iraq and Vietnam, decided it was safe to repeat this in front of an audience of veterans, who were predisposed to applaud it. It was reassuring to hear the Sunday morning news/talk shows soundly trouncing President Bush’s assertion. Not only did the pols and pundits pan this idea but one news show stated they could not find a single historian to agree with this assessment.

I was a young woman at the time of Vietnam. We lost 55,000+ of our precious brothers, husbands, lovers, and classmates to that war. As with the Iraq war, it was not “getting out” that was the problem, it was the deeply flawed values and assumptions of the leadership in our country that led us to “getting in” in the first place. Here are some other ways the two are similar:

Then we were supposedly “fighting global communism;” today we are fighting global radical Islamists. In both instances, it was more about maintaining the prerogatives of global commerce than it was about democratic ideals.

Those who have lost loved ones were, and are, placed in the position of painfully assessing whether their dear one died for anything worthwhile at all. They died in service to their country. Some of them had a deep sense of duty; others just wanted help with a college education. And their country played fast and loose with their lives, as though it wasn’t really important to call on their willingness to serve as a precious resource to be used only in the most unavoidable of circumstances.

The country squandered then and is squandering now vast amounts of resources badly needed at home and around the globe. If this country had spent all the money it has thrown at this war in helping every Islamic country around the globe with food, water, medicine, and infrastructure instead of spending it on warfare, we would be safer than we are now. The only problem with this approach is that it would not “feed the monster” of the industrial-military complex.

There are indeed many vets who still believe we could have won the Vietnam war if we had “stayed the course.” (President Bush loves this phrase applied to the current war.) Many vets and their families need to believe this in order for their service to have been worth what it cost them. I knew a Vietnam vet who was on his way to killing himself with alcohol—every time he got drunk, he relived being a platoon leader who was assigned the task of capturing a particular hill. At the cost of all his men but one and himself, he did. Then a few days later it was deemed not important enough to keep holding. He was never able to recover or regain his balance. I have worked with many vets, some in drug and alcohol treatment programs, and the ones who seem to have regained their lives are the ones who are able to let go of the need for our country to be right and instead use the rest of their lives to give their own meaning to that experience. It seems apparent that the mental health cost for our current vets will also be lifelong and the services they are being and will be provided will be woefully inadequate as they have been in the past.

At the time of Vietnam, it took several years for a majority of the country to “get it” and oppose the war, although activists were opposing it from the outset. When it finally ended, 74% of the American people opposed that war. Unfortunately it has also taken a long time for a majority of the general public to oppose the Iraq war. At the time of any crisis, it is always tempting to do more of what one was already doing but with even more energy instead of ceasing to do those things that caused the crisis. But the old adage ‘when you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is to stop digging’ applies. Instead of renewing our commitment to an already demonstrably failed policy, we need STOP DOING IT. Then we need to evaluate how we got and get ourselves into these situations in the first place so we can prevent them in the future. Write a letter today.

Peace Can’t Wait!

THIS FALL: is a crucial time for citizens to communicate with Congress, newspapers and magazines on all the issues of concern to us. We cannot lie dormant, waiting for this administration to leave office. We must demand action now:

END WAR: We must end the US occupation of Iraq and bring the troops home. General Petraeus will make his report, and Congress will decide whether to continue funding the Iraq debacle. They must hear from us: “Enough rosie projections and half-truths! Bring the troops home!” If Vietnam taught us anything, it is that Generals NEVER want to announce a reversal of policy or say, “It’s time to come home and have peace.” GWBush and war supporters claim the US could have won in Vietnam if it weren’t for cowards in Congress. They also want war with IRAN, and we must prevent THAT TOO.

IMPEACH: We must press for impeachment of Dick Cheney by urging support for Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s legislation H.R. 333, which now has 19 cosponsors. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Jucidiary Committee Chair John Conyers also need encouragement to impeach. The resolution’s three charges are that Vice President Cheney: 1). has purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive the citizens and Congress of the United States by fabricating a threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, as well as: 2). fabricating a threat about an alleged relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, in order to justify the use of the U.S. Armed Forces against Iraq in a manner damaging to U.S. national security interests; and: 3). in violation of his constitutional oath and duty, has openly threatened aggression against Iran absent any real threat to the United States, and has done so with the proven U.S. capability to carry out such threats, thus undermining U.S. national security. [1][2]

GLOBAL WARMING: Congress should quickly embrace a “Go-To-The-Moon” priority for reducing national production of Greenhouse Gases. America must embark on a journey into harmony with nature and our earth. The USA must fall in love with fuel-efficient vehicles; public transportation; proper design and insulation of buildings and homes; green roofing; railroad transportation; rooftop solar capture; preservation of wild spaces and protections of species diversity. Let’s love the earth and all that dwells therein: every leaf and creature is connected to humanity. Life and abundance lie in harmony with nature. Death and destruction lie in domination and exploitation.

These and other critical issues demand action now. So act! We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for!

No Nukes for USA

OPS, May 2007

Nuclear bomb-makers constantly put forward ideas for “new” and “necessary” models, because — let’s face it — they want to make bombs. Meanwhile, most of the world, and most sane people, believe nuclear weapons are obsolete and useless (hopefully). At the height of the Cold War nuclear arms race, the best rationale for nukes was that they were essential in order to prevent their own use.

In recent years, arms makers — and supporters in Congress — have entertained serious discussions to develop “bunker-buster” nukes to penetrate the earth from space to a depth of up to 100 feet, THEN explode, insuring that underground bunkers are destroyed. Cooler heads have prevailed, and plans for the bunker-buster nuke have been shelved. (Phew!).

A generation of “smaller” nuclear weapons for “theater use” has also been on the table … “little nukes” which would obliterate only a few square miles, thus “limiting” the damage they would wreak (and make their use more likely, of course.)

Now comes the latest proposal: officially called the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). The rationale for the RRWs is that they would guarantee “long-term confidence” in the reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. (Multiple independent studies have shown, however, that the nuclear weapons stockpile will remain “safe and reliable” for at least another 50 years.)

The Council For a Liveable World — www.clw.org — says this new nuclear bomb is part of a larger Bush Administration plan to rebuild the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, the cost of which the Department of Energy (DOE) estimates will exceed $150 billion by 2030. The Government Accountability Office — GAO — believes this estimate is too low and has advised Congress to require that the DOE produce an accurate accounting of the costs.

Meanwhile, the USA still has nearly 6,000 operational nuclear weapons, far beyond any rational need. (And TONS of weapons-grade plutonium, uranium, and other components, are “in storage” in places like Amarillo’s Pantex Nuclear Weapons Facility, 250 miles west of Oklahoma City, just off I-40.)

Opponents of new nuclear weapons successfully stopped development of the “bunker buster” nuclear bomb in recent years. We can’t afford to lose ground now by moving ahead with the Reliable Replacement Warhead. The United States should be showing leadership by DISMANTLING nuclear weapons, not attempting to build new ones.

The victory against “bunker buster” nukes proved that these battles can be won. But the issue requires action from citizens. That’s you.

Page 5 of this newspaper provides addresses, phone numbers, and fax numbers of all seven Members of Congress from Oklahoma. Contact our two Senators, and YOUR Representative to say “No More Nuclear Weapons.”

Your letter can simply say, “No more nuclear weapons. The USA should be dismantling nuclear weapons, not designing new ones. Stop development of any and all new nuclear weapons. No “theater-use” nuclear weapons. No Reliable Replacement Warheads (RRWs). No “bunker-buster” nuclear weapons. We must eliminate the perception that nuclear weapons are acceptable, in order to reduce the possibility that they would ever be used.”

You can also find the Council For A Livable World petition at www.clw.org.
(URL for the petition is actually www.clw.org/action/petitions/stop_rrw )

Peace Muscle

Oklahoma Peace Strategy Newspaper, May 2007

A blizzard of activities for social justice and peace in recent months, both locally and nationally, reflect growing passion among citizens to end and reverse the US occupation of Iraq – but more – to return to the truly American values of democracy, peace, and justice for all. It has been a dizzying and exhilarating time. Let’s hope this energy builds and expands!

Once upon a time, it was possible for a person to attend almost every peace and justice event in central Oklahoma. Now, events, lectures, workshops and films are scheduled north, south, east, and west, often on the same evening. Did you go to hear Jane Goodall at OCU, or journalist Anthony Shadid reporting at the Unitarian Church speaking about shoddy media coverage of the Iraq War? Or perhaps you just rested up so you could go the next evening to hear Lt. Col. Robert M. Bowman, USAF (ret) speak for peace at Mayflower Church. There is a lot going on!

Sat, March 17 Peace Rally:
On Saturday, March 17, marking four years of war in Iraq, some 400 Oklahomans gathered for a peace rally on the State Capital Plaza, for music, reading the names of fallen Oklahomans, and listening to notable opinion leaders speak for peace. Music by the Electric Primadonnas welcomed folks to the plaza, where tables of information were set up by the Peace House, CodePink, Veterans for Peace, and the Department of Peace Campaign. Speaking were State Senator Connie Johnson, Rep. Anastasia Pittman, USAF Col (ret) Katherine Schierman, Iraq Veteran Brandon Jackson, Gold Star family Warren, Kay, and Jamie Blake Henthorn, and Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers of Mayflower Congregational Church. Dr. Meyers invited people to come forward to read names of the more than 50 Oklahomans who have died in Iraq, and a gong was sounded after each name was read. Dr. Meyers’ comments are posted at: www.peacehouseok.org.

Sun, Mar 18, Spiritual Walk for Peace:
The next afternoon, some 250 citizens gathered at the Episcopal Center for encouraging words for peace and a silent peace walk encircling the Murrah Building National Memorial. Music by Mary Reynolds, Louise Goldberg and friends set the tone on a glorious Sunday afternoon. Dean George Back of St. Paul’s Cathedral welcomed the crowd and gave a prayer for peace. Senator Connie Johnson spoke again, and Rev. Lance Schmitz made an impassioned plea to support peace. Rex Friend staged the silent walk. Peace walkers stretched two blocks, as on-lookers visiting the Murrah Memorial stopped to watch the procession. At the Jesus Wept statue, the crowd paused for song and words from Cynthia Johnson and Rex Friend, then Rev. Meyers and others read again the names of Oklahomans killed in Iraq. Back at the Episcopal Center, State Representative Al McAffrey spoke strongly for an end to the Iraq conflict. Sister Benedicta Boland with the Red Plains Monastery of Benedictine Sisters then closed the event with teachings from St. Benedict and a peace prayer.

April 18, Lt.Col Robt. M. Bowman USAF (ret):
Dr. Bob Bowman spoke April 18th to a crowd of some 175 at Mayflower Congregational Church, as part of a 100-city speaking tour around the US. Bowman was a fighter pilot in Vietnam, and, with a PhD in Aeronautics, directed US military research into space-based weapons under the Ford and Carter administrations. Since his retirement, Bowman has directed his own non-profit organization dedicated to justice, peace, and the appropriate use (only) of the US military. Bowman is an outspoken opponent of Bush administration policies including the Iraq war, unwarranted surveillance of US citizens, torture and rendition of US prisoners, ignoring global warming and environmental challenges, endangering Social Security, and failure to implement a national health insurance policy. Dr. Bowman’s website about his speaking tour includes his analysis and prescriptions for US politics. www.ThePatriots.us

The spirit of people rising is always good news. Your efforts inspire me, just as others’ efforts inspire you. If everyone will follow the counsel of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, the victory of justice and peace in the world becomes possible. He said, “Everyone can do something.”

The Second Most Important Thing To Do About Iraq—Repent!

OPS, May, 2007

The most important thing to do about Iraq is exit this ill-begotten war as soon as possible. On the day of the invasion, I was talking with the father of a Marine who also owned the hospice where I was working. He was in a gung-ho,’get the s.o.b.’ mode and said so loudly. I spoke to him in quiet words, “Oh, no, this is a very bad idea for many reasons—every motive is wrong and we are storming into an area of the world where they do revenge in generations.” It is with no pleasure I affirm that opinion today and mourn the consequences of our national belligerence.

There is another thing we need to do simultaneously as we exit the war. Just quitting what the U.S. is doing is not nearly enough. In my mind’s eye, there is an ancient prophet standing on a rocky prominence intoning “repent or be doomed.” “Repent” is an old-fashioned word. It usually is used in religious language. Although faith can inform repentance, it is not, in and of itself, necessarily religious, as any 12-Stepper working a 4th and 5th step can affirm. It seems to me “repent” is the most apt word for what needs to happen.

By dictionary definition, “repent” means: 1. to feel sorry, self-reproachful, or contrite for past conduct; regret or be conscience-stricken about a past action, attitude, etc. 2. to feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life for the better; be penitent. 3. to remember or regard with self-reproach or contrition: to repent one’s injustice to another.

Much of the thinking and behaviors that led us to this point significantly predate this war. Just pulling out of Iraq will not complete what this nation needs to do. We need to examine how we really came to this place, express our deep sorrow and regret, make amends, and determine how to avoid similar thinking and behavior in the future. It is the same kind of repentance that Japan and Germany went through following WWII. Now it needs to be our leadership and us.

Members of this administration need to apologize to the American people and, indeed, to the world:

For lying to and misleading them into this war. No ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ No Al Qaeda presence there prior to the war (there now is, thanks to the U.S.). Saddam Hussein was a repressive, abusive, violent dictator. But we have not chosen to declare war on all abusive dictators. Some dictators are our ‘best buds.’ Part of our government’s history includes a willingness to march into foreign lands on some noble pretext simply to promote or protect U.S. business interests there.

For another war of aggression: U.S. aggression in Central America was promoted as “fighting communism.” But the Marines went into Nicaragua five times before the turn of the 20th century, well before the word ‘communism’ even existed—sent to protect the interests of American plantations established on land which belonged to local farmers who could no longer support their families. The U.S. helped establish the Somoza government there–a U.S business-friendly dictatorship there and abusive as any on the planet. We even helped make it a generational dynasty. Nicaragua’s story is only one in a painful list of U.S. involvement in aggressive war-making. This current first strike war is actually not new behavior—it’s just the most recent, most blatant manifestation of very old behavior and we need to change it permanently if we are to live in peace.

For launching a war that was pre-planned before the September 11th attacks. The plan was simply taken off the shelf and implemented, using our national tragedy, almost literally, as a smoke screen for their real motives. Quietly, they spoke about gasoline at $1 a gallon, a huge boon for the American and other western economies. In the U.S.’ ongoing involvement in Middle East intrigue, this would have given the U.S. independence from the caprices of OPEC production limits and allow the U.S. to take on other countries in the region one at a time. Even now, permanent bases are being built in Iraq for this purpose.

For using our young people and resources in a war that was a grudge match—Saddam had tried to have Bush The Elder assassinated. It was payback time. In the best Texas accent a Bush can muster, with a hitch to the belt: “I’m goin’ after that SOB now that I have a good excuse.” Or, “I’m really mad about this 9-11 attack and I’m lookin’ like a fool sitting in a Florida classroom for 20 minutes following the attack, so I’ll go after Saddam and act real tough.” There is nothing worse than the combination of arrogance and ignorance, and this administration has demonstrated an abundance of both. Early in the war, President Bush said this would be a “crusade” for freedom and democracy. In our country a crusade is associated with Billy Graham. In the Arab world, it refers to a time in history when their land was repeatedly invaded by foreigners intent on exterminating them. Either Bush or his speech writers were totally ignorant of what the Crusades mean to the Arab world or this language was deliberate. What could he have said that would have been more inflammatory?

For using the language of the Christian religion to buttress decidedly un-Christian policies, most notably preemptive war and torture. There is not a single thing in the teachings or life of Jesus that would support such behavior—indeed he would unequivocally renounce it.

For starting a costly war that feeds the war machine-‘the industrial-military complex,’ as Eisenhower called it. It has been so long since this country had a peace-based economy, we don’t know how to sustain one. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, this country blew amazingly good opportunities to lead the world into an unprecedented era of peace. If our nation had chosen that opportunity to behave as the benevolent, helpful big brother of a large family, things could have been very different, not only for us but for our children and grandchildren. After the 9-11 attacks, the U.S. had the sympathy of most of the rest of the world and could have chosen limited actions to bring those responsible to justice rather than a leap into wars on two fronts. But a break from this country’s addiction to weaponry and war-making would cost losses in the war-business sector. The stock market doesn’t like peace—bad for business.

Continuous war somewhere meets the needs of predatory corporations for ever-increasing commerce, regardless of whether it meets the needs of human beings or not. And these corporations are so cleaver they have managed to label any such observation “unpatriotic.” This war never was about Al Qaeda, terrorism, or protecting “our” freedom. It’s about protecting the “freedom” of huge international corporations, whose interests are often not the best interest of the American people.

The administration also needs to apologize to the Iraqi people for keeping them in a constant state of siege since 1991, through two wars separated by years of privation, misery, and death. As our media did at the time of Vietnam, they keep precise count of the number of U.S. soldiers who have been killed. This is as it should be—each one is precious and lost to the fabric of life forever. But each of the Iraqis killed is also precious. And the American people only hear of them in vague estimates. This ancient country is the cradle of civilization. We have poisoned its land and its people with depleted uranium ordinance–an evil gift which will keep on giving for generations Not only have we abused its people in a hundred ways, we have destroyed priceless artifacts and archaeological sites—lost to the human family forever.

One of the subtlest and most devastating consequences of such costly and prolonged warfare is what happens here at home. Those who hate publicly funded assistance of any kind can justify cutting budgets of crucial programs because “we can’t afford them.” It’s not the programs we can’t afford; it’s eternal war.

The media needs to repent also for caving into the administration’s demand that they buy into all the fake justifications for the war and abdicate their responsibility to provide the American people with as much truth as possible. Those journalists and publications that did have courage were branded as unpatriotic and marginalized.

But just blaming the administration and the media is not enough. The American people need to take responsibility for their behavior (or lack thereof) too. The vast majority of Americans allowed themselves to be stampeded into both of these wars and, once there, allowed our leaders to paint those who disagreed with them as unpatriotic, guilty of not “supporting the troops.” A mixture of fear, ignorance, apathy, xenophobia*, and misplaced patriotism contributed to and continue to contribute to a mute electorate. But the most devastating public response is to simply ‘change the channel.’

*fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign

As Plentiful as the Fish in the Sea?

OPS, May 2007

There are huge concerns about the depletion of the earth’s oceans and particularly the over-fishing of many species.  For instance:  Orange Roughy has been a very popular seafood choice.  But it turns out they have a reproductive cycle of 20-plus years (some reports indicate 35 years).  They mate and reproduce later in their lives than most humans and they have already been fished to “economic extinction.”

Other species, which are abundant, like tuna, are caught with methods that kill thousands fish of other species in the process.  While some tuna is caught using dolphin-friendly systems, so that dolphins are freed, many other species are caught in nets along with other fish species.  These are considered “bycatch” (or to use a war metaphor, ‘collateral damage’) and are discarded back into the ocean to die if they are not already dead. According to research by the United Nations Food and Agriculture , worldwide fishing operations throw away 25% of  their catch.  Tons of fish are tossed out, dead or dying, because they’re not the kind the fishermen wanted to catch. The discarded animals may have no market value, or there may be no room on the boat to bring them to shore. Or the bycatch may be a marketable species, but too small to sell. Sometimes, fish are discarded because the fishermen lack the proper permits to land them. Dolphins, sea turtles, seals and whales all get caught by accident in fishing gear and drown. Seabirds, including endangered albatrosses, drown when they snatch baited hooks and are pulled under water.  Sharks, swordfish and red snapper are harmed by accidental kills. Bycatch often takes young fish that could rebuild depleted populations if allowed to grow up and breed.

The animals we catch and throw away have important roles to play in marine food webs. By killing these animals, we’re taking food away from tunas, salmon, swordfish, dolphins, sea lions and other ocean wildlife.  Still other species are ‘farmed’ using methods that pollute the surrounding ocean.  Meantime, we are being encouraged to increase our consumption of fish for our health.  Below is a Seafood Watch brochure from Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  This one is specific to the Central U.S. It is a guide to which fish species are being harvested or raised in an environmentally friendly way and those which are endangered or are harvested in a way that is environmentally destructive.  Each of the entries on the guide has a corresponding website.  You can even order free guides to share.  Learn more.

Good Seafood Chart

High Schools and Military Recruiters

Recently, the Peace House was sent a copy of a letter written by a Metro area high school student expressing frustration at presence of military recruiters in his high school. A portion of that letter is printed here along with reflections by Risa Wilkinson, a member of the local Oklahoma Committee for Conscientious Objectors (OCCO). The OCCO is currently accessible at the Joy Mennonite Church, (405) 945-1925.

The writer identifies him or herself only as “Freedom Writer” and includes the following remarks in his or her letter to the principal:

As objection to this war has reached record highs, the president wants to send even more troops to Iraq only to come home in body bags. Where do they find such recruits? . . .They send recruiters to high schools to recruit students with few academic opportunities. They advertise free college tuition and signing bonuses that are subject to change without the recruit’s notice . . . They come with their fancy cars and their flashy uniforms promising career opportunities that cannot be upheld.

By letting these military recruiters infiltrate our school cafeterias and classrooms, you are jeopardizing the lives of your students. . . As soon as they graduate, these high school recruits will be sent almost directly to Iraq and yet you do nothing to educate these students on the dangers of entering the service.

. . . You should not let recruiters peddle their b__s___ on the great opportunities the military currently has to offer them . . . (You may read the full text of this letter at www.peacehouseok.org.)

Risa Wilkinson, OCCO member and counselor for the GI Rights Hotline offers the following to Freedom Writer and others who are concerned about on-campus military recruitment.

Q: What are the options for students, parents, or schools who do not want recruiters in area high schools?
In 2002 Pres. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act and as a requirement to get federal funding, schools must hand over student contact lists to military Recruiters. This information includes home phone numbers, addresses. Schools are also required to offer equal campus access to military recruiters as they do to college recruiters. In order for recruiters to be expelled, the school would have to reject federal funding.

Q: What options currently exist to counter the influence of these military recruiters?
Giving military recruiters equal access as college and career recruiters does not mean giving them more access. And alternative options may also be granted equal access. An equal amount of information from opposing sides should be granted. For example, a representative of OCCO could be invited to any school to present non-military options for post-high school graduation, including how to get funding for school without military obligation, including how to find grants. Since many young people join the military in order to travel, OCCO can also provide information on how to affordably travel.

Q. Have OKC Metro schools taken advantage of this option?
I don’t know how many, but I know of at least one area high school that has invited CCO to talk about non military options and the effects of war.

Q. What other venues are suitable for presenting this type of information?
OCCO would be happy to send representatives to churches, peace clubs, community events, or anywhere we might be invited.

Q. What other resources are available?
www.okobjector.org has more information on the No Child Left Behind Act and things you can do about in your area. Veterans for Peace also has some materials.

It is important for parents to know that there is an “opt out” form that they can sign prohibiting schools from giving out their child’s information. Parents who are concerned should certainly do this. However, be aware that recruiters are also gathering information on the internet through blogs, chat rooms, and other popular websites such as Myspace.

The Oklahoma Committee for Conscientious Objectors has plenty of materials and brochures available. Call (405) 945-1925.

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