Field Director Judith Le Blanc in the NYT on Pentagon spending

March 10, 2014

Peace Action’s Field Director Judith Le Blanc had a letter to the editor on Pentagon spending published in yesterday’s New York Times. It was part of a “Sunday Dialogue” on the issue, including our colleagues Bill Hartung and Bob Naiman as well. Kudos to all three!

Photo

CreditAndrew Holder
 

Readers discuss what kind of armed forces we need to face the threats of the 21st century.

To the Editor:

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s plan to reduce the size of the Army is a step in the right direction. It underscores the fact that waging a large-scale ground war in Iraq and a major counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan were tragic mistakes that should not be repeated.

Critics of the proposal will argue that it will hobble our ability to wage two ground wars at once, without acknowledging that it was not in our interest to do so in the early 2000s and will not be in our interest to do so in the foreseeable future, if ever. This is particularly true with respect to the current situation in Ukraine, where it makes no sense for the United States to take military action regardless of the size of our armed forces.

I hope that Mr. Hagel’s move will set off a larger debate: What kind of armed forces do we need to face the most likely threats of the 21st century?

Given that the most urgent threats we face, from climate change to cyberattacks, cannot be solved with military force, we should substantially downsize our armed forces across the board and invest some of the resulting savings in diplomacy, targeted economic assistance and other nonmilitary foreign policy tools.

WILLIAM D. HARTUNG
New York, March 4, 2014

The writer is director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

Readers React

Mr. Hartung poses an important question — what sort of armed forces do we need to deal with 21st-century threats to the United States? — and leaps to unwarranted conclusions in trying to provide an answer.

His assertion that it will not be in our interest to wage simultaneous large ground wars “in the foreseeable future, if ever” is particularly brazen. Can he state with confidence that the complex and evolving geopolitics of this century will not produce a situation in which the United States must take on two large adversaries at once? I might on the contrary suggest that the relative decline of America, along with the rise of China and other assertive new powers, makes such a situation increasingly plausible.

Mr. Hartung claims that the most significant threats of the present and future, “from climate change to cyberattacks, cannot be solved with military force.” It is true that larger numbers of soldiers will not solve these problems. But dealing with cyberattacks, for example, requires not a diminution of military forces but a repurposing of those forces to take on new foes in new ways.

Climate change is not in itself a military problem, but science tells us that it will likely lead to a world of overstretched resources, increased natural disasters and displaced populations — a world, that is, in which wars and conflicts are ever more likely to break out. This is not a convincing argument for a reduction in the armed forces.

It is common sense to think about the future security challenges we face, and how best to adapt to them; but it is nonsense to assume that, in the 21st century, we no longer have to worry about land wars and threats of a more traditional nature.

DAVID A. McM. WILSON
Brookline, Mass., March 5, 2014

Continue reading the main story

The true issue that should be addressed is not whether we can fight one small war or two but rather, under our nation’s current financial constraints, whether we can continue to afford our existing military establishment. If we opt for the quick solution of fewer “boots on the ground,” it will simply further reduce our capability to respond militarily in settings varying from local weather disasters to major geopolitical conflicts.

What is really required is an attack by the Defense Department on the gross overlapping of military responsibilities, and the concomitant bureaucratic conflicts, delays and simple waste of scarce financial and human resources.

Numerous obvious opportunities exist. Does the Army treat wounds differently from the Navy? Does a chaplain say Mass differently in the Air Force? Are the rules for procurement different? If not, why are these functions not consolidated?

Indeed, does there remain any logic, other than simple hubris, for separate services?

FRANKLIN L. GREENE
Loudon, Tenn., March 5, 2014

The writer is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.

I agree that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s plan to draw down the Army is a step in the right direction. As Mr. Hartung says, the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were catastrophic mistakes that should not be repeated, so there is no reason to keep the Army at its current size.

But even if we did repeat those mistakes in the future — sadly, not a wholly implausible prospect, given that less than 30 years separated the fall of Saigon from our invasion of Afghanistan — that possibility would still not be an argument for keeping the Army at its present size. Historically, we’ve drawn down our forces after wars, without thinking that we weren’t going to have similar wars in the future. When we decided to go to war again, we increased the size of the Army again.

ROBERT NAIMAN
Policy Director, Just Foreign Policy
Urbana, Ill., March 5, 2014

The proposed reduction in troop levels could be the beginning of a new direction of American foreign policy by reducing our capacity for ground wars and occupations. If the reductions were enacted, it would restrict future presidents from pursuing land wars, which would be welcomed by a war-weary public.

Unfortunately, the debate over reducing troop levels is usually derailed by fear mongering on national security. Never has the argument supporting troop reductions been stronger.

The Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon’s strategy document, issued this month, outlines an approach that relies on multilateral military actions, with allies as partners in addressing security issues or natural disasters.

National security and most pressing global issues, such as the climate crisis or cyberattacks or civil conflicts, cannot be solved through military action, or through the action of one country alone. Multilateral action and cooperation are crucial. The situation in Ukraine is yet another example of that reality.

JUDITH LE BLANC
New York, March 5, 2014

The writer is the field director for Peace Action.

Mr. Hartung asks, “What kind of armed forces do we need to face the most likely threats of the 21st century?”

If this had been asked a hundred years ago, in March 1914, what would the answer have been? No one knew that World War I would soon break out, nor could anyone have anticipated World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan or any other military actions that we have been involved in.

Besides, unanticipated world events that changed our military needs have arisen without warning, or our ability to control them — the Communist revolutions in Russia and China, the violent tensions in the Middle East. Is there any reason to think that war game policy planners can find the answer to Mr. Hartung’s question today?

Do we still wish to be a world power, and, if so, what defines that role today and tomorrow? This is what we need to ask before we determine the new size of our armed forces.

HOWARD SCHNEIDERMAN

Easton, Pa., March 5, 2014

The writer is a professor of sociology at Lafayette College.

The Writer Responds

The responses strike a good balance in asking not just how large our armed forces should be, but also how we should prepare for an uncertain future and what role the United States should play in the world.

Mr. Wilson asserts that it is “increasingly plausible” that the United States might have to fight two large adversaries at once. But he does not say who those adversaries might be. No American leader would be reckless enough to engage in a land war against Russia or China, and there are no other large adversaries on the horizon.

Mr. Schneiderman points out that it is extremely hard to predict the next war. But the most damaging and costly American wars of the past half century — Vietnam and Iraq — should have never been fought. Opponents of these conflicts rightly predicted that they would have disastrous consequences. And as Mr. Naiman indicates, the United States has increased the size of our forces at times of war rather than keeping the Army on a permanent war footing between conflicts. Uncertainty is not a valid reason for giving the Pentagon nearly half a trillion dollars a year.

American foreign policy needs to move beyond a narrow focus on military solutions and invest more in civilian institutions and programs that can help address pressing problems like extreme poverty, climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons. The United States can’t be the world’s policeman, but it can be a leader in addressing the most urgent threats to America and the world.

WILLIAM D. HARTUNG
New York, March 6, 2014


“On the Morning, April 4, Shots Ring Out in the Memphis Sky…” MLK Jr. on this date in 1967 and 1968

April 4, 2013

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Today marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A sad anniversary for sure, but also an occasion to recall and be inspired anew by one of the most ardent champions of nonviolence, social justice and peace this profoundly violent, warmongering, unjust country has ever known.

Exactly one year before his death, at Riverside Church in New York City, King delivered one of his greatest speeches, “Beyond Vietnam: A time to Break the Silence,” which remains for me one of the strongest clarion calls against war I’ve ever encountered. You can read the speech or listen to the audio here.

There are so many highlights of the speech for me, but two always stick in my mind, King’s accurate depiction of the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” (still true) and his assertion that the Vietnamese must view Americans as “strange liberators.” Were he alive today he would surely say the same of the Iraqi and Afghan people, no?

And perhaps the most enduring message for me is King’s denunciation of the “giant triplets” – racism, extreme materialism and militarism – which continue, 46 years hence, to plague on our society.

King’s impact is immeasurable, and touches so many people in so many fields, including not just politics or organizing but culture and especially music, which has a unique ability to stir peoples’ emotions (as King himself knew as a preacher!) Here are some moving musical tributes to King:

Nina Simone’s “Why (The King of Love is Dead)” (from a King tribute concert)

Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Motel in Memphis”

Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain”

U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

If you want to stoke your anger or righteous indignation at King’s murder, here are two articles in the independent media today on the subject of the conspiracy to kill King:

How the Government Killed Martin Luther King, Jr. by Carl Gibson

The Conspiracy to Kill to Kill MLK: Not a Theory but a Fact by Ira Chernus


On Inauguration/MLK Holiday, thoughts on our society’s “Triple Evils”

January 21, 2013

Lead article today on Foreign Policy in Focus. Would love your comments regarding our nation’s progress on Dr. King’s triple evils of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.

–Kevin

What Would King Say of the Obama Era?

By Kevin Martin, January 21, 2013

martin-luther-king-barack-obamaThe coincidence that the presidential inauguration should fall on Martin Luther King Day provides much food for thought. Certainly, Barack Obama’s decision to use King’s Bible for his swearing-in ceremony invites progressives to make an unflattering comparison between the two—Norman Solomon did it quite well with his piece “King: I Have a Dream. Obama: I Have a Drone.”

But beyond simply castigating the years behind us or prognosticating about the years to come, there is a broader, riper opportunity in this coincidence. Let’s challenge our society to look at how well we are addressing what King called the “giant triplets,” or the “triple evils,” of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism, which he enunciated most notably in his April 4, 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, exactly one year before his murder. “When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people,” he thundered, “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Were King alive today, he would be astonished to see how much more exploitative our capitalist system has become. Witness the demise of American labor unions, the offshoring of middle-class jobs to low-wage countries to maximize corporate profits, the worst income inequality since the rober baron heyday of the 1920s, and our ongoing addiction to planet-destroying, unsustainable, and finite energy sources. Not coincidentally, the corporate takeover of our government—accelerated by the Supreme Court’s disastrous “Citizens United” ruling—would likely outrage King, as it ought to all Americans.

And while there certainly are some positive, glass-half-full indicators of racial harmony that we can be proud of—much higher rates of interracial marriage being a significant one, to say nothing of the reelection of America’s first black president—there are many more devastating facts that can’t be ignored. There are more black men in prison than in college, surely one of our country’s greatest shames. Wealth inequality, a more comprehensive measurement of economic health for an individual or family, is even worse for people of color than income inequality, which itself remains sky-high. Our failed policies on immigration, the war on drugs, persistent racial profiling—one could go on and on about the challenges of our deeply rooted sickness of racism.

Even President Obama’s two election victories and the visceral reaction to them are instructive. In 2012 Obama got less than 40 percent of the white vote, and in 2008 just a little more—meaning John McCain and Mitt Romney, two of the worst major party nominees in recent memory (and that’s saying something!) got a lot of votes just for being white. And the hysterical right-wing “We want our country back…” often means “…from that black guy in the White House.”

Meanwhile, most Americans remain in deep denial about the evil of militarism. By any measure, the United States is still, as King termed it in 1967, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” and to further quote and appropriate King’s terrific phrase, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan must doubtless see U.S. troops as “strange liberators,” just as the Vietnamese did.

The United States is military colossus unmatched in history, spending almost as much on war and weapons as the rest of the world’s countries combined. We’re far and away the globe’s number-one arms dealer, and maintain somewhere close to 1,000 foreign military bases (even the Pentagon can’t give a precise number). For comparison’s sake, China just recently opened its first foreign base in the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles.

War has become normalized; ask anyone under the age of 20 if they can remember a time we weren’t at war.

Then there is our domestic culture of violence, which has too many manifestations to name. Our out-of-control gun violence, violence against women and LGBT persons and children, our startlingly violent movies and video games, and our incessant use of war and battle metaphors is just a start.

An extreme example of our country’s delusion about guns and violence was provided recently by Larry Ward, chairman of the “Gun Rights Appreciation Day” planned for inaugural weekend. When challenged about the irony of holding such an event on the MLK holiday weekend, Ward said he thought the event would “honor the legacy of Dr. King,” adding that if African-Americans had had guns, slavery might not have existed in this country. Brevity prevents a full deconstruction of these absurdities, but Ward evidently forgot that King was murdered with a gun.

Clearly the triple evils run deep in our society and don’t just stand alone. They are interlocking and mutually reinforcing.  U.S. military and foreign policy is manifestly racist (dating at least to the genocide of First Nations peoples), and mostly driven by corporate interests bound up in economic exploitation. Economic exploitation obviously has a strong racial component as well.

But the point of all this is not to concede defeat to King’s giant triplets—the point is to stimulate analysis, reflection, and ideas for action to address and overcome them. Racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all human constructs, after all. We are not powerless before any of them.

For example, the Pentagon budget, while gargantuan, will soon begin to decline due to budgetary pressures and the end of the disastrous Iraq and Afghanistan wars. We can begin to rebuild by pushing for deeper cuts to Pentagon pork and putting the savings to work by investing in our communities. Moreover, creating a U.S. foreign and military policy based on widely held values of democracy, diplomacy, human rights, justice, sustainability, peace, and international cooperation—in short, a foreign policy for the global 99 percent—is not only possible; it’s the only antidote to our disease of militarism.

So as we celebrate Dr. King’s 84th birthday, let’s rededicate ourselves to building the Beloved Community he so clearly envisioned. Dismantling the triple evils and replacing them with positive structures and policies would be a great start.

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Kevin Martin has served as Executive Director of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund since September 4, 2001, and has worked with the organization in various capacities since 1985. Peace Action is the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 90,000 members nationwide.


Thanks to Veterans Who Struggle for Peace – Please Add Your Favorite Veterans to This List

November 9, 2012

 

Veterans Day, also Remembrance Day and Armistice Day, is this Sunday, with the Monday holiday observance. The mainstream message we usually hear is thanks to veterans and to troops serving now for “protecting our freedoms” or something along those lines, which as a peace activist gives me pause. Of course I respect and honor the sacrifice of those who serve in the military, but “protecting our freedoms” is, and has often been, more honestly “projecting U.S. power abroad” or “overthrowing governments we don’t like in favor of corporate interests” or “killing an awful lot of people for absolutely no good reason.”

 

So, when I think of the veterans I cherish and respect, it is mostly those who have dedicated themselves to the struggle for peace and social justice because they’ve seen firsthand the horror, futility, waste and stupidity of war. Here are some of my favorite vets, please add yours to the list:

 

My Dad, Paul Martin (Air Force, radio technician, lucky for him and for me, he served in between the Korean and Vietnam Wars)

 

My Uncle, Randall Quinn, who just passed away two weeks ago. His time as a pilot in the Air Force led to his career as a commercial airline pilot and a lifelong love of flying. Neither my Dad nor my Uncle ever romanticized their time in the service, and they never tried to recruit my brothers or me to the military, for which I was and am grateful.

 

My Cousin, Ted Lyon, US Army (luckily he never saw combat)

 

Howard Zinn, WW II

 

Kurt Vonnegut, WW II

 

Lester Schlossberg, WW II, decorated in the European theater and devout opponent of war thereafter

 

Bob Cleland, WW II, decorated in Pacific theater. Bob was on a troop ship to Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He didn’t take the position that “the A-Bomb saved his life,” he dedicated his life to peace and nuclear disarmament.

 

Lane Evans, former US Congress Member from Illinois and one of the most pro-peace members of Congress when he served from 1983-2007. Vietnam era vet (never saw combat, was a Marine supply sergeant in the Pacific)

 

David Cortright, Vietnam era vet and rabble rouser – his book, Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance in the Vietnam War is a must read regarding the anti-war movement of soldiers in the ‘60s, which he helped lead

 

Barry Romo, Vietnam vet and leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a smart and tireless advocate for peace and for veterans, and an awfully sweet man

 

Ray Parrish, Vietnam vet who dedicated himself to “counter-recruitment” and counseling vets and prospective recruits on conscientious objection and other issues

 

Admiral Eugene Carroll, one of the nicest men one could ever hope to meet, and a terrific analyst of US military policy

 

General Robert Gard, one of the best retired military leaders we have today in terms of advocating more peaceful and sane policies

 

Eric Swanson, our Database Manager here at Peace Action since the mid-90’s

 

Gregory McDonald, Iraq vet (Marine) who volunteered at Peace Action in 2002 before the war started. He was against the war but thought he had to go, that he couldn’t let down the others in his unit. He wanted to learn Arabic, gain some experience in the region, and help bring peace to the Middle East. I and others tried to counsel him to declare conscientious objector status, but he couldn’t see his way clear to do that. He died in Iraq in a vehicle accident.

 

Michael McPhearson, first Iraq War, formerly of Veterans for Peace, now with United for Peace and Justice, a steadfast, patient, wise and gentle leader, a healer, a builder

 

Erik Gustafson, first Iraq War, tireless advocate for peace and reconciliation with and for the people of Iraq

 

Will Hopkins, Iraq vet, Director of New Hampshire Peace Action, who speaks so clearly and convincingly of the horrors he saw and participated in in Fallujah, Iraq, and how peace activism became his calling and his home

 

John Heuer of North Carolina Peace Action, a great movement builder

 

Maggie Martin, Iraq vet, a leader of Veterans for Peace and for the movement on the right to heal for returning soldiers

 

Aaron Hughes, Iraq vet, a strong leader in Iraq Veterans Against the War, one of the main organizers of the moving and powerful veterans demonstration at last May’s NATO Summit in Chicago, where dozens of veterans of the “Global War on Terror” threw away their service medals

 

Ellen Barfield, a veteran with a tireless commitment to nonviolence and alliance building

 

Matt Southworth, Iraq vet, now with the Friends Committee on National Legislation

 

Bradley Manning, in prison for trying to help tell the truth about our awful wars

 

And lastly, a non-veteran but someone who works to help heal veterans, my brother, Kris Martin, a psychologist at the VA hospital in the Bronx (meaning unfortunately he has a job for life, with all of the psychological trauma we’ve inflicted on our veterans from our endless war-making)

 

I’m sure I’ve left some folks out, for which I’m sorry.

 

Who are your favorite veterans you are thankful for? We’ll need to do another list of those who went to jail to resist war, won’t we? They deserve our thanks every bit as much.


Mitt Romney sounded like Gandhi last night, and Au Revoir to a true man of peace

October 23, 2012

Mitt Romney sure mentioned the word “peace” an awful lot in the last presidential debate Monday night. While my take is that he did so in a pretty cynical way, trying to make folks think he is less of a dangerous guy than he really is, it was interesting, and I think good sign, perhaps counterintutively.

Now I don’t for a moment want Mitt Romney to be president. His proposals to amp up Pentagon spending, his hawkish views regarding Iran, his desire to build up U.S. nuclear forces instead of reducing them, his kowtowing to Bibi Netanyahu and conservative Jews in the U.S., to name just a few policies that are out of whack with the interests of the American people, speak much more loudly than his kumbaya-ing last night.

However, it’s clear that Romney and his campaign handlers want to at least appear to be breaking with some of the policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (and with some of his own previous bellicose positions), to appear kinder and gentler, more acceptable as a possible commander in chief. And even if it was cynical, the fact that he thought he had to appear to be more of a peacenik is a good sign. “Peace” shouldn’t be a dirty word in presidential campaigns, especially in a country nearly always at war (and where the current Nobel Peace Prize-winning president presides over drone strikes to get folks on a “kill list,” yet who is also talking like he wants his second term to be more peaceful, many contradictions with his current policies notwithstanding).

I guess for me it comes down to being somewhat surprised, but glad, that the two main presidential candidates are talking about peace, even when we know their policies don’t live up to their words. Peace is one of the values that human beings hold dearest, but it shouldn’t be used cynically. And of course our job is to hold them accountable to actually carrying out more peaceful policies after the election.

How did you react to Romney’s peace prose last night? Please share your thoughts and feelings.

Remember the last true peace candidate for president (of the “major” parties that is)? Senator George McGovern passed away at the age of 90 over the weekend. I couldn’t add anything to this moving tribute by William Greider at The Nation, so I won’t try, except to say he was the first candidate I can remember. My mom volunteered for him, and in the straw poll in my 5th grade class (I think it was 5th grade), I may have been the only McGovern “supporter.” Rest in peace, good man, and thanks for all your peace-and-justice-mongering and truth-telling. Would that we had some leaders like you today.


RIP, Dagmar Wilson, Co-founder of Women Strike for Peace

January 24, 2011

I never met Dagmar Wilson (more’s the pity for me), but I knew her name and her work, and she touched my life, and those of many others, in a profound way.

She helped found Women Strike for Peace, which protested nuclear weapons testing in 1961 (the year before I was born!) and later the Viet Nam War. Women Strike for Peace played an absolutely key role (along with the organization that begat Peace Action, the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy or SANE) in mobilizing popular support to end above-ground nuclear testing, and generally challenging the insanity of the Cold War nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Today’s very good Washington Post obituary called her “A mother who took a stand for peace,” what a great tribute!  Dagmar Wilson, also an author of children’s books, died January 6 at age 94. Rest In Peace, Dearest Dagmar.


Iraq Toll

December 5, 2007

Those killed in Iraq from Nov 25 to Dec 1

Spc Benjamin Garrison  25  Houston TX

Pvt Isaac Cortes  26  Bronx NY

Cpl Allen Roberts  21  Arcola IL

Sgt John Tobiason  42  Wichita KS

Cpl Blair Emery  24  Lee ME

Spc Matthew Reece  24  Harrison AR

248 Iraqi sisters and brothers were killed.

Cf:   www.icasualties.org


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