Are the U.S. and Russian Governments Once Again on the Nuclear Warpath?

February 3, 2015

by Lawrence S. Wittner (Peace Action national board member)

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, “What’s Going On at UAardvark?

A quarter century after the end of the Cold War and decades after the signing of landmark nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements, are the U.S. and Russian governments once more engaged in a potentially disastrous nuclear arms race with one another? It certainly looks like it.

With approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons between them, the United States and Russia already possess about 93 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, thus making them the world’s nuclear hegemons. But, apparently, like great powers throughout history, they do not consider their vast military might sufficient, especially in the context of their growing international rivalry.

Although, in early 2009, President Barack Obama announced his “commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” the U.S. government today has moved well along toward implementing an administration plan for U.S. nuclear “modernization.” This entails spending $355 billion over a ten-year period for a massive renovation of U.S. nuclear weapons plants and laboratories. Moreover, the cost is scheduled to soar after this renovation, when an array of new nuclear weapons will be produced. “That’s where all the big money is,” noted Ashton Carter, recently nominated as U.S. Secretary of Defense. “By comparison, everything that we’re doing now is cheap.” The Obama administration has asked the Pentagon to plan for 12 new nuclear missile-firing submarines, up to 100 new nuclear bombers, and 400 land-based nuclear missiles. According to outside experts and a bipartisan, independent panel commissioned by Congress and the Defense Department, that will bring the total price tag for the U.S. nuclear weapons buildup to approximately $1 trillion.

For its part, the Russian government seems determined to match―or surpass―that record. With President Vladimir Putin eager to use nuclear weapons as a symbol of Russian influence, Moscow is building, at great expense, new generations of giant ballistic missile submarines, as well as nuclear attack submarines that are reportedly equal or superior to their U.S. counterparts in performance and stealth. Armed with nuclear-capable cruise missiles, they periodically make forays across the Atlantic, heading for the U.S. coast. Deeply concerned about the potential of these missiles to level a surprise attack, the U.S. military has already launched the first of two experimental “blimps” over Washington, DC, designed to help detect them. The Obama administration also charges that Russian testing of a new medium-range cruise missile is a violation of the 1987 INF treaty. Although the Russian government denies the existence of the offending missile, its rhetoric has been less than diplomatic. As the Ukraine crisis developed, Putin told a public audience that “Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers,” and foreign nations “should understand it’s best not to mess with us.” Pravda was even more inflammatory. In an article published in November titled “Russia prepares a nuclear surprise for NATO,” it bragged about Russia’s alleged superiority over the United States in nuclear weaponry.

Not surprisingly, the one nuclear disarmament agreement signed between the U.S. and Russian governments since 2003―the New START treaty of 2011―is being implemented remarkably slowly. New START, designed to reduce the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons (the most powerful ones) in each country by 30 percent by 2018, has not led to substantial reductions in either nation’s deployed nuclear arsenal. Indeed, between March and October 2014, the two nations each increased their deployed nuclear forces. Also, they maintain large arsenals of nuclear weapons targeting one another, with about 1,800 of them on high alert―ready to be launched within minutes against the populations of both nations.

The souring of relations between the U.S. and Russian governments has been going on for years, but it has reached a very dangerous level during the current confrontation over Ukraine. In their dealings with this conflict-torn nation, there’s plenty of fault on both sides. U.S. officials should have recognized that any Russian government would have been angered by NATO’s steady recruitment of East European countries―especially Ukraine, which had been united with Russia in the same nation until recently, was sharing a common border with Russia, and was housing one of Russia’s most important naval bases (in Crimea). For their part, Russian officials had no legal basis for seizing and annexing Crimea or aiding heavily-armed separatists in the eastern portion of Ukraine.

But however reckless the two nuclear behemoths have been, this does not mean that they have to continue this behavior. Plenty of compromise formulas exist―for example, leaving Ukraine out of NATO, altering that country’s structure to allow for a high degree of self-government in the war-torn east, and organizing a UN-sponsored referendum in Crimea. And possibilities for compromise also exist in other areas of U.S.-Russian relations.

Failing to agree to a diplomatic settlement of these and other issues will do more than continue violent turmoil in Ukraine. Indeed, the disastrous, downhill slide of both the United States and Russia into a vastly expensive nuclear arms race will bankrupt them and, also, by providing an example of dependence on nuclear might, encourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional nations. After all, how can they succeed in getting other countries to forswear developing nuclear weapons when―47 years after the U.S. and Soviet governments signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which they pledged their own nuclear disarmament―their successors are engaged in yet another nuclear arms race? Finally, of course, this new arms race, unless checked, seems likely to lead, sooner or later, to a nuclear catastrophe of immense proportions.

Can the U.S. and Russian governments calm down, settle their quarrels peacefully, and return to a policy of nuclear disarmament? Let’s hope so.

– See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/158159#sthash.vfbjTQf5.dpuf


More Cowbell? Yeah! More Economic Sanctions on Iran? Nah!

January 30, 2015

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After weeks of rumors, Iran sanctions legislation has materialized in Congress. The philosophy behind the bill is reminiscent of a certain iconic Saturday Night Live sketch.

As you may remember, in the sketch a stern Christopher Walken plays the music producer that eggs on Will Ferrell as the over-exuberant cowbell player. In the studio, Walken declares “I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is … More Cowbell!”. In take after take, the cowbell grows louder and louder. The band members are scratching their heads.

For Congressional Iran hawks the only prescription for fevered relations with Iran is “More Sanctions”. As the clang of “more sanctions” emanates from D.C. and is heard in capitols from London to Berlin, our allies are scratching their heads.

U.S. diplomats have spent long hours in negotiations that are as complex technically as they are politically. They are in a far better position than electeds on Capitol Hill to know whether Congressional action weakens their hand.

Comments from some Senators have displayed a lack of knowledge about how negotiations have already made the world safer. Iran has stopped enriching uranium to the more problematic 20% level, capped overall uranium enrichment, and took steps to neutralize its stocks of 20% enriched uranium.

As importantly, U.S. negotiators got Iran to agree to intrusive inspections – in some cases daily inspections – at nuclear facilities. If Iran wanted to use their programs to build a weapon — a decision that the intelligence community says they have not yet made – it’s stringent inspections, verification, and intelligence that can to prevent that. Congress has crucial role to play in oversight and compliance with any deal and they need turn their focus to that role.

Despite progress, ten hawkish Democratic Senators broke with the President and pledged support for a triggered sanctions bill if there’s no framework deal by March. That’s a slap in the face of U.S. allies after British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the E.U. all spoke against Congressional meddling.

Our allies know that Iranians will be unlikely to make compromises with a negotiating party from a house divided. Why should Iranian pragmatists like President Rouhani drain political capital by making controversial concessions when it looks like Congress could undermine the administration’s promises?

The credo of more-cowbell diplomacy is this: Since sanctions brought Iran to the table more sanctions will result in a stronger deal. It’s the kind of logic that makes sense if you don’t think about it too deeply. Simply upping pressure will not cause a proud nation of 77 million people to knuckle under. Endless sanctions didn’t bring Cuba democracy or eject Saddam Hussein from power.

These Senators are half-right. Years of sanctions against Iran play a role in Iran’s motivation. But during the 2005 to 2013 period of ratcheting up sanctions Iran’s nuclear technology program sped up. Overreliance on sanctions is as responsible for Iran’s nuclear advances as it is for “bringing Iran to the table.”

If a return to a sanctions-first derails negotiations gone will be the daily inspections and rollbacks in enrichment and other nuclear technologies. Iran would then be likely to retaliate by ramping up their programs.

Both of the main Congressional interventions into negotiations are dangerous. The sanctions bill by Senators Kirk and Menendez could cause Iran to walk away from the table. If all the parties stay at the table and finish a deal, the “up-or-down vote” approach championed by Senator Bob Corker could amount to a hyper-politicized veto of a deal. Congress would be vetoing almost the entire international community. Then what? Senator Elizabeth Warren was right when she said this week, “undermining negotiations risks escalation and the possibility of war”.

A solution to the nuclear issue could address a major piece of the Middle East puzzle. As with Nixon’s opening to China, détente around the nuclear issue wouldn’t solve all tensions with Iran. But as China and Russia’s constructive role in current Iran diplomacy proves, smart diplomacy can reap dividends on issues of converging interest — even in the tensest relationships. In just one example, Iran could play a role in addressing the conflict engulfing Syria.

Congress shouldn’t let sanctions monomania blind them to a historic opportunity in the toughest of neighborhoods. If Iran hawks don’t hold their fire and let U.S. negotiators do their jobs, the only thing drowning out the cowbell will be the all-too-familiar drums of war.


Peace Action Op-ed and letter to the editor on Iran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today!

January 21, 2015

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Quite a two-fer, unusual to have an op-ed and letter to the editor in the same paper on the same issue on the same day! Well done Norman and Nina!

Letter to the editor: Imposing new sanctions on Iran would scuttle nuclear program negotiations

To the editor:

Via patient, persistent diplomacy, the Obama administration and its international partners are in the home stretch of negotiations with Iran to resolve concerns over its nuclear program. A framework agreement to ensure Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for lifting punishing U.S. and international economic sanctions, is within reach by the July 1 deadline.

Unfortunately, some senators are now introducing a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran if negotiations fail. This bill will almost certainly scuttle negotiations and lead to calls for military action against Iran. Why would any reasonable person want to risk another Middle East war when a peaceful resolution is possible?

While Senator Portman will vote for sanctions, Senator Sherrod Brown has not yet taken a position. An agreement to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully could well have other benefits in improving U.S.-Iranian economic and political relations, including working together more closely to bring badly needed stability to the region, a key shared interest of the U.S. and Iran.

Senator Brown would be wise to support the President and stand up for diplomacy, not more war.

Nina McLellan,

Shaker Heights

McLellan is Co-President of Cleveland Peace Action.

###

Op-ed: Brown and Portman should not support Iran sanctions that would derail critical nuclear weapons negotiations

Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are fast approaching a major battle — not with Iran, but within the United States.

On one side, the Obama administration has created conditions for productive talks with Iran, with tougher sanctions, an agreement that Iran could continue to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear power, and outreach to a new more moderate Iranian president. The strategy by President Barack Obama is apparently to negotiate a final package that provides far better insurance against Iran developing a nuclear weapon than any obtained during the previous 12 years of futile negotiations. Since polls of Americans (including American Jews) have consistently supported a negotiated solution, the Obama strategy would make it difficult for hard-liners to wreck a reasonable final agreement.

On the other hand, a senatorial challenge is taking shape: A bill which would impose new sanctions if negotiations fail includes a “Sense of Congress” section demanding that Iran “reverse” its development of nuclear infrastructure so that it is “precluded from a nuclear breakout capacity.” Since any peaceful enrichment of uranium or related technology could be considered building “capacity” and thereby could be “precluded,” the clause amounts to a poison pill. The same section of the bill preserves other sanctions unless Iran opens up its military facilities to inspection, improves its human-rights record, and stops supporting Hezbollah and the Syrian government. Thus, the extent of presidential waivers of sanctions could be greatly constrained.

If this bill achieves a veto-proof majority of 67 votes, administration officials believe Iran will consider this a violation of the interim understanding that promised no new sanctions during negotiations. In addition, the bill delays any new sanctions relief for a number of months (per the bill’s timetable), and it indicates to Iran that most sanctions will not be relieved for the foreseeable future. If, as a result, Iran walks away from negotiations, many of our sanctions partners would blame the United States and might resume trade with Iran.

This potential disruption of negotiations is of no concern to many senators who are not interested in any agreement with Iran. Freshman Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas summarized that view, saying that ending the negotiations “isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action; it is very much an intended consequence.” But the biggest problem with this hard-line position is that it takes no account of the consequences of scuttling the negotiations.

First, the gains in security already agreed on under the interim agreement will be canceled. During this interim period, Iran has fully complied with its commitments to freeze its stock of low-enriched uranium, to eliminate or make less usable its stock of higher (20 percent) enriched uranium, to stop construction and alter the design of a plant that could generate plutonium, and to allow more inspections. If the new Senate bill passes and Iran leaves the table, these major concessions would be lost. Worse yet, if negotiations collapse, Iranian leaders have threatened to respond to new sanctions by ratcheting up uranium enrichment. Will the hard-line senators argue that losing the gains already achieved through negotiation and facing a recalcitrant Iran increases the security of the United States or Israel?

Then again, the underlying agenda of some hard-liners is really regime change — using Iran’s refusal to accept draconian terms for relief of sanctions as a justification to bomb Iran. For instance, without repudiation by their parties, a major Republican funder, Sheldon Adelson, proposed dropping nuclear bombs on Iran, and a major Democratic Party donor, Haim Saban, reportedly said he would “bomb the living daylights out of Iran.”

Unfortunately, the possible Iranian reaction to a military attack has been heedlessly downplayed by those who would undermine the negotiations. Iran’s population is three times Iraq’s, is highly nationalistic when it comes to outside attack, is heavily armed and adept at unconventional warfare, has 30,000 American sailors and soldiers within range of its missiles and attack boats, and could temporarily block transport of 20 percent of the world’s oil through the Persian Gulf.

Thus, if hard-liners win this Senate battle with the administration, the result will be far less security for the United States and Israel, and far greater risk of another ruinous trillion-dollar war. Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman should take heed and vote against the new sanctions bill.

Norman Robbins is an emeritus professor at Case Western Reserve University and an Iran consultant for Cleveland Peace Action.


Tell the Senate to support patient, persistent diplomacy with Iran

January 16, 2015

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The U.S. and its international allies are within reach of a peaceful resolution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program look very promising, with a framework agreement likely by March and a final deal possible by a June deadline. You may have seen promising media reports in the last day or two about negotiations in Geneva between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, which is very good news.

However, conservative senators and even some supposed liberals are dead set on imposing new economic sanctions on Iran, which will risk scuttling the talks and putting us on a reckless path toward yet another Middle East war.

Contact your senators today and tell them diplomacy is the only answer, not more sanctions and threats of war.

We stopped sanctions last year, and intend to do it again, but your senators need to hear from you today. The new sanctions bill is scheduled to move through the Senate Banking Committee starting next week, with a full Senate vote expected in February or March. That may sound like we have a bit of time, but, unfortunately, pro-sanctions forces are lobbying hard, and senators may well decide their positions on this issue very soon, so this alert is extremely urgent.

While some senators claim their push for new sanctions is intended to support diplomacy, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) let the cat out of the proverbial bag, stating “The end of negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action; it’s an intended consequence.”

Please take a few minutes to contact your senators today.

This may be one of the most important actions for peace you could take this or any year. After you’ve sent your email to your senators, if you want to do more, please visit our Peace Blog for a target list of Democratic senators and sample letters to the editor for you to write a letter to your local newspaper, still one of the best ways for us to get our views out to a wide audience (and to senators as well, their staffs monitor the letters to the editor pages religiously).

Humbly for Peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – When you go to our action page please take a few minutes to edit the letter to your senators in order to personalize your message.


Promote Peace in the Press! Tell Senate Dems to support diplomacy with Iran, not sanctions and war – Target List and Sample Letters to the Editor

January 15, 2015

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Senate Republicans, aided and abetted by some (even supposedly liberal) Democrats, are dead set on passing legislation to impose new economic sanctions on Iran, which will almost surely scuttle the promising negotiations around Iran’s nuclear program. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will introduce their new sanctions bill next week in the Senate Banking Committee. We stopped new sanctions last year and plan to do it again, but we need Senate Dems to hear loud and clear they must support patient, persistent diplomacy, not more sanctions and a push for another Middle East war.

Below is a target list of Democratic Senators, and then two sample letters to the editor you can use to write a letter to your local paper. Please edit and add your own points, but keep it short and sweet! Also please post any letters you get published on this blog.

Senate Democrats Target List:

Tier 1 – Dems who supported sanctions last Senate (13)

Michael F. Bennet (D-CO)

Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) [BANKING]

Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA)

Christopher Coons (D-DE)

Joe Donnelly (D-IN) [BANKING]

Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY)

Joe Manchin, III (D-WV)

Robert Menendez (D-NJ) [S 1881 Sponsor]  [BANKING]

Gary Peters (D-MI) [New Senator, made strong statement supporting new sanctions]

Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)

Mark R. Warner (D-VA)  [BANKING]

 

Tier 2 – Dems who did not support or oppose sanctions last Senate (14)

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

Sherrod Brown (D-OH) [BANKING]

Al Franken (D-MN)

Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)  [BANKING]

Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI)

Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Edward J. Markey (D-MA)

Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

Jack Reed (D-RI)  [BANKING]

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Jon Tester (D-MT)  [BANKING]

Tom Udall (D-NM)

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

 

Tier 3 – Banking Committee Dems who opposed sanctions last Senate (2)

Jeff Merkley (D-OR) [BANKING]

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) [BANKING]

Please note Democratic senators not listed here are not considered priority targets, mostly because they firmly support continued diplomacy and oppose new sanctions. Senators Boxer and Feinstein from California and Durbin from Illinois, for examples, are in this category, it’s fine to write an attagirl/attaboy letter if you like!

 

Version #1 – Democratic Senator not yet taking a bad position re Iran sanctions or position unclear (Tiers 2 and 3 above)

To the editor:

The Obama Administration and its international partners are in the home stretch of negotiations with Iran to resolve concerns over its nuclear ambitions via patient, persistent diplomacy. A framework agreement to ensure Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for lifting punishing U.S. and international economic sanctions, is within reach over the next few months, and a final deal could be reached by a June deadline.

Some Senators, even some thought to be liberal Democrats, are supporting a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran, which will almost certainly scuttle negotiations and lead to calls for military action against Iran. That’s right, just what we don’t need, another Middle Eastern war!

Senator X has wisely [stood with the president, or not yet announced support for new sanctions] taken the position to give diplomacy a chance. An agreement to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully could well have other benefits in improving U.S.-Iranian economic and political relations, including working together more closely to bring badly needed stability to the region, a key shared interest of the U.S. and Iran.

None of that is likely if new sanctions are imposed by Congress and negotiations with Iran are scrapped. Senator X is wise to stand up for diplomacy, not more war.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]

Version #2 – Democratic Senator supporting increased sanctions on Iran (Tier 1 above)

To the editor;

What is Senator X thinking regarding diplomacy with Iran? He/she is supporting new economic sanctions on Iran, which might well scuttle the negotiations with Iran led by the Obama Administration and the P5 +1 countries (U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China). If the talks, which show great promise of reaching a deal to peacefully resolve concerns over Iran’s nuclear program by this summer, fall apart, Senator X will have helped lay the groundwork for yet another war in the Middle East. Surely the senator must understand this.

The American people [or the people of your state] don’t want another war. Neither do Iranians. Iranian President Rouhani, dealing with his own difficult domestic political constituencies, has floated the idea of taking a prospective nuclear deal to his people via a referendum. What a terrific show of democracy that would be! And it would no doubt win in a landslide. Iranians want an end to the severe economic sanctions crippling their economy and, like the majority of the world’s people, have no use for nuclear weapons.

It’s clear some powerful Iranian hardliners oppose a deal. Why is Senator X making common cause with them, instead of standing with their own party’s president, and the people of [your state]? The Senator needs to hear from [Marylanders, New Yorkers, Michiganders, New Jerseyans etc.] to get on the right side of this issue by supporting diplomacy, not further sanctions and a push toward war.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]


Tell Congress: No Backtracking on Iran Diplomacy

January 9, 2015

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The 114th Congress convened in Washington this week, with many Members eager to express their hawkish foreign policy views, especially when it comes to Iran.

We need your help to explain to Congress why diplomacy matters. Many new Members of Congress are also new to foreign policy. They don’t understand their constituents care about nuclear negotiations with Iran. I often hear from frustrated Congressional staffers that politics gets in the way of policy, meaning that Congress won’t oppose sanctions and support diplomacy unless they hear from us, loud and clear. Let’s flood Capitol Hill with a clear and unwavering pro-diplomacy message!

Peace Action leaders from around the country will converge on Capitol Hill for lobby meetings in just over two weeks, so this is a particularly timely alert. Your emails will help lay the groundwork for that lobbying effort.

Email your Senators today and explain why they must support diplomacy.

Republicans in the Senate have made clear that one of their first orders of business will be to scuttle talks with Iran by passing new sanctions. Unless we act now, these new sanctions would violate the interim nuclear deal, push Iran away from the negotiating table, and put us on the path to war with Iran.

With stakes this high, every single email is important. Can you take a moment right now to email your Senators?

Thank you for your support and action.

 

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – Thank you to our colleagues at Win Without War for helping with this alert.


Celebrating the World War I Christmas Truce, 100 Years Ago This Week

December 22, 2014
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Football Not War! A game during the Christmas Truce, 1914.

 

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

In this season where “Peace on Earth” is often invoked, yet not always honored, remembering and celebrating peace history couldn’t be more appropriate. The story of the astonishing outbreak of the Christmas Truce one hundred years ago this week calls out for celebrating and sharing.

During the first winter of “the war to end all wars,” World War I, French, Belgian, Scottish, German, Indian and Algerian troops stalemated and hunkered down in trenches a mere 75 to 100 yards apart in France and Belgium observed a spontaneous Christmas Truce for two days, much to the consternation of the generals on both sides.

Soldiers who had been shooting at each other just the day before ceased fire, gathered and buried the dead in the no man’s land between their respective lines, sang Christmas carols together, exchanged food, drink and gifts, raised small Christmas trees, and even played football (soccer), with the German side reportedly winning most of the games.

The truce was so successful both sides had to bring up reserve troops from the rear who hadn’t participated in the truce in order to re-start the war. Remarkably, no one was court-martialed for voting with their feet and observing the truce.

I never heard of the Christmas Truce in school. I learned of it from folksinger extraordinaire John McCutcheon’s song “Christmas in the Trenches,” which is well worth a listen for inspiration on the real spirit of the holidays.

An outstanding book on the Christmas Truce is Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. Superbly written and documented, it ably refutes skepticism in some quarters that the truce ever happened. The accounts in newspapers and especially letters to family by troops on both sides are as intimate and touching as you might imagine.

The Christmas Truce was also chronicled in the 2005 film Joyeux Noel.

Unfortunately I missed this film when it played (in September, bad scheduling!) at the AFI Silver Theater two blocks from the Peace Action office here in Silver Spring, but the trailer looks great and I’ll try to find it sometime over the holidays.

As John McCutcheon says, the story of the Christmas Truce needs to be told year round, 365 days a year.

Thank you for your actions for peace, and support of Peace Action.

Peacefully yours,

 

Kevin Martin

Executive Director


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