On April 4, 2020, my friend Steve Kelly will begin a third year of imprisonment in Georgia’s Glynn County jail. He turned 70 while in prison, and while he has served multiple prison sentences for protesting nuclear weapons, spending two years in a county jail is unusual even for him. Yet he adamantly urges supporters to focus attention on the nuclear weapons arsenals which he and his companions aim to disarm. "The nukes are not going to go away by themselves," says Steve.
The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 now await sentencing for their action, performed two years ago inside the Kings Bay Trident Submarine base in southern Georgia. They acted in concert with many others who take literally the Scriptural call to "beat swords into plowshares." Commenting on their case, Bill Quigley, a member of their legal team, told me "their actions speak louder than their words and their words are very powerful." Bill encourages us to remember each of them in our thoughts, prayers, and, hopefully, through our actions. "The legal system is not big enough for the hearts, minds and spirits of these folks," he adds. "The legal system tries to concentrate all of this down to whether you cut a fence or sprayed some blood." Bill believes we should instead look at the impending disaster nuclear weapons could cause, and the continuing disaster they do cause by wasting crucially needed resources to potentially destroy the planet.
The 2003 “shock and awe” bombing of Iraq had finally stopped. From the balcony of my room in Baghdad’s Al Fanar Hotel, I watched U.S. Marines moving between their jeeps, armored personnel carriers, and Humvees. They had occupied the street immediately in front of the small, family-owned hotel where our Iraq Peace Team had been living for the past six months. Looking upward, a US Marine could see enlarged vinyl photos of beautiful Iraqi children strung across balconies of our fifth-floor rooms. We silently stood on those balconies when the US Marines arrived in Baghdad, holding signs that said “War = Terror” and “Courage for Peace, Not for War.” When she first saw the Marine’s faces, Cynthia Banas commented on how young and tired they seemed. Wearing her “War Is Not the Answer” T-shirt, she headed down the stairs to offer them bottled water.
From my balcony, I saw Cathy Breen, also a member of the Iraq Peace Team, kneeling on a large canvas artwork entrusted to us by friends from South Korea. It depicts people suffering from war. Above the people, like a sinister cloud, is a massive heap of weapons. We unrolled it the day the Marines arrived and began to “occupy” this space. Marines carefully avoided driving vehicles over it. Sometimes they would converse with us. Below, Cathy read from a small booklet of daily Scripture passages. A US Marine approached her, knelt down, and apparently asked to pray with her. He placed his hands in hers.
My friend Marianne Goldscheider, who is 87, suffered a broken hip in July, 2018 and then, in June 2019, it happened again. When she broke her hip the first time, she was running, with her son, on a football field. After the second break, when she fell in her kitchen, she recalls her only desire as she was placed on a stretcher. "I just wanted ‘the right pill,’" she says. She wished she could end her life. Marianne says her Catholic friends, who live nearby in the New York Catholic Worker community, persuaded her not to give up. They’ve long admired her tenacity, and over the years many have learned from her history as a survivor of the Nazi regime who was forced to flee Germany. Recalling her entry to the United States, Marianne jokes she may have been one of the only displaced persons who arrived in the United States carrying her skis. Yet she also carried deep anxieties, the "angst," she says, of her generation. She still wonders about German people in the military and the aristocracy who knew Hitler was mad and, yet, didn’t try to stop him. "When and how," she wonders, "do human beings get beyond all reasoning?"
Marianne is deeply disturbed by the madness of maintaining nuclear weapons arsenals and believes such weapons threaten planetary survival. She worries that, similar to the 1930s, citizens of countries possessing nuclear weapons sleepwalk toward utter disaster.
Hossein, a member of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, (APV), which hosted my recent visit to Afghanistan, rolled up his sleeve to show me a still-healing three-inch wound. Thieves had broken into his family home in Kabul. When they were discovered, one of the robbers stabbed Hossein.
An APV coordinator, Zekerullah, was robbed and beaten by assailants in broad daylight. Ata Khan lost his camera and mobile phone to a gang of young thieves who accosted him and eight other people in a public park during the daytime. Habib, a recent young graduate of the APV Street Kids School program, suffered blows from several attackers a month ago.
“I didn’t have anything they wanted to take,” he said, assuring me he is OK even though his lower back, where they beat him, is still sore.
Attacks like these – which all happened within the last six months – are predictable in a chaotic war-torn city that absorbs new refugees every day. Some have been forced off their land by drought and food scarcity, while others flee the terror of violence carried out by various warring parties, including the United States. In 2018, the United States dropped 7,632 bombs on Afghanistan, more than any other full calendar year since the U.S. Air Force began documenting its attacks in 2006.
On January 27th, 2019, the Taliban and the US government each publicly stated acceptance, in principle, of a draft framework for ongoing negotiations that could culminate in a peace deal to end a two-decade war in Afghanistan.
As we learn more about the negotiations, it’s important to remember others working toward dialogue and negotiation in Afghanistan. Troublingly, women’s rights leaders have not, thus far, been invited to the negotiating table. But several have braved potential persecution to assert the importance of including women in any framework aiming to create peace and respect human rights.
A young medical graduate student told me she was deprived of schooling during the Taliban era. “If government doesn’t protect women’s basic rights,” she said, “we could lose access to health care and education.”
On November 28, sixty-three U.S. Senators voted in favor of holding a floor debate on a resolution calling for an end to direct US Armed Forces involvement in the Saudi-UAE coalition-led war on Yemen. Describing the vote as a rebuke to Saudi Arabia and the Trump Administration, AP reported on Senate dissatisfaction over the administration’s response to Saudi Arabia’s brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi last month. Just before the Senate vote, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called current objections to US relations with Saudi Arabia "Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on."
The "caterwaul" on Capitol Hill reflects years of determined effort by grassroots groups to end US involvement in war on Yemen, fed by mounting international outrage at the last three years of war that have caused the deaths of an estimated 85,000 Yemeni children under age five.
When children waste away to literally nothing while fourteen million people endure conflict-driven famine, a hue and cry – yes, a caterwaul – most certainly should be raised, worldwide.