2016: Resolve to End the War on Civilians

Dear Virtual Editor,

Fair notice to readers:  For the year 2016, with only occasional digressions, this space will be devoted to raising awareness about the generally accepted practice of killing and displacing civilians— particularly in war, particularly in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and particularly by western nations and their allies.  Fake News Service (FNS) reports will seldom be relied upon, though I shall from time to time try to treat even this grim subject with some degree of humour.  I have learned that this is essential to maintaining one’s sanity when discussing senseless violence.  But the posts will reference largely uncontroverted facts.

“Raising awareness” is often a catchphrase these days for a meaningless activity.  Once we are “aware”, then what?  Act. We will talk about that, but first things first—  Information. Following this introduction, we will learn about when and how killing civilians first became an accepted practice in warfare and how it has come to be accepted as a non-issue.  We will attempt to untangle the hopeless web of Middle East alliances, and examine some of the history of Afghanistan. We will not overlook the violence against civilians in Israel and the Occupied Territories. I will tell you something about terrorism that no political figure of any stripe has yet had the courage to say. Finally, we will look at better policies and how we might promote them.

As this story unfolds, I hope readers will comment, especially if they believe I have a fact wrong. I will not clutter the narrative with citations but I retain source materials. It is also perfectly acceptable to contest my conclusions— reasonably and respectfully.  I know that Taylor Swift spoke the truth, as anyone who scans the comment section on news stories can readily see. Haters, however, won’t be allowed space to hate here. If you know any, pray for them and perhaps make a referral to a qualified mental health professional.

Why the West?

This is important. I will explain here once why the focus will be on the part played by the West in killing and displacing civilians.  There is no need to tell me how bad the other guys are. I know that.  My position is the same I have held since I learned it from Joan Baez in 1969:  There is no “good” violence and “bad” violence. There is only violence, and it is all bad.

The reason I will focus on western violence is that the killing and displacement of families is being done in my name. There is plenty of violence to go around, to be sure. It makes little difference to the father and mother pulling the mangled body of their child from the rubble whether the child was killed by a Syrian government barrel bomb, an ISIS booby trap, a Canadian CF-18 fighter jet, or a US drone.  Neither are the parents likely to be comforted that measures are taken to minimize this “collateral damage”, or that the “bad guys” are way ahead in the current slaughter count.

But whether that child was killed in my name matters to me.  When people of my ilk protested the killing of civilians in the failed US attempt to preserve post-WWII colonialism in Vietnam, they often heard the retort: Tell it to Hanoi. But Hanoi was not killing people in our name. Washington was.  Today, we must again tell it to Washington.  We must tell Washington to reject the message of the armed and fearful shown here. We must tell Washington not only to accept refugees but also to stop doing its part to create new ones.

Say No to Syrian RefugeesAnd Canadians must tell it to Ottawa. Canada today finds herself once again under pressure from a powerful patron to fight in another futile military adventure.  Once again, as has been the case in the past wars of the US and the UK, Canada is ambivalent, going along reluctantly. Her new government has promised to end Canadian air strikes but that has not yet happened and there is pressure to renege. The government, as many past governments have, is seeking alternative activities to support the US. But the military mindset still dominates.  Yet there is hope. Unlike cowardly US governor’s, Canada’s leadership has welcomed Syrian refugees. That is a good start, but it makes no sense to continue helping to create new ones.  I will no doubt have strong disagreements with newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I already do.  But he has expressed a desire to commit more resources to humanitarian projects. I urge my fellow Canadians to express their support at this critical time.

War doesn’t work— and it costs money

It is quite clear that no one can raise awareness and spur action about the plight of civilians through emotional appeals to our humane instincts.  SPCA ads showing the half-starved dog pacing the pen and looking up with pleading eyes may be a somewhat effective fund raising tool.  Ads showing a small child holding a bowl of gruel, with flies gathering on her face may lead to some help.  Both appeals are worthwhile. But emotional appeals have limits and will work only marginally well to save some dogs and some children from abuse and death.  Also, unlike refugees, the dog and the little girl are not competing against a propaganda message that they are somehow a threat to the God-fearing citizens of Alabama.  Individual stories are important, to be sure I will use a story of human tragedy in the next post.   But in truth, most of us really don’t care.  We are simply unable to picture our own children blown apart, drowning, or at best making it to a squalid refugee camp.  It is ending the reliance on war, not $19 a month to the Christian Children’s Fund that will save innocent civilians.

The most effective means of making this point may be through a good old capitalist cold-blooded cost-benefit analysis.  Let’s start with WWI. Remember, the war that would make the world safe for democracy? That’s the one that we will see legitimize killing civilians. It also gave the world the guidebook for production of fear propaganda. 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the year that conflict should have been recognized for the petty imperial contest it was and halted.  Instead, it is likely to be another year when its tragic legacy is celebrated.

US Military PolicyMore than 50 years ago, Abraham Maslow captured the essence of western foreign policy:  If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. He might have said that yesterday.  It seems that all that vaunted democracy can produce is leaders, covered by an equally unimaginative media, who ponderously ponder whether ISIS can be bombed into submission or whether it will require that tedious cliché, “boots on the ground” and if so, whose boots?  That’s it. That’s all they’ve got. To the current wielder of the world’s biggest hammer, everything indeed looks like a nail.  In the Middle East and Afghanistan however, the exercise is not carpentry but is instead a giant game of whack-a-mole.  And so, civilians continue to die.

What if we evaluated this policy from a business perspective? Picture, if you will, an all-powerful corporation. The board is meeting in 1918, the year WWI ended, to fashion corporate policy for achieving the company’s goal:  The safety of citizens in western nations. The chair:

Gentlemen, we have 100 years to achieve our objective. We have tens of millions of human lives and thousands of billions of dollars to spend. We have a sound operational plan that includes identifying enemies and destroying them, identifying and supporting people who are either friendly to us or unfriendly to our enemies, no matter what they do to their own people.  With this plan and these resources, I see no reason we cannot accomplish our goal on time and on budget. By 2018, the people of the West will have nothing to fear.

We now have two years to go.  Do you feel safe?  Will you feel safe in two years?  If not, was there another company plan that got voted down?  Any chance of updating and trying that one?  Might it be implemented on a smaller human and financial budget?

You and I know that if this corporate scenario were real, long before 2016 the shareholders would have sacked the CEO, CFO, and the entire board of directors. But, you see, it is real.  The only difference is that the corporation is a conglomerate of governments and commercial interests.

Hearing those in power pompously pronounce that those who seek a path to safety other than war are naive, never fails to bring a smile. How naïve is throwing more good lives and good money into a failed plan will one day make the world safe for what they choose to call democracy?  The only real argument they can muster seems to be that there is some dominant celestial force that will forever ensure that wars, like the poor, are always with us.  It might be well to consider the reminder from Canadian journalist Linda McQuaig that this was also once just as strongly deemed to be an eternal truth about dueling and slavery.

A Picture of Where We Are Now?

Saving this New Year’s resolution from the fate of most others will not be easy.

Arnold-Schwarzenegger-in-Command-Center-Branding-in-AsiajpgYou may have seen a TV video game ad that ran ad nauseam during the Christmas season. You know, the time we mark the birth of the Prince of Peace. It illustrates how easy it would be to laugh at the war makers, if they did not represent such a pervasive mindset. In the ad, a washed up body builder, actor, and former governor strides forcefully forward in full US army dress green uniform with a chest full of ribbons and medals. (Veterans will note that the insignia are fake, hopefully an indication of the absence of army cooperation. Also, the ribbons and medals that do appear real are incorrectly placed. The fake CIB goes on the top, Arnold, not the bottom.)  He is flanked by what looks like a couple of rejects from the East German Stasi. After delivering a rousing call to arms, he hits a button (I am not kidding) on his smart phone and things start blowing up everywhere. In spite of the devastation, the ad depicts no casualties, military or civilian.  Viewers are urged to download “Mobile Strike” from the “ahap store”. There, in a nutshell, or bombshell, you have the US understanding of war.  The game will probably sell millions.

Whether because you are one of the few who can in fact picture your own loved ones killed or uprooted or because you are a clear-thinking business person, I invite you to examine the story of civilian casualties for the last 100 years and consider whether comparatively speaking, there might be a somewhat better way.  I apologize for restating some matters that have appeared in earlier posts. Saving some civilians in 2016 will require considering those matters again. It will also require patience and perseverance.

God bless everyone— no exceptions.  Happy New Year

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