Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King’

“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (.pdf), the U.S. spends around $700 billion per year on the military. That sum roughly doubled since 2001, and it accounts for about 43 percent of all military spending in the world in 2010. Yet, even in the context of an ongoing unemployment crisis and widespread opposition for the major war in which the U.S. is embroiled, the Pentagon had the audacity to drop a spending plan (.pdf) earlier this month that calls for a continued increase in military spending and to portray the massive levels of outlays on war made at the height of the Iraq War as “breaking faith” with the military. To paraphrase Dr. King, to use for violence these resources better spent rescuing the 50 percent of Americans now in or near poverty is demonic.

The giant named Militarism is nothing if not nimble: last year at this time, the Pentagon used the words of a friend of the King family to insinuate that, though King’s plain words decry all forms of violence and war, today’s wars are different and he would “understand” them. That’s almost as brazen as war industry giant Boeing’s attempt to capture the King mojo for their public relations efforts, donating to the fund for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial fund while making billions from the “business of burning human beings.” We need a new phrase–“King-washing,” maybe?–to describe the efforts of career militarists and war profiteers to grasp at the King mantle.

It is natural for people and organizations to want to associate with King. He was a true prophet in the best sense of the word, someone whose courage, dignity and clear moral vision burned so hot and bright that his after-image remains in our eyes long after he’s gone. But there is a deep, deep difference between trying to associate by emulation and association by manipulation.

Today is MLK Day. For many, it will be a day of service, and that’s certainly an incredibly powerful way to honor King’s memory. But equally powerful is the demand that we hear his message–his whole message, including his condemnation of war as a means to settle conflict–and use it as a genuine opportunity for reflection and action. This year it is especially critical that we do so, as the policy choices waiting in the wings in Washington, D.C. over the next few months so tragically resemble those made regarding the poverty programs of King’s day and the Vietnam War.

Please take a moment to share our latest video. Then, write to President Obama and tell him to honor Dr. King by repudiating the Pentagon’s bid to grow while other programs are cut. Tell him you want him to lead the revolution of values talked about by King–and that that revolution must start by shutting off the “demonic, destructive suction tube” at the Pentagon.

Join the War Costs campaign on Facebook, and follow Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe on Twitter.

“…because I am determined to take the Gospel seriously.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., A Time to Break the Silence on Vietnam.

Happy Sunday.

Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. The views expressed are his own. Say no to escalation in Afghanistan by signing our CREDO petition at Join Brave New Foundation’s #NoWar candlelight vigil on Facebook and Twitter to show your opposition to the war. But make these your first steps as an activist to end this war, not your last.

The President’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech is one of the great sins of his presidency. He posited an essentially warlike nature to man not borne out by science. For a person who frequently cites King and Gandhi, President Obama showed a stunning ignorance of history and of nonviolent struggle. His self-justifying redefinition of the dreams of King and Gandhi were offensive and dishonest. His words will be used to discount and delay the expansion of nonviolent struggle as a replacement for military conflict in international affairs. Corruptio optimi pessima. He should be ashamed of himself.

The president wasted no time getting to the excuse used by every executive for the use of violence in conflict:

“War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man.”

Man is violent; the world is chaos; a strong man is needed to repel the violence from our happy land so that we may have peace and prosperity. That’s the rest of the song that always follows this verse. This is the first plank of the myth of redemptive violence.

Luckily, this is statement is neither historically justified nor born out in its implications by science. The Seville Statement on Violence makes it perfectly clear that man’s nature does not predispose a person or a society to war. War appeared when we began to organize ourselves in certain ways, well after we “appeared.” It appears today because of choices we make, not a flaw in our DNA.

If the president is speaking of the mythic appearance of man, then, he should remember that God made male and female and made them good. If war appeared in the Garden, it came in with the serpent, and with our choice to listen to him.

President Obama says he honors Gandhi and King and doesn’t think they are naive while patronizingly deflecting the extension of their ideas and ethic into international politics:

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago:  “Violence never brings permanent peace.  It solves no social problem:  it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”  As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence.  I know there’s nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naïve — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone.  I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.  For make no mistake:  Evil does exist in the world.  A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies.  Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.  To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

Within two paragraphs, the President assures us he finds King and Gandhi neither naive or passive, but then immediately discounts the extension of their ideas into international politics with statements like “I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle…evil does exist in the world.” In those lines the President reveals that he does, in fact, find their ideas and their opposition to war naive and passive, just as he rejected the guidance of Jesus Christ with the glib words “[The Sermon on the Mount is] so radical that it’s doubtful our own Defense Department would survive its application…Before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles.”

The President tells us that he considers himself a “living testimony to the moral force of non-violence,” but that he cannot be guided by Gandhi’s and King’s examples alone because he’s the head of state sworn to protect his nation (When you say “by their examples alone,” do you have some specific ways in mind in which your policies are guided by their example? Do tell.). Frankly, personal ambitions which lead one to the presidency do not bear on the question at hand. The presidency did not happen to him. He devoted incredible energy to capturing it. If he doesn’t find their ideas naive or passive, then it’s on him for seeking an office in which he could not live according to their values (and for that matter, according to those of Jesus Christ as expounded in the Sermon on the Mount). Perhaps the President would like to articulate the other moral principles from which his lofty position frees him. Apparently what President Obama wanted (the presidency) and what his guiding lights demanded were incompatible. That’s the excuse of a child.

For make no mistake:  Evil does exist in the world.  A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies.  Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.  To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

This is Reinhold Niebuhr with all his warts showing mixed with historical ignorance. If the president spent more time with The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., he’d know that King took from his study of Niebuhr that evil and sin permeate every level of man’s existence. King, however, had the courage to state that while we must take evil seriously, we must take the power of love more seriously.

Someone who makes sure we all know about the picture of Gandhi hanging in his Senate office should know that Gandhi and his allies faced armies who would fire into unarmed crowds until they ran out of bullets; despoil crops and food stores for the winter; beat scripture-wielding civilians. He also knew a thing or two about evil in the world.

Someone who wants to lecture on nonviolence in World War II should know that at the height of the Nazi campaign against the Jews, a mass nonviolent act succeeded against Hitler in Berlin and rescued 1,700 from the Holocaust, and that the Nazi leadership was absolutely terrified of the emergence of any counter-mass-movement. One should know the story of Andre and Magda Trocme and Le Chambon-sur-Lignone (Oh, wait, he does know.). One should know, in other words, that nonviolence often did work against Hitler and the Nazis, and that the failure of a nonviolent mass movement to materialize had much to do with people’s ignorance of the strategy, helped along by sweeping generalizations like the ones Obama made in his speech that wrongly discount its efficacy.

Invert the purported hard case of nonviolence against the Nazis and ask the president: stand in France in 1940 before the U.S. and Russian forces entered Europe in full. Ask yourself: should a person at this time and place make the same leap of logic made in Obama’s Nobel speech and say: military force cannot halt Hitler’s armies?

Invert the example again: should the Germans take from their failure in World War II that military violence could not stop the United States and that, therefore, the entire method of struggle should be discounted in international conflict? I guess the President won’t mind then if they go ahead and yank their troops out of Afghanistan.

Or, rather, should our visitor to World-War-II France and the modern-day German conclude that the tactics, force and other resource levels, and skill of combatants were the problem and not the strategy of military action, per se? Why should we also not make similar assessments about nonviolent struggle? Perhaps we can do without a Nobel speech that includes reductio ad Hitlerum.

The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached — their fundamental faith in human progress — that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

Gandhi and King had no amorphous “faith in human progress” that can be manipulated so that one can align themselves with it while arguing that war has a place in human relations.  People do this to the words of Christ all the time, and it’s easy to do that with a person who lived 2,000 years ago and who we know through ancient books that fail to provide enough context without an independent study of history. But this is not so with Gandhi or King.

King, in his Nobel acceptance speech, made his beliefs explicit:

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

How dare you, Mr. President, stand where King once stood, invoking his memory and dismissing his ideas in alternating lines of self-justifying philosophizing on the necessity of war while you accept the Nobel peace prize? King, who once stood before a nation not quite ready to hear him, and thundered:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action; for they ask and write me, “So what about Vietnam?” They ask if our nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence I cannot be silent. Been a lot of applauding over the last few years. They applauded our total movement; they’ve applauded me. America and most of its newspapers applauded me in Montgomery. And I stood before thousands of Negroes getting ready to riot when my home was bombed and said, we can’t do it this way. They applauded us in the sit-in movement–we non-violently decided to sit in at lunch counters. The applauded us on the Freedom Rides when we accepted blows without retaliation. They praised us in Albany and Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. Oh, the press was so noble in its applause, and so noble in its praise when I was saying, Be non-violent toward Bull Connor;when I was saying, Be non-violent toward [Selma, Alabama segregationist sheriff] Jim Clark. There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, Be non-violent toward Jim Clark, but will curse and damn you when you say, “Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children.”

How dare you, Mr. President, stand on that stage and invoke King while also invoking that strange inconsistency? How dare you parrot those misguided zealots who used violence against their neighbors shouting, “Gandhi’s swaraj has come”? In this one speech, the president disqualifies himself forever from pointing to their life’s work as the foundation for his own. Yes, the sprouting of their trees made his ascendancy possible, but he will bear them no fruit – he is a dead branch.

As is the case with mankind in general, war is not something that happens to this president. He chooses it.

I held my nose and voted for President Obama last year, fully understanding he planned to send roughly 12,000 troops to Afghanistan, fully aware that he would have to be resisted, protested, cajoled and boxed in if we were to have hope of true change. And though I knew he planned to escalate, I never expected we’d go from 12,000 to 47,000 new troops in just under a year. And I certainly never expected to hear a man I voted for pay lip service to Gandhi, King, and their work for nonviolence in a way that will retard its adoption in the international arena.

Whether he ever realizes it or not, President Barack Obama disgraced himself on Tuesday. After reading this speech, I can honestly say I regret my vote for him. No, I don’t regret it: I repent of it. God save this President from himself, and God save us from this perversion of King’s dream.

Death Star II

"After this we'll clone some troops to fill the gap for an escalation in Afghanistan."

The last few hours have been a flurry of news reports on the President’s supposed decision on troop levels for Afghanistan. First, CBS News reported that the president planned to send roughly 40,000 troops to Afghanistan for about four years.  Then, CNN reported that the White House angrily denied CBS News’ assertions, with two unnamed “senior administration officials” accusing Pentagon sources of leaking the story to set expectations and box the president into executing what’s essentially McChrystal’s preferred plan. Now, ABC News reports that, while the president has apparently not made a final decision, all five of the options now on the table would send more troops to Afghanistan.

There are a few explanations for the mixed signals. The first could be that some staff flunkie at the Pentagon wanted to impress a reporter and phoned in a tip before they knew what they were talking about, prompting an angry response from a White House still settling on options, all of which involve more troops. The second is slightly more sinister: elements in the Pentagon could be attempting to force the president’s hand, which would be a very subversive move and an assault on civilian control of the military. The third explanation is even darker: that the administration is more unified than it appears, and that it’s using leaks about high-end troop level estimates to desensitize the public and position the president’s inevitable, smaller troop increase as the more reasonable option. None of these explanations provide much comfort.

The simple truth is that even if one grants all the administration’s other assumptions about war and international politics (which I certainly do not), the troops are just not available for anything remotely approaching McChrystal’s preferred way forward, and certainly not within the critical period mentioned by his strategy paper. Spencer Ackerman:

The thing is, can we actually get 34,000 new troops into Afghanistan before summer of 2010? Remember that in the McChrystal strategy review, completed in late August, the commanding general talks about a window of about 12-18 month wherein he’ll know if he can arrest Taliban momentum. (That’s different, notice, than rolling back Taliban gains.)

Ackerman points to Politics Daily, which notes:

Maintaining one brigade combat team in the field requires two others on standby. So, for every unit in combat, planners keep a second one in training and a third one in “reset” after a long combat deployment – time when the Army can send its soldiers off for advanced schooling, absorb new replacements, receive new gear. Thus, a total of three BCTs are tied up.

Just to maintain the 16 current brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan is, let’s see, three times 16 is 48 and – oops! We’re already out of BCTs! And here’s the White House blithely batting around numbers like 40,000 more troops. That’s roughly eight BCTs, which do not exist.

Storm Troopers on Tatooine

"So this guy pulls me straight out of the cloning vats and says, 'Congratulations, we're sending you to Afghanistan!' Guess what my first word was!"

One of the only ways available to provide the levels of troops needed for anything remotely approaching a McChrystal plan would be to shorten dwell time at home for troops. That would be, in short, a mental health disaster. As PD notes,

Tragically, and despite an all-out prevention effort, the Army is experiencing another record-setting year for suicides. From January through September this year there were 117 reported suicides among active duty soldiers, up from 108 reported during the same period in 2008.

This is why, as Robert Naiman notes, the Joint Chiefs are begging the president not to do anything to shorten dwell times at home. Shorter dwell times means more mental health problems, period. The fact that troops “volunteered” (which is a rather flexible term in many situations) does not give the government the right to use them up until they break their brains. See how long your beloved “all-volunteer force” lasts when future recruits see that you’re shoving them into overseas hell holes over and over with shorter recovery periods between nightmares. At some point basic human dignity demands we end this farce.

I have to admit a certain level of exhaustion as a member of the anti-war movement focused on Afghanistan, especially when the debate moves into a place where our opponents start sputtering, “Well what’s your alternative?!” as if the options they push are reasonable and moored to the real resources available. The simple fact is that a person pushing for anything resembling a McChrystal strategy either a) has no clue as to the manpower restraints on the U.S. military or b) doesn’t give a damn about the mental health of the people they want to throw into combat. In fact, they don’t even understand fully McChrystal’s reasoning because key sections of his report were redacted for public consumption. A person asking me what my alternative is to troop increases in Afghanistan might as well be asking what my alternative is to firing the Death Star at Kandahar.

I don’t have to know how to construct a working safety belt to demand the recall of a car with a defective safety belt. I don’t have to know how to fashion a health reform bill to know that the health care system is broken and to demand that my elected representatives do something other than endorse the status quo. And I sure don’t have to be able to plot out the detailed exit strategy for our forces in Afghanistan to be able to say with integrity that we shouldn’t have our military tramping around someone else’s country killing people.

What I do know is this: every single person I’ve heard the president cite as a moral and philosophical guiding light, from Jesus of Nazareth, to Gandhi, to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Cesar Chavez, to Reinhold Niebuhr, would reject the idea that the U.S. should be dropping bombs on people in Afghanistan in the pursuit of U.S. national security. Every single one. The president probably knows this too, and only the most cynical politician would continue to drop these names at campaign stops and press conferences while ordering more and more troops to fight and die and kill in Asia.

That’s enough now, Mr. President. Stop this war.

Today I came across Joan Baez’s “funny defense” against the “What would you do if…?” critique of pacifism. It’s a fantastic short read, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s ever been pinned in a corner by hypothetical arguments about the necessity of violence in some situations (although Baez is wrong about Jesus’s teachings counseling passivity in the face of evil). It got me thinking of a caffeine-fueled evening on the Internet back in December when I engaged in a debate with Pete Kilner (who blogs at Thoughts of a Soldier-Ethicist). The discussion centered around Pete’s controversial thought experiment that attempted to use the story of the Good Samaritan as a way to think about the proper place (or lack thereof) of violence in a Christian’s life. Pete’s thought experiment goes like this:

What would the Good Samaritan–an exemplar given to us by Christ of a person who loves his neighbor–do if he had arrived at the scene earlier, while the robbers were assaulting the man?

1. Would the Good Samaritan walk on by?
2. Would the Good Samaritan stop and wait, allowing the beating to continue, and hope that the victim survived?
3. Would the Good Samaritan rush to find someone else to stop the beating?
4. Or, would the Good Samaritan risk his own safety to stop the attack and protect the victim, using violence as necessary?

When we look at it this way, I think it’s pretty clear that the loving, decent, honorable, courageous, and Christian thing to do is to stop the attack.

After all, Jesus calls on us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I know that if I were ever being beaten mercilessly, I would fight back, and I would want any passerby to join in my defense. So, I will do the same for others.

I welcome and invite any feedback that focuses on the merits of the argument.

This thought experiment is really only concerned with one ethical question: should a Christian use violence if he comes upon an assault in progress?

To start, let’s grant one of the (false) premises of the setup: that the hypothetical has provided all the available options. Having done so, the logic of Kilner’s argument can be rendered as follows:

  1. The Samaritan is a legitimate “Christian” authority on loving your neighbor.
  2. The Samaritan would use violence in this situation because he loves his neighbor.
  3. Therefore, Christians who love their neighbor should use violence to defend others.

This is argument is a logical fallacy: Appeal to Authority.  Pete is using the Samaritan as an authority on a subject which Jesus did not address in the story of the Good Samaritan: violence and/or non-violence. In other words, it’s not self-evident that the Good Samaritan is a legitimate authority on the topic in question.  Rather, the story told by Christ is an example of social boundary-crossing, and he’s indicting the moral boundaries drawn around the Jewish nation in some first-century Jewish ideologies that leave others on the outside, defining neighbors only as those in the “in” group, which restricts the Jewish imperative to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It has nothing to do whatsoever with the question of violence, yet the thought experiment utilizes the trappings of one of Christ’s moral teachings to imbue Kilner’s preferred answer to the question with the moral gravitas of the Samaritan.

However, as stated, getting this far in the argument requires one to accept a hidden false premise: that the thought experiment contains the full range of options.

So, let’s make the implicit premises explicit:

  1. The Samaritan is a legitimate “Christian” authority on loving your neighbor.
  2. The Samaritan, as a person who loves their neighbor, must not be passive while their neighbor suffers.
  3. In this situation, you can only be passive or violent in response to your neighbor’s suffering:
    1. Walk on (passive).
    2. Stop and wait, allow the beating to continue, and hope that the victim survived (passive).
    3. Find someone else to stop the beating (“clean hands” passivity).
    4. Risk his own safety to stop the attack and protect the victim, using violence as necessary (active).
  4. Because 2 and 3 are true, the Good Samaritan would use violence to attempt to stop the attack by using violence.
  5. Because 1 and 4 are true, Christians should use violence to defend their neighbor.

This line of argument also contains a logical fallacy: the False Dilemma. It is not true that one must be violent or passive (#3). There is a third option: nonviolent resistance to injustice/evil.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“First, it must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist. If one uses this method because he is afraid or merely because he lacks the instruments of violence, he is not truly nonviolent. This is why Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight … while the nonviolent resister is passive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent, his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade his opponent that he is wrong. The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive nonresistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.

“A second basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent … The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

“A third characteristic of this method is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil … We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.

“A fourth point that characterizes nonviolent resistance is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back. ‘Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood,’ Gandhi said to his countrymen. The nonviolent resister … does not seek to dodge jail. If going to jail is necessary, he enters it ‘as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber…’

“A fifth point concerning nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love …

“A sixth basic fact about nonviolent resistance is that it is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. Consequently, the believer in nonviolence has deep faith in the future. This faith is another reason why the nonviolent resister can accept suffering without retaliation. For he knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship …”

Beyond the problems with Pete’s specific thought experiments, however, is the broader issue of trying to do ethics in this manner.  In the discussion in Pete’s comment section, I made a remark that I did not explain well:

this isn’t a legitimate way to do ethics

Pete’s response, though, is a perfect illustration of what I meant:

Can you say more about why this isn’t a “legitimate way to do ethics”?

If you’re going to say, “I’d put myself between the victim and the attackers,” then please provide a description of how that would likely play out. For example, would you really expect that the murderous rapists would see you coming to hug the victim and say, “Oh my gosh, someone is passively putting herself next to our victim! Let’s flee!”?

By “this,” I meant to engage people in recurring rounds of “What would you do if…?” where one person plays God in the scenario, limiting the information given in the scenario and adjusting the reality of the hypothetical as the argument progresses to to trap their debate opponent in an un-winnable situation. The violent “god” making the argument gets to referree based on their biases and experiences, deciding what would work and what would fail, adding new constraints as the debate progresses until any and all nonviolent solutions have been closed off. This form of argument is referred to as “moving the goalposts” or “raising the bar” and is an informal logical fallacy.

The mistake I made in that discussion was going any further than critiquing the logic of Pete’s argument, entering into the “what would you do if…?” debate. Anyone engaging in a debate with these ground rules automatically loses–you can’t win an argument with God, even a hypothetical God.

Forty-two years ago last Saturday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City to indict his country’s war policies in Vietnam. Entitled “Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break the Silence,” this seminal speech attacked the paralyzed apathy stifling his nation’s ability to yield to the clear moral imperative to work for peace:

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

King’s summation in 1967 of the situation in Vietnam rhymes with the news on our television and on the Internet in 2009. His description of the moral fog that blocks clear vision could equally apply to the search for a palatable strategy in Afghanistan.

The progressive movement in the United States finds itself in a bind, with many of our once anti-war allies now pounding the drums for escalation.  In general, we want President Obama to succeed, and, on almost every issue, we feel the need to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Furthermore, the moral ambiguities inherent in any proposed Afghanistan policy leave it open to criticism from well-meaning folks acting in good faith to create a better future for that country.  This complexity, and the fear of getting it wrong or of allowing harm to come to those we’re trying to help, can be paralyzing. The result of that paralysis, however, is deference to inertia, no matter where the forward motion carries us. Writing after the horror of World War I, W.B. Yeats summed up this hesitance:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

All of this uncertainty, however, relies on a bad assumption: that this war can help the people of Afghanistan. As Rachel Maddow said recently:

I want to hear [President Obama] reject what I think is this really hot idea — even among liberals, certainly in the national security brainiac community — this idea that war can be constructive. (That) if you wage war just the right way, the result is a country and a community that is helped by the war. War is destructive. The idea that you can do something constructive with war is becoming this facile, dangerous, intellectually lax political interpretation of military counter-insurgency theory.

Maddow is not alone. Rita Lasar lost her brother on September 11 and then watched in horror as his death was used to sell this war to the American people:

My brother, Abraham Zelmanowitz, was on the 27th floor of the North Tower on September 11th, 2001. …[H]e chose instead to stay with his friend and coworker Ed Bayea, a paraplegic in a wheelchair, who could not leave. My brother told all who passed them on their way down that he would wait with Ed until help came. They both died….I knew this country would use my brother’s death to invade and bring death to Afghan civilians as innocent as my brother and I was appalled.

Lasar traveled to Kabul in 2002 with three others who lost family on September 11. Here’s what she saw:

…[W]omen, if they did venture into the street, were universally clad in their burkas. I did not see one woman, not one, without a burka…We spent 2 weeks there. We met with many families who had lost loved ones when our bombs hit the wrong targets. We visited a hospital, partially destroyed, where we saw young children who had mistaken cluster bombs for food packages, who were missing limbs.  We visited orphanages full of children who no longer had parents. We went out of Kabul to tent cities full of families who could no longer live on their land because cluster bombs circled them.

She has a clear message for the president:

Get us out of there now.

But if the new administration follows through on its current policies, we won’t be leaving anytime soon. The drive to “help” the people of Afghanistan through “massive doses of violence” leads us to continually raise the stakes, adding more troops. But, as the Carnegie Institute for International Peace pointed out in a recent report:

The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.

According to international women’s rights group MADRE:

A troop surge has already been tried—and it failed.  In 2007, the number of US/NATO troops was increased by 45 percent. During that surge, more civilians were killed than in the previous four years combined.

MADRE also points out the deplorable situation of Afghan women, not under the Taliban, but under the U.S. backed government in Kabul:

  1. 1 in every 3 Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence
  2. 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan
  3. Every 30 minutes, an Afghan woman dies during childbirth
  4. 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate
  5. 30 percent of girls have access to education in Afghanistan
  6. 44 years is the average life expectancy rate for women in Afghanistan

Afghan women rights activists often refer to the U.S.-backed regime as “The Rule of the Rapists,” a name all the more apt now that the Karzai government passed a law legalizing rape in marriage for a portion of the population.  The Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has called repeatedly for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the end for our support of the corrupt regime in Kabul. But the “new” policy in Afghanistan assures us that we Americans know better.

Our attempts to “help” the Afghan people have now pushed us into unleashing bloodless unmanned drones into the skies of Pakistan, dropping missiles onto impoverished villages, killing innocent men, women and children in unlucky proximity to suspected militants. (I say “suspected” with good reason. We have very poor intelligence in the region, and have been tricked into eliminating the rivals of local drug lords rather than al-Qaida or Taliban extremists.) And though our president seized on the use of Predator and Reaper drones as a politically pain-free way of widening the scope of the war, often referred to now as “AfPak,” these strikes are not pain-free for the people in the villages along the Durand Line. Drone attacks from the air, along with the heavy-handed tactics of a Pakistani military under pressure from the U.S. government, create a massive humanitarian crisis:

AMERICAN drone attacks on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are causing a massive humanitarian emergency, Pakistani officials claimed after a new attack yesterday killed 13 people.

The dead and injured included foreign militants, but women and children were also killed when two missiles hit a house in the village of Data Khel, near the Afghan border, according to local officials.

As many as 1m people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape attacks by the unmanned spy planes as well as bombings by the Pakistani army. In Bajaur agency entire villages have been flattened by Pakistani troops under growing American pressure to act against Al-Qaeda militants, who have made the area their base.

President Obama, laboring under the broken assumption that war can help the Afghan people, has continually widened the zone of use for drone aircraft in Pakistan despite warnings from regional experts that these strikes dishonor us in the eyes of the local population, increase sympathy for extremists and radicalize those affected by them. In retaliation for drone attacks, the Pakistani Taliban upped its violence toward the Pakistani government, attacking a police station in Lahore last week and promising weekly suicide bombings until the airstrikes cease. As our robotic swipes at this hornet’s nest continue to agitate the situation in Pakistan, our generals and civilian militarists issue solemn warnings that our allied government in that country could be toppled in as little as six months. These are the ultimate in self-fulfilling prophecies, as the extremists on the border have no real chance to topple the Pakistani government on their own. Middle East expert Juan Cole:

As for a threat to Pakistan, the FATA areas are smaller than Connecticut, with a total population of a little over 3 million, while Pakistan itself is bigger than Texas, with a population more than half that of the entire United States. A few thousand Pashtun tribesmen cannot take over Pakistan, nor can they “kill” it. The Pakistani public just forced a military dictator out of office and forced the reinstatement of the Supreme Court, which oversees secular law.

In 1967, King thundered against the U.S.’s rationale for supporting corrupt allies through ever-escalating use of military violence. He quoted the statements of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam, saying:

“A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

In 2009, betrayal seems to be all around us. A pivotal anti-war umbrella organization during the last administration, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, was swiftly decapitated through political co-optation by the new administration.  Senior AAEI staff, including Steve Hildebrand, Paul Tewes, and Brad Woodhouse, now work as political aides for President Obama or for the Democratic National Committee. MoveOn moved on from its vocal opposition to war in Iraq to a deafening silence about the war in Afghanistan. The Center for American Progress recently published a report arguing for escalation. And, as Roll Call reported recently,

Anti-war Democrats have been largely mum on President Barack Obama’s recently unveiled policy for Afghanistan — partly because leading liberals don’t yet know where they stand.

On the 42nd anniversary of King’s speech, we find ourselves “mesmerized by uncertainty.” Many progressives worry that reversing the planned escalation will sacrifice justice in Afghanistan in the name of peace. But before this concern pushes them to embrace counterinsurgency doctrine as the answer in Afghanistan, they might want to read the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which states explicitly on p. xxxiv that COIN doctrine “implicitly asks Americans to define their aims in the world and accept the compromises they require…[c]ounterinsurgency favors peace over justice.”

With this context, those paralyzed by the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan should be able to escape the false dilemma of “counterinsurgency or compromise.” There are no ideal options in Afghanistan. Every possible way forward, escalation included, will incur compromise and cost. But faced with the rising humanitarian toll of our policies, we must realize now that we, not al-Qaida and not the Taliban, are responsible for our behavior and that we can only be responsible for our own choices. As such, we cannot allow terrorists and extremists to decide for us when we will end our military violence in Afghanistan. As King said,

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

Alternatives to escalation exist. The Carnegie Institute for International Peace suggests that the U.S. limit its goals in Afghanistan to leaving behind a government that can survive a U.S. withdrawal. Their report suggests that because military confrontation with the United States provides the unifying rationale for our opponents, the best way to weaken and divide them is to unilaterally reduce the number of troops without negotiating with the Taliban. During this drawdown, U.S. troops would be concentrated in major population centers, and the U.S. and our allies would focus on assisting Afghan attempts to build good governance that will outlive our presence.

MADRE’s suggestions closely track those of the Carnegie report:

  1. Set a timetable for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops.
  2. End US missile strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  3. Demilitarize aid operations and fund reconstruction efforts that benefit Afghans, not US corporations.
  4. Promote peace talks between all parties involved in the conflict. Negotiations should include women’s organizations and other progressive forces and uphold the principle that human rights, including women’s human rights, are non-negotiable.
  5. Compensate families and communities hurt by US military operations and pay war reparations.
  6. Support local models of governance, such as the Loya Jirga, not a charade of procedural democracy that empowers war criminals.
  7. Support demands of the Afghan women’s movement to end violence against women, ensure women’s access to critical services such as healthcare, education, food and water, and give real meaning to hard-won legal reforms meant to protect women’s rights.
  8. Create a fund to meet Afghans’ urgent humanitarian needs. After 30 years of intervention and war, the US owes Afghanistan nothing less.
  9. Support Afghan civil society, particularly women’s organizations, which are a crucial counter-force to warlordism, terrorism and government corruption and a key to rebuilding Afghan society.
  10. Recognize that ultimately, decisions about what happens in Afghanistan should be made in Afghanistan, not Washington.

Taking our cue from Dr. King, we should not ignore the complexities of the situation in Afghanistan. But, recognizing the dangers posed by an escalating conflict to an impoverished people, the security of the region and the soul of our nation, we should understand that a time comes when silence is betrayal.

That time has come for us in relation to Afghanistan.

Help us break the silence:

Message creep tracks mission creep. “The real problem is Pakistan!” Mechanized hunter-killer falcons wander out of the Graveyard and hurl hellfire. Afghanistan becomes “AfPak.” The strike areas grow. A widening gyre whose center cannot hold.

April 4, 1967: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gives one of the most important and least remembered speeches of his career: “Beyond Vietnam–A Time to Break the Silence.” King denounces the economic exploitation of the poor by the U.S. war machine, its effect on our national economy and poverty programs, and the anti-Christian darkness swirling in the basic assumptions of the war. He says:

What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building?

April 4, 1968: An assassin kills Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of a hotel.

April 4, 2009: A U.S. “Predator” unmanned drone is given a command to fire on a house in North Waziristan, killing civilians.

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Intelligence officials say a suspected US missile attack has killed at least 13 people in northwest Pakistan.

The officials say Saturday’s strike targeted a home in a remote area of North Waziristan. They say residents pulled out 13 bodies and at least eight wounded from the rubble. There are civilians among the casualties.

April 4, 1967:

The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

Roll Call 2009:

Anti-war Democrats have been largely mum on President Barack Obama’s recently unveiled policy for Afghanistan – partly because leading liberals don’t yet know where they stand.

April 4, 1967:

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.


The war in Afghanistan has crept into Pakistan. Despite the refusal of the CIA to acknowledge the Predator and Reaper strikes in Pakistan, many, many reports in the media document the presence of our loitering killing machines over Pakistani territory, remote controlled from facilities in the continental United States. The American public knows the drones are there; the Pakistani public knows they are there. The U.S. national security structure is at war in Pakistan.

The President might find comfort in the fact that large numbers of U.S. ground troops are not on Pakistani soil, but in so doing he’s splitting the finest of hairs, and betraying an inability to get past a decidedly Western frame of reference when weighing the costs of his policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. From that myopic point of view, the use of Predators and Reapers solves a problem: they allow us to pursue enemies into Pakistani territory while preserving some infinitesimally small amount of plausible deniability (the drones often fly so high they cannot be seen from the ground) and so-called “respect” for Pakistan’s sovereignty over its territory. These drones also allow the U.S. mission to creep into Pakistan without risking troop deaths as a direct result of the drones’ deployment. But the administration’s attribution of these benefits to the use of these killing machines can only be made possible by a lack of understanding of the people affected by the strikes and the dynamics that lead to the use of terrorism as a tactic.

P.W. Singer, in his new book, Wired for War, describes the effect of “distance warfare.” After summarizing a negative attitude toward technology in some parts of the Muslim world affected by deep, backward-looking fundamentalism, Singer cites retired Pakistani lieutenant general Talat Masood:

Masood…described the technology tha the U.S. military was using as “amazing,” but also as causing “great anger” in the region….”The advent of ‘distance warfare’ has profound implications for the battlefield and for America’s global strategy…in every case, whether it is Afghanistan or Iraq, it has vastly complicated the prerequisite of building the structures of peace.” In short, warned Masood, “The concept of ‘shock and awe’ could drive moderate and uncommitted civilians toward anti-Americanism.”

Singer goes on to describe how our understanding of the costs and benefits of the drone strikes ignores the cultural of the region, leading us to miscalculate how the strikes will be interpreted by the local society.

As a security expert in Qatar summed up, “How you conduct war is important. It gives you dignity or not.” …America was coming across as a menace, using its high technology to pick on the little guy. …Even pop culture in the region echoes the experts. In 2007, for instance, one of the most popular songs…[gave] a hint at how what Masood described as America’s “distance war” is being portrayed: “America’s heartless terrorism, Killing people like insects. But honor does not fear power.”

Finally, Singer summarizes how the use of Predators and Reapers could motivate terrorist attacks on the United States:

Mubashar Jawed “M.J.” Akbar…sees a similar message going out from American use of unmanned systems to the broader Muslim world. “It will be seen as American cowardice. In war terms, if you are not willing to sacrifice blood, you are essentially a coward…These systems will show the pathway to your defeat unintentionally. They create a subtext that shows that you don’t want to die…That all we need to win is to frighten them.”

…Unmanned systems…are the ultimate means of avoiding sacrifice. But what seems so logical and reasonable to the side using them may strike other societies as weak and contemptible. Using robots in war can create fear, but also unintentionally reveal it.

It is this link that leads Akbar to conclude that…[t]he greater the use of unmanned systems, the more likely it will motivate terrorist strikes at America’s homeland. “It will be seen as a sign of America’s unwillingness to face death. Therefore, new ways to hit America will have to be devised…”

Disturbingly, I heard the same conclusion time and again from other regional experts.

An opponent will often choose terrorism when they face an extremely powerful adversary exerting their overwhelming advantages in the region of conflict. War is always at its core a struggle between factions to generate sufficient violence to trigger political consequences. Tactically, when an enemy uses weapons platforms so advanced that their opponent cannot deflect or directly respond, the victim of the advanced weapon has an incentive to respond indirectly and asymmetrically. Psychologically, when one faces an opponent exerting an overwhelming and untouchable ability to exert violence, a sense of powerlessness and humiliation can compel some to seek a way to assert themselves against their enemies. When this is reinforced by a cultural disdain not only for the technology itself but also for those who would utilize such asymmetrical advantages in the field of battle, combined with the deaths of loved ones or neighbors caused by the technology, drone strikes become a severe liability if the overarching goal is to reduce the threat of terrorism against one’s people.

The administration’s strategy review ignored warnings that flooding Afghanistan with troops would unite the U.S.’s enemies against them. Once the administration announced they planned to escalate, the Taliban factions, as warned, reinforced their mutual allegiance and their ties with al-Qaida. Similarly, experts warn that Predator and Reaper strikes could generate terrorist retaliation against the U.S. and the U.S.’s allies, but the Pentagon recently widened the use of drones deeper into Pakistan. And, as predicted:

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the attack on a police training academy in Lahore and suicide attacks in Islamabad and Bannu, and warned of further attacks in Pakistan in the coming days and later in the US.

“These (attacks) were in reaction to (US) drone strikes in the Tribal Areas,” Baitullah Mehsud told BBC Urdu over the telephone from an undisclosed location.

“Over the next few days, more such attacks will come … two or three suicide attacks will take place,” warned Mehsud, without naming any cities or targets. “As long as the drone attacks continue, we will not stop.” The Taliban leader said he would himself “teach the US a lesson”.

Enough. As King said in 1967:

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

… The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality…and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

…We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

The Obama Administration should seriously consider the recent recommendations of the Carnegie Institute for International Peace. Then, the Administration should go back to the drawing board on Afghanistan, craft a strategy that has as its goal an immediate reduction in the level of violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The best way to do that is to give up on the idea that more troops, more drones, and more killing will help the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

From The Globe and Mail, emphasis mine:

In the U.S. “debates,” it was the bleakest moment for me so far when Barack Obama said he lamented the war in Iraq because it “weakened our capacity to project power around the world.” Not because it was wrong to invade and occupy a distant country, or even because it was a failed war. But because it hampered U.S. ability to invade and occupy other places. In this, he agrees with John McCain, who says the United States has a “sacred duty to suffer hardship and risk danger to protect the values of our civilization and impart them to humanity” by military might. It is a core component of U.S. political culture. You don’t get to run for president without it.

Stephen Harper’s view for years has been that Canada’s social programs are overblown and humiliatingly socialist. (You can Google it.) Yet they’re awfully popular. How do you combat that as a minority prime minister? Try this: We can’t afford it. Except we seem able to. Hmm, okay. Then lower the GST a couple of points, making less money available for the programs. Not bad. But what next?

Enter the Afghan mission. …When asked about it, Stephen Harper held his palms up and said it was all “budgeted.” As in: Sorry kids, but there’s no money left at the end of the month for a trip to the zoo. He’d just announced a meagre $10-million for pulmonary diseases, much like yesterday’s $5-million to lure Canadian doctors home. He calls these outlays modest. How about piddling? They are pathetic compared to what’s required for national child care, pharmacare, the cities or aboriginals. Then add his plan to spend $490-billion on the military in the next 20 years, anticipating future Afghanistans.

It may not be why we went in. But military (over)spending is a superb way to tilt an economy away from social goals. …It’s the U.S. model.

We never seem to learn. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.