A Day That Lives In Infamy

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copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

On this date, May 2, 2011, my thoughts are with those who lost a loved one in war.  Brutal battles cause such harm. Yet, curiously the seem never-ending.  It would appear that humans forget their history.  When attacked, people frequently attack back.  With a loved one lost in war, or other destructive engagement, rather than relate to the pain of another who has experienced as they do or did, a pained person often seeks revenge.  Combat starts a cycle; however, once commenced, it does not cease.  Perchance, we might ponder the past and the people the circumstances of those who are no longer with us. Instead, today, as the headlines herald Obama Calls World ‘Safer’ After Pakistan Raid and Osama bin Laden Killed by U.S. Forces countless celebrate in glee.

This much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation,

and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.


~ Robert F. Kennedy

copyright © January 7, 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

It is the seventh day of the month, a date that now lives in infamy.  On this occasion, she passed.  She was killed by an attack that was all too sudden.  Her physical presence on Earth did not end in the month of December 7, 1941.  This year is not that one.  The events at Pearl Harbor did cause my Mom’s heart to stop.  Indeed, she only ceased to exist in a form that I can see with my eyes or touch with my hand, less than a decade ago.  Truly, it feels as if Mommy just took her leave.  Today, I think of what it must feel like to all those in the United States and Middle East who are now characterized as the dearly departed.  To have lost their lives in the throws of war must  be awful.  

There is no time to prepare or to feel as though you had an opportunity to “properly” say your good-byes. In the instant that a loved one is brutally taken away, rarely is family there.  To know that someone so special was slaughtered in battle, or was a victim of “collateral damage,” must make a family member cringe.  The declaration of death must feel as a new unwanted beginning, not an end,

I know for me, in every second, Mommy is still with me.  All these years later, I mourn my loss.  Oh, if only I could bring her back.  She enters into my dreams almost daily.  Since childhood, I knew, if she were gone, I might not be able to go on.  Today, on the anniversary of her bodily discorporation, I mourn, as I trust she would, the casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Israel, and anywhere that war delays, defers, or denies family time, space, and a proper setting in which to grieve.

Unreported by United States Armed Forces, the Bush Administration, or the American free press, it was estimated that since the US-led invasion began, as of September 2007, over a million Iraqis were killed.  Opinion Research Business, a prominent British survey agency, approximated 1.2 million Iraqi residents violently realized a horrific conclusion to life.  At times, entire families were among the fatalities, survived by only friends, and relatives who lived.  That does not negate the notion, that someone, somewhere, suffered a loss when each one of those individual lives was snuffed out.

Unlike in my situation, those who loved the dearly departed Iraqis, had no warning.  The persons who live to lament were not able to visit their beloved before their final breath.  Opportunities to say good-bye were few, if they existed at all.  The bombs blasted.  The bullets pierced the delicate flesh of the persons now fallen.  Survivors were left only with their sorrow.  Sadly, some probably regret they could not save a cherished soul.  While I might relate to that feeling, at least I know my Mom passed quietly, safely at home, in the company of those nearest and dearest.  She went to her rest in peace.

In Afghanistan, the challenges are equal to those in Iraq.  Homes sit snugly in a war zone.  Soldiers, who are suspicious of Afghani natives, surround local communities.  Troops are also found within indigenous societal circles.  Weaponry is wielded.  No innocent man, woman, or child is out of harm’s way.  When a friend or family folk is maimed or murdered, neighbors may wish to send condolences, as those close to my Mom did.  Colleagues may yearn to congregate around a casket and cry.  People may seek closure.  Cremations, with a chance to offer ceremonial respects, might be as is customary.  Yet, again, since American and allies attacks commenced, citizens of Afghanistan cannot do as my relatives, and I had done when Mommy departed.

No one is certain how many have passed in the roughed terrain of Afghanistan.  The Pentagon does not release statistics of the insurgents killed.  Nor do they dare calculate the numbers of blameless civilian losses.  The United States Armed Services applaud the accuracy of air strikes.  American military speaks of the smart strategy.

(F)or all their precision, American bombs sometimes take out the wrong targets.  As U.S. air strikes doubled from 2006 to 2007, the number of accidental civilian deaths soared, from 116 to 321, according to Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon targeting chief who tabulates civilian casualties for Human Rights Watch (HRW), an independent research group.  By his count, the death toll among civilians so far this year [September 2008] is approaching 200.

The military dismisses such tallies as exaggerated, and their provenance is often murky.  . . .

Whatever the tally, officials both inside and outside the U.S. military say attacks that kill civilians occur with distressing regularity; they generate headlines only when dozens die.  Afghans vividly recall the July 2002 bombing of a wedding party–celebratory gunfire led to retaliation by an AC-130–that killed up to 48 civilians and wounded 117 in Oruzgan province; many were women and children.

This past July, 47 people were killed and nine wounded on their way to a wedding in eastern Afghanistan.  Among the dead were 39 women and children, including the bride-to-be, Afghan authorities said.

What of the families, and friends, of those who survived?  How must they reconcile the loss?  Joyous, the beloved went to a celebration.  Yet, they never returned.  They cease to exist, taken down by a missile.  How must the living feel?

For the people who were close to these sweet spirits and lived, July must be as January is for me, a reminder of what was, would have been, and will never be.  The difference is, for all the persons, perhaps hundreds or thousands in Afghanistan who were touched by those who perished while at a wedding in 2002 and on their way to nuptials in 2007, they know a life was cut short by unnecessary combat.  Beautiful beings were blow into oblivion.

Yet, all the while, people in the States, those who purchased and produced the deadly artillery, pay little attention to what does not affect them personally.  Indeed, on this January 7, 2009, the death toll on foreign shores mounts, and many in America think that fine.  As long as it is not their Mom, Dad, son, or daughter, citizens in this “civilized” country will continue to plan inaugural parties, propose to escalate combat in the Middle East, and sanction the strikes that ensue in Gaza.  

Oh, some may protest.  A few will state they cannot endorse the murders.  Others; however, will justify the cause for they will speak of Hamas as the enemy, evil, just as they do of those in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Justice is served, the American Administration will assuage, as they offer a convenient truth; terrorist must be eliminated.

In truth, as long, those who inhabit the world’s superpower do not suffer, do not experience the loss, the United States will do little to interfere, to impede, what through their dollars, and decades of support, they have endorsed.

Perchance, my Mom, today, yesterday, and forever gave me a gift that gives even when she is far away, one I wish every American might receive.  Mommy taught me to empathize, to truly place my heart in the being of another.  She modeled what most dare not muse.  

Mommy, who never wished to hurt any one or another entity, understood how bereavement affected me.  She knew; when the soul of someone is lost to this world, I ache.  Hence, she stayed on Earth so that I might see her one more time, hold her hand, and say all that we might.  When she knew I could, and would not regret, my Mom wished me well.  “Have a good trip,” the lovely Berenice Barbara said as I left her physical presence.  “You too,” I replied.

It was January 7th, a day that lives in infamy for me, and one that I trust will be tarnished for those in foreign lands who lost a loved one in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, or anywhere on this globe.

May we all rest in peace.

References and Resources for Reflection . . .

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Exit Strategy or Essentially Endless?



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Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.  

This world in arms is not spending money alone.  

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.  

This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.  

Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.


~ Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech, American Society of Newspaper Editors, 16 April 1953

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.

~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

The United States Military Industrial Complex has might.  General and former President Eisenhower understood this.  He warned Americans.  Abundant might does not make right; it only advances the notion of righteousness.  Patriotism is promoted through militarism.  His words fell on deaf ears.  The sound was hollow in contrast to the drone of drumbeats.  At the time, Americans were as they are today; dedicated to the customs we think characterize democracy.

We see this in many a war and peace policy.  Questions are asked of the government and the people. Testimony is taken.  Think tanks assess Foreign Policy. Conclusions are drawn and decisions made.  Still, in 2010, a few within the electorate wonder as General Eisenhower had.. With Al-Qaida Fading, Why Expand the Afghan War?

Nationalists take up arms in the name of the greater good.  Compatriots will do anything to defend and protect the principles that guide the American way of life.  Patriots wave the flag and pledge allegiance to this country.  Loyalists are looked upon as heroes.  Soldiers voluntarily sign up for service.  Troops are sent to foreign shores.  Combatants fight for what citizens know is correct.  Few suspect that their tax dollars pay to fund allies who are what has been defined as enemies of democracy.  Headlines herald; Pakistan Aids Insurgency in Afghanistan, Reports Assert.  The business of endless battles goes on as usual.

Perchance, countless citizens surmise, only Presidents past and present, know the secrets that necessitate endless engagements.  Confidential papers might provide clues to the American practice; today’s US-armed ally will be tomorrow’s enemy., A few question group-faith.  Individuals inquire, why might this war or that be deemed “absolutely essential.”  Most are satisfied with each Administrations answers. Indeed, Americans accept as General Eisenhower espoused. Money moves us to war.

Millions more are spent by and on mercenaries.  Billions are paid to private industries that produce weaponry.  Worldwide, economies whirl on with thanks to the war machine.  Whistleblowers are silenced.  When documents are leaked, the persons who snitched are sought out.  Presumably, dissent will be punished by the law.  Prosperity and profits, people’s livelihoods are dependent on the illusion the Military Industrial Complex has created.  

So, strike up the band.  March on and march forward.  Follow in lockstep, or follow the leaders history has left behind.  Ponder a time, when the marketplace will not dictate doctrines and military deeds, a democratic system not defined by deliverance, liberation, or occupations. Think to pursue a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and provide for the common defense. Henceforth, let us promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.  Endless engagements need not be recognized as ideal.  

So please. Pursue peace.  Promote peaceful negotiations. Develop the power of diplomacy.   Move On. Progress.  Speak out as President Eisenhower did!  Do not allow your voice to be muffled!!  En masse, the people can be the absolute power!

Please ponder this petition or its origin, and the reason for its revival.  Reflect upon prose penned by Major General Smedley D. Butler.  If you choose pen your signature .

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war, a few people make huge fortunes.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

~ by Two-Time Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient

Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC Retired

References for a Military Industrial Complex reality  . . .

The War’s Waste



Iraq: Thousands Dead, $747.3 Billion Spent And Not Any Safer

The damage done, affects us all economically.  Years of war have done nothing to further education, enrich, or protect the environment.  Indeed, endless battles have destroyed any sense of balance or betterment.  Ethically, hostilities in the Middle East have helped to erode societal standards.  Might we ask; what have we taught our children? How to waste money . . . that human lives are but waste . . . that their elders think funds and a focus on education are a waste, or that ethical standards are a waste of time and energy.  Surely, attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed nothing to the Seventh Generation.

Documentary Filmmaker Robert Greenwald grieves for the unborn little ones and those who passed, as do the families, friends and familiars of military men, women, and civilians who have been touched by the perpetual battles.  Even those who may not have seen combat have experienced the repercussions.  Throughout the world, the waste is sky high.  Those who do not correlate the debris with the destruction in the Persian Gulf; nonetheless feel the effects.  As Robert Greenwald observes . . .

More than 4,300 American Lives.  At least 95,600 Iraqi civilians dead, with some estimates more than six times that number.  More than $747 billion spent so far, which, combined with the effect on oil prices and with indirect costs, helped lead to the economic crisis. Reduced, not enhanced, American security.

The Iraq war, like the Afghanistan war is a massive case of waste, fraud and abuse.

While it’s a good thing that President Obama committed to ending the Iraq war, he’s ratcheting up a more expensive Afghanistan war while we’re still reeling from the economic impact of the former. With Al Qaida having been driven from the country and with our increased troop presence having been met with increasing violence nation-wide, it’s clear that Obama’s War, like Bush’s War, also fails to make us safer. We don’t have a spare trillion dollars for useless war.

Our new video marks this tragic anniversary. But, we need your help in letting the administration know that we understand the damage done to Iraq and to our country. We also know that there will be no economic recovery as long as we’re spending $100 billion a year on another war that doesn’t make us safer–the war in Afghanistan.

That’s why we’re asking everyone to report the Afghanistan war as an example of waste, fraud and abuse on the White House’s official economic recovery website, Recovery.gov Simply scroll down to the field marked “What” and paste this message into the text box:

“I’d like to report the waste of billions of dollars of our national wealth in Afghanistan on a war that doesn’t make us safer. It’s fraud to portray this as a war that increases our security, and it’s abusive of U.S. troops and local civilians to drag out this war any longer. End the war so we can have real economic recovery.”

You don’t have to fill out the whole form. Just let them know that you think spending more for useless wars is a clear example of waste, fraud and abuse of the taxpayer that will undermine economic recovery.

Thanks to Bush, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been a massive waste of human life and treasure. Let’s not let the Obama administration make the same mistake again in Afghanistan.

While erroneous assumptions have already been made, and acted upon, it is vital that the American people ensure that these costly wars end.  Please, let us remind the President, that dollars devoted to deliberate demolition far exceeds what we spend on our infrastructure, education, the environment, and authentic health care coverage.  Americans have experienced a drastic reduction in police forces, fire departments, and all civil servants.  What we spend abroad affects those at home and on foreign shores.  

In the United States, we must ask ourselves, can we afford the waste that is war.  Was it worth the cost of lives lost?  Can we economically or ethically justify the lessened quality of life for soldiers and, or civilians.  Will we be able to live with the thought that tens, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have perished all for naught?   More will die, and not necessarily in battles.  Some will be in hospital beds.  Others in homes without the funds for health care coverage.  A few will expire on the streets, be they victims of increased crime, unemployment, caused by a lack of education, or other circumstances that a warfare budget creates. All this occurred because we, as a country, have dissipated billions of dollars in unwarranted conflicts.  

In an effort to maim and murder, many innocent Iraqi, Afghani, American, and allies suffer.  Most of these are as you and I, seemingly peaceful persons who do not have the power policy-makers do.  Thus, Filmmaker Greenwald asks for your assistance, as do other concerned citizens.  Please help our nation, the national budget, and people here and on foreign lands heal.

References . . .

The Two Faces of Obama

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copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

~ Barack Obama (President of the United States.  Peace Prize Acceptance Speech. December 10, 2009)

For years, Americans saw live, and in person, or on television screens, Presidential aspirant Barack Obama.   Several mused; the man is calm in a crisis.  “No drama Obama” was the phrase most often associated with the candidate.  Those closely and personally connected to the potential President corroborated what was for most only an observation.  The election did not change Barack Obama.  His calm demeanor remained intact.  Yet, many perceived a difference, not in his response to a predicament, but in the President’s rhetoric.  Empathy evolved into escalation.  This was perhaps most evident on two occasions, when Mister Obama delivered his Address on the War in Afghanistan, and then again when the Commander-In Chief offered his Remarks in acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize.  After these events, the pensive pondered; what was there all along, Cerebral Discord, the Two Faces of Barack Obama.

During the Presidential campaign, millions were aware of the dichotomy.  For Barack Obama the need for empathy and the escalation of armed forces seemed to safely coexist.   Others, hopeful, for a change may have chosen to forgive what was a concern.  Perchance Mister Obama’s persuasive language assuaged the American people, or they too may have suffered from the same condition, intellectual disharmony.  

Possibly, the public was either so eager or expectant, that they did not wish to wonder what might occur if Barack Obama acted on the more aggressive stance he often took.  Troop escalation in Afghanistan is a must.  The words the President of the United States postured in his recent remarks at West Point and in Oslo, at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, while countless thought anathemas, were as he presented in his published plan on July 14, 2008.

As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there.

Yet, most Americans and the Nobel Prize Committee were stunned when as President, Barack Obama fulfilled his promise.  More struggled with what they heard days later.  In his acknowledgement of the award he was about to receive, the Peace Prize, Barack Obama explained, and exclaimed, as has been his well-established habit; empathy is essential and compassion can not cure the world’s ills.  

While the rhetoric was exquisite, and the rationalizations seemed sound, the inconsistency awakened awareness.  At once, observers were alarmed by what was apparent for quite awhile.  There are Two Faces of Barack Obama.

The few who had feared his empathetic side welcomed the warlike stance of the current Commander.  Others felt the sacramental observance, the Nobel Peace Prize Presentation, was not the place to promote war.  Nor is it thought apt for the beneficiary of such a significant award to advocate for armed conflict.  Even those who trusted he would do as he had done, and say as he did, found it difficult to grapple with what Barack Obama has for all of his life: cognitive dissonance.

Some may ask; how can one man, woman, or one mind so adamantly adhere to the idea of empathy, and also embrace the notion that our fellow man is our enemy.  What is it that drives a desire to reason love and peace are  harmonious with hatred and war?  Why would a brilliant being think violence builds benevolence?

The cause, or perchance the effect, of the President’s condition was delineated and defined in 1956.  five years before Barack Obama was even a thought in the mind of his mother Ann Dunham.   Prior to his conception, few imagined that today a baby, born to an average Americans schoolgirl, would be addressed as Mister President.  All those decades ago, an individual whose background was as varied as Barack Obama’s is, could not be expected to achieve the grandeur he has.  At the time, to even ponder the possibility might evoke Cognitive Dissonance,  had the notion been a known construct.

Today, Social Psychologist Leon Festinger’s theory is an accepted truth.  Humans have honed the art of rationalization.  Some offer seemingly reasonable interpretations better than most others.   Mister Obama spoke of his skill to allegorize, to offer an analysis that is coherent, and cogent.  Indeed, as he wrote in his most recent tome, The Audacity of Hope,  President Obama offered that through conversation, he could conquer an adversary.

Readers of his book may recall the beloved tale that endeared the President to those who hoped Barack Obama might be a man of peace. The story led many, perhaps even the Nobel Peace Prize Committee 2009, to believe this Head of State is worthy of the honor he was awarded.

Like most of my values, I learned about empathy from my mother. She disdained any kind of cruelty or thoughtlessness or abuse of power, whether it expresses itself in the form of racial prejudice or bullying in the schoolyard or workers being underpaid. Whenever she saw even a hint of such behavior in me she would look me square in the eyes and ask, “How do you think that would make you feel?”

But it was in the relationship with my grandfather that I think I first internalized the full meaning of empathy. Because my mother’s work took her overseas, I often lived with my grandparents during my high school years, and without a father present in the house, my grandfather bore the brunt of most of my adolescent rebellion. He himself was not always easy to get along with; he was at once warmhearted and quick to anger, and in part his career had not been particularly successful, his feelings could also be easily bruised. By the time I was sixteen we were arguing all of the time, usually about me failing to abide by what I considered to be an endless series of petty and arbitrary rules–filling up the gas tank whenever I borrowed his car, say, or making sure that I rinsed out the milk carton before I put it in the garbage.

With a certain talent for rhetoric, as well as an absolute certainty about the merits of my own views, I found that I could generally win these arguments, in the narrow sense of leaving my grandfather flustered, angry, and sounding unreasonable. But at the same point, perhaps in my senior year, such victories started to feel less satisfying. I started thinking about the struggles and disappointments he had seen in his life. I started to appreciate his need to feel respected in his own home. I realized that abiding by his rules would cost me little, but to him it would mean a lot. I recognized that sometimes he really did have a point, and that in insisting on getting my own way all the time, without regard to his feelings or needs, I was in some way diminishing myself.

There’s nothing extraordinary about such an awakening, of course. In one form or another it is what we all must go through if we are to grow up. And yet I find myself returning again and again to my mother’s simple principle–“How would that make you feel?”–as a guidepost for my politics.

It’s not a question we ask ourselves enough, I think; as a country we seem to be suffering from an empathy deficit.

I believe a stronger sense of empathy would tilt the balance of our current politics in favor of those people who are struggling in this society. After all, if they are like us, then their struggles are our own. If we fail to help, we diminish ourselves.

~ Barack Obama excerpt from The Audacity of Hope

At the time he wrote those words, as Senator, and an author who aspired to inspire, Barack Obama reminded readers, No one is exempt from the call to find common ground.”  That is, unless, as he clarified with the Nobel Peace Prize in his grasp, “(A)s 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.  Today, the man who occupies the White House would seem to no longer believe as his followers thought, or hoped he did,  

Perchance, a culture mired in its own cerebral discord did not acknowledge that Barack Obama has always been a mirror image of society.  He speaks of his love of peace.  He yearns for global harmony, yet President Obama believes war is a worthy endeavor. For the once candidate and also for the Commander-In-Chief who currently occupies the Oval Office, empathy is thought as  necessary as escalation. The Two disparate Faces of Obama are as they were, united.

Barack Obama has not changed.  Only people’s perception of him has been transformed, transitioned just as predicted, or has revealed itself to be as the President pledged.  The public saw the side of Mister Obama that he presented, and or, the one as individuals, each American might prefer.  He has always been one who embraces empathy as he asserts evil exists.

Little more than a year ago, when but a Presidential hopeful Obama offered his carefully crafted message while in Church, Christians rejoiced, as did those of many faiths.   On August 16, 2008, the world watched the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency.  Barack Obama presented his peaceful posture, not the face of the person who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for to us have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil, because a lot of evil’s been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil. . . .

In the name of good, and I think, you know, one thing that’s very important is having some humility in recognizing that just because we think that our intentions are good, doesn’t always mean that we’re going to be doing good.”

What a difference a day makes.  As a potential representative of the people, on the night of the Presidential Forum, Obama expressed as he had in his tome,  “Mutual understanding is not enough.  People must practice as they profess to believe.”  However, as he himself once chimed “Talk is cheap.” The philosophy Presidential candidate Obama bequeathed upon the American people, the thought that gave constituents hope has been shelved.  The sentiment is available only in archives far from the White House Situation Room.

When I was a community organizer back in the eighties, I would often challenge neighborhood leaders by asking them where they put their time, energy, and money. Those are the true tests of what we value, I’d tell them, regardless of what we like to tell ourselves.  If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.

The Nobel Committee might have read the passage, and as was stated, they wanted to support Mister Obama’s approach.  Accolades for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples” was thought to be sufficient to explain what those who were troubled by the March 2009 escalation could not understand.

Perchance, his mere election alone meant that “Obama has, as President, created a new climate in international politics.” After all, near a year before the Nobel announcement, Barack Obama had completed his original mission as articulated in 2004, “My job is to inspire people to take ownership of this country.”

Possibly, at the time of the official announcement, the Norwegian group was as mesmerized as the world was.  They too reveled in what Barack Obama acknowledged in his book; he has a “gift for rhetoric.”

That may explain why in an October Press Release the Nobel Institute stated that they thought Barack Obama embodied the essence of their belief “Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.”  At the time, the Norwegian Stortingof might have recalled the eloquent and empathetic language of the world leader.  The Committee may have been so moved by the peaceful prose of the President they did not realize they had only caught sight of one of the Two Face of Obama.

While the Peace Prize is intended to go to whoever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” on this occasion it did not.

A warrior, or one who sends tens of thousands of American sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and sibling off to slaughter and to be slaughtered received the honor. The combatant face of Obama who surrenders his more peacefully stated principles claimed the accolade.

In his Oslo lecture, the President did not acknowledge his cerebral discord.  Instead, he reasoned as researchers realized those who wrestle with cognitive dissonance do.  From the windows of the White House, President Obama, tells us, decisions look very different, (or did they, since Barack Obama actually did as he penned he would in his July 2008 plan)  Protected in the cocoon of a title, Commander-In-Chief, it is possible to order the massacre of a population comprised mostly of children, under the age of fourteen (14) and to do it “faster.”

Rationalization realized when cognitive dissonance dominates allows for avoidance and less authentic analysis.  Simply stated, President Obama professed to the Nobel audience, “There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”  This is the Obama escalation truth, regardless of a reality shared by his National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones, on Cable News Network’s “State of the Union” only days before the Peace Prize Committee announced that President Obama would win the award.

“Obviously, the good news is that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country. No bases. No ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.

Now the problem is the next step in this is the sanctuaries across the border. But I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in danger — imminent danger of falling.

The intelligence General Jim Jones imparted was ignored just as the guidance from U.S. Afghan envoy, retired General, Karl Eikenberry was.    General Eikenberry advised against escalation.  However, the empathetic President, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient exclaimed to his Cabinet and Commanders, “What I’m looking for is a surge.”

Barack Obama favors, the fight.  An Afghanistan Apocalypse. seems reasonable when rationalized through the eyes of one comfortable with cerebral discord.  From the Executive Office, empathy equates to a troops escalation.

Perhaps, one day, anathemas such as war will advance authentic prospects for global harmony. Intellectual cacophonies, two faces shared by a man, (a nation, or the world) will merge into one.  Then, and only then, will change emerge, and peace be truly prized.

Surge reduced violence; but distracts us from long-term goal.

~ Barack Obama. CBS News interview with Katie Couric, July 28, 2008

End the war, and end the mindset that got us into war.

~ Barack Obama. 2008 Democratic debate in Los Angeles, California, January 31, 2008

Never fudge numbers or shade the truth about war.

~ Barack Obama. Keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention July 29, 2004

References for a dual realty . . .

War Is Not Peace



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copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

War Is Not Peace.  Nor is there reason to think a warrior can be cleansed of the blood on his hands because he receives the Nobel Peace Prize.  Words can work to express justifications, or espouse the possibility that war is just, good, or even necessary.  However, when man wields weapons and bodies are intentionally broken there can be no defense.  To deliberately take the life of another, or to purposely cause people harm is to wage war.  Such transgressions will not produce peace.  Nor will aggressive attacks articulate a desire for diplomacy.  Democracy will not thrive in a world where all men are not treated as though they are created equal.  Only death and destruction will survive if a President who professes a need for bigger and bolder battles is proclaimed to be benevolent or the one who will bequeath global harmony.

One Thousand words or four will not convert combat to calm.  Nor will the Nobel Prize change the message of a military Commander-In-Chief.  A Head of State who chooses to engage with guns and tanks cannot be the bearer of peace, regardless of the eloquent rationalizations.  

Please peruse what some think profound or scan what others trust to be a shallow excuse for the escalation of Armed Forces. . .  The words of President Obama as he accepts the Nobel Peace Prize, after he declared the need to send more troops to Afghanistan

Obama’s Nobel Remarks Text.  The New York Times. December 11, 2009

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations – that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize – Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela – my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women – some known, some obscure to all but those they help – to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 43 other countries – including Norway – in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict – filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

These questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease – the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers, clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a “just war” emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the forced used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

For most of history, this concept of just war was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations – total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it is hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.

In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another World War. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations – an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this Prize – America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide and restrict the most dangerous weapons.

In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty, self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.

A decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts, the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies and failed states have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today’s wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed and children scarred.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King 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’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive 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 nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaidas leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the worlds sole military superpower.

Yet the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions – not just treaties and declarations – that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest – because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other people’s children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another – that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldiers courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths – that war is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human folly. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. “Let us focus,” he said, “on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.”

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?

To begin with, I believe that all nations – strong and weak alike – must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I – like any head of state – reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates – and weakens – those who don’t.

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait – a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don’t, our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention – no matter how justified.

This becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

America’s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.

The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries – and other friends and allies – demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they have shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular. But I also know this: The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That is why NATO continues to be indispensable. That is why we must strengthen U.N. and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That is why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali – we honor them not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace.

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant – the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.

I have spoken to the questions that must weigh on our minds and our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me turn now to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior – for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure – and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work toward disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I am working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia’s nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo or repression in Burma – there must be consequences. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.

This brings me to a second point – the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.

And yet all too often, these words are ignored. In some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation’s development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists – a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values.

I reject this choice. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please, choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America’s interests – nor the worlds – are served by the denial of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear to these movements that hope and history are on their side.

Let me also say this: The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach – and condemnation without discussion – can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable – and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty, and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul’s engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan’s efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There is no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.

Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights – it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

And that is why helping farmers feed their own people – or nations educate their children and care for the sick – is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action – it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.

Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All of these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power, to complete this work without something more – and that is the continued expansion of our moral imagination, an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share.

As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are, to understand that we all basically want the same things, that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families.

And yet, given the dizzying pace of globalization, and the cultural leveling of modernity, it should come as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular identities – their race, their tribe and, perhaps most powerfully, their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we are moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint – no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one’s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith – for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The nonviolence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached – their faith in human progress – must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith – if we dismiss it as silly or naive, if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace – then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago: “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”

So let us reach for the world that ought to be – that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he’s outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that – for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

The Change; Hope

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copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

It is said, as individuals, we can achieve all we conceive, if only we truly believe.  President Barack Obama once knew this.  He lived this veracity.  Indeed, candidate Obama’s audacity and accomplishments gave Americans hope.  When Barack Obama reached for the sky he realized what no one thought he could. The electorate was energized.  People came to expect the country was in for a change.   Now, it seems Mister Obama is bogged down by what Eisenhower understood, concerns of the Military Industrial Complex.  

The intricacy of the Armed Forces mission does not confine itself to forceful martial escalation.  Nothing escapes the wide reach of combative nation building.  Lives are lost.  Limbs crushed.  With bullets ablaze, brains are battered or blown to smithereens.  Hope suffers.  Hearts are hurt.  The economy is also affected.

Education policies are altered.  There are few pennies left to provide for adequate instruction.  Health care coverage fiscal calculations related to medical treatments and delivery of services are transformed.  The  billions of dollars spent on defense surpasses any other consideration.  This fiscal truth is obviously not lost on a Commander-In-Chief burdened with the need to appease his many Advisors, most of whom, from the beginning, were intent on war.  

President Obama could not ignore or forget his own earlier rhetoric.  After all, his words “Afghanistan is a war of necessity,” helped him win over the hearts and minds of Conservatives and Independents during the recent election.  As one who believes and works to builds consensus, some say President Obama chose to take the middle path.

With his decision to send more troops, into Afghanistan, the President  has shattered the dreams of many.  Another surge will mean countless communities will wait for more dollars to spend at home.   A patient nation, for a while longer, will remain proud and stay the course.

For now, only eight percent, the progressive fringe, feel a deepening sense of hopelessness.   Millions of Independents have also lost faith.  When only 36 percent of these think President Obama has done a fine job that could prove to be a problem.  

If, over time, personal pains become more profound, the exorbitant budgetary imbalance will not be ignored.  Misery amongst the masses will likely bring more voices of dissent.

In this moment, those on the far Left feel they must vocalize the sentiment heard in society at-large. However, without reason to believe, with signs that change has not come to those most in need, the public will turn nasty. Timidity, as history reveals, is transitory.  

Just as we witnessed in the 1960s, again in 2008, a war weary population becomes disheartened, and loud.  Americans who struggle to survive, and who realize billions, no trillions of dollars are spent on the fight, will ultimately, speak out vociferously

This week, President Obama quoted his predecessor, General Eisenhower,, “Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”  Then, contrary to Ike’s caution, he bowed to the Military Industrial Complex, Should Mister Obama continue down this path people of all walks of life are likely to rise up and say; The change we once believed in, our hope, has become our sense of hopelessness.

References for the reality of hope and hopelessness . . .

War and profit: Deciphering what it means to be in the U.S. military



March Forward! Against War and Racism

© copyright 2009 Michael Prysner.  Party for Socialism and Liberation

From the newsletter of March Forward!

We join the military for many different reasons. Some of us want to have access to a college education. Some of us want job training and a steady paycheck. Some of us join to get U.S. citizenship. Some of us need to get out of debt or need to get off a destructive path. Some of us join out of pride, patriotism and a genuine desire to be a part of some greater, collective good. Many of us made the decision early-while still in high school, enticed by recruiters’ promises of cash bonuses, adventure and opportunity-while some of us joined after years as a worker, drawn by the military’s full health care and housing benefits.

Whatever the reason, we all found ourselves wearing the uniform of the U.S. military. What did we actually join? What is the role of the U.S. military in the world? What does it mean to be a soldier following the dictates of U.S. foreign policy? When we sign ourselves away to the military, what are we being used to do?

In recent years, many of us ended up in Iraq or Afghanistan. We are told that as a soldier in the U.S. military we are defending the interests of the United States. This does have an ounce of truth-but only an ounce. We are defending the interests of a particular class in the United States. It is only a wealthy minority whose interests are being defended in Iraq, Afghanistan and the more than 130 countries where U.S. troops are stationed.

In whose interests do we serve?

I was sent to Iraq believing we would be helping the Iraqi people. Once the illusions of pride and patriotism crumbled, I realized I was never sent to help anyone. I kicked down their doors and dragged them from their homes. I robbed them of their humanity in interrogation cells. I watched the life ripped out of them. I saw children torn to shreds. I witnessed my friends disabled by physical and/or psychological trauma. All this suffering and destruction for “Iraqi Freedom,” which really means the freedom of a new U.S.-installed government to hand over control of its natural resources to U.S. corporations.

It wasn’t much different for those soldiers sent to Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Panama or other countries that have been targets of U.S. intervention over the past half-century and more.

We are taught the United States stands for freedom and democracy, and that military force is used to defend or further those ideals. This is echoed constantly throughout our lives, in school and in the media. It is woven into the fabric of our national identity, making it possible for people to accept the deaths of U.S. soldiers in foreign lands, as long as they are assured they died in the interests of democracy.

History of U.S. conflicts

However, reviewing the history of conflicts in which the U.S. military has been involved tells a completely different story. The U.S. government does not have a history of supporting democratic movements, but rather a history of overthrowing them. Among those countries whose popularly elected governments have been crushed by the U.S. military and replaced by authoritarian and non-elected dictators are the Congo, Grenada, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Chile, Indonesia, Iran, Haiti-and the list goes on. Quite simply, this government – whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House-has no problem installing and backing oppressive dictatorships.

Understanding U.S. foreign policy becomes much easier if we stop looking at it in terms of “defending democracy,” and start looking at it in terms of economic interests. It is not the form of a foreign government that determines whether it ends up in the crosshairs of the U.S. government, but whether or not that government will give U.S. businesses access to its markets, labor force and natural resources. This explains why the United States supports governments with some of the worst human rights records, like Colombia, or Saudi Arabia, which has never had an election in its history! U.S. corporations reap billions of dollars in profits from these countries.

U.S. foreign policy really boils down to ensuring the extraction of wealth from the developing world by U.S. corporations. In the words of two-time Medal of Honor winner Major General Smedley Butler: “I spent 33 years in the Marines. Most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

Claims that the Pentagon only works to defend the United States and spread democracy fall apart when you look at the current use of the military. It is now obvious that Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the United States, nor did the U.S. government care about the well-being of the Iraqi people. A quarter of Iraq’s population of 26 million people has been killed, wounded or displaced since the illegal U.S. invasion on March 19, 2003. Iraq sits atop a massive supply of petroleum, all of which was nationalized and closed to U.S. corporations’ control under Saddam Hussein.

The role of banks and big business

The banks and Wall Street exert dominating influence over U.S. foreign policy. Our “democracy” is reserved for those who have millions of dollars to run for office, and who are funded by (and ultimately beholden to) corporate interests. Our “free press” is owned by only five mega-corporations who directly profit from the military-industrial complex and distort reality to shape public opinion accordingly.

The ruling class of Wall Street CEOs, bankers and their loyal politicians has the power to annihilate an entire country for profit-but they never fight in these wars themselves. So they have to find a way to convince the average worker that these wars are worth fighting. They must find a way to convince working-class people that we should kill and die to make the rich ruling class even richer.

Our enemy is not on the other side of the world; that enemy is in the corporate boardrooms and the Pentagon Brass. Defeating that enemy means refusing to take part in their imperialist plans and organizing together to demand real justice.

Obama’s Strategy on Afghanistan

copyright © 2099 Jerome Grossman.  Relentless Liberal

It is difficult, even impossible, to accept President Obama’s “New strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan” as described by him in a formal speech on March 27.  It fails by imperial and non-imperial standards.

First the imperial: Chalmers Johnson, a former CIA agent, reports in his book Nemesis: “The Carter administration deliberately provoked the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  In his 1996 memoir, former CIA Director Robert Gates acknowledges that the American intelligence services began to aid the anti-Soviet mujahideen guerillas not after the Russian invasion but six months before it.  President Carter’s purpose was to provoke a full-scale Soviet military intervention to tie down the USSR.”  Will an expanded military effort in Afghanistan tie down the U.S. as it did the USSR?

Obama plans a U.S. military effort in Afghanistan lasting at least five years in a country 50% larger than Iraq in area and population.  The NATO allied forces are token in size and commitment and rarely leave their base camps.  A serious U.S. military effort will require at least 250,000 troops tied down in Afghanistan/Pakistan.  Will America be unable to react to other challenges as they arise especially its obligations, to protect Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, to deter Iran from a nuclear program, to support Pakistan from collapse; etc?

The invasion of Iraq could be justified on imperial grounds because it is strategically situated in the heart of the largest concentration of oil in the world.  Afghanistan has no comparable resource, one of the poorest countries, no industry, little farming, rugged terrain, a land of banditry and bribery.

The adventure fails from a non- imperial perspective.  Obama says “That country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.”  None of the 19 people who perpetrated the September 11 criminal tragedy were Afghan or Taliban.  Fifteen of them were Saudi.  There are no Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan any longer.  Osama bin Laden and what is left of his crew is in hiding somewhere in the wilderness of Pakistan.  The Al Qaeda operation is scattered and disorganized.  Yes, another 19 thugs could infiltrate the U.S. and kill Americans, but sending an army into Afghanistan is not going to prevent another such criminal act.  In fact, the hyped war in Afghanistan is more likely to divert us from protecting ourselves against another September 11.

  • Obama’s Strategy on Afghanistan
  • MoveOn Obama Budget

    copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

    The mail arrived.  It was from MoveOn.org.  Overwhelmed with work, I thought to delete it.  I noticed the surname of the sender was the same as a friend of mine.  Only that [cosmic] coincidence led me to open the message and peruse.  I read Daniel Mintz’s words with interest, for he spoke of what I miss in the news.  Mister Mintz did not focus on the folly of a few executives at American International Group, Incorporated (AIG).  The representative  from MoveOn offered what is more real to me, an average American.

    As we’ve seen with AIG this week, the powerful don’t give up their special treatment without a fight.  They’re spending millions on lobbyists to quietly kill the provisions that would make them help pay for America’s priorities. 1 And despite all the posturing in Congress over AIG’s bonuses, too many senators are still listening to the banking and insurance lobbyists on the issues that aren’t in the headlines.

    So we need to speak louder than the lobbyists . . .

    Today’s Washington Post calls it “a populist budget” 2 because it cuts taxes for most Americans while ending unfair tax advantages for the richest among us.  The best part is that it takes all the money we’ll save and invests it in critical national priorities that will help build and strengthen the middle class.

    Obama’s budget gives tax breaks to working families instead of CEOs.  And it closes the tax loopholes for special interests that cost us billions, like:

    • The loophole that lets companies take tax breaks for sending jobs overseas.  This will save us more than $200 billion over the next decade. 3
    • The loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay a 15% tax rate on their income, instead of regular income tax like the rest of us.  That will save us more than $20 billion. 4
    • The loophole for big oil companies that gives them huge tax breaks even when they’re posting record profits, saving us more than $30 billion over the next decade. 5
    • The loophole that gives the richest Americans bigger tax breaks for their deductions.  Right now, a teacher who contributes $1,000 to the Red Cross gets a $150 tax break.  A Wall Street executive making the same contribution gets a $350 tax break. 6

    Quality references were offered for each claim.  Research for me is more real than rhetoric.  Almost as an automaton might, as I read, I reached for the telephone.  I smiled at the thought that I might respond as directed.  I called my Senator in Washington, District of Columbia.

    I was surprised when I heard a ring.  Too often, when I have attempted to connect with this individual Senator I receive a busy signal.  Bill Nelson is frequently busy, but it seems he does not always speak on my behalf.  His record on the issues that are most meaningful to me is as inconsistent as is my ability to speak with someone in his office.  I am; however, thankful that Senator Nelson, is at least closer to my truth than Senator Mel Martinez, of Florida is.

    As the phone rang and rang, I wondered, would I only have an opportunity to leave voice mail.  No; a man answered.  He said, “Senator Nelson’s office.”  I shared with the gent as I later did with MoveOn.org.  Now, I offer what was said with any reader who might wish to consider.

    In my conversation with Senator Bill Nelson’s office, I shared my name, address, and my serious concern for the constant distractions.  Rather than attend to substance, the need for green jobs, health care for all, quality education provided equally for our children, America cries of a discontent for bonuses.  While the ten percent of the AIG bailout bestowed upon the privileged in additional benefits may be important, for me, it is not the cause for my greater apprehension.  

    Tax loopholes, the levees unpaid by the wealthy, the money held back without an approval of the Obama budget, I believe these are far more significant, if we are to create other than the economic crisis we now have.  I reminded the office worker, the last Bush budget proposed was for $3.1 trillion.  That submission did not include the supplemental costs of war we all knew were coming!  In truth, I am fascinated by a fixation that promotes falsehoods.  I think the Obama financial plan is far more restrained than George W. Bush’s expenditure ever were.  

    The Senate associate listened, or so I hope.  He was extremely quiet.  He closed the conversation by saying he would pass my message on.  A perceived lack of enthusiasm on the part of the gentleman I spoke with leads me to wonder; can I or we believe much will change.

    Please, if you have not already dear reader, as a concerned citizen, would you too call your Senators, Congresspersons, anyone and everyone who might have the power to help pass the Obama budget.  I offer a few ways to locate your Representatives.

    References . . .

    Infamous Anniversary of Attack



    Global Greens 2008 – Bruce Gagnon (Maine, USA)

    copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

    March 19, 2009, is a day that lives in infamy.  There were others in the past.  However, on this date six years ago, the United States launched what has come to be accepted as unwarranted attacks on Iraq.  Although, from the first, there were protests even in high places such as the Senate floor, unilaterally, Americans bombed an innocent people.  This time, for near two years prior, pretense was presented as truth.

    The American people were told by their President how dangerous the Iraqi Al Qaida terrorists were.  George W. Bush assured anxious Americans, he would protect us.  Congress was warned of what would occur if the United States did not react to the Middle Eastern threat.  Commander Bush sent a letter on March 18, 2003.  Even as his eight-year term ended, he worked to establish in the minds of historians and the electorate who had experienced all that occurred, Mister Bush kept us safe.  

    As recently as December 2008, the now former President proclaimed, a newly acquired nuance to the saga he has long recounted on the war in Iraq.  “It is true, as I have said many times, that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 9/11 attacks.  But the decision to remove Saddam from power cannot be viewed in isolation from 9/11.”  Yet, he retained and repeated his ever-strident commitment to the combat.  “It was clear to me, to members of both political parties, and to many leaders around the world that after 9/11, this was a risk we could not afford to take.”

    Americans, many of whom are content the Bush era has passed, refer to the 9/11 Commission Report to invalidate the claims of a President who no longer resides in the White House.  Currently, countless citizens take comfort; Barack Obama presides over the Oval Office.  The just elected Commander-In-Chief has already begun to take steps to remove beleaguered troops from the embattled frontlines.  

    Since Mister Obama took office, citizens are less concerned with the war in Iraq.  Many have faith the President will do what is best for military men and women.  Some are encouraged by reports that the Commander-In-Chief will send combat soldiers stationed in Iraq home safely, or perhaps, individuals are focused on more personal realities.  Anxiety over a potential, probable, or actual job loss consumes countless Americans, more so than combat abroad does.  A pension-plan gone bust, a lack of health care coverage, and a possible home foreclosure take precedence for millions more than war.  Few of the common folk feel as troubled by occurrences in the Middle East.  Most merely hope Mister Obama will do what is best.  

    Occasional outspoken exception can be heard.  On March 12, 2009, former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleisher stated, “[A]fter September 11th, having been hit once, how could we take a chance that Saddam Hussein might not strike again?  We got a report saying al Qaeda is determined to attack the United States.”  Nonetheless, even Conservatives such as John McCain endorse President Obama’s plan for withdrawal.

    Overall, opinions on Iraq, the war and the withdrawal are mixed, even among foreign policy experts.

    Then there are the few who fear further folly in the Persian Gulf.  Progressives, be they political figures or peace activists amongst the public, think the Obama agenda to end the conflict in Iraq is too little and too late.  Official dissent is often stated diplomatically.  Personal pleas may be more moving.  

    A week before the sixth anniversary of America’s Second Gulf War, regardless of the President’s intended withdrawal everyday people stood out in the streets, just as they had done throughout the war.  ‘Iraq is a symptom of a foreign policy and priorities” that the peaceful felt and feel they cannot sanction.

    At local vigils nationwide attendees talked of their observation, verified in the news.  Americans support the President’s proposed Afghan buildup.   ”Enough!  Bring the Troops Home Now!” was the oft-heard cry from those who crave global harmony.  Most asked as they had during the fateful Bush years.  “What Do We Do Now?”

    Bruce K. Gagnon, Coordinator of Global Network Against Weapons offers his perspective.  In an article published on June 14, 2007, the recipient of the Doctor Benjamin Spock’s Peacemaker Award presents his ten-point plan.


    I often hear from people asking me, “What should we do about all this?  How can we stop Bush?”

    I would first say that we must move beyond blaming Bush.  The fact of U.S. empire is bigger than Bush.  Hopefully by now, all of us are more clear how the Democrats have been, and are now, involved in enabling the whole U.S. military empire-building plan.  It is about corporate domination.  Bush is just the front man for the big money.

    So to me that is step #1 .

    Step #2  is to openly acknowledge that as a nation, and we as citizens, benefit from this U.S. military and economic empire.  By keeping our collective military boot on the necks of the people of the world we get control of a higher percentage of the world’s resources.  We, 5% of the global population in the U.S., use 25% of the global resource base.  This reality creates serious moral questions that cannot be ignored.

    Step #3  is to recognize that we are addicted to war and to violence.  The very weaving together of our nation was predicated on violence when we began the extermination of the Native populations and introduced the institution of slavery.  A veteran of George Washington’s Army, in 1779, said, “I really felt guilty as I applied the torch to huts that were homes of content until we ravagers came spreading desolation everywhere..  Our mission here is ostensibly to destroy but may it not transpire, that we pillagers are carelessly sowing the seed of Empire.”  The soldier wrote this as Washington’s Army set out to remove the Iroquois civilization from New York state so that the U.S. government could expand its borders westward toward the Mississippi River.  The creation of the American empire was underway.

    Our history since then has been endless war.  Two-Time Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler, U.S. Marine Corps, told the story in his book War is a Racket.  Butler recalls in his book, “I spent 33 years and 4 months in active military service….And during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism….Thus I helped make Mexico and especially

    Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914.  I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.  I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street….I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912.  I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916.  I helped make Honduras right for American fruit companies in 1903.  In China in 1927, I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.”

    Step # 4  We have to begin to change how we think about our country.  We have to learn to understand what oligarchy means.  I’ll save you the trouble of having to look up the definition – A government in which power is in the hands of a few.  When you have lost your democracy then what do the citizens do?  They must fight (non-violently) to take it back.  This of course means direct action and sometimes civil disobedience.  Virtually everything good in our nation (abolition of slavery movement, women’s suffrage, civil rights movement, anti-war movements, etc) have come from people stepping up when they were needed.  Calling for impeachment by the Congress becomes imperative today.  Are you in or out?

    Step #5  Forget the “every man for himself” mythology.  We are all brainwashed in this country to believe in the rugged individualism story.  But movement for change can only happen in community – working with others.  So forget the egocentric notion that “one great man” is going to come save us.  It’s going to take a village – in fact all the villages.  Just like an addict goes to a group to seek help for addiction, knowing they can’t do it themselves, so we must form community to work for the needed change if we are to protect our children’s future.

    Step # 6  What about my job?  Another smothering myth in America is success.  Keep your nose clean and don’t rock the boat.  Don’t get involved in politics, especially calling for a revolution of values (like Martin Luther King Jr. did) or you will get labeled and then you can forget about owning that castle on the hill you’ve always dreamed of.  In a way we become controlled by our own subservience to the success mythology.  We keep ourselves in line because success and upward mobility become more important than protecting free speech, clean water, clean air, and ending an out of control government bent on world domination.  Free our minds, free our bodies and we free the nation.

    Step #7  Learn to work well with others.  Sure we all want to be stars.  But in the end we have to learn to set aside our egos if we want to be able to work with others to bring about the needed changes.  Cindy Sheehan should not be hammered just for telling the truth about the Democrats playing footsie with Bush on the war.

    Step # 8  It’s the money.  How can I do this peace work when I have to work full-time just to pay the mortgage?  I’d like to help but I’ve got bills to pay!  Maybe we can begin to look at the consumerist life we lead and see that our addiction to the rat race keeps us from being fully engaged in the most important issue of our time – which is protecting the future generations.  How can we begin to explore cooperative living arrangements, by building community, that free us up economically to be able to get more involved?

    Step # 9  Learn to read again.  Many of us don’t read enough.  We spend our time in front of the TV, which is a primary tool that the power structure uses to brainwash us.  We’ve got to become independent thinkers again and teach our kids to think for themselves.  Reading and talking to others is a key.  Read more history.  All the answers and lessons can be found there.

    Step #10 Learn to trust again and have fun.  Some of the nicest people in the world are doing political work.  Meet them and become friends with them and your life will change for the better.

    Mister Gagnon professes wars will be forever perpetual if we the people continue to consider our brethren an enemy.  If dominion is our preference, diplomacy will never be more than a mere word.  The public cannot blame George W. Bush or Barack Obama for its addiction to might and material goods.  Nor can we, the people expect an oligarchy to have the best interests of common folks at heart.  If consumption and competition are the principles that guide our population, battles will endure.  If peace is to ever come, as citizens, as a country, on every continent, the people must act in accordance with the principles most claim they hold dear.  Consistency, in thought and deed, can eliminate combat.

    “Love thy neighbor” cannot be said only on Sundays, on the Sabbath, or in houses of worship.  Indeed, Bruce Gagnon might avow, as other peaceful persons do, March 19, 2009 is not the sixth anniversary of a war.  It is another date that lives in infamy, as has been every day in centuries of battles fought.

    References for the reality of war . . .