A young U.S. Air force pilot sits at a computer screen watching two pickup trucks winding their way down a mountain road ten thousand miles away. A decision is made by three other people observing the trucks that there are terrorists in the trucks and they must be destroyed. The young pilot pushes a button and in a few seconds two guided missiles from the Reaper Drone flying five miles above the mountain destroys the two vehicles in a large fireball.
An extended family of 21 and a happy bride-to-be are instantly incinerated. This leaves only one son alive for this family. He had gone ahead earlier to make arrangements for his family who were going to attend his wedding in one week’s time. His intended bride was riding in one of the trucks that had been borrowed from a family friend.
Two weeks later, after the details of the event became known around the world, where thousands of people gathered to protest the accidental killing on the mountain side, the young pilot who had pushed the button stopped at his favorite bar, on the way home from work to be with his wife and two young daughters. He had a few drinks and a short time later left the bar and drove his motorcycle down the dark desert road at high speed and crashed into a parked, highway repair truck.
The Highway Patrol officer interviewed at the scene estimated that the motorcycle was going in excess of 100 miles per hour at the point of impact. What remained of his body was found 200 feet from the original point of contact.
War affects people in many ways. The intended bridegroom becomes a militant Islamic resistance warrior who kills 20 of the foreign infidels wearing an explosive vest. The pilot could not live with what he had done as he would have been forced to continue his daily remote killing on the following day.
The pilot’s death was determined to be accidental and his family would be able to survive at least economically with his military death benefit and his additional life insurance. The bridegroom was honored throughout the Islamic world as a saint. It is a sad story about the effects of war, where almost everybody becomes a victim.
From 1966 until 1971, I was the staff media specialist in Chicago for The Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket. I worked there for the last two years of Dr. King’s life and then for three more years under The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. Following that, I worked for another year with the Rainbow Coalition a multi-ethnic neighbor hood group.
Today we have a President who is seeking a second term. Before he was elected three years ago many of us saw him as a Black Savior who would turn this country around, into a country for all the people, not just the top 1 percent.
Did any of you read the President’s books? If you did then you know that he never promised us a rose garden. Rather, he proposed the beginning of a regeneration process.
Think of America today as a worn out patch of weeds, a vacant lot choking on pollution, close to being unable to spring back to life. Obama has been able to effect some changes to the patch, but not nearly enough to satisfy most of us. We feel betrayed that he put some of the people who poisoned the garden in charge of revitalizing it. These experts were playing with old rules that worked badly before and now were supposed to magically do the job. It’s like trying to spread Democracy or saving the hearts and minds of strangers by killing them.
Our country is in crisis. We still need a Single Payer Health plan. Medicare is threatened. Our schools and our country’s infrastructure are failing. The arrogance of the wealthy and their wannabes look with loathing and contempt on those less fortunate than themselves. We are frustrated that we were sold out, and had to go begging from an obstructionist opposition. We have a Congress that is mostly subservient to the moneyed class who are the main recipients of the spoils of war. We have a Supreme Court that protects our Military Industrial Complex; the media has become complicit as the corporations that own them spew propaganda as news.
Over the past 200 years, our country has been on a quest to build an empire. Our military has been engaged in over 20 major wars during this period and that does not include the many smaller interventions undertaken worldwide but mostly unknown by our own citizens. The U.S. today has over 600 military bases scattered across this world in over 100 countries. The United States with NATO has replaced the United Nations as the world’s peacekeeper and now justifies our never-ending preemptive wars under the guise of nation building to spread Democracy.
Over 60 years ago George Orwell the author of Animal Farm and 1984 foretold a future society that many believe we have now entered. Sadly many of our citizens have “swallowed the Kool-Aid” of lies and misinformation that has replaced rational political, economic and social discussion. We rarely are able to discover the bottom line or the real reason that is causing the chaos that surrounds us. Many of our citizens no longer even care to vote out of apathy or disgust resulting from a lack of confidence in our failing system. Even television programming has provided the same sort of circuses, both violent and fanciful, similar to those used in the last days of the decline of the Roman Empire.
My favorite project at the present time is the refurbishing of “The Teen War Memorial”. As of today exactly 398 18- and 19-year-old soldiers, male and female, have died in our continuing wars of the past 10 years. Our government chooses to call them “Fallen Heroes” but my fellow members of “Veterans for Peace” and “Military Families Speak Out” and I see them as war victims. This project that has been displayed on local high school and college campuses is comprised of a field of small white crosses one for each of the deceased with a photo and relevant details of each life and death. It shows the enormous waste of the lives and the future of these teenagers who have died in the quest of empire. The intent of the display is to show young people, their parents and their friends “The Cost of War”. Students are constantly hounded by military recruiters at our high schools intent on filling their required recruitment quotas, which unfortunately continues in this “Poverty Draft“.
Many of us have spent long hours these past years in opposition to the continuing wars that should have been predicted as future failures long before they were even started. Our government has not learned from its failures and continues to expect different outcomes and in the process our country is close to bankruptcy.
This country has yet to admit that Vietnam was a horrible mistake. The ravages of Agent Orange and the scattered and still lethal land mines continue today to maim and kill innocent children and this will continue on into the future. Depleted uranium has poisoned thousands of people world wide including many of our own troops. More U.S. military personnel, both on active duty and discharged veterans are committing suicide than ever before.
Most of the rest of our planet’s inhabitants have learned to see behind our Empire’s curtain and I hope and feel that there is a new generation of young people that will reject the Empire and find other ways and means to build a better, more cooperative world. There are “Winds of Peace and Independence” flowing from various parts of the world. This week, for example, thousands of caring people have gathered across this country demanding justice for a seventeen-year-old boy killed by a wannabe cop in Florida where a “Stand Your Ground” law justifies the taking of human life because all a person has to say is he felt he was being threatened.
Social media today can and will spread vital information in milliseconds to young people everywhere in the world where there is opposition to the people’s needs in contrast to controlled governmental propaganda. The Occupy movement may be a starting point here and now if it can maintain non-violent direct action that is not taken over by violent elements. This has happened many times before by the infiltration of government agents provocateurs. When that happens it will result in retaliation by the well-trained police and domestic military forces equipped with the latest crowd dispersal weapons. We have seen this here in Los Angeles when rage over injustice turns into violent mob behavior that is suppressed with overwhelming retaliatory police action that is supported by the establishment.
Violence never brings lasting peace as we have seen recently being repeated in Africa and the Middle East.
It may have to get much worse before it gets better. My favorite quotation of Dr. King’s many eloquent observations is, “A person who has nothing worth dying for has nothing worth living for”. He also said, “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
This only works when a movement reaches a point of critical mass where overwhelming amounts of people are arrested and the jails are filled way beyond capacity with more prisoners peacefully waiting to join them. All will continue to stay there in prison in protest until change becomes apparent. Then if non-violence is maintained and a significant number of the working class people refuse to work, and the military and police forces refuse to obey orders everything comes to a halt.
This has happened on a number of instances in the past, most significant would be Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent overthrow of British rule in India. Like today’s Black Civil Right’s movement still in progress, it needed elements of change that included moral, legal, social and economic aspects in a mixture that would become acceptable and embraced across the populace. It also involves a process of reconciliation and continuing effort to see that the changes are not betrayed.
Many of us today can rightly claim feelings of helplessness in the face of everything that stands against us but I hope that all of us can continue doing what we can do best to transform our lives, our families, our friends and our comrades so that someday, even if we are not here to see it, a process of Love, Understanding, Forgiveness, Solidarity, Peace, Justice, and Freedom will have overcome. I love you all as we continue doing what we have to do because we want to do it.
Jack Finley is a peace activist who some call a peace champion. He works tirelessly to support peace candidates opening his home for precinct walking and phone banking to mobilize residents of his community to oppose the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Jack was recently named “Peacemaker of the Year” by the San Pedro Neighbors for Peace and Justice. This was his acceptance speech.