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Peace and War
Nelson Mandela's story, if told as a novel, would not be deemed possible in real life. Worse, we don't tell such stories in many of our novels.
A violent young rebel is imprisoned for decades but turns that imprisonment into the training he needs. He turns to negotiation, diplomacy, reconciliation. He negotiates free elections, and then wins them. He forestalls any counter-revolution by including former enemies in his victory. He becomes a symbol of the possibility for the sort of radical, lasting change of which violence has proved incapable. He credits the widespread movement in his country and around the world that changed cultures for the better while he was locked away. But millions of people look to the example of his personal interactions and decisions as having prevented a blood bath.
Mandela was a rebel before he had a cause. He was a fighter and a boxer. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that South Africa benefited greatly from the fact that Mandela did not emerge from prison earlier: "Had he come out earlier, we would have had the angry, aggressive Madiba. As a result of the experience that he had there, he mellowed. ... Suffering either embitters you or, mercifully, ennobles you. And with Madiba, thankfully for us, the latter happened."
Mandela emerged able to propose reconciliation because he'd had the time to think it through, because he'd had the experience of overcoming the prisons' brutality, because he'd been safely locked up while others outside were killed or tortured, and also -- critically -- because he had the authority to be heard and respected by those distrustful of nonviolence.
The CIA had Mandela prosecuted in 1963. He might have been given the death penalty. Alan Paton testified in court that if Mandela and other defendants were killed the government would have no one to negotiate with (this at a time when both sides would have rather died than negotiate anything).
The U.S. government considered Mandela a terrorist until 2008, when he was a 90-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner (and most Nobel Peace Prize winners were not yet in the habit of engaging in terrorism).
But many here in the United States and around the world brought pressure to bear on the Apartheid government of South Africa in a manner similar to what is now being developed to pressure Israel. The times were changing. A door was just cracking open. And Mandela negotiated it right off its hinges, even as violence rolled on in Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, and the Middle East. Mandela showed another way -- or, rather, the first and only way that involved actually accomplishing positive change.
Mandela had flaws, and traits that many would consider flaws. Either his sex life or his economic reform agenda (not that he stood by the latter) would have disqualified him from politics in the United States even had he not been on the list of terrorists. His second wife suffered in the movement outside the prisons, turning toward anger and hatred even as her husband turned toward empathy and forgiveness.
Mandela did not adopt an ideology or a religion that imposed nonviolence on him. Rather, he found his way to tools that would work effectively, and to the state of mind that would give him the strength to implement them. He found, not only empathy but great humility. He sought fair elections but not a candidacy. Urged to become a candidate he committed to serving only one term. As the election results came in, reports are that he stopped the counting before his lead could grow so large as to exclude minority parties from the government. He credited the movement with the victory and invited his former jailer to his inauguration.
Danny Schechter has produced a fantastic new book about Mandela, called Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela. It's based on the making of a documentary series that's based on the making of the new film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, which is in turn based primarily on Mandela's autobiography.
In the book, Schechter speculates on how the corporate media will cover Mandela's death. "Which Mandela will be memorialized? Will it be the leader who built a movement and a military organization to fight injustice? Or a man of inspiration with a great smile whom we admire because of the long years suffered behind bars?" It's a rhetorical question now and always was, but I wish the answer could have been something other than those two choices. I wish the answer were Mandela the man who negotiated a peaceful change, who forgave, who apologized, who sympathized, who showed a way for nations to live up to the standards of our children, whom we routinely urge to settle their problems with words rather than aggravating their problems with violence.
The United States needs that example when speaking with Iran. Colombia needs it as the possibility of peace glimmers in the distance there. Syrian builders of movements and military organizations that fight injustice need that example desperately.
When will we ever learn?
Vice Deputy Under Elf for Hearts and Minds: Good Afternoon, this is the Vice Deputy Under Elf for Hearts and Minds, how may I bring you joy?
Anonymous Pentagon Official: Cut the crap, Nils, you know why I'm calling.
VDUEHM: You've got me confused with the big man, Chuck. I can't see you even when you're awake.
APO: We're providing your sled with fighter jet escort in a $3 billion promotional video, Nils, and this is the 218th -- count 'em, Nils -- the 218th defective puppet you've given us, under warranty, and your people -- if I may call the little goblins "people" -- are not helping.
VDUEHM: What is the name and serial number of the puppet?
APO: The hell you think his name is? Hamid Frickin Karzai, you third-rate bureaucratic ... you can't even see over a bureau, can you? You know what, Nils, if your big man had given us a reasonably small sack of coal instead of each and every puppet we've ever picked up on Christmas morning, we'd ... we'd ... well, we'd have had to think up an entirely different reason for our wars, that's what!
VDUEHM: Please state the difficulty you are experiencing with the puppet.
APO: I don't have all damn day here, Nils. You want the full list? Let me put it to you this way. Remember that last puppet, Maliki, who you claimed was not under warranty ...
VDUEHM: When you intentionally, maliciously, or negligently destroy the puppet's primary or temporary nation or society, the warranty is voided in its entirety, as found in rule number ...
APO: You can imagine where I might suggest you stick that rule book, Nils. Tell me this: who is your best customer in the entire world?
VDUEHM: The innocent child who wishes good only for others and experiences a depth of gratitude ...
APO: Who's your second best customer?
VDUEHM: We give presents, Chuck. Did you think you'd dialed Saudi Arabia? I can have someone connect you. Please hold ...
APO: Hold on! Hold on! My god! Whose chestnuts do you have to roast to get some service around here?
VDUEHM: Please state the difficulty you are experiencing with the puppet.
APO: He's refusing to sign on for 10 more years and beyond.
VDUEHM: Beyond what?
APO: Beyond the next 10 years.
VDUEHM: So, why don't you just call it "indefinitely"? Why mention 10 years if you're going to add "and beyond"?
APO: You wouldn't understand marketing, Nils. You give stuff away, remember?
VDUEHM: It is my understanding that he said he would sign on if you changed a few things. Is that true?
APO: Yeah, yeah. Just a few little bitty things like turning the sky upside down. We had Kerry try to get one of Karzai's underlings to sign on, but Karzai blocked that. Talk about an aggressively defective puppet. This is asymmetric warfare, Nils!
VDUEHM: Kerry? John Kerry? The guy who is opposed to and in favor of every war? The guy who tried to sell missiles-on-Syria as a radical overthrow by violent pacifist fanatic moderate secular extremists that would change everything and have no effect whatsoever? That guy? That guy? Wait, and you're the expert on MARKETING? Oh my god, wait a minute, hang on, I gotta tell Rudolph this one ...
VDUEHM: Chuck, I've got an answer for you from Rudolph. He says you'll go down in history.
VDUEHM: No, not really. Listen, this is what your puppet Karzai said to you: stop killing civilians, stop kicking people's doors in at night, engage in peace talks, free prisoners from Guantanamo, refrain from sabotaging next April's elections, and he'll sign your paper. Now, you had this conversation on the big man's knee. He asked you if you were sure you wanted the democratic puppet and not the monster puppet. No, no, you said, you wanted the democratic puppet. You were all about spreading democracy, Chuck.
APO: That wasn't ME! That was the guy before the guy before the guy before the guy before me!
VDUEHM: It's the same warranty, and your puppet is performing as required. If you'd like to submit a complaint ...
APO: I'll tell you what I'll submit, Nils, I'll submit that melting ice isn't healthy for elves. I'll submit that the guy after the guy after the guy after me is going to get a call from you begging for a bit of terra firma, and I'll submit that he's going to remember the exact number of defective damn puppets you will by that point have provided. Do you like freezing water, Nils?
VDUEHM: I'm transferring you to my boss.
APO: I thought so.
Adam Hochschild discusses his books, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, and To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.
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Producer: David Swanson.
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What Does Latest Dead Afghan 2-Year-Old Have in Common with Paul Robeson, John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway?
This is the season of death, when we celebrate the dying of the sun with an orgiastic burst of consumption and environmental destruction. This is the season of rebirth when we spend time with loved ones and reach out to help others we don't know.
Now would be an appropriate time to come to grips with public murder and make a public investment in peace. If I were summoning back ghosts of governments past for a press conference at the National Press Club, my first inclination -- lasting only a split second -- would be to bring the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, the Native Americans, the Laotians, the Mexicans, the Cambodians, the Iraqis, the Guatemalans, the Japanese, the Afghans, the Germans, the Yemenis, and all the peoples of the world dead by our indifference or malevolence and by our sacred tax dollars. Pacific Islanders killed by weapons testing would join children killed by drug testing, and prisoners both innocent and guilty killed by electric chairs and injections, standing side-by-side with the resurrected bodies of men tortured to death by the CIA, kids melted with white phosphorous, and presidents -- both foreign and domestic -- cut down by assassins spreading freedom and joy.
My second inclination would be to line up a handful of press-worthy celebrities whose celebrity might motivate a bit of our national press corpse [sic] to hop an elevator for the long commute to the press club despite the fact that these particular celebrities were murdered by our government. First might be Paul Robeson. Here's a wikipedia summary for those unfamiliar with this great man. Here's a taste of Robeson's voice. And here's audio of a discussion with Robeson's son and others of how the CIA drugged him and then electroshocked him, effectively debilitating and silencing a voice that had never before faltered, a voice that had gone so far as to denounce the House Un-American Activities Committee as un-Americans to their faces. This article sums up this crime. This more recent article looks back.
Next to Robeson before the cameras might stand John Wayne. In 1955, movie star John Wayne, who avoided participating in World War II by opting instead to make movies glorifying war, decided that he had to play Genghis Khan. The Conqueror was filmed in Utah, and the conqueror was conquered. Of the 220 people who worked on the film, by the early 1980s 91 of them had contracted cancer and 46 had died of it, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. Statistics suggest that 30 of the 220 might ordinarily have gotten cancer, not 91. In 1953 the military had tested 11 atomic bombs nearby in Nevada, and by the 1980s half the residents of St. George, Utah, where the film was shot, had cancer. You can run from war, but you can't hide. Imagine that comment in John Wayne's voice as he stands, newly restored to life, speaking at a podium surrounded by handsome hacks who play journalists on TV.
Beside Robeson and Wayne at the best-attended-ever press conference we might line up Ernest Hemingway. When I was first told that Hemingway had killed himself, it was explained to me that he didn't want to live as an old man incapable of hunting lions. And yet this was the author of The Old Man and the Sea. Make sense of that if you can. Now we learn from Hemingway's friend and collaborator over the last 13 years of his life that the FBI's surveillance of Hemingway "substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide." Hemingway's close friend didn't take Hemingway's complaints about the FBI seriously until his FBI file was finally released, confirming the surveillance. "It's the worst hell," Hemingway had said. "The goddamnedest hell. They've bugged everything. That's why we're using [a friend]'s car. Mine's bugged. Everything's bugged. Can't use the phone. Mail intercepted." I wonder how many high school English classes will mention this.
Next to Hemingway, let's bring out Bob Marley. The CIA's files on him are being kept secret for your protection, but the death and destruction the CIA was bringing to his country is undisputed, the CIA's responsibility for the failed assassination attempt against him is very likely, and it appears that in the end the CIA got him by a manner that sounds insanely bizarre if you haven't heard about giving an entire French town LSD or targeting a single intended victim (Fidel Castro) with a poisoned diving suit, an exploding cigar, a ballpoint-pen syringe, an exploding conch shell, and dozens of other crackpot schemes that sound less comical when they work.
Some surprise guests at the press club might include John and Robert Kennedy. Others might include, after all, the millions of nameless forgotten dead, the victims of the industrial-scale "signature strikes" that have been our biggest public investment. Not that the reporters would all see the point of cramming so many resurrected bodies into their club, but because some of the celebrity victims might more clearly grasp and articulate the purpose of the event. Sooner or later we are going to have to stop killing people and start loving people, or the rebirth of life after winter won't keep repeating.
When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama's war than President Bush's. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until "2024 and beyond."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the deal. Here is his list of concerns. He'd like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people's doors at night. He'd like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He'd like innocent Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. And he'd like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections. Whatever we think of Karzai's legacy -- my own appraisal is unprintable -- these are perfectly reasonable demands.
Iran and Pakistan oppose keeping nine major U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, some of them on the borders of their nations, until the end of time. U.S. officials threaten war on Iran with great regularity, the new agreement notwithstanding. U.S. missiles already hit Pakistan in a steady stream. These two nations' concerns seem as reasonable as Karzai's.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan "as soon as possible" for years and years. We're spending $10 million per hour making ourselves less safe and more hated. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this mad operation is suicide.
When the U.S. troops left Iraq, it remained a living hell, as Libya is now too. But the disaster that Iraq is does not approach what it was during the occupation. Much less has Iraq grown dramatically worse post-occupation, as we were warned for years by those advocating continued warfare.
Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan -- or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country -- would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations, and would make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we'd favor that course if asked. We were asked on Syria, and we told pollsters we favored aid, not missiles.
We stopped the missiles. Congress members in both houses and parties said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before. But we didn't stop the guns that we opposed even more than the missiles in polls. The CIA shipped the guns to the fighters without asking us or the Congress. And Syrians didn't get the aid that we favored.
We aren't asked about the drone strikes. We aren't asked about most military operations. And we aren't being asked about Afghanistan. Nor is Congress asserting its power to decide. This state of affairs suggests that we haven't learned our lesson from the Syrian Missile Crisis. Fewer than one percent of us flooded Congress and the media with our voices, and we had a tremendous impact. The lesson we should learn is that we can do that again and again with each new war proposal.
What if two percent of us called, emailed, visited, protested, rallied, spoke-out, educated, and non-violently resisted 10 more years in Afghanistan? We'd have invented a new disease. They'd replace the Vietnam Syndrome with the Afghanistan Syndrome. Politicians would conclude that the U.S. public was just not going to stand for any more wars. Only reluctantly would they try to sneak the next one past us.
Or we could sit back and keep quiet while a Nobel Peace Prize winner drags a war he's "ending" out for another decade, establishing that there's very little in the way of warmaking outrages that we won't allow them to roll right over us.
Daddy Warbucks: May I have the first word?
Brother Pax: If I may have the last one.
DW: I'm sure you will, and you had the first one too. Before the drones came on the scene, you called them forth. You said "War costs too much money." You said "War kills too many soldiers." Well, here you go. War costs less money. And war kills nobody. And yet you aren't satisfied.
BP: Now, this will be a very short debate if my position is to protest the murdering of people with drones, and your position is that drones kill nobody. There must be more overlap in our worldviews than that if we are even to talk.
DW: You know perfectly well what I meant.
BP: It might be clearer if you tell me.
DW: Drones don't kill pilots or soldiers. They only kill the people who need to be killed.
BP: Let me grant you part of that. We've had pilots and soldiers killed by suicide, by accident, by friendly fire, and by suicide bombings at drone bases. But let's suppose they've been fewer than they might have been in some other form of war.
DW: There's no question.
BP: There is always a question. Sometimes it's a different question than the one being so insistently answered.
BP: If the question is whether to have this kind of war or that kind of war, then we must choose the better kind of war (if we can make out what it is). But if the question is whether to have peace or to have war, then a different answer is available.
DW: Well, of course. We all want peace. But that comes after.
BP: Does it? Let's go back to the "people who need to be killed."
BP: Who are they?
DW: Criminals, terrorists, threats to -- in fact -- kill a lot more people. Stopping them is the whole point.
BP: May I ask you a few questions that might seem unrelated?
DW: Go ahead.
BP: If the government doubled your taxes, would you trust it to do the right things with that money?
BP: Do you trust government officials' campaign promises?
BP: Are you confident that the inspectors who allowed the flooding of the Gulf of Mexico with oil are doing a good job now?
BP: Do you believe politicians tell you a straight story about their new healthcare reforms?
DW: Not exactly.
BP: When people in various cultures established public procedures, such as courts of law, to try to arrive at the truth in criminal cases, rather than just allowing a king or a magician to declare guilt or innocence, why do you think they did that?
DW: To be sure of being right.
BP: Now, why is it that you trust the government to kill thousands of people with missiles from drones, even though the government won't tell you who they are or why they are killed, nobody is indicted, nobody is prosecuted, nobody's extradition is sought, many cases have been established in which the person could quite easily have been arrested, the government's memos redefine "imminent threat" to mean nothing of the sort, the government's memos redefine "combatant" to mean dead male human being between 16 and 65, people are targeted without knowing their name, many of the victims are known to have been innocent, many have been children, many women, many elderly, many those attempting to rescue survivors of a previous strike, and the people in the places where the missiles land say peace negotiations are ruined, criminals are turned into heroes, hatred is created for the United States, and terrorist organizations are strengthened dramatically, in fact the counterproductive nature of these operations on their own terms is so stark that many speculate that creating enemies is the secret purpose or at least that Washington doesn't mind if new enemies are created considering how profitable war is for certain people, and . . .
DW: Now just a minute . . .
BP: Why? Why do you trust that this secretive government is only killing "people who need to be killed"?
DW: Because there are evil people in the world.
BP: Of course there are, but how can you be sure the government has found them? Has it looked everywhere well and hard? Has it created public procedures of verification? Has it looked into any mirrors?
DW: You can't publicly announce who you're going to kill and still be able to kill him.
BP: Have you heard the name Osama Bin Laden?
BP: Didn't they publicly announce they were going to kill him?
DW: Yes, but you can't always.
BP: Can you publicly announce that you're going to try someone in a court of law?
DW: Sure, but not during a war.
BP: Can I ask you another odd question?
BP: Thus far about 80 nations have weaponized drones. Which of those nations are justified in flying them over the United States and murdering people?
DW: No one's doing that.
BP: Let's just think this through, for the sake of argument. Not so many years back, nobody was using these weapons at all. If, next year, a nation flies a drone over the United States and murders someone, will that be justified? And will people in that other country be right to trust that their government did the right thing?
DW: Of course not.
BP: Why not?
DW: It just isn't the same.
BP: I agree.
DW: You do?
BP: Nothing is ever the same. But what are the differences? It's not terribly hard to imagine someone attacking the United States, while an attack on Canada sounds rather comical. But, then, Canada doesn't have troops in 177 other countries and weapons in outerspace and every ocean, doesn't spend as much on its military as every other country combined, doesn't account for 80% of foreign weapons sales to dictatorships and democracies alike, doesn't prop up vicious monarchies to exploit their resources, doesn't view its manhood as entirely dependent on its readiness to bomb anybody who looks at it funny.
DW: And your point?
BP: What if peace doesn't come after war? Is Afghanistan more peaceful now, or before the current war, or before the drawing in of the Soviet Union and the initiation of all of these recent wars? Is Iraq more peaceful now, or before the last war, or before the pair of wars and the sanctions? Is Libya more peaceful now, or before the war? Isn't peace a very hard thing to find during or after a war?
DW: Maybe, sometimes.
BP: But isn't peace right there, right within reach, before you start a war?
DW: We don't start wars.
BP: Is Yemen more peaceful? Is Pakistan more peaceful? Did we replace a ground war with a drone war? Or did we replace peace with a drone war?
DW: It's still a better option!
BP: Better than peace?
DW: No, not better than peace.
BP: Let me ask you one more odd-sounding question. Would you rather have cancer or the flu?
DW: Is this a joke?
BP: Just pick, in all seriousness, and I'll explain.
DW: The flu.
BP: Now, if there were only a few cases of cancer, and doctors were getting close to curing it, but the flu was extremely contagious, it spread rapidly around the globe, it could spring up anywhere with no known cure, and -- strange to say -- sometimes the flu began turning into a new kind of cancer -- Now, in this situation, which is worse, the few cases of cancer or the epidemic of flu?
DW: The epidemic, of course.
BP: You can have the last word.
DW: Let me think about it.