Just think of me as your new guidance counselor … Or just think

By Susan Van Haitsma

CommonDreams / IndyMedia Austin

The message printed beneath the image of the stern drill sergeant on the US Marine Corps recruitment poster reads, “Just Think of Me as Your New Guidance Counselor.” The poster is displayed in the administrative area of my neighborhood high school on the office door of the two police officers assigned to the school. The police officer who put it there says that it is not a recruitment poster and that, because he is a Marine, he uses it as motivational for himself. Just down the hall are the school’s actual guidance counselors, and one of them expresses another view about the poster. Studying the image, she says quietly, “He doesn’t look like a guidance counselor. His eyes are steely. He doesn’t look like someone who would listen.”

Drill instructors are looking toward ever-younger audiences. Among those marching in Austin’s recent Veterans Day parade, I noticed a group of Junior ROTC students who appeared to be child soldiers. I spoke later with one of them, a 6th grader who is enrolled in the program at his public middle school. I asked him what he learns in his JROTC class. “We learn how to march, and, well, we learn everything,” he said. “Everything?” I asked. “We learn how to be in the army,” he replied. Like the strange, contrary slogan, “An Army of One,” the guidance being given to this youngster pretends to offer a world of possibility, but it boils down to one direction.

The week after Veterans Day, I had an opportunity to speak with US Army Staff Sergeant, Booker T. Newton during a demonstration at his recruiting station on National Stand Down Day. Joined by other activists, parents and veterans, several CodePink women and I, dressed in pink police uniforms, issued citations to the recruiters for morality violations related to their use of deceptive recruitment practices and their roles as accomplices to an immoral war.

When Sergeant Newton learned that I was involved with Nonmilitary Options for Youth, he wanted to know what kinds of options we suggest. He was asking, he said, because more young people than usual are failing the academic tests required for enlistment, and he wonders what is happening or not happening in Texas schools to prepare students for the future. Like another Booker T. of a century ago, he was genuinely concerned about the state of public education, and although we disagreed about the best course of action, we discovered some common ground. He had guided one young person to a local AmeriCorps program that we promote. “After that, he’ll join the Army,” he said. “Or use his education award to go directly to college,” I countered, and he did not object to that possibility.

Another recruiter at the station stressed to the assembled media that he was glad we were there, because we were exercising the freedoms that he believed he was defending through his role in the military. This is the standard and puzzling response often given by spokespersons of the military, an institution that suppresses the individual freedoms of its members. We tried to demonstrate that education – guiding one another to think critically – is a foundation upon which freedom depends.

Last week, the Texas Supreme Court sidestepped an important opportunity to guide the Texas legislature toward improving a public education system that, by some standards, ranks lowest in the country. A friend, writer and educator, Greg Moses has been analyzing the situation in recent articles. He quotes some straightforward language from the Texas constitution of 1875: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” Moses concludes, “Into this succinct line of reasoning is packed a serious claim. Where there is no suitable education, there can be no real hope of preserving rights and liberties.”

The day before the Texas Supreme Court ruling that left school adequacy and equality issues unresolved, I was visiting a local high school to staff a literature table for Nonmilitary Options during the lunch periods. A fight broke out between two students in the hall near our table. My Air Force veteran colleague and I were the only older adults available at the moment the students began circling each other and putting up their fists. A crowd of students formed quickly around them. My colleague and I decided to place ourselves between the two young men and try to hold them apart. The only thing I could think to say as I held onto the shoulders of one of them was “It’s not worth it.” He would not make eye contact with me, but I sensed he would welcome a way out of the fight. Before long, school officials arrived, and a police officer grabbed the other young man, who resisted, was handcuffed and led away.

“Books Not Bombs, Conscience Not Combat,” stated the large poster above our table as a backdrop to the fight. But how can I fault those young men for doing exactly what their country guides them to do? They can see plainly enough that the USA jumps right into the ring with fists pounding when there is conflict. The president of their country clearly chooses bombs over books. Young people can see the ways that school officials promote the military at the same time that they punish students for fighting. During the course of our tabling, a teacher stopped by and told us about a recent all-faculty meeting where military recruiters gave a 20-minute power-point presentation offering assistance with discipline in the school.

Rather than more punishment and rigidity, I have to think that guidance, especially with teenagers, means trying our best to practice what we preach. Young people notice consistency. A role model who comes immediately to mind is a friend and colleague, Susan Quinlan, a former high school teacher who, along with a small group of volunteers at the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors in Oakland, California has developed a program called Alternatives to War through Education (AWE). Quinlan, a long-time war tax resister, is clear with students about her standpoint but encourages them to think for themselves and develop their own positions. Funny and creative, a natural in the classroom, she guides students through interactive exercises that help them explore and express their beliefs about killing and conscience. She also has begun an after-school class for students who are learning to organize events for their peers and facilitate presentations themselves.

Mainly, Quinlan asks questions and listens to the answers. She is accompanied in the classroom by military veterans and conscientious objectors whose very presence as former soldiers who changed their minds about war is enough to cause students to stop and take notice. Quinlan and the AWE program are much in demand. The evolving curriculum offers a form of guidance that expands the mind, allowing students to follow the twists and turns along the many paths where rights and liberties lead. Students whose views are sought and valued are bound to ask questions in return. Such as why a drill sergeant who orders strict conformity is billed as a protector of freedom, and why schools allow drill sergeants in their hallways in the first place.

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Van Haitsma is active with Nonmilitary Options for Youth and Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation. She can be reached at jeffjweb@sbcglobal.net. For more information about the Alternatives to War through Education (AWE) program, contact awe@objector.org

On Napoleon: Brief Remarks by a Friend of Peace (1822)

Note: I hold in my hands a book printed in 1822 by Philo Pacificus (Noah Worcester) containing his “Solemn Review of the Custom of War” and several issues of the “Friend of Peace” journal. The third number of the journal begins with a lengthy review of “The Horrors of Napoleon’s Campaign in Russia” in the which the following section is inserted, titled:

BRIEF REMARKS

In the Russian campaign we have a view of the effects of war on a large scale. It was not a war of “small states in close neighborhood,” which Lord Kames censured as “brutal and bloody;” but it was a “war for glory” between two large empires, remote from each other:–Such a war as his lordship styled “the school of every manly virtue,” in which “barbarity gives place to magnanimity, and soldiers are converted from brutes into heroes.”

Let Christians then reflect on the scenes which have been exhibited, and ask themselves, whether they wish their children to be educated in such a “school;” whether such a school is adapted to form disciples of Jesus Christ; and whether robbers and pirates were ever chargeable with more flagrant violations of the principles of reason, religion and humanity.

Let it not be said that war in Russia was of a peculiar character, that French soldiers are worse than the soldiers of other nations, or that Napoleon was the worst of all military men.

Wars are generally terrible proportional to the numbers actually engaged. The same spirit uniformly prevails in war. Similar scenes of havoc and horror, similar outrages and distresses, have been witnessed in other wars, but commonly on a similar scale. Every war, like that in Russia, is on one side or the other a war of aggression. Every war is carried on by violence, rapine and injustice. The innocent, the aged and infirm–females old and young, and innocent children, fall a prey to the savage vengeance of unprincipled officers and soldiers. In thousands of instances the soldiers of other nations have conducted as bad, according to their numbers, as the French did at Moscow. The people of invaded territories alway complain of the violence and rapacity of invaders; and never have they been without reason for complaint. The cry of “Goths and Vandals!” has been commonly raised, and commonly just.

It may indeed be true, that Napoleon has caused the death of several millions of his fellow beings; but this does not prove that he is worst of military men. He has been more successful than many others, but not more than others have wished to be. Ambition for military fame is insatiable and never says, “it is enough.” Any man who will sacrifice a single life to his own ambition, is brother to Cain, and to Napoleon; and any man who will excite war to advance his own fame or wealth, is brother to the highway robber.

It is proper that we should reflect on the righteous retributions of Providence in the Russian Campaign. After the French army had wantonly massacred the people of Moscow—filling the city with distress, murder and violation—and had loaded themselves with plunder, they were compelled to retreat. But the vengeance of God pursued them, overtook them, and overwhelmed them. Those who without mercy had distressed and destroyed others perished without mercy.—Distressed for food, they were compelled to eat their famished horses; and what is still more revolting, they fed on the flesh of their famished and dead brethren. The sword, the famine and the frost, sweeps them off by multitudes, till their terrific army was reduced to a twentieth part of its original number. Such was the terror, frenzy and despair, that they, murdered one another; and “thousands and thousands” plunged themselves headlong into the Beresina.

Now, what have the French nation gained by all their wars and conquest since their violation? Their wars have been a continual source of misery at home, as well as abroad; and in their turn they have been inundated, harassed and distressed by foreign troops. Such are the genuine fruits of the war spirit and a thirst for military fame.

The distress of the Russian empire was indeed terrible.—But that empire, like others, had been formed by war, and cemented by blood. In past ages the Russians were a ferocious and bloody people. Their invasion of Poland and their storming of Warsaw, were as unjust and cruel, as the conduct of the French towards them.—Similar complaints may be brought against all the allied powers.

The people of Great Britain have a tremendous account lying against them. The history for ages is filled with records of blood. They have indeed become a powerful nation; but they are in the hands of God, as clay is in the hands of the potter; and except they repent and abandon the custom of war, their sins will surely find them out. As by war their empire has been widely extended; so by war it will probably be diminished and overthrown—unless they shall awake to righteousness and adopt the path of peace. Above all other nations they now possess the means to give peace to the world. But if they shall refuse to employ their influence for this purpose, their long arrears of blood will probably involve them in ruin. Their pecuniary debt is indeed enormous, but it is nothing compared with their debt of blood. The former may be a means of binding them together for some years to come; the latter is a tremendous millstone about the neck of that nation, from which nothing but reformation and divine mercy can ever relieve them.

Note: at this point the narrative turns to “An Estimate of Human Sacrifice in the Russian Campaign”

Veterans for Peace Roll with the Peace Train

By Susan Van Haitsma

DissidentVoice

Jewel Johnson, a 79 year-old US Navy veteran, is happiest piloting a dry-land rig. His early fascination with trains led him to leave high school and work the railroad until he was drafted at age 18. After the war, he earned a GED and went on to study the ministry. He was ordained in the Methodist Church and served as pastor of Evangelical & Reformed and United Church of Christ congregations before his retirement. In the early 1990’s, Mary Johnson was diagnosed with cancer, and Jewel Johnson cared for his wife throughout her treatment. She survived.

To ease his mind during his wife’s illness, Johnson put himself to work. He took a riding mower and fashioned it into a miniature locomotive. Gradually he added cars. He painted them and called his train The Happy Day press. He painted messages on the sides of the cars – statements such as a quotation from Pope Paul VI, made at the United Nations in 1965: “War Never Again.” A carved white dove holding a wire olive branch served as the cab’s hood ornament. Johnson’s creation became known as the Peace Train.

This recent Veterans Day morning was not the first time that Johnson engineered his Peace Train up Congress Avenue toward the Texas State Capitol amid marching bands, vintage cars, girl and boy scout troops, Junior
ROTC units and various groups of uniformed vets. And it wasn’t the first time that other Veterans for Peace (VFP) members marched in the annual parade along with the Peace Train. The train was fitted with large placards that relayed to the crowd the mission of VFP, and about a dozen VFP members carried banners and distributed several hundred invitational pamphlets to onlookers and other vets in the parade. Mary Johnson, who is an associate VFP member, rode in the caboose to oversee the brakes. All along the route, the Peace Train and its Veterans for Peace crew were greeted by steady applause.

Somehow, a crowd that applauded veterans in a truck labeled, “Tin Can Sailors – Destroyer Veterans” also cheered a Navy vet driving a train declaring, “Pre-emptive Peace On All The Earth.” It’s true that the Peace
Train’s cargo elicited as many expressions of plain surprise as outright approval, but there were few frowns. Not many could resist the wave of the smiling engineer in his dapper conductor’s uniform or reject the hand-lettered messages: “Working to Make War Obsolete,” and “Justice For Veterans And Victims Of War.”

Jewel and Mary Johnson have long been active supporters of Veterans for Peace, and they also are members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the United Nations Association. They take part in local or national meetings of these organizations as well as their denominational gatherings. When he was in the Pacific just after the atomic bombing, Johnson was part of a patrol that went ashore at Hiroshima to pick up American prisoners of war. At one point while he was walking through what was left of the city, a Japanese citizen offered him a tangerine. It was a humane gesture in the midst of horror that he never forgot.

The Johnsons don’t stop with Veterans Day; they take the Peace Train to holiday parades in small towns all around Central Texas. Children love it and instinctively climb aboard. Having served as pastor in a small
Texas town, Johnson understands the population, while he firmly speaks his mind. He frequently writes letters to the editor of his newspaper, expressing frankly and respectfully his views on war from a Christian perspective. Where he and his train go, he proudly introduces himself as a Veteran for Peace. On the side of the Peace Train cab is lettered, “I Thought I Could.”

Jewel and Mary Johnson are diminutive, quiet people who act boldly and creatively. They know what war does and what it looks like. The Peace Train carries a sign reading, “Justice For All Victims Of Agent Orange
And Depleted Uranium.” The Johnsons know that their VFP chapter is named for a much beloved Vietnam veteran who died too young of liver cancer that was attributed to his exposure to Agent Orange. And they know that the youngest vet carrying the VFP banner ahead of the Peace Train this Veterans Day, their new chapter co-chair, risked DU exposure during his tour in Iraq. The Happy Day Express carries these burdens and displays them for all to see. Its crew knows that peace is a train that moves forward only when it is
powered by the engine of truth.

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Van Haitsma is active with Nonmilitary Options for Youth, Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation, and is an associate member of the Neil Bischoff Chapter 66 of Veterans for Peace.

Nonviolence on Veterans Day?

By Greg Moses

OpEdNews / DissidentVoice

In a few minutes I want to speak about nonviolence. But on Veteran’s Day, allow me to speak first about the truth, goodness, and beauty of violence; because if violence could be none of these things, how would Hollywood bake its bread?

I have sometimes confessed to the joys of war games on computer, so now I admit to the thrill of action movies, whether lo-tech Westerns or hi-tech Terminators. In Westerns, violence of the false, bad, and ugly kind gets sprayed onto our faces early in the show, so that a more satisfying violence may follow.

Thousands of frames must be exposed to the construction of villains, proving them incorrigible and irredeemable in this world, the better to experience salvation in the moments their celluloid bodies are shot to the dirt. But in order for cinematic killings to achieve that cheering experience, nonviolent alternatives must be thoroughly discredited and the villain must always pull his gun first.

For the lone gunman who faces the villain, moreover, the issue must ever exceed the crucial matter of mere self-defense. In the killing by which he saves himself (sic) the hero also redeems the rule of law and preserves some innocent community from black clouds of dread. Whew. For the audience, perspiration gives way to relief in the last millisecond of a villain’s life, as the eyes of a human monster register mortality realized too late.

In the Terminator versions, the formula is only slightly adjusted. A beautiful and vulnerable woman, veritable vessel of truth herself, must be proved to have an array of enemies who, again, can neither be redeemed nor deterred. As the biceps of the hero bear the responsibility of mega-caliber arsenals, we wish only for the kills to come a little quicker than they do as Hollywood stretches out our pleasure time.

These are the archetypes that also inform our passions on Veterans Day. We speak of heroes who were dropped to death by incorrigible forces of evil during great confrontations between darkness and light. They died so that other heroes could prevail. So far as that archetype goes, it comes empowered with force irresistible. I make no pretense to immunity. Nonviolence does not require me to pretend.

And when it comes to the right of self-defense or defense of the innocent, the power of the hero proves that there can be no moral culpability in necessary violence of this sort. For oneself alone, one may renounce self-defense as a pure matter of conscience, but it is a rare pacifist who would argue that anyone is compelled to surrender one’s own life by some other kind of higher law. At any rate, such pacifism I could not believe. Self-defense is something like an inalienable right. While in the case of aggressive violence, you have a right to expect others to refrain, there is no similar moral obligation that you can place in the way of someone else’s right to a violence of self-defense. Nonviolence does not contradict this.

But if nonviolence can neither deflect the power of the hero nor refute the inalienable right to self-defense, what’s left? And here we begin to leave Hollywood and the purity of its archetypes behind. Because we can’t be caught forgetting that the cheering experience of a happy Hollywood killing rests upon a precisely scrubbed image, created from scratch in the interplay of light, lens, film, and artistic direction.

So the first problem we face as we hit the light of day with nonviolence is our addiction to the image of the incorrigible villain. If we are going to continue enjoying our participation in violence, we need him; but nonviolence denies the incorrigibility of the human spirit, period. So the dynamic of our process in nonviolent struggle is the reverse of Hollywood manufacture. Instead of refining a character down to an incorrigible core, the nonviolent activist looks for glitches of complexity and contradiction. In every which way possible we set out to multiply dimensions of character.

Maybe this is difficult sometimes, to pick out transformative shreds of possibility in a living human being. Everyone has their favorite example. I remember a civil rights activist telling me that extensive research into one president of the USA yielded a core personality of no commitment whatsoever. It was chilling to hear this as memory; it must have been terrifying to discover it in action. But even a power-monger has some sense of self-interest, which brings us to the second problem for nonviolence by comparison to Hollywood scripts.

When it comes to imagining nonviolent alternatives to terrible situations, illiteracy is what we share. Of the hundreds of nonviolent tactics actually used already in history (as documented by Gene Sharp) who can name more than five? Requirements for the time limits of your average Hollywood film would discourage getting very entangled at this stage of nonviolent activism. Negotiation, information gathering, organizing, education, and mobilization require Soap-Opera-like patience, not feature-film impact. So if we are used to seeing action films (and playing action games) we have grown quite used to feeling that alternatives to violence are neither very numerous nor effective in resolving actual conflicts of real life.

Yet Veterans Day reminds us of the price we pay for failing to do better in the nonviolence department. If heroism is an archetype of Veterans Day, so is abject loss of life; death come knocking; lives and loves interrupted forever. War on film may be a stage for heroic character, and on-screen killings might provide certain air-conditioned thrills, but war lived through is horror by the second, and the sight of an authentic human body etches the mind. Veterans Day therefore is a most logical time to decide that we can create better arts of peace.

A failure of American literacy contributes to the 2,000 sons and daughters whom we now add to the rolls of Veterans Day. As a people we never demanded serious attention to the corrigibility of our opponents. The image of the Muslim Terrorist fits our minds like a snap top. Where there is such a thing as a Muslim Terrorist, a suspected Muslim Terrorist, or a possible ally for a suspected Muslim Terrorist, our imaginations lock down into scrubbed stereotypes of villainhood. Yet if we do not learn to look for corrigibility, fallibility, and real human individuals, we will continue to set death traps for ourselves.

A powerful political strategist accuses peaceniks of preferring indictments and therapy in the aftermath of 9/11, and we certainly preferred arms inspections during the run-up to war on Iraq. In retrospect, we can claim that peaceniks were only exposing their literacy in matters of nonviolence. Who actually agreed or disagreed back then is no longer important. But it is crucial to never forget that we as American people never demanded a serious nonviolence debate. We could not weigh with any patience the costs or benefits of alternatives to outright war. Racism played a decisive role in this, as we usually stand willing to sweep with broad suspicion any image of threat from the pan-Muslim world.

Not that we have to learn to disengage ourselves from images of violence, but we must learn how to engage those images in more complex fields of understanding, where they are connected to histories of real people like us.

This is the meaning of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s insistence that human equality is an essential value for nonviolence. In the being and actions of others we must learn to see people equal to ourselves, and in the glaring inequalities of social practice we must learn to feel the outrages of injustice that will sooner or later erupt among peoples whose equality has been denied.

Afghanistan showed America clear examples of social inequality. The poverty and rubble of that country spoke with glaring images of international gaps. Yet the overwhelming sense of inequality between Afghanistan and the USA was massaged for us into an outrage at the inequalities between Afghan women and men. If the treatment of women in Afghanistan was an outrage (as it was) then how much of an outrage was the treatment of Afghanistan by the USA?

In the opening days of the so-called war on terror those who jumped on board were separated from those who jumped off, and the key to understanding the difference in those days of division was how people were reading the history of inequality between the USA and Afghanistan. Simply put, the pro-war faction attributed Afghanistan’s inequality to Afghanistan itself (supported by the shocking images of soccer field executions). Here were an incorrigible people, locked into their own tight circles of madness, there was no way to think of nonviolent alternatives, etc.

On the other side (one would like to say ‘of the debate’ but there was no debate) was a very different reading of the history of inequality in Afghanistan—a history of corrigible people who once lived under constitutional rule, but who were trounced into rubble by deliberate politics of belligerence that included yes the recruitment, care, and feeding of Osama bin Laden by the greater CIA network, and the nurturing of religious fundamentalism so crucial to lockstep social totalitarianism in Baghdad and Houston alike.

So from the start of the so-called war on terror (which has become a war for terror everywhere, with my deepest apologies to our soldiers for saying this) we have had the resources to deliberate this predicament nonviolently. But as the scandal over the Downing Street memo suggests, from the top of the start, it was war more than anything that was wanted, and our vaunted democracy could speak barely a peep about peace. We have to admit what this proves: we are not a very peace loving people; because love is best known during the testing times, and our love of peace collapsed right away when times got tough.

Based upon glaring inequalities that we witness between the USA and other states, nonviolent inquiry demands us to seriously investigate structural features that perpetuate these tawdry affairs. And very likely we have reason to believe that structures on the international scene are not that much different from the inequalities we find in our own cities at home.

Racism, poverty, and war were structures that King identified. They are structures because they are not disconnected from the very mechanisms of production and wealth as we know them. Racism toward the pan-Muslim world functions with the same purpose as racism toward peoples of the EastSide, or SouthSide, or whichever side your favorite city chooses to ghettoize the lowest-paid workers who provide the necessary conditions of wealth.

Briefly returning to the question of self-defense: in a conscious, militant confrontation with structure, the nonviolent activist gives up this precious and necessary right as a matter of personal conscience. One does not give it up absolutely. For example, yes, King collected signatures from fellow protesters pledging not to use violence (not even the violence of self-defense) during organized demonstrations. But at the same time, King insisted on responsible police protection from vigilante action.

King never said, let anybody do anything at any time, and that’s okay. While he set out to break the will of law enforcement to stand in the way of freedom, he campaigned for equal protection against discrimination and vigilante action. In this context, he gave up his right to self defense, and he encouraged others to join him in a brotherhood and sisterhood of conscience. This was his morality, and his shrewdness. We know how his life ended. But how much sooner would it have ended had he decided to pack a gun? Against the grimly structured powers of the USA, the chances of struggle do not necessarily increase if you announce that you are arming yourself or your movement for self defense.

At home and abroad, nonviolence must focus its struggles against structures of racism, poverty, and war; not against so many pawns in the game ( Dylan). From the nonviolent point of view, structures must remain in focus, because when structures come down, equality liberates love between corrigible people and we find ourselves more free to care about each other, rather than the structures that hold us apart. Wherever you find a world structured around racism, poverty, and war, there love has become unwise. On Veterans Day why shouldn’t we be encouraged to mutter, enough is enough. Why not give nonviolence another chance?

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Note: thanks to Matthew Daude and Kitty Henderson at the Ethics Resource Center of Austin Community College for the invitation to deliver remarks about pacifism on Nov. 11, 2005.