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by Berry Friesen (November 15, 2016)
“May you live in interesting times” is the ironic blessing conveying an expectation of conflict and disorder. It fits the period we have entered with the election of Donald Trump.
The billionaire candidate who captured the Republican Party’s nomination by the demagogic use of xenophobic, misogynist and racist rhetoric has won a decisive slice of the blue-collar middle class by taking seriously their declining economic prospects, their bewilderment over how the greatest military power in history keeps losing its elective wars and failing to achieve its explicit foreign policy goals, and their weariness of the hectoring social judgments of their more cultured and educated superiors.
He defeated a candidate far more experienced and better prepared to be President, a woman who combined a strong commitment to multi-culturalism, globalism and open borders with a track record of catering to Wall Street bankers, using military force to serve corporate interests and feather her own nest by selling access to government decision-makers.
Do you feel the dissonance of conflicting values, not only between the two candidates but within what each represents?
Meanwhile, as Trump strides onto the world stage, he encounters a United Kingdom negotiating its withdrawal from the European Union, a group of European nations under growing pressure from right-wing parties empowered by popular discontent over a the influx of Middle Eastern and North African refugees, Middle Eastern states notorious for their brutality in suppressing human rights and political dissent, and a Russia newly confident of its ability to chart its own course and thrive.
As you and I respond to all of this and more, what will guide us?
At the election-day communion service I attended, Psalm 146 was our text.
“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
“Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever, executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
“The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
“The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of wicked he brings to ruin.”
The christianities of our time deploy gods for various contrasting purposes. We can tell which purposes are true to YHWH—the god Jesus of Nazareth worshipped—by remembering and honoring the biblical emphasis on justice for the oppressed and bread for the hungry.
Address Race with Care
Racism is a huge factor in American society, shaping all of us by its power and eliciting strong emotions on all sides. Yet race is not a biologic reality; it is a pernicious social construct created for purposes of exploitation and oppression.
To defeat racism—to dislodge it from our structures, to make it wither away—we must talk about the reality of racism. Yet if we speak about racism too much, or if we speak of it inaccurately, we add to its vitality and power and do more harm than good.
To hold together through this era we are entering, we must strive for a Goldilocks balance of enough honest talk about racism, but not too much.
One resource I find helpful in this regard is www.BlackAgendaReport.com; check it out.
This past Sunday the preacher in my congregation told stories from the book of Genesis and referenced a book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.
Repeatedly, the stories of Genesis subvert the cultural power of first born siblings (Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Leah, the older sons of Jacob) by blessing the later-born (Abel, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph).
And repeatedly, those stories then go on to subvert the assumption that by blessing the later-born, YHWH has rejected the first-born. YHWH did not reject the first born; “YHWH rejects rejection,” said our preacher.
In this pivotal time, we are called to get involved and be partisans for our values. But if we wish to follow the way of YHWH, we dare not reject those we disfavor. Can we find it in our hearts to want a blessing for them too?
Pay Attention to the Signs
Staying alert will help us retain our balance and our ability to respond in flexible and measured ways. Here are a few important signs that popped up this past week.
1. Within hours of the election, President Obama directed US forces to stop supporting al-Qaeda in Syria and instead target its leaders. This policy reversal is fully attributable to the Trump victory.
As reported November 10 by the Washington Post, Obama “has ordered the Pentagon to find and kill the leaders of an al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria that the administration had largely ignored until now and that has been at the vanguard of the fight against the Syrian government.”
On the same day, the US Department of the Treasury reported its office of Foreign Assets Control has begun to disrupt the military, recruitment, and financing operations of al-Qaeda in Syria.
Together, these actions are expected to directly impact the ability of al-Qaeda to maintain its control of east Aleppo, thus clearing the way for the Syrian army to re-establish control without the intense aerial bombardment and street fighting that would have resulted in mass causalities.
2. Politico reports that lobbyists who work with Pentagon officials “are getting a flood of calls from longtime clients and new prospects eager to take advantage of a potential military buildup under President-elect Donald Trump.”
The article quotes an unnamed K Street insider: ““It is safe to say that defense lobbyists, as well as the defense industry, are pretty optimistic about a Trump presidency, at least coming out of the gates. That is both from an overall spending perspective but then also clearly he has a reputation and a record of deal making, which I think industry thinks is a good thing.”
Sounds like business as usual to me.
3. As we consider our neighbors and colleagues and wonder how they voted, reported data helps keep it all in perspective.
For example, around 54.6 percent of the electorate voted for either Trump or Clinton. This means that if we consider a typically diverse group of people (e.g., adults enjoying a city park on a Sunday afternoon), just over 27 percent voted for Trump and just over 27 percent voted for Clinton.
Or take another example, white evangelical Christians, who voted four-to-one for Trump. Because of low turn-out, Trump reportedly received fewer votes from white evangelicals than any presidential candidate since the data began to be collected in the 2004 election.
4. President-elect Trump has named Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon as chief strategist of the White House.
During his three-year tenure as Executive Chairman at Breitbart, Bannon is reported to have made it the premier media outlet for the racist, xenophobic and misogynist perspectives of the Alt-right movement. Though one is hard-pressed to find Bannon himself voicing bigotry, his deliberate actions to amplify bigoted viewpoints gives rise to the reasonable inference that he supports what bigots proclaim in the pages of Breitbart.
Media Matters describes the mission of the Alt-right as “rebranding of classic white nationalism for the 21st century.” It believes racial identity is a fundamental aspect of human nature and that America’s future success depends on emphasizing its European roots and defending its “white heritage” against influences from other parts of the world.
That Bannon—a promoter of such an ideology—will sit at the right hand of President Trump is cause for alarm.
5. The day after the election, organized protests occurred in numerous US cities. Generally, young adults distressed by the election of Trump populated these protests. This is to be expected and might be praise-worthy, depending on who is behind these protests and how they play out in coming days.
How did these citizen actions emerge so quickly in so many places and with such unified messaging? Sophisticated logistics are involved. Nikolay Nikolaev reports the vital role of one organization, including the money to offer protesters $190 a day:
“MoveOn.org is a progressive American non-governmental organization, established in 1998 in response to the impeachment against President Bill Clinton in the House of Representatives. Attracting significant funding, the NGO expanded its activities and maintains a number of smaller organizations in the network structure: the initiative, ‘Call for Change’, and the portal, ‘MoveOn’, petitions, in partnership with the similar Change.org, Avaaz and PetitionOnline. The main sponsors of the organization are the billionaire, George Soros, who officially donated $1.46 million, and the CEO of Progressive Corp., Peter Lewis, with half a million dollars” (emphasis in original).
George Soros is notorious in certain anti-imperial circles as “a Globalist investor in murder and mayhem” who lays the groundwork for regime change through so-called “color revolutions” in the streets. Ukraine is the leading example of this approach. Citizens-protesters form the core of a morally-infused presence in the streets challenging the legitimacy of those in power. While these highly sympathetic protesters grab the headlines, hidden elements planted by intelligence agencies inject violence and threats into the mix, thus eliciting a forceful counter-reaction from the government. This process plays out in an escalating pattern over weeks and months until it results in widening chaos and government paralysis.
Has this tactic now been deployed against the incoming Trump Administration? It’s not yet clear; we’ll need to pay close attention.
6. Whatever political identity we may claim, blogger Jim Kavanagh’s quote will keep us humble:
“Conservative Kansans fall for a plutocratic, imperialist agenda cloaked in patriotism, religion, and nostalgia for the good old Ed Sullivan days; liberal New Yorkers fall for the same plutocratic, imperialist agenda dressed up in multiculturalism, identity politics, and celebration of the good new Caitlin Jenner days. Who’s the bigger fool? How’s that working out for everybody? For the millions of victims of that top-down, plutocratic class war —in the ghettos of the cities and the hollows of Appalachia? For the Syrians, Iraqis, and Libyans, whose countries have been destroyed?”
George Lakey, a co-founder of Quaker Earth Action Group, makes the same point:
“We can build the scale of our movements by frankly admitting that alienated white working-class people are right: Both major parties are together destroying the country on behalf of the 1 percent. It may be hard for college educated activists to admit that the cynical working-class view is more accurate than the belief of graduates of political science courses. However, the sooner the humility arrives, the better. With humility comes the chance to scale up our campaigning and take the next step in the living revolution.”
By Gary G. Kohls, MD
“What the Japanese Imperial government could not do in 250 years of persecution (ie, destroy Japanese Christianity) American Christians did in mere seconds.”
”…why should veterans embrace a religion that has blessed the wars that ruined their souls? It is no wonder that they turn to a gentle Buddhist monk to hear what are, in large part, the truths of Christ.” – Daniel Hallock
71 years ago (August 9, 1945) an all-Christian bomber crew dropped a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki City, Japan, instantly vaporizing, incinerating, irradiating and otherwise annihilating tens of thousands of innocent civilians, men, women and children. Very few Japanese soldiers were affected.
In a nation whose citizens are historically non-Christian (Shitoism or Buddhism are the major religions), a disproportionately large number of the Nagasaki victims were Christian (see below for the history of that reality). The bomb mortally wounded uncountable thousands of other victims who succumbed to the blast trauma, the heat trauma and/or the radiation trauma.
In 1945, the US was regarded as the most Christian nation in the world. The bomber crew, as were the two Christian military chaplains of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki crews were products of the type of Christianity that failed to teach what Jesus taught concerning violence (that it was forbidden to his followers) – which has been the case for the vast majority of Christians, both clergy and laity, for the past 1700 years. Ironically, for the first 3 centuries of its existence, Christianity was a pacifist religion.
Even more ironically, prior to the bomb exploding directly over the Urakami Cathedral, Nagasaki was the most Christian city in Japan, and the massive cathedral had been the largest Christian church building in the Orient.
Those Christian airmen, following their wartime orders to the letter, did their job, and they accomplished the mission with military pride. Most Christian Americans would have done what they did if they had been in the shoes of the crew. And, if those Christians had never seen, heard or smelled the suffering humanity that the bomb caused on the ground, most of them would not have experienced any remorse for their participation in the atrocity – especially if they had been blindly treated as heroes in the aftermath.
Indeed, the use of the most monstrous weapon of indiscriminate mass destruction in the history of warfare, was later defined by the Nuremberg Tribunal as an international war crime and a crime against humanity.
Of course, there was no way that the crew members knew that at the time of the mission. Some of the crew did admit that they had had some doubts about what they had participated in afterwards. But none of them actually witnessed the horrific suffering of the tens of thousands of victims up close and personal. “Orders are orders” and must be obeyed, and disobedience in wartime was known to be severely punishable, even by summary execution. So the bomber crew had no alternative but to obey the orders. Even the two chaplains had no doubts before they finally understood what they had participated in.
<<<Making it Hard for Japan to Surrender>>>
It had been only 3 days since the August 6th bomb had incinerated Hiroshima. The Nagasaki bomb was dropped amidst massive chaos and confusion in Tokyo, where the fascist military command was meeting with the Emperor Hirohito to discuss how to surrender with honor. The military leadership of both nations had known for months that Japan had already lost the war.
The only obstacle to ending the war had been the Allied Powers insistence on unconditional surrender (which meant that Hirohito would have been removed from his figurehead position in Japan and perhaps even subjected to war crime trials). That demand was intolerable for the Japanese, who regarded the Emperor as a deity.
The USSR had declared war against Japan the day before (August 8), hoping to regain territories lost to Japan in the humiliating (for Russia) Russo-Japanese War 40 years earlier, and Stalin’s army was now advancing across Manchuria. Russia’s entry into the war had been encouraged by President Truman before he knew of the success of the atom bomb test in New Mexico on July 16.
But now, Truman and his strategists knew that the bomb could elicit Japan’s surrender without Stalin’s help. So, not wanting to divide any of the spoils of war with the USSR, and because the US wanted to send an early cold war message to Russia (that the US was the new planetary superpower), Truman ordered bomber command to proceed with using the atomic bombs against a handful of targets as weather permitted and as atomic bombs became available (although no more fissionable material was actually available to make another bomb after Nagasaki).
<<<The Decision to Target Nagasaki>>>
August 1, 1945 was the earliest deployment date for the Japanese atom bombing missions, and the Target Committee in Washington, D.C. had already developed a short list of relatively un-damaged Japanese cities that were to be excluded from the conventional USAAF (US Army Air Force) fire-bombing campaigns (that, during the first half of 1945, had used napalm, augmented by high explosives, to burn to the ground over 60 essentially defenseless Japanese cities).
The list of protected cities included Hiroshima, Niigata, Kokura, Kyoto and Nagasaki. Those five cities were to be off-limits to the terror bombings that the other cities were being subjected to. They were to be preserved as potential targets for the new “gimmick” weapon that had been researched and developed in labs and manufacturing plants all across America over the several years since the Manhattan Project had begun.
Ironically, prior to August 6 and 9, the residents of those five cities had considered themselves lucky for not having been bombed as had the other large cities. Little did the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki know that they were only being temporarily spared for an even worse carnage from a revolutionary experimental weapon that could cause the mass annihilation of entire cities and their human guinea pig inhabitants.
<<<The Trinity Test>>>
The plutonium bomb that had been field tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico, was identical to the one that was dropped at Nagasaki. It had been blasphemously code-named “Trinity” (a distinctly Christian term) and had been detonated in secrecy 3 weeks earlier on July 16, 1945. The results were impressive, but the blast had just killed a few hapless coyotes, rabbits, snakes and some other desert varmints.
Trinity had produced large amounts of an entirely new type of rock that was later called “Trinitite”. Trinitite was a “man-made” radioactive molten lava rock that had been created from the intense heat that was twice the temperature of the sun. Samples of it still exist in the desert at Alamogordo.
At 3 am on the morning of August 9, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress bomber (that had been “christened” Bock’s Car) took off from Tinian Island in the South Pacific, with the prayers and blessings of the crew’s two chaplains.
Barely making it off the runway just yards before the heavily loaded plane could have gone into the ocean (the bomb weighed 10,000 pounds), it headed north for Kokura, the primary target. Bock’s Car’s bomb was code-named “Fat Man,” partly because of its shape and partly to honor the rotund Winston Churchill. “Little Boy”, first called “Thin Man” (after President Roosevelt), was the code name of the uranium bomb that had been dropped on Hiroshima three days earlier.
<<<Nagasaki was Being Incinerated as Japan’s War Council was Again Debating Surrender Terms>>>
Japan’s Supreme War Council in Tokyo, scheduled to convene their next meeting at 11 am on August 9, had absolutely no comprehension of what had really happened at Hiroshima. So the members had no heightened sense of urgency. The council was mostly concerned about Russia’s declaration of war.
But it was already too late, because by the time the War Council members were arising and heading to the meeting with the emperor, there was no chance to alter the course of history. Bock’s Car – flying under radio silence – was already approaching the southern islands of Japan, heading for Kokura, the primary target. The crew was hoping to beat an anticipated typhoon and the approaching clouds that would have delayed the mission.
The Bock’s Car crew had instructions to drop the bomb only on visual sighting. But Kokura was clouded over. After making three failed bomb runs over the clouded-over city and then experiencing engine trouble on one of the four engines (using up valuable fuel all the while) the plane headed for its secondary target, Nagasaki.
<<<The History of Nagasaki Christianity>>>
Nagasaki is famous in the history of Japanese Christianity. The city had the largest concentration of Christians in all of Japan. St. Mary’s Urakami Cathedral was the megachurch of its time, with 12,000 baptized members.
Nagasaki was the community where the legendary Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier planted a mission church in 1549. The Catholic community at Nagasaki grew and eventually prospered over the next several generations. However it eventually became clear to the Japanese that the (Catholic) Portuguese and Spanish commercial interests were exploiting Japan. It didn’t take very long before all Europeans – and their very foreign religion – were expelled from the country.
From 1600 until 1850, being a Christian in Japan was a capital crime (punishable by death). In the early 1600s, Japanese Christians who refused to recant of their new faith were subject to unspeakable tortures – including crucifixion. After a well-publicized mass crucifixion was orchestrated, the reign of terror stopped, and it appeared to all observers that Japanese Christianity was extinct.
However, 250 years later, after the gunboat diplomacy of US Commodore Matthew Perry forced open an offshore island for American trade purposes, it was discovered that there were thousands of baptized Christians in Nagasaki, living their faith in secret in a catacomb-like existence, completely unknown to the government.
With this revelation, the Japanese government started another purge; but because of international pressure, the persecutions stopped and Nagasaki Christianity came up from the underground. By 1917, with no financial help from the government, the re-vitalized Christian community had built their massive cathedral in the Urakami River district of Nagasaki.
<<<Christians Killing Christians in the Name of Christ>>>
So it was the height of irony that the massive Cathedral – one of only two Nagasaki landmarks that could be positively identified from 31,000 feet up – became Ground Zero. (The other identifiable aiming point landmark was the Mitsubishi armaments factory complex – which had run out of raw materials because of the successful Allied naval blockade.)
At 11:02 am, during Thursday morning confessions, an unknown number of Nagasaki Christians were boiled, evaporated, carbonized or otherwise disappeared in a scorching, radioactive fireball that exploded 500 meters above the cathedral. The “black rain” that soon came down from the mushroom cloud also contained the mingled cellular remains of many Nagasaki Christians as well as many more Shintoists and Buddhists. The theological implications of Nagasaki’s Black Rain surely should boggle the minds of theologians of all denominations.
<<<The Nagasaki Christian Body Count>>>
Most Nagasaki Christians did not survive the blast. 6,000 of them died instantly, including all who were at confession that morning. Of the 12,000 church members, 8,500 of them eventually died as a result of the bomb. Many of the others were seriously sickened with a highly lethal entirely new disease: radiation sickness.
Located near the cathedral were three orders of nuns and a Christian girl’s school. They all disappeared into black smoke or became chunks of charcoal. Tens of thousands of other innocent non-Christian non-combatants also died instantly, and many more were mortally or incurably wounded. Some of the original victims (and their progeny) are still suffering from the trans-generational malignancies and immune deficiencies caused by the deadly plutonium and other radioactive isotopes produced by the bomb.
And here is one of the most important ironies: What the Japanese Imperial government could not do in 250 years of persecution (ie, to destroy Japanese Christianity) American Christians did in mere seconds.
Even after a slow revival of Christianity after WWII, membership in Japanese Christian churches still represents a tiny fraction of 1% of the general population, and the average attendance at Christian worship services across the nation is reported to be only 30 per Sunday. The decimation of Nagasaki crippled what at one time was a vibrant church.
<<<George Zabelka, the Catholic Chaplain for the 509th Composite Group >>>
Father George Zabelka was the Catholic chaplain for the 509th Composite Group (the 1500 man USAAF group whose only mission was to deliver atomic bombs to Japanese civilian targets). Zabelka was one of the few World War II clergy leaders who eventually came to recognize the serious contradictions between what his modern church had taught him and what the early pacifist church believed concerning homicidal violence.
Several decades after Zabelka was discharged from the military chaplaincy, he finally concluded that both he and his church had made serious ethical and theological errors in religiously legitimating the organized mass slaughter that is modern war. He eventually came to understand that (as he articulated it) “the enemy of me and the enemy of my nation is not an enemy of God. Rather my enemy and my nation’s enemy are children of God who are loved by God and who therefore are to be loved (and not killed) by me as a follower of that loving God.”
Father Zabelka’s sudden conversion away from the standardized war-tolerant Christianity changed his Detroit, Michigan ministry around 180 degrees. His absolute commitment to the truth of gospel nonviolence – just like Martin Luther King’s commitment – inspired him to devote the remaining decades of his life to speaking out against violence in all its forms, including the violence of militarism, racism and economic exploitation. Zabelka travelled to Nagasaki on the 50th anniversary of the bombing, tearfully repenting and asking for forgiveness for the part he had played in the crime.
Likewise, the Lutheran chaplain for the 509th, Pastor William Downey (formerly of Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN), in his counseling of soldiers who had become troubled by their participation in making murder for the state, later denounced all killing, whether by a single bullet or by weapons of mass destruction.
<<<Why Should Combat Veterans Embrace a Religion that Blessed the Wars that Ruined Their Souls?>>>
In Daniel Hallock’s important book, Hell, Healing and Resistance, the author described a 1997 Buddhist retreat that was led by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The retreat involved a number of combat-traumatized Vietnam War veterans who had left the Christianity of their birth. The veterans had responded positively to Nhat Hanh’s ministrations. Hallock wrote, “Clearly, Buddhism offers something that cannot be found in institutional Christianity. But then why should veterans embrace a religion that has blessed the wars that ruined their souls? It is no wonder that they turn to a gentle Buddhist monk to hear what are, in large part, the truths of Christ.”
Hallock’s comment should be a sobering wake-up call to Christian leaders who seem to regard as important both the recruitment of new members and the retention of old ones. The fact that the US is a highly militarized nation makes the truths of gospel nonviolence difficult to teach and preach, especially to military veterans (particularly the homeless, psychologically tormented, spiritually-depleted, malnourished, over-diagnosed, over-medicated, over-vaccinated, homicidal and suicidal ones) who may have lost their faith because of horrors experienced on the battlefield.
I am a retired physician who has dealt with hundreds of psychologically traumatized patients (including combat-traumatized war veterans), and I know that violence, in all its forms, can irretrievably damage the mind, body, brain, and spirit. But the fact that the combat-traumatized type is totally preventable – and oftentimes impossible to cure – makes prevention work really important.
An ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure when it comes to combat-induced PTSD. And where Christian churches should and could be instrumental in the prevention of the soul-destroying combat-type PTSD is by counseling their members to not participate in it (which should be obvious when considering the ethical message of the nonviolent Jesus, a message that guided the pacifist church in the first 3 centuries of its existence)
Experiencing violence, whether as victimizer or victim, can be deadly, and it can run through families like a contagion. I have seen violence, neglect, abuse and the resultant traumatic psychological and neurological illnesses spread through both military and non-military families – even involving the 3rd and 4th generations after the initial victimizations. And that has been the experience of the hibakusha (the long-suffering atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), whose progeny continue to suffer disease – which has likewise been the experience of many of the progeny of the warrior-perpetrators who participated in the act of killing in every war.
<<<What Should be the Church’s Role in the Organized Mass Slaughter That is War?>>>
Years ago I saw an unpublished Veteran’s Administration study that showed that, whereas most Vietnam War-era soldiers were active members of Christian churches before they went off to war, if they came home with PTSD, the percentage returning to their faith community approached zero. Daniel Hallock’s sobering message above helps explain why that is so.
Therefore the church – at least by its silence on the critical issues of war and war preparation – seems to be actually promoting (rather than forbidding) homicidal violence, contrary to the ethical teachings of Jesus, by failing to teach what the primitive church understood was one of the core teachings of Jesus, who preached, in effect, that “violence is forbidden for those who wish to follow me”.
Therefore, by refraining from warning their adolescent members about the faith- and soul-destroying realities of war, the church is directly undermining the “retention” strategies in which all churches engage. The hidden history of Nagasaki thus has valuable lessons for American Christianity.
<<<The Bock’s Car Crew and the Chain of Command>>>
The members of the Bock’s Car bomber crew, as are conscripted or enlisted men in any war, were at the bottom of a long, complex, and very anonymous chain of command whose superiors demand unconditional obedience from those below them in the chain. The Bock’s Car crew had been ordered to “pull the trigger” of the lethal weapon that had been conceptualized, designed, funded, manufactured and armed by any number of other entities, none of which would feel morally responsible for doing the dirty deed because they didn’t have literal blood on their hands.
As is true in all wars, soldier trigger-pullers are often the ones unjustly singled out and blamed for the killing in the combat zone, and therefore they often have the worst post-war guilt and shame that is often the most lethal part of combat-induced PTSD (other than the suicide and violence-inducing aspects of many psychiatric drugs and the chronic illness-stimulating aspects of the over-vaccination schedules to which all military ecruits are subjected.
However, the religious chaplains that are responsible for their spiritual lives of their soldiers, are also at the bottom of the chain of command and may share their guilt feelings. Neither group usually knows the real reasons their commanders are ordering them to kill or participate in the killing operations.
Hopefully this essay will provoke needed discussions about the ethics of making murder for the state while simultaneously – and illogically – professing allegiance to the teachings of the nonviolent Jesus.
The early church leaders, who knew the teachings and actions of Jesus best, rejected the nationalist, racist and militarist agendas of whatever passed for nationalism 2000 years ago. And the Sermon on the Mount Christians of yesterday and today similarly reject the homicidal agendas of the national security state, the military-industrial-congressional complex, the war-profiteering corporations, the mesmerizing major media and the eye-for-an-eye retaliation church doctrines that have, over the past 1700 years, enabled baptized and confirmed Christians to, if ordered to do so, willingly kill other humans in the name of Christ.
If there is a god, may she have mercy upon our souls.
Dr Kohls is a retired physician from Duluth, MN, USA. He writes a weekly column for the Reader, Duluth’s alternative newsweekly magazine.
Several local Mennonite congregations supported the conference through planning and financial contributions. Lynelle Bush, conference attender from Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, said “Mennonites in our area need to have their eyes opened to the reality and true impact of drone warfare, to repent of silence and apathy, and to seek guidance of the Holy Spirit as to our role in speaking truth to power.”
Author and activist Medea Benjamin who has traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Gaza to meet with family members of drone attack victims noted that drones kill many innocent people and turn terrorists into martyrs. She urged faith communities to speak to the issue of drone warfare or lose their moral voice.
Former CIA analyst Christopher Aaron began his presentation with a moment of silence to remember the people he had participated in killing. Aaron joined the CIA after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers, believing that this was his opportunity to “do something that mattered.” He noted that despite “successes” in killing high profile terrorist targets, security in many Middle East towns and villages was actually worsening. He resigned from the drone program after realizing that he was part of a series of continuous conflicts with no discernable goal, similar to the situation described in George Orwell’s book, 1984.
Bob Smith, long-time peace activist in eastern Pennsylvania, spoke of the importance of infusing activism with love and outlined the history of a monthly public witness at the Horsham Air Base.
Former Mennonite Central Committee peace educator Titus Peachey offered a reflection on Luke 9, comparing the disciples’ impulse to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village with armed drone warfare. He noted that Jesus rejected this call from the disciples and changed the entire paradigm by telling the story of the Good Samaritan several days later.
In a spoken word performance, the artistry of Blew Kind linked drone warfare, white supremacy and colonization while accompanied by musical instrumentation mimicking the sound of the constant buzzing of a drone.
Former Army Chaplain Chris Antal talked about resigning his commission on April 12. While noting that he is not a pacifist, he believed his chaplaincy role had become that of priest and morale builder for the empire. He was deeply disturbed by the lack of transparency or accountability in the drone program, noting that it does not meet the criteria of “protecting the innocent.”
Kelly Denton Borhaug, Chair of the Religion Department at Moravian College, St. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, began by saying that we live in a culture of death. She provided a probing analysis of the language of sacrifice present in war culture and Christian theology. Borhaug insisted that peace is not a commodity to be purchased with blood, but rather a way to live.
Several presenters discussed strategies for building a culture of peace. Muhammed Malik, co-founder of Muslims for Ferguson, discussed his practice of sitting with Christian communities to listen, build trust, and begin dialogue. Author and founder of The Simple Way, Shane Claiborne, described initiatives that create holy mischief, including street theater or highly symbolic acts such as beating guns into garden tools.
Preston Bush of the local conference planning committee said, “Just because Mennonite delegates affirmed the Faithful Witness resolution last summer doesn’t mean we have completed our prophetic responsibility in our own generation. What was the meaning of the resolution if it was not a mandate to ongoing action? The monthly witness at the Horsham Drone Command Center is our opportunity to really be who we say we are.”
The conference was initiated by $10.40 for Peace , Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as a way to act on the Mennonite Church USA resolution. Additional funding and planning support came from the Interfaith Network on Drone Warfare, and from the Brandywine Peace Community, which coordinates the monthly vigils at Horsham. – Submitted by Titus Peachey
Titus Peachey recently retired as the Director of Peace Education for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. He continues as a counselor on the GI Rights Hotline and serves on the Advisory Board for Legacies of War. He lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Linda Gehman Peachey. They attend East Chestnut St. Mennonite Church.
Working for the abolition of nuclear weapons, a reduction in arms trafficking, and gun control.
1040 For Peace is a sponsor of this event. Check it out!
As we assess the meaning and morality of paying all of the taxes which support the American/USA system, we might well be asking whether the occasional presidential elections address the real issues in adequate depth.
This blog post, “Evangelical Stumble,” asserts that historically, the statements of great moral courage spoke to bigger issues than the views of individual leaders or would-be leaders. Read, and see what you think.
by Berry Friesen (February 1, 2016 post on Bible and Empire blog)
Does the word “empire” enter your conversations with friends, colleagues and family members? Is it used in your place of worship? Do you see it in the articles and books you read, the videos you watch?
When “empire” is part of your lexicon, here’s what also becomes part of your analytical framework.
- An empire enforces its control of political, economic and social arrangements through its overwhelming capacity for violence—a capacity that can be deployed overtly or covertly, via highly sophisticated weapons or vicious death squads. Dissenters may occasionally make a stand, but they are certain to be defeated or co-opted and integrated as role players into the imperial apparatus. This superior capacity for violence is justified as “defense,” but within the context of empire is usually deployed to support expansion of control or to destroy a rival’s capacity to resist.
“Empire” prompts us to examine critically whether military, intelligence and surveillance capacities are being deployed defensively or for purposes of expansion and control.
- An imperial economy is acquisitive, constantly seeking cheaply acquired “outside” resources to drive desired levels of growth and prosperity. Because an empire lacks the patience to strengthen and depend on the productivity of its traditional base, it neglects that base, which becomes less creative over time and more dependent on “outside” resources for prosperity.
“Empire” reminds us to pay attention to what fuels our economy and whether its prosperity is sustainable without taking advantage of “outside” resources.
- An empire has no peer and thus is not accountable to anyone or anything, whether another nation, international law or its own constitution. An empire may periodically portray itself as accountable through elections, but this is largely pretense meant to re-legitimize its violent and coercive practices.
“Empire” encourages us to monitor the dynamics of accountability. Are the elite held accountable for their crimes and failures? Does the state live within limitations set by others? Do elections ever cause a change in direction?
- Though violence is a vital tool of an empire, its primary method of maintaining dominance is through the constant communication of public narratives that describe international events and how the world works. These public narratives are imbued with religious and moral themes that legitimize the empire’s behavior in the world. Most of all, these story lines serve to define the “reasonable” range of options for running the world, thereby marginalizing other points of view. Within an empire, the thought of life without the empire is almost unimaginable.
“Empire” makes us aware of public narratives, what is said and what isn’t said, and how those choices serve the interests of the ruling elite.
- There is a tradition that subverts the myth that empire reduces violence, spurs prosperity and lifts the human spirit. This tradition sees empire as a malevolent force, one that deliberately pits people against one another, traps us with false choices, and pillages Earth while portraying its own violence as a tragic but necessary part of human progress. This tradition is particularly evident in the Bible, where the empire is portrayed as the great deceiver, idolater and oppressor.
“Empire” puts us in touch with ancient sources of wisdom that describe empire as a great evil. These sources have endured through the centuries despite powerful efforts to suppress or obscure them.
Lastly, lest I be misunderstood, I acknowledge life includes many forces that are dominating: parents, spouses, schools, employers, military service, etc. Generally, however, each controls only a season of life and/or only a portion of our existence. But an empire leaves its subjects with few avenues of escape; one cannot find an alternative by waiting a few years or moving to another town or country. However long one waits, wherever one goes, the empire will be there defining how the world works.
Furthermore, I acknowledge there is room for debate on the question of whether or not the US-led configuration of power (Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand and its corporate elite near the center; NATO members, Israel and their corporate elite in the second ring; a third ring consisting of a host of subordinate states and their corporate elite; and sundry militias, crime syndicates and terrorist groups in an outer ring) functions as an empire. As discussed in chapter 6 of If Not Empire, What?, John K. Stoner and I think it does; many disagree.
Whatever your point of view regarding the current US-led configuration of power, you will find much value in adding “empire” to your analytical framework.
This article first appeared as a sermon at First Mennonite Church in Lincoln, NE, in April, 1999. It later was printed in The Mennonite although I’m not sure of when that was. It has been used as a sermon in Fresno at Mennonite Community Church, the Unitarian Church in Fresno ( where I got the only standing ovation for a sermon ever) and in several other places. So, the data on Mennonite giving is dated although I would doubt that it is much different today.
As most of you are aware, this Thursday is the date that our tax returns are due at the IRS offices across this country. April 15 creates a moral dilemma for most Mennonites, although most of us would never really acknowledge it. Paying taxes fosters a type of split personality in most Mennonites . . . a Jekyl and Hyde way of looking at this issue.
On the one hand, we staunchly believe that we cannot help our government by fighting in the armed forces, while at the same time we provide that same government with all the cold hard cash it needs to pay others to do it. This split personality allows us to pay for war without having to fight in it.
But it takes a great deal of mental gymnastics for us to make this leap . . . our consciences are used to it by now, though. We really don’t even think about it anymore. What’s to think about? The government requires us to pay taxes, but since we obtained conscientious objector status in the ‘40’s we no longer are required to join the army. Open and shut case, except for that split personality disorder.
Think about this for a minute. How is it possible for people who don’t believe in violence, to actually pay for war? That presents us with a moral dilemma. It isn’t possible to pray for peace and pay for war unless you suffer from delusions or a split personality. The two concepts are polar opposites. But ninety-nine percent of Mennonites do pay for war while they pray for peace.
John Steen, in a 1969 leaflet entitled “Death and Taxes”, challenged us with these words:
If you were handed a gun, right now, told to shoot a man – or drop napalm on a village – you couldn’t do it. . . . But the same good people who would vomit at the sight of burning flesh and blood on our hands have no qualms paying taxes for somebody else to kill and burn. If we are forced to face the issues, we make excuses. . . . The managers of the Empire will let us speak – as long as we hand over the young men and the cash. And we are afraid to refuse. . . .The government could never get away with murder – in Vietnam or anyplace [Iraq or Kosovo] without help. The War Machine must be fed warm bodies and cold cash by the millions.
Steen penned these lines nearly 30 years ago at the height of this nation’s involvement in the Vietnam War, but they are even more incriminating today. The United States spends nearly three times as much money for the military machine today than it did at that time.
That amounts to $8,271 per second, $725, 274,725 per day and more than $5,076, 923,976 per week on military power!
This annual drain on our resources not only keeps us from attacking the problems of poverty, the deficit and Social Security in our country, it also equips the rest of the world with weapons which kill millions of people every year. The weapons of the military kill. They kill when they are fired. And even when they are not used, these weapons kill by consuming valuable resources that are essential in meeting human needs.
These are not new thoughts for Mennonites. We have always believed that peace is the will of God and that we are to be peacemakers in this world. The latest Mennonite Confession of Faith, approved in 1995 by both the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) and the Mennonite Church (MC) states: “We believe that peace is the will of God. . . as followers of Jesus, we participate in his ministry of peace and justice. He has called us to find our blessing in making peace and seeking justice. . . .”
Both MC’s and GC’s have also passed resolutions that support those Mennonites in their midst who refuse to pay for war. These same resolutions also urge all Mennonites to support the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund and to work towards passage of legislation that will allow people of conscience to pay taxes that go only for peaceful purposes. Our history would suggest that peace is something vitally important to our faith . . . something that we should pay more than lip service to.
The problem lies in our split personality . . . in the mental gymnastics we use to excuse ourselves from the reality of our actions, from the reality of paying for war. The reality is that we do pay for war while we pray for peace. We have separated our actions from our belief by rationalizing that we don’t really have any choice . . . the government requires us to pay taxes. That is true. But the government required that we serve in the army before the Alternative Service Act was passed in the ‘40’s. We refused to serve in the armed forces then. Once they accommodated us by granting us CO status we gladly gave them our money so that they could continue to kill in our names. And they do kill, through aggressive military maneuvers and by supporting almost every government in the world through the sale of arms.
We have separated our pocketbooks from our consciences. Money has become that topic which is nobody’s business but our own. As a result, we allow no one to hold us accountable to the way we spend it. That includes our tax money as well. That is a money issue and no one has the right to tell us how to handle it. Consequently, we take the path of least resistance and pay the military portion of our taxes even though that violates our consciences.
I have to admit that Mennonites are sick. We suffer from a split personality disorder when it comes to taxes that go for war. We have taken the road of least resistance. And our government is thankful for that. It was a small price to give us the option of alternative service. They really are more concerned that we continue to provide them with the cold, hard cash needed to pay for their wars and military build-ups, one of which we see in our living rooms each and every day now. They do it with our blessing because we have convinced ourselves that we have no other recourse. The reality is that we do have other options. . . but not options without risk.
If we are really serious about following after Jesus, we first need to be healed. . . healed of our sinfulness. We seem more concerned about other’s sins these days than our own . . . as exemplified by our concern to keep the church pure and sin-free while we happily continue to indulge our own sinfulness by paying others to kill. We spend inordinate amounts of time trying to keep homosexuals out of the church, women out of leadership and defending our own interpretation of scripture while we continue to pay for war with little thought or concern. In order to be healed we need to recognize that we have a problem. We need to ask for forgiveness. And we need to strive to sin no more. But these kinds of mental disorders are hard to cure. However, we believe that God can do just that. And God will help the minute we come to grips with our complicity in the military endeavors of our nation.
It is time for Mennonites to do some serious soul-searching on the issue of war taxes. John Stoner, of Every Church a Peace Church, has said: “We are tax resisters because we have discovered some doubt as to what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, and have decided to give the benefit of the doubt to God.” It is time for us to realize that we have given the benefit of the doubt, when it comes to paying for war, to the government. It is not acceptable or consistent to pray for peace and pay for war. If we believe that peace is the will of God, then how can we pay the portion of our taxes that are used to kill, even if the government requires it?
Right now, nearly half of our national budget goes for present military expenditures or for the interest on loans taken out in the 1980’s when the Reagan administration tripled the defense budget. We budget over $400 billion on defense every year, not even counting additional unbudgeted money to fund the war in Iraq. And recently we have heard cries from military leaders about how they need even more in the future. Even the countries that could be considered our five “enemies” together barely spend half of the amount annually that we spend on the military. The unconditional support of the military that our government asks of us is obscene. They withdraw support from welfare mothers and aid to dependent children while they increase corporate welfare to the military industry. As a people of peace we cannot continue to pay for such irresponsibility in good conscience. It is time for us to listen seriously to our consciences again . . . and to refuse to pay for such atrocities. We are a conscientious people that has lost its way and fallen ill. It’s time to address our personality disorder and listen once again to Jesus’ call to be peacemakers not war supporters.
We can refuse to pay for war in many ways. We can withhold the 3% federal tax on our telephone bills. We can withhold a percentage (from 1-50%) of our income taxes and give that amount to Mennonite Central Committee. We can keep our income below taxable levels. We can support the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund with our time and our dollars. Whatever we do, we can no longer rationalize our decision to pay for war. We know better. Our actions need to be consistent with our beliefs. God has not changed. Peace is the will of God. We are the ones who have strayed. We need to change. We need to pray for peace and we need to refuse to pay for war.
Jesus encouraged us to give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. God is the God of Peace. Those who call themselves Christian must also be people of peace. By paying for taxes that go for war we are not acting as people of peace, regardless of how we rationalize it.
John Stoner did an analysis that found that for every $9 Mennonites spend on their military taxes they give $5 to charitable causes. With one hand we destroy and with the other we build. In fact, we pay almost twice as much to destroy as we do to build up. Is that the kind of witness we want to give the world? The millions of people in this world that suffer because of the sway of the US military are waiting for us to do something about this imbalance. 32,000 children die each day because there isn’t enough money to pay for vaccines and food needed to help them live. Add to that the thousands of others who are killed by these military weapons and land mines . . . how can we possibly continue to support such irresponsibility?
We need to think seriously about what we are doing. Pray about it. Pray that God will give us the courage to stand up for our convictions. It is time for us to come to grips with our complicity in this carnage. May God guide our discernment.
Harrisburg, PA, State Capitol
Friday July 24, 2015 12:00 noon
We are here today to speak truth in the public square.
To speak truths which, though they may be uncomfortable to hear and unwelcome to some, are not rendered false by their scarcity nor unspeakable by the painful realities which they disclose.
We are here to speak for those whose voices have been silenced by death or by economic and military oppression.
We are here to question those who believe that security can be attained by coercion and homicidal practices, and to assert that God has made a world in which humanity can solve it’s problems by the difficult works of conversation, compassion and generosity.
Under this roof we are a diverse group, but the diversity is less impressive than the oneness. We all belong to the same family–the human family.
A transfusion of your blood to me could save my life. A transfusion of my truth to you could save yours–and vice versa, for both blood and truth.
I am John Stoner from Akron, Pennsylvania. I have lived in this state since my birth in 1942, paying my taxes and speaking my truth since becoming an adult in 1960.
Many of you have come from the Mennonite World Conference Assembly at the Farm Show Complex to speak words of lamentation and warning about the conduct and consequences of drone warfare. Others have come to hear what will be said about military drones. To each and all of you, I say “Welcome”.
Hear these words from the writer of Ecclesiastes, chapter 4.
Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.
And from Jesus, these words:
Seek first the empire of God and its justice, and all these things will be yours as well.
Lamentation Regarding Weaponized Drones
It has been said drones are very precise . . . that compared to other weapons, they kill few people and cause little damage. It has been said they are inexpensive to deploy and pose little risk to our own personnel. It has been said that weaponized drones are a more moral way to conduct warfare, a less violent instrument of foreign policy.
But today, we say that terror cannot be defeated by terror. Today, we join our voices as Mennonites and Brethren in Christ from around the world to lament this false morality of weaponized drones, this chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 4:1-4).
1. We lament the innocent lives snuffed out by drones—the wedding guests, the men assembled to solve local disputes, the families gathered for food and fellowship.
It has been said few innocent civilians are killed, but this is a lie, a lie facilitated by assuming all men of military age are militants, even though there is no evidence they are militants.
The great majority of those killed are not on a kill list and the governments that kill them do not know their names. A study of drone strikes in Yemen found that in an effort to kill 41 identified individuals, 1,147 unidentified individuals were killed. That’s 28 unintended killings for each intended killing.
2. We lament the massive disruption to family life, work, education and daily activities caused by the constant presence of weaponized drones. Communities are traumatized by anxiety. Children stay in-doors, imagining it is safer there. Neighbors avoid attending to those injured by a drone attack, knowing that a second attack often follows the first. Families avoid the funerals of loved ones, afraid that a drone will attack the mourners.
3. We lament how weaponized drones have radicalized targeted communities, driving more men and women into violent resistance. An enemy of 1,000 may suffer 5,000 deaths from drones, but 10,000 will stand ready to take their places.
4. We lament how the deployment of weaponized drones erodes the rule of law. A nation may not violate the sovereignty of another nation by crossing its borders and killing its citizens, yet this is exactly what weaponized drones routinely do.
This is justified by the “imminent threat of terrorism,” but this is only playing with words. In today’s world, the word “terrorist” has been politicized and simply means “enemy,” nothing more and nothing less. The phrase “imminent threat” simply means “armed and angry,” which is the natural consequence of living under the constant threat of drone attacks.
Predictably, nearly all governments are rushing to acquire this new killing capacity. Nearly two dozen nations already have it, and within a few more years, most will have it.
5. We lament how weaponized drones are making violence and killing easy, thus subverting more peaceful and enduring forms of foreign policy. The difficult work of building a stable international order brick by brick, of moderating national goals in the pursuit of international peace, is swept aside by the quick-fix of targeted killing.
6. We lament the moral injuries to those conducting drone attacks. They work in an environment where innocent men, women and children are “bug splat,” body tissue rent asunder and strewn across the landscape. We lament that this terror-producing activity is coming to Pennsylvania via a kill command center at Horsham, and that young men and women are being trained as we speak at Fort Indiantown Gap to carry out these atrocities.
7. We lament the callousness of our own consciences, our reluctance to pay attention to the suffering caused by weaponized drones.
Against the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, we have valued the lives of our own countrymen more than the lives of those living in far-off places. We have regarded their lives as cheap and our lives as precious, their terrorism as evil and our terrorism as good.
Against the witness of history and the skepticism of our own traditions, we have swallowed hook-line-and-sinker the deceptions of governments and the distortions of the media. We have failed to remember that those who want war always manufacture our consent by twisting the facts into a righteous cause.
This is our lamentation. As God is our help, may we find courage and strength to resist these sorrows, this chasing after the wind.
Passed by the Mennonite Church USA Delegate Assembly
Kansas City, Missouri, July 1, 2015
Mennonite Church USA Resolution Faithful Witness Amid Endless War
The United States of America is experiencing an era of boundless and endless war. This era began Sept. 14, 2001, when Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). It is not expected to end within the foreseeable future.
This is a different kind of war, without traditional armies operating under rules of war. The entire world is the battlefield. The enemy is shifting and ill-defined; sometimes it is a group with a history of recent collaboration with the U.S. Often the enemy is described vaguely as “terror” or “insecurity.”
This continuous state of war is the new normal. One consequence is that our nation no longer experiences times of national debate related to the morality of its participation in war.
Drone warfare is emblematic of our current state.
It is carried out in nations whose governments are not
at war with the U.S. It entails no declaration of war and little oversight by Congress. The President decides where, when and whom to kill. It is of doubtful legality under international law and, when directed against a U.S. citizen, of doubtful legality under U.S. law.
It is a cheap way to conduct war and avoids loss of American life. This changes the calculus of war, making it painless for the vast majority of people living in the U.S.
It often targets private residences and thus kills many innocent people. It terrorizes civilian populations by making normal routines of daily living acutely stressful.
Many who experience drone attacks are radicalized by the experience. They perceive it as an acute injustice, which fosters a desire for revenge and heightens the risk of more terror.
We remain committed as a church to the belief that participation in war is contrary to the will of God. Yet as we live in the environment described above, we experience uncertainty about how to make our belief relevant to neighbors and friends and part of the “good news” we have found in Jesus Christ. When our young men were being drafted into the military, our belief translated into a specific witness within our context. Now, we need renewed understanding of how to live out the “new creation” that is in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17).
Again, drone warfare is a revealing example of our current uncertainty. Our congregations have paid little attention to its thousands of victims, many (some would say most) of whom are innocent of any ill intent toward the U.S. When we speak of drone warfare, we are apt to note its advantages as compared to “boots on the ground.” Although innocent individuals are being killed on our behalf, we rarely object. Although a new “generation” of robotic weapons is being developed to protect our “security,” few of us have dissented. This suggests that our moral sensitivities have become calloused and that we are adapting to the normality of continuous war.
Therefore, the Delegate Assembly of Mennonite Church USA:
1. Calls affiliated congregations to a renewed emphasis
on trusting God and the way of Jesus, not violence, for our security. For this teaching to be effective, it must address our society’s commitment to the moral necessity of violence, our government’s undisclosed purposes in its so-called “security efforts,” and our often secret sympathies with so-called security operations. It also must seek the renewal of our minds in Jesus Christ (Romans 12:2).
2. Calls the agencies, educational institutions and conferences affiliated with Mennonite Church USA to ministries of healing and renewal in response to the moral injuries experienced by those who feel the guilt for having killed in the name of security and experienced by those who feel no guilt for the killing done on their behalf (John 8:11; Amos 5:21-24).
3. Directs the staff of Mennonite Church USA to actively seek and implement forms of public ecumenical witness to our confession: “Some trust in their war chariots and others in their horses, but we trust in the power of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).
4. Calls for an immediate ban on research, develop- ment, production and deployment of robotic and autonomous weapons, including military drones, and associated Artificial Intelligence technologies— placing them in the same category as chemical and biological weapons.
Passed by the Mennonite Church USA Delegate Assembly at Kansas City, Missouri, July 1, 2015
By Gary G. Kohls, MD
(Dr. Kohls was an early supporter of Every Church a Peace Church which was a precursor to 1040 For Peace.)
“Down in New Mexico we were trav’lin’ along. Stopped in Los Alamos, didn’t stay long, But we wanted to see the scene of the crime Where they made the A-bomb and then created a shrine.”—From Keeping the Peace, by singer-songwriter Sara Thomsen
70 years ago this week (July 16, 1945), an assortment of foreign scientists, the original group of which were mostly refugees fleeing European fascism, succeeded in exploding the first experimental atomic bomb.
The site of detonation of the plutonium bomb (which was essentially identical to the one that ambushed and destroyed Nagasaki a few weeks later on August 9) was in the desert outside Alamogordo, New Mexico. The site of the blast was to become blasphemously known as the Trinity Site. Trinity was the code name for the experiment and the Manhattan Project was the code name for the US Army’s secret project to develop atomic bombs, with the stated intent to use them against military targets in Nazi Germany. That is, until Germany surrendered before any of the bombs were ready to launch.
Then mission creep entered the picture and a scramble for other targets ensued. As I have previously written in this column, despite the certainty that Japan was trying to find a way to surrender with honor, the US military started looking for Japanese targets.
Motivating factors for not just mothballing the massively expensive project included 1) the huge secret costs that would be difficult to explain to Congress if the bomb hadn’t been used, 2) the momentum that had been built up was impossible to stop, 3) the unquenchable desire to achieve retribution against Japan for its ambush at Pearl Harbor (killing only 2,500 soldiers), and 4) the need to demonstrate to the USSR that we had “the bomb” and to warn Stalin to stay away from the spoils of the already defeated Japan.(http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-bombing-of-nagasaki-august-9-1945-the-un-censored-version/5345274)
The ragtag team of mostly English-as-a-second-language immigrant scientists had been ably headed by two American citizens, the physicist Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer (the first director of the Los Alamos [New Mexico] National Laboratories, which was code-named Project Y) and by US Army Colonel (soon to be promoted to brigadier general) Leslie R. Groves. Each had been charged with organizing the hugely diverse number of scientific teams and, in the case of Groves, the organizations necessary to produce the materials that could complete such a complex and expensive mission.
The project, called the Manhattan Project because it began in New York City, started in 1939 and cost $2 billion 1940s dollars to complete ($26 billion in today’s dollars). 90 % of the money was spent in the manufacturing processes and only 10% in research and development. 130,000 people had been employed over the war years. The project was slated to end at the successful conclusion of the war, but as is typical for Pentagon and corporate mission creep any number of megacorporations like Dow Chemical, ICI, Raytheon, and assorted investment banks interested in exploiting the publicly-financed nuclear research kept Los Alamos in business. Indeed the nuclear weapons research, development and production were accelerated, rather than stopped, and the world became immeasurably more unstable.
<<<Illegal, or at Least Poorly-documented Aliens Were the Inspiration and the Brains Behind America’s Manhattan Project>>>
Many of the “alien” scientist leaders in the Manhattan Project were refugees from Europe and many of them would become Nobel Prize winners for their achievements in nuclear physics; but at the time of their service, they had come to America mostly to escape Hitler’s fascist regime. Significantly, following the war, the Pentagon, showing its right-wing leanings, not only purged the leftist Oppenheimer (because of his family’s anti-fascist/communist/socialist history) but it recruited scores of pro-fascist, ex-Nazi scientists in Project Paperclip. There was, in fact, a race between the US and the USSR to recruit Hitler’s scientists. It is uncertain which nation won the race; perhaps both sides lost.
Each of the two leaders had certain characteristics that enabled the success of the mission. “Oppie”, as Oppenheimer was affectionately known, easily acquired loyalty from his co-workers and subordinates not because he was an authoritarian type like the military man Groves, but because he was respected and loved and therefore obediently followed.
Groves also achieved obedience and productivity from his underlings through classical military discipline that was accomplished, not out of love, but out of fear of punishment if performance wasn’t up to Groves’ standards. A military colleague of Groves, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Nichols, considered Groves “the biggest sonafabitch I’ve ever met”. That “drill sergeant brutality” approach also works (but only temporarily) when K-9 dogs are tortured in training until they are sufficiently vicious (but afraid of their masters) to attack any victim that is fingered. (But trainers are advised to watch their necks if they ever let down their guard.)
Of course, as occurs in all chain-of-command organizations (like most corporations, monarchies, fascist organizations, police states and in many punitive child-rearing families), Groves was motivated to succeed because of his own fears of punishment or disrespect from his superior officers. Like most of us, Groves was also motivated to succeed out of fear of demotion or failing to advance in his career or pay grade.
At the time of his appointment to manage the Manhattan Project, the grossly obese Groves (estimated to weigh up to 300 pounds, he was a chocolate candy and sugar addict) had been in charge of constructing the world’s largest office building, the Pentagon. The appointment to the Manhattan Project was initially regarded by Groves to be a demotion but being promoted to brigadier general helped to make the change more palatable.
<<<The Day After Trinity>>>
At the conclusion of the documentary film (nominated in 1980 for the Academy Award for best documentary film) The Day After Trinity, Oppenheimer was filmed answering a question about Senator Robert Kennedy’s efforts to initiate talks to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Oppenheimer replied “It’s 20 years too late. It should have been done the day after Trinity.”
Here are excerpts from some Amazon.com reviews of The Day After Trinity. They express much of what I wanted to say in this essay.
“The Day After Trinity is a haunting journey through the dawn of the nuclear age, an incisive history of humanity’s most dubious achievement and the man behind it–J. Robert Oppenheimer, the principal architect of the atomic bomb. Featuring archival footage and commentary from scientists and soldiers directly involved with the Manhattan Project, this gripping film is a fascinating look at the scope and power of the Nuclear Age. (Amazon.com Editorial review)
“’I have become death’,” declared nuclear scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer upon first witnessing the terrible power of the atomic bomb. The Oscar-nominated documentary The Day After Trinity uses newsreel footage and recently declassified government film to trace the growth of the Manhattan Project under Oppenheimer’s guidance. The New Mexico A-bomb tests are shown, as are the aftermaths of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
“The final scenes detail Oppenheimer’s transformation from the ‘father of the A-bom’ to one of the most tireless opponents of nuclear power. The Day After Trinity received its widest distribution when it was telecast over PBS on April 29, 1981.
“The Day After Trinity covers both the day after, but more importantly the days before Trinity as experienced by the scientists who built the atom bomb. The story of the bomb is usually told from its public debut (at the Trinity test site), though the story begins long before. Here it is told very well, through fascinating interviews with the men and women who lived in the strangely utopian Los Alamos.
“Day After Trinity connects the humanity of the project with the horror of the result. The destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki make it hard to imagine the sort of people capable of creating such mass destruction. Perhaps for that reason, the creators are sometimes written off as mad scientists, or lumped in under Oppenheimer’s personality. But the people on the screen are brilliant, insightful, agonized, and funny. It contributes a great deal toward our understanding of the bomb, without making it any easier.” (http://docuwiki.net/index.php?title=The_Day_after_Trinity)
<<<Keeping the Peace or Sowing the Wind?>>>
In one of her early songs, “Keeping the Peace”, Duluth’s singer-songwriter Sara Thomsen wrote:
“Down in New Mexico we were trav’lin’ along. Stopped in Los Alamos, didn’t stay long, But we wanted to see the scene of the crime Where they made the A-bomb and then created a shrine.
“Not too far from my own back door Is a trigger that would signal up a nuclear war It travels down to the ground, across the sea And up from the water comes a nuclear submarine.
“Walkin’ through the woods with an old Swede saw Are some people who decided to uphold the law. They said, “Keepin’ the peace is a whole lot bigger And they cut down the pole of that nuclear trigger.”
Motivated by the same outrage (as expressed in Thomsen’s song) over what America’s warmongers have been doing to the planet and its creatures, every July 16 since 1990 a group of Catholic Christians have been gathering at the Trinity Site for a vigil. Similar to the School of the America’s watch efforts, the gatherings at Trinity have been important parts of the many nonviolent antiwar resistance efforts that attempt to raise the public’s consciousness about the diabolical evil that was unleashed at the Trinity Site on July 16, 1945.
<<<The Seeds of Fukashima’s Whirlwind Were Sown at Trinity >>>
Jesus joined many other moral philosophers in saying “as you reap so shall you sow”. Gandhi said that your means are your ends in embryo. What those sayings mean is that if one wants to achieve, for example, truth (an end), one cannot choose lying as the means to attain it. If one uses violence as a means to an end, one will not achieve peace. If one wants peace, one must choose peaceful means. In other words, one can predict failure or success of a desired end result according to the means that were chosen.
So nations that choose violence and war as a tactic in dealing with other nations and then claim that peace is the desired end, you will know that they are either deceiving themselves and others or are ethically severely compromised. And that is why the development and threat to use nuclear (or other) weapons, will not result in world peace, but rather endless war and retaliation.
Refusing to think about the long term consequences of our nation’s militaristic dominative power strategies (as usual) in the nuclear weapons proliferation that poisoned and bankrupted the two superpowers after WWII, the US military and certain of its civilian and corporate partners in crime have kept sowing the proverbial wind, and now the rest of us are reaping the whirlwind.
<<<The Lethal Consequences of Radiation Exposure>>>
The inevitable lethal consequences of widespread radiation from nuclear weapons testing and use (ex: depleted uranium armor piercing shells) and the huge unaddressed, impossible problem of widespread radioactive waste from nuclear power installations keeps coming back to haunt us, again and again, in the form of uncountable tens of millions of radiation-induced cancers, congenital deformities, physical and mental disabilities, neurodevelopmental disorders (of exposed soldiers, as in Gulf War Syndrome) toxic food, toxic habitats (Ex: Chernobyl and Fukashima), unaffordable nuclear arms races, permanent cold and hot wars (many of which were provoked by the Reagan-era escalation of America’s nuclear weapons industries in the 1980s), which provoked similar escalations by our fearful enemies. Our so-called American ingenuity and blind trust in the moving hand of the holy market can be so pitifully short-sighted (usually only looking out as far as the next quarter’s earnings reports), that corrupt crony capitalism can be rightfully blamed for having produced numerous international war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against the peace.
In his antiwar poem “Armageddon” poet William Dickey identifies one of the major root causes of war and why our military leaders always seem to do what is best for the longevity of their military professions. Provoking endless war is good for the business of the Pentagon and all the industries that profit from war.
“Leonard Woolf said that there would be war
because the generals, having devised their weapons,
and seen them manufactured …
would have to try them out, and it is true.
There is no invention of man that has not been used
if it was capable of being used, and these are.
Electric cattle prods defame the soft personal testicles.
But from this Armageddon, the storm’s center,
not even a cry…
“There are thieves among us.”
As vilified as Harry Truman has been over the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then claiming to have lost no sleep over those decisions, he has been quoted as saying “All through history it has been the nations that have given the most to the generals and the least to the people that have been the first to fall.”
Truman was a neophyte on the world stage when FDR died so suddenly right before VE Day, and he was immediately surrounded by overwhelmingly militaristic types who were all in favor of using the new bomb. Nobody, even the physicists, fully understood the tremendous lethality of nuclear bombs nor could they have predicted the condemnation that would be leveled at America for being the first and only nation to use that weapon.
One civilian opponent of using nuclear weapons against civilian targets (an international war crime) was Oswald Brewster, a Manhattan Project contractor from New York. He wrote a heartfelt 3000 word letter to President Truman that said.
“This thing must not be permitted on earth. We must not become the most hated and feared people on earth, however good our intent may be. I beg of you, sir, not to pass this (letter) off because I happen to be an unknown, without influence or name in the public eye. There surely are men in this country to whom you could turn, asking them to study this problem.”
Truman’s Secretary of War Henry Stimson and his military advisor (and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) George Marshall were so impressed with the sentiment and logic of Brewster’s letter, that they actually delivered it to Truman. But nothing could slow down the momentum towards the satanic, and the letter probably wound up in the circular file.
Dr Kohls writes a weekly column for the Reader Weekly, an alternative newsweekly magazine that is published in Duluth, Minnesota, USA. Many of his columns are archived at http://duluthreader.com/articles/categories/200_Duty_to_Warn.
We are asking people to read the Bible the way it was written—as a collection of arguments about life, love and power. Especially, we ask people to pay attention to the big argument, whether God created the world to work by the imperial paradigm of domination and homicidal power or by the peasant-and-commoner vision of compassion and community.
We offer this book free of charge as a PDF document. We also invite you to purchase paperback copies from our page on Createspace.com. It is also available as an eBook via Lulu.
For independent reviews by John A. Lapp and Tony Bartlett, click here.
For author interviews, go to Geez Magazine, Peter Enns’ Rethinking Biblical Christianity, and Radical Discipleship.
If you are in Pennsylvania, read this note and use the template to ask our Governor to hold hearings on the Horsham Drone site.
GOVERNOR TOM WOLF, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY!
INITIATE PUBLIC HEARINGS!
Eliminate the Drone War Command Center in Horsham and All Drone War Activities in Pennsylvania!
Representatives of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Network Against Drone Warfare met with two members of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s policy and planning staff at the Capitol in Harrisburg on April 13 to press for public hearings about emerging drone warfare activities in Pennsylvania including the imminent operation of a drone warfare command center at Horsham, Pennsylvania—matters of imminent and critical importance not only to the citizens of Pennsylvania but also to all of God’s creation.
To support this initiative, please e-mail your version of the following message as soon as you can to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf at Governor@pa.gov with copies to members of his policy and planning staff who met with the Network on April 13—Mark W. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org and Michael Chang at email@example.com:
Dear Governor Wolf–
As Pennsylvania’s new Governor, you’ve already accomplished a lot including your earlier announced moratorium on the death penalty. Your actions suggest that you and your staff have what is necessary to address another issue of impending and critical importance to the citizens of the Commonwealth—emerging drone warfare activities in Pennsylvania.
Since March, 2013, the U.S. Air Force has been developing a drone warfare command center at the Air Guard Station in Horsham, Pennsylvania. I understand that it is scheduled to become fully operational sometime during this calendar year. (http://www.brandywinepeace.com/…/demonstration-at-horsham-…/)
From Horsham, drone operators will conduct remote-controlled drone attack missions, launching Hellfire missiles against people thousands of miles away. Drone operators are currently being trained for the command center in Horsham. I am also concerned about the Fort Indiantown Gap headquarters of the Pennsylvania Guard/Air National Guard where drone training operations are being conducted and surveillance drones are being deployed.
To date there have been no public hearings for Pennsylvania citizens and state authorities to address these emerging drone warfare activities at either of these locations or related drone warfare developments in the Commonwealth. In the interest of democracy and morality, I am asking you to initiate these hearings. I am addressing this concern to you because I believe that you have responsibility as Governor of Pennsylvania for the pressing reality of emerging drone warfare activities in Pennsylvania operating within a state agency under your direction—the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.
As one opposing drone warfare, I continue to encourage you to initiate public hearings regarding this ominous development in Pennsylvania.