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Who ever thinks about how many ways of war there are?

In chapter three of the book AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, readers are introduced to “America’s first way of war.”  It’s a grim, but probably necessary, project for us to think about our country’s ways of war.

In 2005 military historian John Grenier published THE FIRST WAY OF WAR: AMERICAN WAR MAKING ON THE FRONTIER, 1607-1814.   Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz quotes his description to open chapter three, titled “Bloody Footprints.”  Here is the text:

Americans depended on arts of war that contemporary professional soldiers supposedly abhorred: razing and destroying enemy villages and fields; killing enemy women and children; raiding settlements for captives; intimidating and brutalizing enemy noncombatants; and assassinating enemy leaders….In the frontier wars between 1607 and 1814, Americans forged two elements—unlimited war and irregular war—into their first way of war.

Those morally abhorrent practices have influenced America’s warmaking ever since.  Proposing moral distinctions between forms of the fundamentally depraved practice of war itself seems strange to me, like ranking forms of racism or slavery,  but there it is.  A graphic description of the kind of war used against the Indigenous Peoples on this continent, and now for the war of terrorism in the “war on terrorism.”  

Our souls’ search for redemption, to say nothing of innocence, in this historical milieu is fraught with difficulty, to say the least. 
Only by increasing our awareness of the large populations and skilled lifestyles of the indigenous population of North American before European setter colonialism devastated them can we begin to appreciate the scope and depravity of the destruction of those original inhabitants and their way of life.

So today, for the health of our souls and selves, a few facts from the first chapter of AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. 

When Lewis and Clark began their trek up the Missouri River in 1804, ethnologist Dale Lott has observed, they beheld “not a wilderness but a vast pasture managed by and for Native Americans.’” Native Americans created the world’s largest gardens and grazing lands—and thrived.

Native peoples left an indelible imprint on the land with systems of roads that tied nations and communities together across the entire 
landmass of the Americas.  Scholar David Wade Chambers writes:

“The first thing to note about early Native American trails and roads is that they were not just paths in the woods following along animal
tracks used mainly for hunting.   Neither can they be characterized simply as the routes that nomadic peoples followed during seasonal
migrations.  Rather they constituted an extensive system of roadways that spanned the Americas, making possible short, medium and 
long distance travel.  That is to say, the Pre-Columbian Americas were laced together with a complex system of roads which became
the roadways adopted by the early settlers and indeed were ultimately transformed into major highways.” pp. 28, 29.

Gardens, grazing lands and roadways in North America, including Mexico,  lived upon by approximately 200,000,000 people. (p. 17). 

Two hundred million people.

John K. Stoner   8/30/20
I promised more reflections on  the book AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.  

So here I go to the last chapter of the book, a paragraph which summarizes painfully well why and how our world and souls today are shaped by the genocide of America’s first inhabitants.

The conventional narrator of US history routinely segregates the “Indian wars” as  a subspecialization within the dubious category of “the West.”   Then there are the westerns, those cheap novels, movies, and television shows that nearly every US American imbibed with mother’s milk and that by the mid-twentieth century were popular in every corner of the world. (1)  The architecture of US world dominance was designed and tested by this period of continental US militarism, which built on the previous hundred years and generated its own innovations in total war.  The opening of the twenty-first century saw a new, even more brazen form of US militarism and imperialism explode on the world scene when the election of George W. Bush turned over  control of US foreign policy to a long-gestating neoconservative and warmongering faction of the Pentagon and its civilian hawks.  Their subsequent eight years of political control included two major military invasions and hundreds of small wars employing US Special Forces around the globe, establishing a template that continued after their political power waned.  p. 218

None of this is normal or acceptable human behavior—hence the searing damage to our souls.  

John K. Stoner
  For my own mental and spiritual health I will in the future have a moment of contrition every time I touch a $20 bill, which carries the image and inscription of the homicidal and genocidal Andrew Jackson, the 7th and most popular to that date president of the United States.

Jackson, who rose to fame and power by terrorist attacks on America’s indigenous inhabitants, said to the few survivors, after decimating the Muskogee (Creek) Nation in Alabama territory, 1814: “We bleed our enemies in such cases to give them their senses.” (p. 100, AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 2014.)

As a spiritual discipline in this COVID-19 time I am trying to learn American history, because I believe that we can know neither where we are or where we are going if we do not know where we have come from.

About the book I am now reading, Robin D. G. Kelley said, “This may well be the most important US history book you will read in your lifetime.”  At 78 I think it is time for me to be reading the most important US history book.

There are facts in USA history which need to replace self-congratulatory myths and cover-ups if we are to think honestly about who we have been and are.  This paragraph from AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is the first of a few thoughts I will share from this history published in 2014. 

Neither superior technology nor an overwhelming number of settlers made up the mainspring of the birth of the United States or the spread of its power over the entire world.  Rather, the chief cause was the colonialist settler-state’s willingness to eliminate whole civilizations of people in order to possess their land.  This trend of extermination became common in the twentieth century as the United States seized military and economic control of the world, capping five hundred years of European colonialism and imperialism.  The canny Prussian Otto von Bismarck, founder and first chancellor (1874-90) of the German empire, was prescient in observing, ’The colonization of North America has been the decisive fact of the modern world.”  Jefferson was its architect.  Andrew Jackson was the implementer of the final solution for the Indigenous peoples east of the Mississippi.”  (p. 96). 

John K. Stoner
 At a time when the ideology of white supremacy is under critical scrutiny across the land, is American supremacy remaining intact and embraced by all?  It is possible to wonder how history will judge this current USA military occupation of the world.    

Seventy five years ago the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people in the blast and firestorm.  Tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days after Hiroshima the U.S. dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people.  Thousands more there died from the delayed effects of radiation poisoning.  With Japan on the cusp of surrendering, did the U.S. really need to do that?  

Probably yes, if American supremacy is the starting principle.  

In the 1990’s a right wing think tank called “Project for the New American Century”  (PNAC) produced a document “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” which called for “Full Spectrum Dominance” of land, sea, air and space by American forces—a bold doctrine of American supremacism.  PNAC was the brain child of such ideologues as John Bolton, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, non of whom ever saw a war they didn’t like. 

The endless war on terrorism, skyrocketing military profits and uncontrollable military budgets which have come in the wake of PNAC seem to be accepted as a reasonable norm for national behavior, noticed by few and deplored by even fewer.  One great enabler of this pandemic scourge of war is the annual, unheralded cozy cooperation of Republicans and Democrats in Washington to pass military budgets like $740.5 billion for 2021.  Here is one congressional action where all differences are laid aside, and RepDems make something happen.  A wonder to behold.  

On this another Hiroshima/Nagasaki anniversary, let’s pause to ask whether there will ever be remorse for the greatest of all human evils, war itself.  Will we allow American supremacy to replace white supremacy without a second thought?  

Alexander Solzhenitsyn said in his Nobel peace prize speech, “Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose falsehood as his principle.”  This is as true of nations as it is of men. 

Stay human,
John K. Stoner 
Still refusing to look at the virus as the only thing that matters.
    Yesterday I asked if we are protecting our freedom to ask ANY question, no exceptions.  I think you told yourself that of course, you maintain your freedom to ask any question.

Today I want to ask if we’re free to accept an answer which is radically different from the public consensus on politics, health, etc.  Or do we know, in our heart of hearts, that we never have and never will take a position, never accept an answer, which is really far off from the majority answer to any question which we feel quite free to ask?

Stay human,
John K. Stoner
Every day during this COVID-19 time I ask myself:  Am I, are we, maintaining our freedom and our duty to question everything?  To keep asking questions, however hard or unpopular?

I start with this question:  Is a thing true just because everybody, or seemingly everybody, believes it?  There, I’ve asked it as a “yes” or “no” question, and I should question whether that is a good or necessary way to ask it.  

So I will begin by granting that the best answer is not a categorical “yes” or “no.”  But I will maintain that a “no” answer is better than a “yes” answer as a starting point for the discussion. 

A thing is not true just because seemingly everybody believes it.  In our culture/nation, virtually everybody thinks that war is a necessary function of the state/government.  That is the consensus, and I don’t grant for a minute that it is right.  That is not a trivial case for my point that a thing is not true just because  everybody believes it.  Add to this some other cases: predatory capitalism, white supremacy, women’s suffrage.   

So where do I go from there?  Well, if the majority can be wrong on a few big ones like that, on what other big ones might they be wrong?
John K. Stoner  7/23/20
        Today I share a comprehensive look at our COVID-19/Election Year times by Caitlyn Johnstone.  Johnstone is a writer whom I find not infallible but generally trustworthy and helpful. She warns her readers not to even be looking for perfection in people—journalists, opinion writers, politicians—but rather to nurture their own capacity to recognize truth when they find it.

I especially appreciate her focus on the disclosure, the revelation, of previously hidden or unrecognized realities of our situation.

Stay human,
John K. Stoner

At the Un-National Monument (along the Canadian Border)

by William E. Stafford


This is the field where the battle did not happen,

  where the unknown soldier did not die.

This is the field where grass joined hands,

  where no monument stands,

  and the only heroic thing is the sky.


Birds fly here without any sound,

  unfolding their wings across the open.

No people killed—or were killed—on this ground

  hallowed by neglect and an air so tame

  that people celebrate it by forgetting its name. 

Posted by John K. Stoner  7/4/20

“One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread” is the way Sam Shoemaker described sharing good news.

So that’s about the best I can do these days—tell you where I’m finding bread.  I thought that this interview of Jason Reynolds by Krista Tippett gives some good insights from an African American writer  into the origin, subtleties and persistence of racism, and what to do about it.  

His books sound real interesting.

Stay human, (Reynolds has some thoughts on what that means),

People want  to celebrate the things that symbolize generosity and goodness in their lives.”   Jared Seide

I read that sentence today, and thought, “that is something I believe about people—or at least try to believe and act upon.”

But there is so  much in U.S. American culture that works against generosity and goodness, and conditions us to suppress those qualities, that we need constant help to uncover and discover our latent generosity and goodness.

So I invite us to spend our lives helping ourselves and others to discover and celebrate the things that symbolize generosity and goodness in our lives.  
John K. Stoner  6/19/20
Second Amendment gun advocates probably know their US American history better than many of us do.  A groundbreaking history of the Second Amendment is available now, and it clarifies the purpose of the private militias provided for in the Second Amendment.  

LOADED: A DISARMING HISTORY OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (2018) documents the purpose of the the militias.  Dunbar-Ortiz writes:  “Settler-militias and armed households were institutionalized for the destruction and control of Native peoples, communities, and nations.  With the expansion of plantation agriculture, by the late 1600s they were also used as “slave patrols,” forming the basis of the U.S. police culture after enslaving people was illegalized.”  

Reading this book will help us to understand US American history and empire, and the “defund police” cry of today’s oppressed people.  

Human development and humanitarian work today clearly challenges us to defund violence-first institutions like the military and police.  This is real basic soul work, requiring contemplation, courage, action and persistence.  It is central to the Jesus revolution of living life by doing to others what we would have them do to us.  
John K. Stoner  6/13/20
The call for a redirection of funding from police to community welfare, from war to peace, has been sounded courageously by Liz McAlister for many years.  

Her sentencing on Monday for protesting the Trident Submarine weapon of mass destruction inspired her daughter Frida Berrigan to write this message to the judge and all who will listen to a plea for justice  As society’s response to McAlister’s plea for humanity she was sentenced to “time served” (17 months) and a fine of $25 a month (a relatively low figure because of her poverty) to pay on a fine of $30,000, the total levied against the seven activists. 

I hope you will read Frida’s statement and add your voice in some way to stand in solidarity with those who feel the threat of the pandemic of nuclear weapons.  
John K. Stoner 6/11/20
The (White) American notion of finding safety and security from police mirrors its obsession with finding national security from bombs and guns, and now even a new branch of “armed services” (aka homicidal force) called “Space Force.”  That would be hard to beat for a lunatic use of America’s wealth.  

To one like myself who has advocated defunding the military and war tax resistance for decades, “defund the police” with their homicidal history and proclivities sounds like human development.

But we need an equal parallel emphasis on the alternatives, and the emerging call to “fund our communities” will build true security.  Another focus might well be “refund education.”

Turning these hashtags into political action and national policy is now the agenda. 
John K. Stoner  6/9/2
Sometimes I feel that my posts here are one move too far from giving comforting care for the soul—one step too far on the side of afflicting instead of comforting; that is, afflicting the comfortable instead of comforting the afflicted.  

And then I think, but we are way too much in love with our comfort.

You decide that.

Anyway, today I share the voice of Ken Sehested in North Carolina, my favorite Baptist, whom I have known as a fellow peaceworker and counted as a friend for more than 40 years.   

Much, probably most, that is possible is not easy.
John K. Stoner
When someone, in the context of the current rebellion against America’s racial and economic injustice, mentions “looting,” (probably to condemn it), what should be our first thought and response?

How about this, by African American Rev. Dr. Nick Peterson:  “

“I mean if we want to talk about looting, let’s talk about the “stolen properties” that structure the entire existence of this horrible project.  America is a testimony to the sanctity of white looting. 
Looting in 1607. That’s when the first “permanent” English settlement was established on the “James” river.”

I have determined to memorize these words and be able to repeat them to further the education of my friends and neighbors about the true history of this nation. 

John K. Stoner

One week ago an African American man named George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis while bystanders objected and recorded it all by video.  Now more than ever U.S. Americans need to hear the voices of Black people, to try to come closer to understanding what is happening in the wake of that atrocity.  

We do not have the voice of Martin Luther King today, but his message lives on in prophets like Cornel West.  I encourage you to watch West’s comments here, 7 min.  This is related to the question of American “exceptionalism” which we have been considering.

Today I encourage you also to watch the Youtube interview of Anand Giridharadas discussing his book THE TRUE AMERICAN: MURDER AND MERCY IN TEXAS,  recommended in an email response by John Martin a few days ago

As we know more truth, we will become more free. 
John K. Stoner
I just read a book recommended by my grandson: THE TRUE AMERICAN:  MURDER AND MERCY IN TEXAS by Anand Giridharadas (2014). 

It tells a story of revenge and forgiveness after 9/11.  A novel, based on fact and extensive historical research.  

Asks a question:  who is the true American?  Or maybe, what is the true America?

A Dallas character in the story, anti-death-penalty activist and peace studies teacher Rick Halperin, said of this story:  “I don’t know any other story that would raise the issues to make America look at itself the way this case does.”

To help America look at itself is the purpose of our inquiry into American exceptionalism.  For our own good, individually and nationally, nothing is so useful as honest self-evaluation.  

Maybe there is no “true” American, and no “true” America.  We and it are all a mixture of true and false, good and bad, right?  But even if that is your starting assumption, more or less true, more or less good still matter, do they not?

So today I recommend reading this book, or reading some reviews of it.  What is the true meaning of America’s response to 9/11?  Did the Texas murderer or the Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant get it closer to right? 
John K. Stoner  5/29/20   
While the left hand of the magician is over here, his right hand is doing something else over there.

Do you give your informed consent to a new cold war and a new round of nuclear roulette in which we could all lose but no one could ever win?

If you do, that’s a world you want but most of us don’t.  

While we’re watching real and fake machinations around COVID-19,  the magicians (power-hungry oligarchs and billionaires, militarists, heads of corporations and states) are envisioning new ways to control the world’s population.  

A little woman with a prophetic bent has asked us a few questions about this, and I share them with you today.  Caitlin Johnstone does not write for the New York Times, but she writes, and she never helped take us into the Iraq war or justify endless wars after 9/11.

You will have a healthier heart, mind and soul if you put courageous and persistent creativity and energy into resisting the propaganda of imperial powers in our troubled world.  You will meet the resurrected Jesus while doing that. 
John K. Stoner  5/24/20
If there is such a thing as American exceptionalism, it is most likely in the area of consumerist capitalism.  To think more accurately about this is surely one essential path toward healing.  How should we respond to this? 

Paul Clark says that his response to America’s exceptional consumerist capitalism is to “return to a deep place within to know truly who I am and then attempt to create some modest friction within the Greed Machine.”

Norman Lowry has often said that his life is, among other things, a protest against the racism, bigotry, militarism and poverty-production of the American system.  What does the Greed Machine produce?  “Poverty production” says Norm.

Upon the recommendation of my grandson I’m reading THE TRUE AMERICAN: Murder and Mercy in Texas by Anand Giridharadas, a novel based on the murder and attempted murder of (supposed) Arabs post-9/11 in Dallas.  One victim (who survived) this one-man retaliatory “war” was Rais Bhuiyan.  The piece I’m picking up today from that story is one thing which Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi immigrant to the USA, did to establish his authenticity as an American.  Giridharadas describes it this way in the opening sentence of chapter 7: “In the America of the aughts, [first decade of the 21st century] nothing said you belonged like buying a car you couldn’t afford.”  Bhuiyan did that, and struggled for 2 years with car payments he should never have committed to.  But think of the pathos and tragedy of that sentence.  That kind of self-inflicted suffering has damaged not only thousands of immigrants, but millions of U.S. born Americans and savaged the world as one of our “nonsensical greed-induced behaviors and systems” (Michael Moore).   

So, can we move into new and deeper levels of imagining what must do to move beyond “greed-induced behaviors and systems”?
John K. Stoner  5/22/20
In response to “Truth: Making Uncomfortable and Free” on Sunday, Dennis Rivers wrote: ”It seems to me, after a lifetime of wrestling with the Angel of Truth, that Truth is one of the most important of three or four central human ideas.  Like an essential vitamin, it plays a role in almost all other ideas. But I like the expression “truthfulness” better, because it locates the topic inside  of us as living beings, rather than just “out there” somewhere.” 

Dennis goes on to point out how truthfulness is something we do, not only what we think.  That’s good!

Paul Clark said that truth talk took his mind back to grade school when he quit saying the pledge of allegiance, because it did not pass his own truth test.  
In this blog are now asking whether the notion of American “exceptionalism,” or “manifest destiny” to conquer the west and now rule the world, passes any reasonable or useful test of truth.  Or is  a more truthful assessment of our “homeland” available, as I suggested on Sunday?

We are a “capitalist” nation, by all estimates, and that raises the question of whether we will judge our capitalist present by its ideal or by its historical record.  Going with the historical record, we do find what Michael Moore called our “various nonsensical greed-induced behaviors and systems.”  I think we do have such things.  Would you help me name them, and suggest ways we should be changing them for the health of our own souls and the world’s?
John K. Stoner 5/19/20
A wise person once said (it may have been Jesus) that you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.  We like that. However,  another wise person added “but first it will make you uncomfortable,” and we should remember that too.

We, in our selves and our souls, are nourished by truth.  And by love and beauty.  These and many other things will keep us in health and freedom.  In our reflections on the notion of American “exceptionalism,” I suggest we think for a few days now about truth, love and beauty, each in turn.

When I suggested two days ago, borrowing from Michael Moore, that the exceptionalism in which USA Americans have excelled is “nonsensical greed-induced behaviors and systems” there was a flash of recognition in at lease some readers.  

Paul Clark responded, “Until the great powers are forced to abandon the path of warring and death, the creation will suffer along with the poor.”  Might it be that creation finds ways to complain about the human path of warring and death?  The Spanish flu in 1918 came right on the heels of The Great War, WWI, in which some 20 million people died.  The Spanish flu killed some 60 million people worldwide.  I wonder how many people wondered then, “Given what a flu virus can do to humanity, why did we just kill 20 million of ourselves in war?”  The endless wars of the USA have killed millions of people since 9/11—a truth which will make us uncomfortable if we let compassion inform our self-awareness.  We are part of nature, not just “other” than nature, and if we respond to a viral pandemic by thinking about our war pandemic(s), maybe that is good for us?  

In a personal note to me, another reader wrote “You addressed a topic that I think is one of the primary roots to our evil collective U.S. behavior—the absurd notion that we are exceptional (we are exceptionally evil).”  That, if there is truth in it, is making us uncomfortable before it is making us free.  

So it might be useful, if not at first freeing, to have a more truthful assessment of our (as the closet, or not-so-closet fascists call it) homeland.  Let’s at least for a while try on that thought.  

John K. Stoner  5/17/20
Soul/Self Care—USA Exceptionalism as Planetary Emergency  5/15/20

My last email/blog invited reflection on Michael Moore’s new movie “Planet of the Humans.”  That movie has proven to be intensely controversial in the environmental/green community, largely because it offers criticisms of some of the broad strokes and hopes of the efforts of the environmental movement to date.  

We all want hope, and are instinctively critical of voices which question, or seem to question, particular sources of our chosen reasons for hope.  So far so good.

But at some point it becomes necessary to ask whether our hopes are well placed and based on something better than wishful thinking and optimism fueled by ignorance more than awareness.

Responding to criticism he received, Moore wrote: “Yes, we are in a serious, multi-level planetary emergency – and it involves climate, water, food, topsoil, overconsumption, missing species, ocean life and humans. Mostly humans, and our various nonsensical greed-induced behaviors and systems.”

Today I want to suggest that for the betterment of our own selves (soul care) citizens of the USA would do well to reflect on what Moore called “our various nonsensical greed-induced behaviors and systems.”  This, he says, is the MOSTLY feature of the multi-level planetary emergency.  I’m not sure that I see his critics honing in on this challenge, but I am watching for that.

If you wanted to name the thing that best defines American “exceptionalism,” might it be an unwavering commitment to our various greed-induced behaviors and systems?  Yes, I acknowledge that patriots, politicians and political theorists who use the word “exceptional” to define the essence of the USA mean some kind of divinely appointed global mission and/or infallible spirit of benevolence in our national character, but I’m challenging that idea of American exceptionalism and suggesting instead the one named here by Michael Moore.  

This becomes a call to quit measuring our needs by our greeds, and it is addressed to all USA Americans whose lifestyle is already more than adequate (which is tens of millions), and not to America’s oppressed poor and disenfranchised. Overconsumption is not the problem of everyone in the USA or any country of the world, but it is the problem of those who think they run the country and the world, so let’s address it.  

This old pandemic of greed and consumption has brought the planet to the brink of destruction—for all we know, maybe over the brink, but for now let’s still give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe something can be done about it.

But what?  You will ask, but what?

People say, “Well, we’d fix our more-than-four-months-old pandemics of predatory consumerist capitalism, fascist homeland security politics, and delusional global militarism if we knew what to do about them.”  Would we really?

I’m not so sure about that, but I am pretty sure that if we thought that our various nonsensical greed-induced behaviors and systems were the biggest cause of the global crisis, we would be obsessing with the question of what should be done about those in a manner not too different from our obsession with what to do about COVID-19.  

Last Friday I recommended viewing Michael Moore’s new film “Planet of the Humans”  A number of readers have shared good comments on this email list.  Today I add two further sources on this subject of our ecological/earth care crisis.

First, the following April 28 Common Dreams article by Cynthia Kauffman, critical of the film.

And second, a column by Michael Moore, saying we are in a planetary emergency with multiple causes, but “Mostly humans, and our various nonsensical greed-induced behaviors and systems.

All of this is a call for more radical changes in consumption and “way of life” expectations than most of us want to consider, I fear.  Yet, we may respond with positive action and caring. 

John K. Stoner 5/7/20

 Jesus often said “Fear not,” but I do not know that he ever said “Look not.”  

Over the years Michael Moore has invited the public to look at a number of things, most recently at the ecological abyss into which we stare.  I recommend his new movie, “Planet of the Humans” online at

As I have said before in this email/blog series, the current focus on CORVID—19 must not cause us to forget all else about our world.  The sustainability of our planet continues to hang in the balance, and failing or refusing to look will not change the fact that earth-care decisions and practices which emerge after CORVID-19 will decide our fate. 

So I hope you will view “Planet of the Humans” and share your thoughts as we continue to seek to care for ourselves and our planet inextricably and all together.

Remain human, (a thought from Mazin Qumsiyeh ,) 
On April 23 we considered ‘Wisdom essential for survival’  That reflection made a strong claim: that humanity must move from a notion of survival by dominating, homicidal power to the embrace of survival by empathy and cooperation with humanity and earth’s fragile ecosystem.  Can we do that?
There is a lot of talk these days about getting “back to normal,” or finding “the new normal.”  But let’s be clear that “getting back to normal” will not give us a livable future.  What we have come to accept as “normal” was, and is, killing our world.  That is the point of Arno Gruen’s book THE INSANITY OF NORMALITY: TOWARD UNDERSTANDING HUMAN DESTRUCTIVESS
So will the current global agony issue in a turning (first of all for the U.S.A.)  from obsession with war, military power and global domination?  Of all the things we are thinking, obsessing, and praying about these days, this would be a good one for some of our time.  It is extraordinarily hard to be hopeful about our future if we go back to the normal war program and global dominance aspirations.  
Envision a better world, and resist war taxes or give us your ideas of something better, to make it happen.
 “War or Peace:  We cannot survive with Real-Politik” is the title of Arno Gruen’s reflection on modern culture and psycho-social conditioning.  The following words in the second paragraph of the article state his thesis that “real-politic” is based on an ultimately suicidal belief that the world must be run by dominating, homicidal power.

“We live in cultures that are characterized by competition and insecurity and that make it difficult for people to develop the self-esteem that comes from a sense of one’s inner worth, which can evolve only if people learn to accept and share their suffering, pain, and adversity. This is what enables an inner strength to emerge—informed by an attitude of equanimity in spite of insecurity and of self-confidence in spite of helplessness. Only such a development forms a person’s genuine substance. In cultures that mistake strength for invulnerability, this kind of development is hardly possible because suffering, pain, and helplessness are stigmatized as weakness.”

Our challenge, he says (even, or especially in a pandemic time, I add), is to discover that suffering, pain, and helpless are not weakness, but the human lot which allows the person’s inner strength to emerge.  
In the essay, Gruen argues that cultures condition us to think that competition and dominating power are the traits which assure human survival, crushing our in-born impulses for empathy and cooperation.  
“Real-Politik” is a political philosophy based on that cultural conditioning.  Ultimately it abhors human compassion, love and cooperation, considering them weakness.  I wonder, is that our functioning, if not consciously explicit, political philosophy?  If it is, what kind of leaders are we looking for?
John K. Stoner
See this and earlier Soul/self Care emails on the blog.  Subscribe or unsubscribe to these emails by sending me a note at  
On this Sunday/Sabbath I recommend renewal of your spirit/soul by listening patiently to “On Being”, Krista Tippet interview with Ellen Davis and Wendell Berry.

You will do better than me if you get all the wisdom and inspiration of this hour in one listening.

See this email also on the blog at Subscribe or unsubscribe with an email to me at

John K. Stoner

Yesterday I shared the link to Arno Gruen’s “War or Peace:  We Cannot Survive With Real Politic.”  Today I’m wondering if you read it and what you thought of it—I saw no comments on it. 

I know we’re all focused on surviving COVID-19, but I wonder nevertheless if we think or care about how we are going to survive war.  

Gruen’s writings on “the insanity of normality” speak to our culture of obedience and dominating power.  We have made obedience to (government and other) voices claiming authority and the global practice of dominating power (war) normal.  Gruen says we cannot survive this.

What do you think?  

John K. Stoner


See this and earlier “Soul Care” emails on the blog  To start or end a subscription to Coronavirus Soul Care emails, send a note to me at


The purpose of the title is to provoke interest.  Cannot survive what?  Read on.

What are we doing here in these Soul/self care emails?  I see it this way:  Some of us want to have hard conversations toward the end of avoiding even harder consequences.  History is, after all,  relatively (more likely absolutely) unforgiving.  Having said that, I am the eternal optimist, believing that human nature is capable of much better things.   

How does it happen that I find myself these days reading A SAVING REMNANT: The Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds by Martin Duberman?  The stories of two Americans who spent their lives in the 20th century making sacrifices for the cause of peace and justice.  It makes me wonder what the rest of us were doing in the 20th century. 

Obsessed as we are, and no doubt should be, about the future we face, we could still do worse than consider our past for clues to the future.  The prophetic word has always started with a clear and honest look at the past, not a magic or crystal ball prediction about the future.  Prophecy knows that behavior has consequences, that the rape and pillage of lands and peoples produces moral injury in the lives of those who do it, and the future is not so quick to forgive us as we are to forgive ourselves.  
We have a fearsome corporate history. 

But we also have deeply troubled personal histories.  Our corporate and personal histories are like a bird with two wings and maybe it is too much to bring them both up at once, but then  you think of a bird trying to fly with one wing…. 

So let’s take them together if they come that way.  In an email yesterday Norman Lowry recommended the writings of Arno Gruen.  Norm wrote: 

Hello Blair (& other friends),

For a good look at The Insanity of Normality:  Toward Understanding Human Destructiveness, I would suggest the following website of Dennis Rivers (friend of John Stoner and me).  I would also suggest that you consider reading Dr. Gruen’s essay; “War or Peace?  We Cannot Survive with Real Politik” 

The second link given above (“War or Peace?”) completes the phrase “we cannot survive.”  This essay by Gruen helps us to understand our society’s culture of obedience and dominating power.  Given that we do want to survive, let’s read it and see what it says to our coronavirus moment. 

We will spend at least a week, maybe two, on this essay.  If we cannot learn something from this about our survival, we should quit wasting our time here and go back to beer, TV and shopping.  But we are, I insist, capable of better things. 

John K. Stoner



Good morning, friends,

I had these thoughts this morning, before I read Julio Vincent Gambuto’s article submitted by James Landis last evening. I wrote down my thoughts (in response to Caitlyn Johnstone’s piece which I had just read).  So my thoughts (in italics) below and Caitlin Johnstone’s piece are my contribution today, all as my expression of profound appreciation for Gambuto’s article (see it here and James sharing it with us. 

  In my view, we
 did not come to a place of believing the words of billionaire oppressors of common people overnight.  We have been conditioned into this over a long period of time.  Just ask yourself one thing:  How important do you think it is to billionaires to have common people believe that they (the billionaires) care about everybody?  How important?  If it is important to them, what would they invest in psychology, sociology and advertising (propaganda) to make it happen?  Please linger at some length on your own thoughts about these things.  (For me the importance of all this goes way beyond presidential races,)

I hope we are not already at a place where we cannot (it is not safe to) ask such questions.  

What follows is just the voice of one common person who does not have much money.  I became aware of Caitlin Johnstone a few years ago.  I was then and continue to be impressed by her courage.  Maya Angelo said
Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”

Courage, and hope,


from Caitlin Johnstone

Manufacturing Normality

“By ‘manufacturing normality’ I mean the way the plutocrat-owned political/media class pour massive amounts of energy day in and day out into making the ridiculous, horrific status quo seem normal.”


This is the case not just with this bullshit US presidential race, but with all bullshit everywhere. A world where powerful governments attack, destroy, starve and undermine weaker governments which refuse to bow to their interests, a world where the wealthy continue to steal more and more wealth from an increasingly impoverished working class and use the leverage that wealth gets them to steal more, a world where governments demand more and more opacity for themselves and more and more transparency from ordinary people, a world where police are becoming increasingly militarized and speech is becoming increasingly restricted, a world where the response to a global pandemic is not to rally together and overcome but to advance pre-existing authoritarian agendas and manufacture support for new cold war escalations against China.

None of this bullshit would have been possible without all of us having been raised in an atmosphere of mass-scale obfuscation and manipulation. None of us would ever accept such a world without having been manipulated into it, which is why they have done exactly that.


John K. Stoner


Soul Care:  Questions of Inevitability and Possibility  4/10/20

What is inevitable, and what is possible?  Those are larger questions, and/or assumptions, around which we form our ideas about how the world might be run.  Is war inevitable?  Is a world without war possible?  Today I pick up the question of war itself.

So it has come to this: we are asking ourselves how the world might be run.  Underlying that is something of an assumption that change might be good, that the way it is now being run leaves something to be desired. 

This is a very old question, actually, and if COVID-19 is focusing our attention now, it could do worse than focus our attention on how the world should be run.  

I tend to look in two directions for input on that, not claiming these to be comprehensive, but sensible places to start.  First, to that significant (maybe we can agree) figure of history, Jesus.  And second, to a piece of human experience, the success and failure of WWII.

Looking first at Jesus, he named himself “the human one” or “Son of Man,” as his most common self description.  He identified himself as one of us, a human being.  So let’s start out by doing what he did, identifying him with ourselves and ourselves with him, rather than jumping to mystical, metaphysical or spiritual religious confessions about how he was all different, greater, bigger and better than poor little you and me. 

The words Jesus used to express his message and mission succinctly were “the kingdom of God.”  Kingdom in his day and place  meant “way to run the world.”  Kingdom meant hierarchical organization of the world around kings and kingdoms.  But Jesus threw in a modifier to kingdom, and it was “God.”   Kingdom
of God.

God—that’s a big one!  For starters I’ll tell you if I believe in God after you tell me who God is.  Seriously, that’s only fair, and it will go some ways to level the playing field of our discussion if we both take some responsibility for defining the words we use. 

I think of Jesus as spending his life showing what God—or if you prefer, Everything That Really Matters—is like.  All of that in relation to how to run the world, which he called “the kingdom of God.”

He told “parables of the kingdom” and in one of them he said the kingdom of God is like a small seed which grows into a big tree.  The idea which he lived and practiced most consistently was love, caring for one’s fellow humans.  It was understood and practiced by few, small like a seed, in his time, and has remained pretty small ever since.  But it has the potential to become big, if we were to choose it as our way of running the world. And it is just that, a choice which we could make in face of multiple other ways of trying to run the world, of which we see plenty right now.  

The second direction I look for ways to run the world is human experience…what have we tried, how did it go?  

And this comes less as a question to history than a question to  you as an interpreter of history—and the future.  Maybe Jesus doesn’t speak to you.  This is about how you speak to yourself and to others in your little circle of influence. 

I submitted the following question last evening to David Swanson on the World Beyond War conversation, but of course there was not time for all the questions, and mine did not come up.  Here it is:

David, do you think that the people of Germany were so depraved that they would have continued their support of Hitler if even half of the human lives and physical resources spent on World War II had been shipped to Europe to right the wrongs written into the Treaty of Versailles settlement of World War I?

Of course, the question about the Germans is beside the point now.  But it’s the question we ask about any group of human beings which your government or mine might tell us is worthy of being visited with a “just war” today or tomorrow.  Are they so depraved…?  And in asking it, do not fail to assume that “they” are asking if “we” are so depraved….

Finally, ask yourself, are the people who answer “yes” to this question  pessimists or optimists?  Or using other language, more hopeless or hopeful about the future of humanity?  

To watch David Swanson of World Beyond War shred the argument that war is inevitable and speak other truths strange to American ears, see the video of the webinar Tuesday evening: 

John K. Stoner  

Akron PA


This email text and previous ones are on the blog at

Soul Care— What do CORVID-19 and War Have in Common?  Considerations of the Inevitable  4/8/20

Today (as a conversational device…not a teaching device, we know we learn by talking these days, etc. not from teachers, right?…yeah, I too know that) I will compare two evils.  One of the ways we do learn is by comparing the familiar with the unfamiliar.  

But first also an apology for using the word “evil.”   That’s kind of old school language, so please think of your preferred word like sub-standard, retrograde, not cool or whatever and use that.  

In any case, there are useful comparisons to be made between the CORVID-19 crisis and war.  

Last evening I watched the two hour teaching conversation offered by David Swanson of World Beyond War.  I believe that a few of you readers saw at least some of it, after Phyl Leaman and I shared an email announcement of it yesterday afternoon.

Swanson said things which most Americans have never heard or thought.  That in itself would seem potentially useful, wouldn’t it?  Or are Americans such a repository of wisdom that no one should presume to give them a new thought?  (Let me say that I’m not nationalistic enough to think that, but I want to recognize those who do.)

Swanson said that war is not inevitable.  Not inevitable, like  slavery, sexism, safety when you leave your house and join a crowd and racism are not inevitable. 

There I referred to CORVID—19 in relation to “safety.”  Now I will refer to war in relation to safety.  All of this having to do with what is “inevitable.” 

Even if the fact of CORVID-19 is (has been) in some sense inevitable, we are not going to treat as if it is inevitable, are we?  First of all, we will have a healthy fear of it, and try to act accordingly, right?  We kind of care about our survival in face of CORVID-19, yes, no?   

So then, what about war and the fear of it as an issue of human survival?

A week or two ago I wrote that our history and practice of war has made us very ill as a people—we have suffered incalculable damage (moral injury)  by our embrace of war and treating it as something inevitable.  And we think we can do that with impunity, or some kind of immunity.

Have you tried suggesting that the consequences of COVID-19 might be anything less than threatening to human survival itself?  (Linger on this thought for a moment). 

But we do this with war all the time.  In fact, as David Swanson told us last evening, the U.S. war machine spends billions of dollars convincing our population that war is not only less than threatening to human survival, it is inevitable, a good thing, and we had better accept it as a good thing or else.  

If there is anything of a new thought for you in any of this, I encourage you to take a look at Swanson’s message.  It’s still there for you at When this page comes up, you could click on the Martin Sheen one minute video on “the weapon that kills the most,” just to get into the website. 

I am not trying to recreate Swanson’s whole hopeful worldview here, just to intrigue us with what might not be as inevitable as we thought it was.  

Imagine, a vaccine to protect us from the deadly propaganda that war is inevitable.  We could call it “truth” or something like that. 

John K. Stoner


This text is also available at  Respond there by using the Contact button at the top right. 


Are We Starting A War on Nature? Is This the Real Struggle? 

THIS being, not what will a virus coming out of nature do to us, but what will we, with all of the possibilities of our own nature, do to ourselves?  

We have needed something to focus our attention, the attention of the whole world, no less, on the hopeless situation into which our approach to living on this planet has brought us.  Our attention—the whole world’s attention—is now focused as never before; as absolutely never before. and what are we doing with this attention?

Are we starting another war, a war on nature this time, like we started the endless wars after 9/11 on Them and The Other: Muslims, Eastern nations, Enemies all of them?

Another war as mindless and endless as the wars since 9/11?  Did we learn anything from THAT? 

When was the last time you felt a kind of immobilizing fear, as if history was being divided into before and after, as if everything was now changed?  9/11 perhaps?  Think about that now.   

By any reasonable standard of all that is just and humane, our response to the test of 9/11 was an abject failure.

We turned an opportunity for honest self-evaluation into a miserable obsession with endless war.  That is a fair and balanced evaluation of America’s response to 9/11.  By any standard of all that is just and humane, you judge our response to 9/11.  

Are we about to do something just as stupid with the coronavirus challenge of 2020?  

Are We Starting A War on Nature? Is This the Real Struggle? 

THIS being, not what will a virus coming out of nature do to us, but what will we, with all of the possibilities of our own nature, do to ourselves and to nature?  

Like a deer in the headlights, we stand immobilized by what might be coming rather than mobilized in response to what is present.  Let’s look at all, or something closer to all,  that is present. 

What if, due to immobilizing fear of what the virus might do to us, we close our eyes, then agree to economic, political and military measures which are certifiably more deadly than any virus which has ever erupted from the earth?  Those economic, political and military measure present every possibility of doing to us what nothing from the earth itself has ever done to humanity

What the economics of predatory capitalism, the politics of homeland fascism and the militarism of nuclear insanity have done with their war on nature, and are doing to the human part of nature,  dwarf the worst that millions of years of the biology of creation has ever done to humanity.  Those years of struggle have produced life—all the life that we know.   In starkest contrast, these above named human—these inhumane—projects  have been for years already threatening the destruction of the planet as a livable place.  CORVID-19 has not lessened or removed those suicidal human behaviors, it has focused our attention in such a way that we could now choose to adopt an  economics of democratic social caring, a politics of civil liberty and a global security system of nonviolent compassion toward the goal of our survival.    That could be our response to this illness that comes from the earth, or from bioweapons laboratories, we really don’t know.  

There is an indigenous wisdom of humanity which for tens of thousands of years sought the wisdom of how to live in harmony with the earth and its creatures.  For several hundred years another paradigm of human “wisdom” has prevailed, one which has viewed creation as an enemy to be conquered, an opponent over which to gain dominion.  The earth has taken all of that that it’s going to take, and it is now time for us to choose a new path.  The indigenous and dominionist approaches might not be polar opposites, but they are distinct choices which take us in different directions.  We are choosing.  This is the real issue we face.

Let’s have a conversation about it.  

John K. Stoner

April 6, 2020

This is also available on  Respond by using the comment function, top right. 

Today, in my series on Soul/self Care, here is an example of a group response to the problem of American militarism.  The group in Lancaster county PA, which supports conscientious objection to war taxes, sent the following letter (see text below)  to the Mennonite Central Committee U.S.  The concept of the letter predates the coronavirus panic and was not derailed by it.
John K. Stoner
1040 for Peace
108 South Fifth Street
Akron, PA  17501-1204
April 2, 2020
Ron Byler, MCC US Executive Director
Jesus Cruz, MCC US Program Director
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, MCC US Washington Office Director
Jes Stoltzfus Buller, MCC US Peace Education 

Dear Ron, Jesus, Rachelle and Jes,

Because of COVID-19 we live in a time of uncharted territory which provides a new opportunity for Anabaptist denominations and 
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to influence and bring about change in our world.  A crisis has the potential to produce real change.  When that crisis occurs, the available ideas prompt the actions that are taken. 

Seeking to be the Christ-like witnesses that we are called to be, we believe the COVID-19 pandemic exposes a desperate need as well as a window of opportunity to encourage the reapportionment of the U.S. budget priorities away from military spending and toward health care, economic reform, diplomacy and efforts to mitigate the climate crisis.

As members of 1040 for Peace 
(, the mission of which is to encourage U.S. taxpayers to express their opposition to U.S. military spending and imperialism, we think now is the time for MCC to re-address militarism.  Underwriting war-making compromises our faith.  Indeed, we suffer moral injury when we continue to participate in actions which bring harm to others.  The incalculable death and destruction wreaked on the world by U.S. wars has damaged America’s soul.  We cannot ignore this with impunity.  Because war-making is rooted in nationalism, we call on MCC US to launch a program of anti-nationalism teaching to prevent the U.S. from becoming like WWII Germany.  

MCC has a proven history of providing assistance to and building relationships of trust with people who are suffering. This is the time for MCC to redouble its efforts to draw connections to US policy and the US systems that create war, displacement and poverty.  These systemic issues should not only be the focus of the Washington, DC, office of MCC US; all constituents of MCC US need to be engaged. 

These systemic issues need to be addressed while U.S. citizens and politicians alike are realizing that without adequate spending in public health, the country is not secure.   The United States, indeed the whole world, is at much greater risk than was previously understood.  When both the world and national health are at risk, something the US military cannot appropriately address, there is insecurity.  

While the current U.S. government may have enabled economic growth and prosperity for the wealthy and increased the U.S. military budget at the expense of other public-oriented programs and the poor, it is clear that a strong economy and military power do not address the needs of the world’s poor or keep America safe, especially during a pandemic like COVID-19.  Therefore, we want MCC and its constituency to encourage the U.S. government to reallocate the Pentagon budget toward health care, economic reform, diplomacy and efforts to mitigate the climate crisis.

MCC US can’t do this alone.  It has to collaborate and become part of larger coalitions such as the Poor People’s Campaign, the NAACP and  But MCC US can help its constituency understand the need for military budget redistribution through renewed emphases on education and political advocacy for health care, economic reform, diplomacy and the environment.   MCC US can also inform and help individuals and congregations do advocacy to communicate this message to government representatives.  Yes, with its historic peace church reputation, MCC US can be a powerful voice while many question whether the huge U.S. military budget keeps America safe.  

As 1040 for Peace we call on MCC US to re-engage the issue of the misguided and disproportionate U.S. military budget.  That budget needs to fund programs benefiting humanity as a national security issue.  We urge MCC US to engage and enable public deliberation to develop alternatives to existing policies.  

Might what appears politically impossible become politically inevitable?  Our hope and prayer is that when COVID-19 abates, when citizens and politicians are no longer controlled as much by fear, that people will realize that without adequate spending on health care, economic reform, diplomacy and the climate crisis, the world is at risk. 


Signed by the following members of 1040 for Peace:

Curtis Wesley Book, Lancaster, Pa.
Richard Boshart, Lititz, Pa.
Patrick Brady, Landisville, Pa.
Marian Buckwalter, Lititz, Pa.
Nathan B. Hege, Lititz, Pa.
Phyllis Leaman, Lancaster, Pa.
Richard Leaman, Lancaster, Pa.
Luke Martin, Lititz, Pa.
Ruth Martin, Lancaster, Pa.
Rhoda Nolt, Lititz, Pa.
H.A. Penner, Akron, Pa.
Rick Stamm, Lancaster, Pa.
John Stoner, Akron, Pa.
Leon Weber, Lititz, Pa.

cc:  Michelle Armster, MCC Central States
       Bruce Campbell Janz, MCC East Coast
       Eric Kurtz, MCC Great Lakes
       Nathan Yoder, MCC West Coast
Imagine what it would do for the soul of America if the nation heeded the call of UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez for cessation of all wars in the world now that the CORVID_19 virus crisis is upon us.  “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. That is why today, I am calling for a global ceasefire in all corners of the world.   It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives” he said on March 23.   

While it is hard to imagine the U.S. war machine shutting down, why not?  Readers have reminded me that the U.S. war machine is a response to the fears of the people—it is supported and paid for because we are afraid.  That is undoubtedly true.  Is it the last word?  Shall it be the last word?  Ultimately that is ours to decide. 

It is good to acknowledge our fears—they are real and cannot be denied.

But we should also acknowledge our courage—that too is real.

And our imagination, which also is real.  

Our fears will determine our destiny if we allow them to immobilize us.  

For the USA to close down its war machine would be a great shock to the system—comparable in intensity no doubt to the coronavirus itself, but of a different sort.  What energy are we willing to expend, what effort will we make, to see it happen?  The task looks impossible, but we do what we can in the face of apparently impossible tasks, don’t we?  

My ongoing plea for the soul of American does not come from a place of ignorance of what is actually happening.  I too read the news.  The US is not tamping down its belligerence.   of

And I know that Joe Biden, who adamantly argued for the war against Iraq, is the favored candidate for president of many Democrats.  As Andrew Bacevich wrote  in “Judgment Day for the National Security State:”    Imagine, if you will, Democrats in 1880 nominating not a former union general (as they did) but a former confederate who, 20 years before, had advocated secession.” 

So we do not see the U.S. heeding the call for cessation of war, but be do not have to accept what is as what should be.
John K. Stoner  4/2/20
Comments can be made at the “Contact” function at the top right. 

Soul/self care: Responses to Moral Injury Post  4/1/20

Responses to yesterdays post about a US military suicide in Iraq war were varied.  

One person said, inventing a probably useful verb, “to me there remains no violencing that is essential, in any way, shape or form.  If I were given to fear, our societal assumptions would scare me.”  

Indeed, what is essential?  This led me to wonder whether one in a hundred, or thousand, Americans asked themselves whether war production was essential.  

Another response, “do these two paragraphs (taken from the 3/28/2020 “What a Plague Reveals” article at feed into the discussion of “nationalism” that you’ve initiated?”


“. . . overall, the pandemic has revealed in particularly stark terms that the extreme economic inequalities unmasked by the 2008 economic collapse remain unaddressed. There’s a titanic dynamic playing out now in real time. Celebrities and the wealthy are first in line for the lifeboats of coronavirus tests. Rupert Murdoch and his family while profiting from a news empire that downplayed and outright disputed the threat of the coronavirus. The permanent residents of resort towns on the Eastern seaboard are being shoved aside who are stripping shelves of food and flooding the limited local health facilities.

Another said:  I haven’t thought specifically of less arms production and the reason is probably that the arms industry is kept out of sight, spread around the country, out of mind. Actually, that doesn’t seem like a good answer. We could watch the stocks of the arms producers.

And this question came:  I support you and your efforts but …

I have said  earlier that I think violence, torture , war etc are like scabs  in the infection of “FEAR” . Unless we address Fear we will only deal with the superficial  symptoms of the Fears that we all deal with . This fear of “survival” in the broadest sense  is not some excuse I offer but the cause of these terrible “Fight reactions” . Why is this not  included in your concepts. What am I missing??  To begin the relationship with “Mutual fears” rather than You are evil for your violence and I am good because I am for peace will make a difference in  resolution efforts. Such efforts requires greater effort to “understand”  the person or nation  etc  and work to deepen resolution than just stopping the violence. 

But what am I missing. ? I deeply applaud your writing and conversation  stimulus.”

I hope I may be forgiven for trying to help us avoid national suicide by letting our fears of one thing blind us to the deadly plague of another thing.  

John K. Stoner


This and earlier Soul Care reflections can be seen on the website of, in the right column blog.  To respond, use the “contact” function, top right. 


I have been saying that moral injury is damaging to soul/self care. 

An assumption here is that societies, and countries, can experience collective moral injury as surely as individuals can experience it.  

Rita Nakashima Brock has been a pioneer of naming and researching moral injury.  With co-author Gabriella Lettini she published SOUL REPAIR: Recovering from Moral Injury after War, in 2012.  I will quote from her book to give an example and description of moral injury.

“Women can also be used in sexist ways for torture.  In one case, Alyssa Peterson served with C Company in Military Intelligence in Iraq as an Arabic-speaking interrogator at the prison at Tal Afar airbase.  A twenty-seven-year-old devout Mormon, she was put in “the cage,” where “enhanced interrogation” techniques included “walling, cigarette burning, punching and being blindfolded naked.”  The blind-folded captives were humiliated when their blindfolds were removed to show women were present.  After two days, Peterson refused to continue with the interrogations.  She believed the torture demeaned her to the point that she did not want to live with what she did in the name of serving her country.  She shot herself on September 15, 2003.  No public media source reported her suicide.  

Any person with a conscience feels occasional guilt or shame for something she or he did, but war can require extreme actions that violate the very basis of moral identity.  The life or death urgency of war forces untenable actions that can elicit profound gilt or shame.  When we feel that what we did was wrong or unforgivable and that our lives and our meaning system no longer make sense our reason for living is in tatters.  The shattering of the soul challenges what holds life together, and the anguish of moral injury begins.”  SOUL REPAIR, p. 52. 

Our country, the USA, sent Alyssa Peterson to Iraq, and we paid her to do what she did.  We, that is, you and I with our taxes.  For doing that we suffer some moral injury.  My plea today is that we begin to think about what that means.  And to begin to reflect on that, not as narrowly as possible, but as expansively as possible, so that we might find ways to look toward healing and away from national suicide.  
John K. Stoner

Respond to this post using the “Contact” button on the right margin above.  



I have started to post these emails on the website.  You can find past and current posts of this series there.  Sharing this URL with others will be an easy way to broaden the discussion.  

Today something simple, just a question, before continuing tomorrow more deeply into the toxic ideology of nationalism.

Have you seen any cases or evidence of military production closing down as nonessential work in the US?  Please let us know if you have. 

And, had it occurred to you to wonder about that, or look for such closures?  If that had not come to mind, why do you think it had not?


Note:  On the blog site, we have a monitored comment function.  If you have a comment which is available for us to publish, use the “Contact” button at the top right, and don’t miss the CAPTA code at the bottom of the page!

Good morning, friends,

Before going further with what is lost due to moral injury, let’s look a little more at what the healthy, pre-injury human being looks like.  

I will share fresh insights which came to me this Sunday morning.  Janet keeps me listening to Krista Tippet’s “On Being” early on Sundays.  Today Tippet interviewed Ross Gay, whose bio includes this:  “
Ross is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project.”  His comments on delights, justice, sports, gardening and other subjects are interesting, to say the least.  
Listen to the interview here, just scroll down until you find the interview.

Here is Ross Gay’s website: book titles, poems and essays.  “Loitering is Delightful” might intrigue you as it did me.  Gay helps us draw the circle of our caring ever larger, and see the good that comes from that. 

Thanks for the things you have written in response to my last post.  In general I think it’s good to share your thoughts with the whole list, but I do ask you to consider whether you want  to reply to “one” or “all.” 

Enjoy goodness,
Today I am moving into the theme of the subject line of this email.  This will not be an easy journey.  COVID-19, and other bigger things in our world, do not confront us with easy choices.  Yes, bigger, which predate and will postdate COVID-19. I am not in the business of inventing or creating crises, but sometimes I do not shrink from pointing out those which exist.

When this COVID-19 event is over the world will face the same set of problems it faced before it started—with some new layers and twists, fears and possibilities , to be sure, but still the same—the big ones will not have gone away.

Of course, some of us won’t survive, but that’s true of every day and every epoch, isn’t it?  I’m talking about those of us who do survive. 

So, what about us?  The problems still the same, will we be any different?

Voila, that depends on us.  It is a safe prediction that many of us will be scarred in some way by trauma.  Cold, gripping fear leaves its mark.  Yes, war and great disasters leave PTSD in their wake.  Can you imagine the PTST afterward?  That’s worth a little thought now.  Can we care for our selves now in a way that minimized PTSD then?  Certainly worth asking. 

But—why is there always a but?—there’s another way we may changed, and this one
really depends on our level of soul/self care.  This is the possibility of moral injury.  Can we avoid moral 
injury?  We are diminished and damaged by moral injury.  

The awareness—and/or acknowledgment—of moral injury is relatively new.  Or the language, at least, of moral injury has only been used in recent years.  PTSD is not moral injury, and moral injury is not PTSD.  The cause of PTSD is what our circumstances do to us.  Moral injury is what our behavior does to ourselves.  Get the difference?

Moral injury results from a failure of self care.  

We have said in the several preceding emails that self-care involves paying attention to how small or large we draw our circle of care.  When we draw that too narrowly we violate the law of love in human nature.  We are made to love, and when we don’t do that, we deteriorate as human beings.  We flourish when we do to others as we would have them do to us, and when we don’t we don’t.  It’s that terribly simple. 

When we draw the circle of caring for others too narrowly, self care suffers and moral injury results.  There are no exceptions to this, no way to escape it.  But how we wish there were, don’t we!

So a couple of questions arise from this line of thought.  An immediate obvious question is this:  How do we know when we are suffering, have suffered, moral injury?  It might not be easy to tell.  But it’s a fair guess that we will know more if we are aware and pay attention than if we don’t.  So we choose awareness. 

Another question is whether our responses to our current circumstances are inviting or warding off moral injury.  To that we can return.

But still another question is whether we have experienced moral injury in the past and are carrying it with us.  That’s a big one, and if the concept itself of moral injury is new to us, attention to that would seem especially important.  Let’s proceed to explore this a little.  

The harm that others do to us can cause PTSD.  The harm that we do to others causes moral injury to ourselves.  

Start with this:  we do harm to others.  None of us are perfect.  Life is not easy, we don’t always get it right, and we do hurt people.  Often unwittingly, unknowingly, ignorantly.  But to excuse ourselves for not being perfect should not be turned into not needing to try to do better, is that right?  

We are therefore talking about the crucial need for a certain amount of self-awareness and self-criticism.
The COVID-19 event is reminding us of how inter-connected we are as humans.  I am about to expand on that a little, drawing out some implications in time and space, for the past and the planet.

Racism is a process of drawing the circle of caring too narrowly.  It says “I’m in, you’re out.”  Racism is a case of failed self and soul care, and it causes moral injury.  A racist person is a morally damaged and diminished person.  We might like to deny that, we may wish to be an exception to that, but it won’t work.   

Sexism is another process of drawing the circle of caring too narrowly.  It says, my sex is superior; and as we know, that has usually taken the form of male sex is superior.  Doesn’t work; moral injury occurs. 

Nationalism is a process of drawing the circle of caring too narrowly.  “May my country always be right, but my country right or wrong.”  “Our country, love it or leave it.”  Nationalism is a scourge of the world today.  It does more damage than coronavarus plagues.  Yes, it has done more damage than coronavarus plagues.  Therefore fear nationalism—fear it very much.  And I’m not talking about their nationalism, I’m talking about ours.  We have been morally injured by nationalism, more than we know or want to know.  But without knowing we walk on in darkness to self-destruction.  

So we are going  to look at nationalism and how sick we are because of it.  Jump off now if you are unwilling to look at this failure of soul care and wish instead to carry the sickness unto death
Here are some daily readings which I recommend from Richard Rohr  Scroll down this page until you find “Most Recent Post” and read his “Path of Descent.”  Our look at nationalism and moral injury will probably be experienced as a kind of path of descent.  



At this year’s Lancaster Peace Fest, 1040 for Peace representatives gave ten pennies to each of the 78 persons who stopped by our table and asked them to distribute the pennies into ten containers according to the federal budget priorities they would support.  They “voted” as follows:


Education                                            19.3%

Environment/Green Energy            17.9%

Health                                                  17.8%

Housing/Urban Development         10.7%

Diplomacy                                             9.2%

Veterans                                                8.4%

Mass Transit/Roads                             7.2%

Agriculture                                         6.5%

Military/Homeland Security              1.7%

Other                                                     1.3%

TOTAL                                            100.0%


Because it is not organized according to the Penny Poll categories, the actual federal funds budget, comprised of discretionary spending that Congress appropriates, doesn’t exactly compare.  Some areas such as education receive far more funding through local taxes than through the federal funds budget which does not include dedicated funds such as Social Security and Medicare.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting comparisons:

by Paul Leatherman

From mid 1966 through mid 1968 I was working under the auspices of Vietnam Christian Service assisting refugees in South Vietnam caught in the crossfires of the war. While I lived in Saigon I made many trips by air to areas in South Vietnam that were considered safe during the daylight hours. Almost every night I heard B52’s dropping bombs in the distance. I saw planes dropping bombs on rural area and villages. On one flight we needed to fly out over the ocean to avoid cannon fire from a ship shooting inland hitting who knows what. I saws planes spraying Agent Orange on the forests to defoliate the trees hoping to locate and destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Many nights Puff the Magic Dragon (a DC3 with 3 rotating cannons mounted on one side as it banked it sprayed bullets in every square foot the width of a football field) was circling just over our house. The intent was to saturate the area circling Saigon to keep the VC from entering the city. Much of this firepower resulted in indiscriminate killing of civilians. I saw many wounded and crippled women and children.

I was a conscientious objector doing alternate military service during World War II. Later, on return from Vietnam I declared that I was conscientiously opposed to paying for war while praying for peace. I began redirecting 50% of my tax obligation (the amount of my tax obligation that reliable reports indicated was paying for present and past wars) to organizations promoting peace. Each year I wrote to the President, my Senators, and Representative as well as IRS telling them why I was redirecting my tax obligation. Each year IRS found some way to collect this amount plus interest and penalties by attaching my wages, or taking it from my bank account. One year I took the issue to court declaring that I was conscientiously opposed to paying for war and paying this tax negated my right of religious freedom guaranteed under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The judge in ruling in favor of the IRS stated that he did not doubt the sincerity of my belief but the law was clear so he had no choice but to deny my claim.

Following that experience i decided that I had been fighting the IRS and that was a lost and useless exercise. IRS is authorized to collect the taxes imposed by Congress and has no freedom to make exceptions. Rather than redirecting a large amount of my tax obligation that IRS was eventually going to collect anyway along with a substantial amount of interest and penalty, I decided to do symbolic withholding along with being quite aggressive in informing our government decision makers that I was conscientiously opposed to participating in and paying for wars. In recent years I have been underpaying my tax obligation by $10.40. I have written strong letters to the President, my Senators, and Representative telling them I am opposed to all wars on religious grounds and that I am paying my tax obligation under protest. This small act of civil disobedience seems to catch their attention. I have a file about two inches thick of responses from the elected officials. The general response is that they will remember my concern when the World Peace Tax Fund is brought up for a vote.

Our usual experience has been that several weeks after paying our taxes both my wife and I get a letter from IRS requiring us to pay $10.40 plus interest and penalties that totaled less than $1.00. We file a joint return so IRS wanted both of us to know we had a pending tax liability. Usually we took this opportunity to send a second letter to IRS and our elected decision informing them why we were not paying this symbolic amount of tax. Usually that was the last we heard about this until one year when we were due a refund. We received the refund due, less the amounts that we did not pay over the past number of years. On years when we were due a refund we still wrote a letters to IRS, the President, our Senators and Representative informing them that we were conscientiously opposed to paying for war and had we owed taxes we would have underpaid by $10.40. This year we got a response from one of our Senators even to this letter.

There are others doing symbolic underpayment of their taxes, but we are not being heard. Our elected officials can and have been treating us as lone individual voices. If a million persons will join together in this effort and inundate our officials with letters of conscience and concern, we have a chance of being heard forcing action to respect our religious rights.

The $10.40 that you underpay is too small an amount for IRS to take formal action to collect. It also appears that they and the elected officials do not want this right of conscientious objection to paying for war to hit the press and become a national issue. Hence, to date IRS has not taken any aggressive action to collect this small amount. Let’s join together to make this a national issue.

When you receive your letter from IRS indicating you owe $10.40 plus a small amount of interest and penalty you have three options, any one of which is OK. I list them in the order of my preference.

• Do not pay this amount and use this opportunity to send a second letter to your elected officials, and if you choose to the newspaper, your church, and friends explaining your conscientious objection to paying for war.

•Pay the amount due to clear your record with IRS but send a second letter as noted in option 1.

•Pay the amount due to IRS to clear your record and assume you have already made your objections clear.

Paul Leatherman, Lancaster, PA

October 16, 2010
Berry Friesen died January 17, 2018 after a long battle with cancer.  An active member of our Lancaster 1040 for Peace group, Berry was relentless in his search for truth and for his prophetic voice denouncing empire.  There is no way to say all that needs to be said concerning his contribution to the cause of peace but the following tribute offered by his close friend and fellow peace witness, John Stoner, is a good start.

Tribute to Berry Friesen
January 22, 2018
East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church
Lancaster PA

In November Berry wrote to me, “Of all the Bible asks of us, I have most been drawn to “witness.” 

I think that to him being a witness meant giving a fair and honest report of what he saw as God’s truth, or the great truths of the universe in which we live.  

In that November email he wrote: “Three ‘turning point’ decisions of my public life were related to witness:
  • 1.  Taking a clerkship after my second year of law school in a storefront American Indian Center (instead of in a conventional law firm),
  • 2.  Leaving a law practice and moving to Pennsylvania to work for the church through Mennonite Central Committee;
  • 3.  Hanging out with war tax resisters during this last period of my life. 
Berry did not go through life seeking the best job to give him the most comfortable lifestyle.  In his view of God, or of every person’s giftedness, life was a process of finding one’s calling and vocation.  So he accepted the vocation of being a witness.  In the end, this made him what must be called a prophet.  And he was aware of what all of us could see— a prophet is not easily or always praised in his own community. 

Beyond himself, Berry saw the church’s vocation as one of being a faithful witness to the truth which Jesus lived and taught.  In WATER FROM ANOTHER TIME he wrote about the Mennonite Anabaptist history of tension between staying or moving to find the best way to be faithful to the way of Jesus.  He said:

“Both staying and leaving demonstrate an alternative to whatever brand of orthodoxy the powers seek to impose.   Insofar as such acts are claimed by the church and explained to the public as faithful acts of witness, they create new options and demonstrate again why the story of Jesus Christ is called ‘good news’. ”

In that November email Berry also wrote, “Throughout my life I’ve had ambivalent relationships with groups. I think it’s because I instinctively try to be a voice for an important perspective missing from whatever group I join or am part of. Of course, important perspectives are usually missing from a group’s life because it is not desired. So this can be awkward.”  This may explain a significant point of difference between me and Berry which we never resolved—that is, should the church not only welcome gay and lesbian people, but also bless their marriages, or sacred unions.  There we just agreed to disagree.

Berry was a gifted writer, clear and precise.  That made it especially meaningful to me when a few years ago he asked me if I would join him in writing a book on the Bible and empire.  I enjoyed sharing that project with him. 

Berry called the third vocational move of his life “hanging out with war tax resisters..”  The 1040forpeace group which has met one wednesday a month at 7;30 am at Landis Homes has been much blessed by Berry’s participaton, and he will be greatly missed.  A few weeks ago Berry and Sharon welcomed this ragtag group to stop in at their place on a Saturday morning, and I was frankly surprised how many showed up in response to a short notice email invitation—another evidence of how much Berry was appreciated.

As his faith matured, knowing when and how to resist empire became the great discipleship question for Berry.  For the past 4 years, regular visits to Norman Lowry in State Correctional Institution Dallas, Pennsylvania became part of Berry’s routine.  Norm was jailed for his resistance to military recruiting and his radical “no” to the 4 horsemen of the American apocalypse: bigotry, racism, militarism and poverty-production.  Berry wanted to encourage Norm; he found Norm encouraging him. 

Janet and I shared an interest with Berry in birdwatching.  We often compared notes on what birds we saw at the feeder, or on our travels.  

I’ve spoken of Berry’s vocation, but family was central to Berry; family was his vocation.  His children and grandchildren were always on his mind.  I will conclude by reading a poem of love and appreciation for Sharon which Berry wrote in 2006.

John Stoner

by John K. Stoner (April 14, 2017) 

Why did Jesus die?  Or, put differently, why was he killed?

The second way of asking it is better, because it shows an intention to take the history seriously. 

Good Friday has been a great Christian celebration across centuries and continents.  The crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday is the focus of the celebration.  Why celebrate the death of Jesus?

Let’s start with the hardest and the worst of it.  Over the centuries a tradition developed by the church and believed by millions of Christians holds that Jesus died because God willed and/or needed Jesus’ death.  Notice, however, that this tradition attributes not a bad motive, but a good one, to God.  God did it in order to make possible the forgiveness of human sins. 

Now let’s be honest—human failure, or sin, is common and big.  Who can look at their own life and not know that?  And we find it is not always easy to forgive ourselves, and consistently try to do better.  So, our forbears looked for a big solution to a big problem.  Let’s make it God-sized, and see how God solves our problem.  They picked up on religious traditions of sacrifice to the gods, and lo and behold, we get a notion of sacrifice in which the very son of God is the sacrifice which pleases God and makes the forgiveness of sins possible.  

If that doesn’t work well for you, fine.  Join tens of millions of other fellow humans who are appalled by such an image of God and way to deal with our problem of recidivism in sin. 

There is a better way to understand Good Friday and the crucifixion.  Start by asking who killed Jesus and why.  

Start with the obvious.  He was killed by people who thought that killing a person was acceptable human behavior, and—we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt—that they could improve the general human condition by performing an execution.  Maybe we can give them a little more:  they killed him thinking he was a bad person.  They were wrong about that, so his death was collateral damage.   

In short, Jesus was killed by bad people for being a good person.

Let’s parse that a little.  Bad and good are relative terms, but that does not mean they are meaningless or useless.  The bad here is the ancient and widespread human belief that some other individuals or groups are so bad that they  must be killed in order to cleanse the land.  They are scapegoated:  those bad must be sacrificed for the sake of us good. 

Jesus taught a different thing, another way.  He said that none of us are so good, nor so hopelessly bad, that we can indulge this practice of killing each other to make the world a better place.  The world is not improved by pillaging and burning.  Scorching part of the earth will not save the whole earth.  

So Good Friday was a contest over the central teaching of Jesus.  Who understands best the real human nature/condition (or the will of God, to put it the other way)?   Is it Jesus, who says that the way to deal with human imperfection or sin, is to forgive one time after another, to help each other try again, or those who killed Jesus, believing that some bad people have to be killed so that us good people can inhabit the world peacefully?  

The vignette of Peter’s denial is a microcosm of this contest.  There is a double sadness in this story: that Peter denied, and that the church has so universally misunderstood Peter’s denial.  It was not a denial rooted in human weakness as generally understood, but rather in what is generally thought to be human strength and greatness.  By both his actions and words Peter stands out as a brave man, ready to fight and die for Jesus.  What he was not ready for was the disclosure of Jesus’ nonviolent response to the attacking enemies.  Peter was overcome by unbelief and embarrassment when he saw Jesus refusing to take up the sword and defend himself, and he denied that he was identified with this man.  

The story of Jesus is so irrepressible and universal because he taught this way of compassionate forgiveness, and placed it in tension with the prevailing practices of dominating power over nature  and justified killing of humanity.  Every person and every culture/nation lives in the tension between these ways of running the world.  It is the existential choice of humanity, standing on the verge of ecological collapse and death by war.

But again, in the ironic words of W. Edwards Deming:  “It is not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory.”

by Berry Friesen (March 28, 2017)

Imagine a man who combines the charm of an Irish storyteller, the hard realism of a 37-year veteran of the CIA and the compassionate heart of a Jesus-follower.  That’s Ray McGovern.

He’s an itinerant witness for Church of the Saviour in Washington D.C., speaking about issues of war and peace on major media outlets, within the corridors of power and in nondescript church basements, wherever there is an audience open to political commentary cleansed of imperial propaganda.

He’s a co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a private organization that has produced 47 memos on national security for presidents Bush, Obama and now Trump.  And he has a very engaging website ( dedicated to current events.

A couple of local peace groups—1040 for Peace and Peace Action Network—brought Ray to Lancaster County PA this past Sunday for two public gatherings.  He spoke at a church in the morning about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and at a pub in the afternoon about perpetual war. 

This post doesn’t do justice to Ray’s presentations, but provides a few highlights.

Why is the USA always at war?

First, Ray quoted George Kennan, appointed in 1947 as the first Director of Policy Planning in the US State Department and widely regarded as the architect of post-WW2 US foreign policy.

“We have about 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population .  .  . Our real task in the coming period is to maintain this position of disparity . . . To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming .  .  . We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford the luxury of altruism .  .  .We should cease to talk about vague, unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we will have to deal in straight power concepts.”

Second, Ray reminded us of the Vietnam War, which caused the deaths of 3 million Vietnamese.  He played a clip from Hearts and Minds, a documentary of the war, in which US General William Westmoreland is asked about the astonishing loss of life. Westmoreland’s response:  “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.” 

Ray simply added this: “It’s racism, folks!”

Next, Ray reminded us of how US leaders love to speak of the USA as “the world’s indispensable nation.”  So other nations are then dispensable, right?  That’s the message US leaders have been giving the world, both by their rhetoric and their policies.

Last, Ray reminded us that war is good for business.  He quoted Pope Francis speaking to the US Congress in September, 2015:

“We have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

What about Russia?

While with the CIA, Ray was a Soviet specialist; he speaks Russian fluently.  Over the course of his professional career, it was his job to follow closely Soviet events and monitor related diplomatic correspondence.  Here is some of what Ray wanted us to know.

The decisive role in defeating Nazi Germany was played by the Soviet Union, not the Western allies.  At least 25 million Russians died in World War 2; the death toll for the USA was 420,000.

To his credit, President George H.W. Bush reached out to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet Union began to fall apart.  In February, 1990, Secretary of State James Baker and Gorbachev reached general agreement on two items:  (a) Germany would be re-united and aligned with the West; and (b) the US would not expand the European military alliance (NATO) toward Russia’s borders. (You can read about that hereand here.)

The US has broken the spirit of that understanding repeatedly.  In 1990 twelve European nations were part of NATO; today there are 28.  It has been moving ever-eastward.

Moreover, the US engineered the election of the highly unpopular Boris Yeltsin to be president of Russia in 1996 (see here and here and here).  During Yeltsin’s government, Russian and US oligarchs plundered Russia’s wealth. 

The February, 2014 change in the Ukrainian government was an American-planned coup. Fascist elements played a major role in the coup and in the illegal regime that followed. We don’t hear reporting about this in the Western media.  Instead, we hear about Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, where over 90 percent of the population voted in a public referendum to stay with Russia.  Not a single life was lost in the change of government in the Crimea.

Sure, Russian intelligence hacks US computer networks; every nation hacks these days. But there is not a scintilla of evidence that the Russians provided WikiLeaks with the information it published about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, or the Clinton fraud that resulted in the defeat of Bernie Sanders.

Regarding refugees:

The refugee crisis is fueled by recent wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria.  The US has played a major role in all three.

Consider Syria: why did President Obama and candidate Clinton say “President Assad must go?”  Syria never has threatened this country. But Israel doesn’t like Assad because he is independent of outside control and because he permits Iran to transport weapons across Syria to Hezbollah.  And Israel drives US foreign policy in the Middle East. 

Regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine:

End the occupation!  Is that so complex, so hard to understand?  It’s gone on 50 years already, longer than the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe.  It must end—now!

And let’s not forget:  the ’67 war that led to the Israeli occupation of Palestine was started by Israel, not by any of its neighbors.  Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was clear about this:  “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

If we support ending the occupation, we also should be supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at organizations that are part of the occupation.

Regarding US politics:

The Germans are right about our last presidential election here in the US:  it gave us a choice between the plague and cholera, between Clinton-induced war with Russia and Trump-induced environmental disaster.  

President Donald Trump is like a broken clock—right twice each day.  To be specific:

   –A good relationship with Russia is achievable and should be a US priority.

   –Digital surveillance is everywhere now; no one is excluded. *

Ray said that the single biggest change in America since he began his career in 1963 is this:  we no longer have a strong, independent press.  That’s a huge loss; a strong, free press is what prevents tyranny.

No, we shouldn’t stop reading the New York Times and the Washington Post; it’s important to understand what we’re being told to believe.  But be sure to read alternative media, such as

What should peace-loving people be doing?

First, refuse to look away from those suffering from war. 

Ray vividly reminded us of the death of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Kurdish child who drowned in August, 2015 while attempting a boat crossing from Turkey to Greece.   We all saw the image of his lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach.  As the line from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman famously said: “He’s a human being and a terrible thing is happening to him. Attention must be paid.”

Second, organize small action-and-accountability groups focused on ending perpetual war.  “You’ll have better ideas together than you’ll ever have alone,” said Ray.  “You’ll be stronger together than you’ll ever be alone.  And together, you’ll be much better at following through on your commitments than you ever will be yourself.”

Thank you, Ray!
*  (4:30 PM addition:  See this ConsortiumNews article from Ray McGovern and Bill Binney for the latest on government surveillance.)

Join us as we enlist churches to use this and encourage other organizations to create their own version of this Call to Protect.
Click here to download a pdf version to distribute.

Click here to download an implementation guide.

The 2016 presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have added to the anger, fear and misunderstanding already present in our communities. We refer specifically to the inflammatory and blaming language used by Donald Trump regarding Muslims, Mexican immigrants and women and by Hillary Clinton regarding the Russian government and
“deplorable” Trump supporters.

The election results require us to be far more serious about lost jobs and income. American households of all colors have suffered from economic policies and military interventions pursued by Democratic and Republican administrations over the past 25 years.

Most importantly, we dare not ignore that the elevation of Donald Trump as President of the United States came with threatening, authoritarian messages. If such talk is not opposed, we open the way to more radical attacks on human rights and democratic processes here in the U.S. And we can expect even more reliance on military threats and force abroad.

As followers of Jesus ourselves (see names below)
and with a fervent hope that other faith communities, secular groups, etc. might use this as a model—we feel led by God’s Spirit to call upon congregations and other assemblies to make the following public commitments in their communities:
  1. We will protect and support the worth and rights of all people, including marginalized persons who are targeted, discriminated against or singled out by hate crimes or state-sponsored/sanctioned violence;
  2. We will oppose the aspirations of those who seek U.S. global domination through the use of propaganda, inciting terror, military threats, regime change and war. We will support instead the practices of diplomacy and negotiation, which lead to peace.
  3. We will support a just economic orderone that is sustainable as a servant of the people amid the changes in climate that have already begun.
  4. To keep these promises, we will reach across lines of creed, class, ethnicity, race and party preference in a spirit of empathy and learning, seeking relationships of solidarity with other groups.

Originating Committee:
John K. Stoner, founder of Every Church a Peace Church (
Tony Brown, founder of Peacing It Together Foundation (
Rev. C. T. Vivian, civil rights leader and recipient of Presidential Medal of Freedom
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith, senior organizer for Fellowship of Reconciliation; consultant for Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference(
Berry Friesen, co-author of IF NOT EMPIRE, WHAT? A SURVEY OF THE BIBLE

Initiators of this Call:(Affiliation is noted for identification only and does not convey organizational support for this Call)
  • Rev. Dr. Tim Ahrens, senior minister, First Congregational Church, UCC, Columbus, OH
  • Rev. Dr. Valerie Bridgeman, CEO of WomanPreach! Inc. & associate professor, Methodist Theological School in Ohio Rev.
  • Amy K. Butler, senior pastor, The Riverside Church in the City (NYC)
  • Tony Campolo, co-founder of Red Letter Christians
  • Dr. Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
  • Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, former President and First Lady of the United States of America
  • Shane Claiborne, author, activist, co-founder of Red Letter Christians
  • Rev. John Dear, author, activist, co-founder of
  • Rev. Ronald Degges, president, Disciples Home Missions, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Jim and Shelley Douglass, co-founders of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action and Mary’s House Catholic Worker
  • Bren Dubay, executive director of Koinonia Farm, Americus, GAMel Duncan, director of advocacy and outreach, Nonviolent Peaceforce
  • Elaine Enns, author and co-director of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, Pasadena CA
  • Ted Grimsrud, senior professor at Eastern Mennonite University
  • Michael Hardin, executive director, Preaching Peace
  • Rev. Dr. Alice Hunt, president, Chicago Theological Seminary
  • Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, president, Auburn Theological Seminary (NYC)
  • Hyun Hur and Sue Park-Hur, co-founders and directors of ReconciliAsian, Pasadena CA
  • Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
  • Rev. Mike Kinman, rector, All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, CA
  • John Paul Lederach, professor at Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame
  • Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister, Middle Collegiate Church, New York City
  • Norman Edgar Lowry, KN9758, prisoner of conscience at Dallas State Correctional Institution in PA
  • Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs, People for the American Way
  • Rev. Michael McBride, pastor of The Way Church, Berkeley, CA and director of PICO Network’s “Live Free” campaign
  • Dr. Catherine Meeks, chair of Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s Commission for Dismantling Racism
  • Don Mosley, co-founder of Habitat for Humanity International and of Jubilee Partners
  • Ched Myers, theological animator, author and organizer
  • Dr. Han S. Park, professor emeritus, founder of GLOBIS, University of Georgia
  • Gilberto Perez Jr., senior director of intercultural development and educational partnerships, Goshen College
  • LeDayne McLeese Polaski, executive director/directora ejecutiva, Baptist Peace Fellowship~ Bautistas por la Paz Dennis Rivers, author and editor of
  • Gerald W. Schlabach, professor of theology at University of St. Thomas (MN)
  • Rev. Ken Sehested, editor of Prayer&
  • Ronald J. Sider, president emeritus, Evangelicals for Social Action
  • Elizabeth Soto, professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary
  • Rev. Kristin Gill Stoneking, executive director, Fellowship of Reconciliation
  • Sarah Thompson, executive director, Christian Peacemaker Teams
  • Rev. Cameron B. Trimble, chief executive officer of ConvergenceUS and of the Center for Progressive Renewal
  • Jim Wallis, founder and president of Sojourners
  • Rev. Dr. Richard Wing, senior Pastor, First Community Church, Columbus, OH
  • Carol Wise, executive director, Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests


For an Implementation Guide and other supportive information, visit one of the following:

(Baptist Peace Fellowship)
(Peace & Justice Support Network of Mennonite Church USA)
(Fellowship of Reconciliation)
(If Not Empire, What? A Survey of the Bible)
January 10, 2017


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?

Psalm 146

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; check it out.

Reject Rejection

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:

“ 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, 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.”
August 9th, the 71th Anniversary of the Bombing of Nagasaki:   Unwelcome Truths for Church and State
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
An irradiated crucifix lies in the ruins of the Urakami Cathedral Following the Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki

An irradiated crucifix lies in the ruins of the Urakami Cathedral Following the Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki

 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.