The PTSD of the suburban drone warrior

Some­thing I’ve long won­dered a lot about, As Stress Dri­ves Off Drone Oper­a­tors, Air Force Must Cut Flights.:

What had seemed to be a ben­e­fit of the job, the nov­el way that the crews could fly Preda­tor and Reaper drones via satel­lite links while liv­ing safe­ly in the Unit­ed States with their fam­i­lies, has cre­at­ed new types of stress­es as they con­stant­ly shift back and forth between war and fam­i­ly activ­i­ties and become, in effect, per­pet­u­al­ly deployed.

I men­tion this toward the end of my review of The Bur­glary, the sto­ry of the 1971 anti­war activists, and it’s some­thing I’ve been try­ing to pull from poten­tial authors as we’ve put togeth­er an August Friends Jour­nal issue on war. Much of the day-to-day mechan­ics of war has changed dras­ti­cal­ly in the past 40 years — at least for Amer­i­can soldiers.

We have sto­ries like this one from the NYTimes: drone oper­a­tors in sub­ur­ban U.S. cam­pus­es killing peo­ple on the oth­er side of the plan­et. But sol­diers in Bagh­dad have good cell phone cov­er­age, watch Net­flix, and live in air con­di­tioned bar­racks. The rise of con­trac­tors means that most of the grunt work of war — fix­ing trucks, peel­ing pota­toes — is done by near­ly invis­i­ble non-soldiers who are liv­ing in these war zones. It must be nice to have crea­ture com­forts but I’d imag­ine it could make for new prob­lems psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly inte­grat­ing a war zone with normalcy.

Remembering Juanita Nelson

juanita04One of the coolest activists of her (or any) gen­er­a­tion is gone. Juani­ta Nelson’s obit­u­ary is up on the nation­al war tax coalition’s site. My favorite Juani­ta sto­ry was when some agents came to arrest her at home and found her dressed only in a bathrobe. They told her it was okay to go into her bed­room to change but she refused. She told them that any shame was theirs. She forced them to car­ry her out as her clothes fell off. Talk about rad­i­cal non-coöperation!

Update

Pam McAl­lis­ter point­ed out on her Glob­al Non­vi­o­lence: Sto­ries of Cre­ative Action Face­book page that this sto­ry is online. Here’s a bit more of Juani­ta her­self telling that bit:

Sev­en law enforce­ment offi­cers had stalked in. I sat on the stool beneath the tele­phone, my back lit­er­al­ly to the wall, the sev­en hem­ming me about in a semi­cir­cle. All of them appeared over six feet tall, and all of them were annoyed.

“Look,” said one, “you’re gonna go any­way. You might as well come peaceful.”

There they stood, ready and able to take me at any moment. But no move was made. The rea­son was obvious.

“Why don’t you put your clothes on, Mrs. Nel­son?” This was a soft spo­ken plea from the more benign deputy. “You’re not hurt­ing any­body but your­self.” His pained expres­sion belied the assertion. 

The essay where that came from is much longer and well worth read­ing.

Iraq Ten Years Later: Some of Us Weren’t Wrong

Ten years ago today, U.S. forces began the “shock and awe” bom­bard­ment on Bagh­dad, the first shots of the sec­ond Iraq War. Pres­i­dent Bush said troops need­ed to go in to dis­able Sad­dam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruc­tion pro­gram, but as we now know that pro­gram did not exist. Many of us sus­pect­ed as much at the time. The flim­sy pieces of evi­dence held up by the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion didn’t pass the smell test but a lot of main­stream reporters went for it and sup­port­ed the war.

Now those jour­nal­ists are look­ing back. One is Andrew Sul­li­van, most wide­ly known as the for­mer edi­tor of New Repub­lic and now the pub­lish­er of the inde­pen­dent online mag­a­zine The Dish. I find his recent “Nev­er For­get That They Were All Wrong” thread pro­found­ly frus­trat­ing. I’m glad he’s tak­ing the time to double-guess him­self, but the whole premise of the thread con­tin­ues the dis­mis­sive atti­tude toward activists. Start­ing in 1995 I ran a web­site that act­ed as a pub­lish­ing plat­form for much of the estab­lished peace move­ment. Yes, we were a col­lec­tion of anti­war activists, but that doesn’t mean we were unable to use log­ic and apply crit­i­cal think­ing when the offi­cial assur­ances didn’t add up. I wrote week­ly posts chal­leng­ing New York Times reporter Judith Miller and the smoke-and-mirror shows of two admin­is­tra­tions over a ten-year peri­od. My essays were occa­sion­al­ly picked up by the nation­al media — when they need­ed a coun­ter­point to pro-war edi­to­ri­als — but in gen­er­al my pieces and those of the paci­fist groups I pub­lished were dismissed.

When U.S. troops final­ly did invade Iraq in 2003, they encoun­tered an Iraqi mil­i­tary that was almost com­plete­ly inca­pac­i­tat­ed by years of U.N. sanc­tions. The much-hyped Repub­li­can Guard had tanks that had too many bro­ken parts to run. Iraq’s nuclear, chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal pro­grams had been shut down over a decade ear­li­er. The real les­son that we should take from the Iraq War was that the non­vi­o­lent meth­ods of Unit­ed Nations sanc­tions had worked. This isn’t a sur­prise for what we might call prag­mat­ic paci­fists. There’s a grow­ing body of research argu­ing that non­vi­o­lent meth­ods are often more effec­tive than armed inter­ven­tions (see for exam­ple, Why Civ­il Resis­tance Works: The Strate­gic Log­ic of Non­vi­o­lent Con­flict, by Eri­ca Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, reviewed in the March Friends Jour­nal (sub­scrip­tion required).

What if the U.S. had acknowl­edge there was no com­pelling evi­dence of WMDs and had sim­ply ratch­eted up the sanc­tions and let Iraq stew for anoth­er cou­ple of years? Even­tu­al­ly a coup or Arab Spring would prob­a­bly have rolled around. Imag­ine it. No insur­gency. No Abu Ghraib. Maybe we’d even have an ally in Bagh­dad. The sit­u­a­tions in places like Tehran, Dam­as­cus, Islam­abad, and Ramal­lah would prob­a­bly be fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent right now. Anti­war activists were right in 2003. Why should jour­nal­ists like Andrew Sul­li­van assume that this was an anomaly?

Remembering George Willoughby

There’s a nice remem­brance of George Willough­by by the Brandy­wine Peace Community’s Bob Smith over on the War Resisters Inter­na­tion­al site. George died a few days ago at the age of 95 [updat­ed]. It’s hard not to remem­ber his favorite quip as he and his wife Lil­lian cel­e­brat­ed their 80th birth­days: “twen­ty years to go!” Nei­ther of them made it to 100 but they cer­tain­ly lived fuller lives than the aver­age couple.

1
George in 2002, from War Resisters International

I don’t know enough of the details of their lives to write the obit­u­ary (a Wikipedia page was start­ed this morn­ing) but I will say they always seemed to me like the For­rest Gump’s of peace activism – at the cen­ter of every cool peace wit­ness since 1950. You squint to look at the pho­tos at there’s George and Lil, always there. Or maybe pop music would give us the bet­ter anal­o­gy: you know how there are entire b-rate bands that carve an entire career around end­less­ly rehash­ing a par­tic­u­lar Bea­t­les song? Well, there are whole activist orga­ni­za­tions that are built around par­tic­u­lar cam­paigns that the Willoughby’s cham­pi­oned. Like: in 1958 George was a crew mem­ber of the Gold­en Rule (pro­filed a bit here), a boat­load of crazy activists who sailed into a Pacif­ic nuclear bomb test to dis­rupt it. Twelve years lat­er some Van­cou­ver activists stage a copy­cat boat sail­ing which became Green­peace. Lil­lian was con­cerned about ris­ing vio­lence against women and start­ed one of the first Take Back the Nightmarch­es. If you’ve ever sat in an activist meet­ing where everyone’s using con­sen­sus, then you’ve been influ­enced by the Willoughby’s!

2
The Gold­en Rule, 1959, from the Swarth­more Peace Collection.

For many years I lived deeply embed­ded in com­mu­ni­ties co-founded by the Willough­bys. There’s a recent inter­view with George Lakey about the found­ing of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety that he and they helped cre­ate. In the 1990s I liked to say how I lived “in its ruins,” work­ing at the pub­lish­ing house, liv­ing in a coop house and get­ting my food from the coop that all grew out of MNS. I got to know the Willough­bys through Cen­tral Philadel­phia meet­ing but also as friends. It was a treat to vis­it their house in Dept­ford, NJ — it adjoined a wildlife sanc­tu­ary they helped pro­tect against the strip-mall sprawl that is the rest of that town. I last saw George a few months ago, and while he had a bit of trou­ble remem­ber­ing who I was, that irre­press­ible smile and spir­it were very strong!

When news of George’s pass­ing start­ed buzzing around the net I got a nice email from Howard Clark, who’s been very involved with War Resisters Inter­na­tion­al for many years. It was a real blast-from-the-past and remind­ed me how lit­tle I’m involved with all this these days. The Philadel­phia office of New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers went under in 1995 and a few years ago I final­ly dropped the Non​vi​o​lence​.org project that I had start­ed to keep the orga­niz­ing going.

3
George at Fort Gulick in Pana­ma (undat­ed), also from Swarthmore.

I’ve writ­ten before that one of the clos­est modern-day suc­ces­sor to the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is the so-called New Monas­tic move­ment – explic­it­ly Chris­t­ian but focused on love and char­i­ty and often very Quaker’ish. Our cul­ture of sec­u­lar Quak­erism has kept Friends from get­ting involved and shar­ing our decades of expe­ri­ence. Now that Shane Clai­borne is being invit­ed to seem­ing­ly every lib­er­al Quak­er venue, maybe it’s a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to look back on our own lega­cy. Friends like George and Lil­lian helped invent this form.

I miss the strong sense of com­mu­ni­ty I once felt. Is there a way we can com­bine MNS & the “New Monas­tic” move­ment into some­thing explic­it­ly reli­gious and pub­lic that might help spread the good news of the Inward Christ and inspire a new wave of lefty peacenik activism more in line with Jesus’ teach­ings than the xeno­pho­bic crap that gets spewed by so many “Chris­t­ian” activists? With that, anoth­er plug for the work­shop Wess Daniels and I are doing in May at Pen­dle Hill: “New Monas­tics and Cov­er­gent Friends.” If money’s a prob­lem there’s still time to ask your meet­ing to help get you there. If that doesn’t work or dis­tance is a prob­lem, I’m sure we’ll be talk­ing about it more here in the com­ments and blogs.

2010 update: David Alpert post­ed a nice remem­brance of George.

August 2013 updates from the pages of Friends Jour­nal: The Gold­en Rule Shall Sail Again and Expand­ing Old Pine Farm.

Recycling Dead Horses

I orig­i­nal­ly titled this entry “Why the peace move­ment is doomed,” but maybe that’s too strong a charge. Still, it’s hard to see how the coterie of small main­stream groups (and the old­er activists in charge) expect to attract new peo­ple when they keep recy­cling old cam­paigns that are ridicu­lous and borderline-irrelevant. A small coali­tion is call­ing for a new “cam­paign of anti-war phone tax resistance”:www.hanguponwar.org.
A lot of U.S. war tax resisters have loved protest­ing the “phone war tax” over the years. Some his­to­ry, from the new site: a tax on phone use was first used to fund the Spanish-American war back in 1898 and spe­cial war-related phone tax­es came and went for forty years. The only prob­lem is that it was a good fund­ing stream, a tax the U.S. Con­gress didn’t want to give up. So the phone tax has been “autho­rized and reau­tho­rized the Sec­ond World War”:http://www.hanguponwar.org/history.htm.
If I’m read­ing the site’s his­to­ry right, there’s been a con­tin­u­ous phone tax since 1932(!) and it’s all gone into the gen­er­al bud­get. Like all tax­es, a good chunk of it has fund­ed mil­i­tary action, but it’s no dif­fer­ent per­cent­age than any oth­er tax. Like all tax­es, we’ve need­ed this many tax­es because the U.S. is a very mil­i­ta­rized coun­try and it has gone up and down in rela­tion to mil­i­tary spend­ing. But even Con­gress hasn’t both­ered to think of it as war-related for many years now.
I’d be embar­rased to try to tell some eigh­teen year old born in 1985 that this tax has some spe­cial war sig­nif­i­cance just because did dur­ing the Viet­nam War. Back in the six­ties, a bunch of rad­i­cal paci­fists jumped on the phone tax resis­tance and haven’t been able to let go in all this time. So why this cling­ing to phone tax­es as a way of protest­ing war? I assume every­one likes it is because it’s safe. For those rea­sons it’s also entire­ly sym­bol­ic and almost com­plete­ly meaningless.
Can’t we come up with new tac­tics? When will we be able to leave the Viet­nam War to the his­to­ri­ans and just move on? Many peo­ple think the old-line peace move­ment is a bunch of aging hip­pies; with cam­paigns like this, we kin­da prove them right. “Let’s brain­storm some new actions!”:http://www.nonviolence.org/comment/index.php?c=10

Shouting for Attention

Burn­ing up the blo­gos­phere is a post and dis­cus­sion on Michael J Totten’s site about the “Work­ers World Par­ty and Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR”:http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/000131.html.
He calls them “the new skin­heads” (huh?), but his cri­tique of these orga­ni­za­tions and the “uncon­di­tion­al sup­port” they give to anti-U.S. fas­cists the world over is valid.
As a paci­fist it’s often a tough bal­anc­ing act to try to remain a steady voice for peace: this spring we were try­ing to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly cri­tiquing both Sad­dam Hus­sein and U.S. war plans against iraq. Both left and right denounce paci­fists for this insis­tence on con­sis­ten­cy, but that’s okay: it is these times when non­vi­o­lent activists have the most to con­tribute to the larg­er soci­etal debate. But hard-left groups like Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR refuse to draw the line and refuse to con­demn the very real evil that exists in the world.
Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR has spon­sored big anti-war ral­lies over the last year, but anti-war is not nec­es­sar­i­ly pro-nonviolence. Many of the par­tic­i­pants at the ral­lies would nev­er sup­port Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR’s larg­er agen­da, but go because it’s a peace ral­ly, shrug­ging off the pol­i­tics of the spon­sor­ing group. I sus­pect that Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR’s sup­port base would dis­ap­pear pret­ty quick­ly if they start­ed ral­ly­ing on oth­er issues.
Inter­na­tion­al ANSWeR just had anoth­er ral­ly last week­end but you didn’t see it list­ed here on Non​vi​o​lence​.org. Oth­er peace groups co-sponsored it, echo­ing the All-caps/exclamation style of orga­niz­ing. It’s very strange to go the site of “Unit­ed for peace,” a coali­tion of peace groups, and look down the list of its next three events: “Stop the Wall!,” “Stop the FTAA!, “Shut Down the School of the Amer­i­c­as” When did paci­fism become shout­ing for atten­tion along­side the Work­ers World Par­ty? Why are we all about stop­ping this and shut­ting down that?