No Way Out but War

I came of age during the Vietnam War years. Organized a draft conference, walked with the entire student body of Scattergood Friends School (all sixty of us) fourteen miles into Iowa City during the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, became a draft resister. The entire country was in an uproar. Young men and their families lived in fear of induction based on a lottery system. Over 58,000 Americans were killed.

A key component to the sustenance of the permanent war state was the creation of the All-Volunteer Force. Without conscripts, the burden of fighting wars falls to the poor, the working class, and military families. This All-Volunteer Force allows the children of the middle class, who led the Vietnam anti-war movement, to avoid service. It protects the military from internal revolts, carried out by troops during the Vietnam War, which jeopardized the cohesion of the armed forces.

NO WAY OUT BUT WAR By Chris Hedges, Scheer Post. May 23, 2022. Permanent War Has Cannibalized The Country. It Has Created A Social, Political, And Economic Morass.

I’ve often despaired at the absence of an antiwar movement since our plunge into a ‘war on terror’ that is an excuse to have military presence and conflict in any place politicians define a threat. To terrorize children by the sounds of drones circulating overhead. With untold civilian casualties from drone strikes. Death by remote control.

What should I have done? What should I be doing now?

Shortly after the Vietnam years, I moved to Indianapolis (1970). The filthy air, the clouds of smoke pouring out of every tailpipe, traumatized me. Especially as I imagined how the air in the beautiful National Parks I had visited might become polluted.

We went on vacation to California around this time. The first day in Los Angeles we could hardly breathe. We coughed and our eyes were irritated. We were told we would get used to it.

It was this war against Mother Earth I devoted my efforts to, including refusing to own a car, which I called a weapon of mass destruction. And against the wars of White supremacy on black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC).

But the armed wars of this country continued, expanded internationally. And turned inward, bringing the tactics, equipment, and attitudes of war to our cities.

The United States, as the near unanimous vote to provide nearly $40 billion in aid to Ukraine illustrates, is trapped in the death spiral of unchecked militarism. No high speed trains. No universal health care. No viable Covid relief program. No respite from 8.3 percent inflation. No infrastructure programs to repair decaying roads and bridges, which require $41.8 billion to fix the 43,586 structurally deficient bridges, on average 68 years old. No forgiveness of $1.7 trillion in student debt. No addressing income inequality. No program to feed the 17 million children who go to bed each night hungry. No rational gun control or curbing of the epidemic of nihilistic violence and mass shootings. No help for the 100,000 Americans who die each year of drug overdoses. No minimum wage of $15 an hour to counter 44 years of wage stagnation. No respite from gas prices that are projected to hit $6 a gallon.

The permanent war economy, implanted since the end of World War II, has destroyed the private economy, bankrupted the nation, and squandered trillions of dollars of taxpayer money. The monopolization of capital by the military has driven the US debt to $30 trillion, $ 6 trillion more than the US GDP of $ 24 trillion. Servicing this debt costs $300 billion a year. We spent more on the military, $ 813 billion for fiscal year 2023, than the next nine countries, including China and Russia, combined.

We are paying a heavy social, political, and economic cost for our militarism. Washington watches passively as the U.S. rots, morally, politically, economically, and physically, while China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, and other countries extract themselves from the tyranny of the U.S. dollar and the international Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a messaging network banks and other financial institutions use to send and receive information, such as money transfer instructions. Once the U.S. dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency, once there is an alternative to SWIFT, it will precipitate an internal economic collapse. It will force the immediate contraction of the U.S. empire shuttering most of its nearly 800 overseas military installations. It will signal the death of Pax Americana.

NO WAY OUT BUT WAR By Chris Hedges, Scheer Post. May 23, 2022. Permanent War Has Cannibalized The Country. It Has Created A Social, Political, And Economic Morass.

Chris Hedges goes on to explain

There were three restraints to the avarice and bloodlust of the permanent war economy that no longer exist. The first was the old liberal wing of the Democratic Party, led by politicians such as Senator George McGovern, Senator Eugene McCarthy, and Senator J. William Fulbright, who wrote The Pentagon Propaganda Machine. The self-identified progressives, a pitiful minority, in Congress today, from Barbara Lee, who was the single vote in the House and the Senate opposing a broad, open-ended authorization allowing the president to wage war in Afghanistan or anywhere else, to Ilhan Omar now dutifully line up to fund the latest proxy war. The second restraint was an independent media and academia, including journalists such as I.F Stone and Neil Sheehan along with scholars such as Seymour Melman, author of The Permanent War Economy and Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War. Third, and perhaps most important, was an organized anti-war movement, led by religious leaders such as Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr. and Phil and Dan Berrigan as well as groups such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They understood that unchecked militarism was a fatal disease.

NO WAY OUT BUT WAR By Chris Hedges, Scheer Post. May 23, 2022. Permanent War Has Cannibalized The Country. It Has Created A Social, Political, And Economic Morass.

Where was the organized anti-war movement?

I wasn’t there. As I said, I was led to the ‘fight’ to protect Mother Earth, protect the water. The damage we’ve done to our environment has led to the collapse we are experiencing now. As I wrote just yesterday, collapse is already here. Significantly worsening environmental chaos is everywhere and will only worsen, rapidly.

What does this mean regarding militarization now? As Chris Hedges writes above, there is no political resistance to continued military spending, leaving little for domestic needs. “The permanent war economy, implanted since the end of World War II, has destroyed the private economy, bankrupted the nation, and squandered trillions of dollars of taxpayer money.”

The US military is the largest polluter in the world because of the combustion of fossil fuels by the machines of war and the energy needed by steel production.

Depletion of fossil fuel supplies will eventually render those machines useless. But they will be a priority for dwindling supplies. I guess time will tell how long armored tanks and planes will have fuel in the timeline for our collapsing society.

So many military installations are on ocean shores and will be flooded by rising waters.

As oil supplies are depleted, the US armed forces will continue to take over fossil fuel sources anywhere in the world.

At the time when it is absolutely essential to stop burning fossil fuels, the military will continue doing the opposite. Might this be the way we finally rise up against the tools of war?

As our economy continues to collapse, the armed forces and militarized police will increasingly be used to quash civil unrest.

I was led to the fight to protect Mother Earth, protect the water. Much as I wish I had been able to do more to stop militarization, I know I have tried to hear what the Spirit was leading me to do. And then do it.


Martin Luther King Jr was a radical

“Hero” isn’t a word I hear much these days, but Martin Luther King, Jr, is one to me. Other heroes are the men and their families who also resisted cooperation with the systems of war. That includes a number of those in my Quaker community. And includes Muhammad Ali. People whose lives reflected their faith and beliefs. Because even as a child it was clear so many people did not do so. This was and continues to be spiritually traumatic.

In this brief celebratory moment of King’s life and death we should be highly suspicious of those who sing his praises yet refuse to pay the cost of embodying King’s strong indictment of the US empire, capitalism and racism in their own lives.

Martin Luther King Jr was a radical. We must not sterilize his legacy.  Cornel West

Martin Luther King’s beliefs and actions related to racism are well known.

He was late to publicly come out against the Vietnam War and was harshly criticized by most in his own community for doing so. The argument was that would weaken his work against racism. But he could clearly see the ties between racism, capitalism, and militarism.

A historic speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered even 55 years later as one of the most courageous speeches ever made. This speech stated those truths which no other leading political leader or even leading activist was willing to state in such a clear and sharp way.  The reference here is of course to the speech delivered by Dr. King at Manhattan’s Riverside Church on April 4 1967—a speech remembered also as the ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence’ speech.

The great importance of this speech is due to several factors. Firstly, he drew a very clear linkage between why a civil rights activist like him has to be a peace activist at the same time. He stated very clearly that the high hopes he had from the poverty program started getting shattered from the time of increased spending on Vietnam war. So he realized that in order to really help the poor it is important also to prevent wars and to have peace. Secondly, he expressed deep regret that it is mainly the children of the poor (black as well as white young men from poor households) who were being sent to fight a very unjust and oppressive war, while they should have been contributing to reducing distress of their own settlements. Thirdly, he exposed the great injustices and bitter realities about US military intervention with such clarity and conviction that it was bound to have a strong nationwide and in fact worldwide impact.

April 4 – Remembering Martin Luther King on his Death Anniversary by Bharat Dogra, Counter Currents, April 4,2022


The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one.
Martin Luther King Jr turned away from popularity in his quest for spiritual and moral greatness – a greatness measured by what he was willing to give up and sacrifice due to his deep love of everyday people, especially vulnerable and precious black people.

If King were alive today, his words and witness against drone strikes, invasions, occupations, police murders, caste in Asia, Roma oppression in Europe, as well as capitalist wealth inequality and poverty, would threaten most of those who now sing his praises.
Today, 50 years later the US imperial meltdown deepens. And King’s radical legacy remains primarily among the awakening youth and militant citizens who choose to be extremists of love, justice, courage and freedom, even if our chances to win are that of a snowball in hell! This kind of unstoppable King-like extremism is a threat to every status quo!

Martin Luther King Jr was a radical. We must not sterilize his legacy.  Cornel West

New heroes for me are the young people I’ve been blessed to work with and learn from, particularly in Mutual Aid communities. Working against “capitalist wealth inequality and poverty.”

King’s radical legacy remains primarily among the awakening youth and militant citizens who choose to be extremists of love, justice, courage and freedom.”


Conscientious objection and Ukraine

Amid the horrifying situation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I was concerned every time I heard that Ukrainian men aged 18 – 60 were banned from leaving the country.

I studied war resistance and conscientious objection extensively while a student at Scattergood Friends School. All males in the US were required to register for the draft at the time of their eighteenth birthday. I was a Senior at Scattergood then (1969). I went through the process of applying for and was granted conscientious objector status while I tried to prepare my family for my decision to turn in my draft cards. Which I did.

This is a bit ironic because Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee discussed conscientious objector counseling at our recent meeting. That was brought up in part related to the war in Ukraine. Also, as an opportunity to engage our youth in discussions related to war and peace. And because of the writings of a member of the yearly meeting. John Griffith and Draft Resistance.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered a general military mobilization.

In a declaration signed late Thursday, Zelensky said that “in order to ensure the defense of the state, maintaining combat and mobilization readiness of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations,” a broad-based mobilization was ordered, including in the capital, Kyiv and all Ukraine’s major cities.
It ordered the “conscription of conscripts, reservists for military service, their delivery to military units and institutions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine” and other state security services.

At the same time, Ukraine has banned all-male citizens 18-60 years old from leaving the country, according to the State Border Guard Service.

The statement said that following the introduction of martial law in Ukraine, a temporary restriction had been imposed.

“In particular, it is forbidden for men aged 18-60, Ukraine citizens, to leave the borders of Ukraine,” the statement said. “This regulation will remain in effect for the period of the legal regime of martial law. We ask the citizens to take this information into consideration.”

Ukrainian males aged 18-60 are banned from leaving the country, Zelensky says in new declaration From CNN’s Tamara Qiblawi and Caroll Alvardo, February 24, 2022

A New York Times podcast tells the story of an animator named Tyhran, who unsuccessfully tried to cross the border into Poland.

I can’t imagine myself doing military stuff […] I have no experience in it. I’m afraid of holding a gun […] I cannot imagine myself holding a gun.

Tyhran says he was shamed at the border by guards and others seeking to cross, but may try again to cross illegally.

They are bombing and people are dying. Everyone is running […] They are not going to stop. They just want to destroy.

In Ukraine, the Men Who Must Stay and Fight. As hundreds of thousands of citizens flee the Russian advance, the country’s government has ordered men ages 18 to 60 to remain. New York Times podcast, March 1, 2022

What international law says

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief. Although it does not specifically guarantee a right to conscientious objection to military service, the UN Human Rights Committee has confirmed this right derives from the protection under the convention.

This means that if a person’s conscience, religion or beliefs conflict with an obligation to use lethal force against other people, their right to conscientious objection to military service must be protected.

Some human rights can be suspended or limited during a public emergency. But the right to freedom of conscience is specifically excluded from this category.

Why banning men from leaving Ukraine violates their human rights by Amy Maguire, The Conversation, March 7, 2022

What should Ukraine do?

The government of Ukraine should cancel its ban on men leaving the country. To maintain it will violate the freedom of conscience of any man who wishes to flee due to a conscientious objection to killing others.

In relation to LGBTQI+ people, the ban could also be regarded as preventing people with a well founded fear of persecution from fleeing to seek refuge outside Ukraine.

More broadly, repealing the departure ban would protect Ukraine from allegations it is failing to protect civilians, as required by international humanitarian law. It is one thing to conscript men into military service, providing training and appropriate equipment (although, even in that case, a right to conscientious objection must be respected).

It is another thing entirely to prevent civilians from escaping a war zone.

Why banning men from leaving Ukraine violates their human rights by Amy Maguire, The Conversation, March 7, 2022