Category Archives: War & Peace

Mowing Down Free Speech in the Heart of Carolina

On Monday March 4, I visited the Johnston County NC County Commission.

I’ve been there many times, since 2006. Whenever I spoke, I raised the issue of the Johnston County Airport being home to “torture taxis” through a CIA front company based there, Aero Contractors. (More details here.) I regularly urged them to investigate the company, because involvement in torture is already against U.S. federal law, and international law as well. (They listened, but haven’t acted yet.)

There have been anti-torture protests at this airport since 2005. They continue, even though the “War On Terror” is supposedly over (replaced, of course, by the Endless-String-of-Bloody-“Little”-Mostly-Secret-Wars). One effect of this shift is that the CIA front company is not only still there, it’s grown, and upgraded its security by several levels of paranoia. In the era of endless war, business for Aero Contractors is still good.

Over thirteen years, I’ve been part of many, maybe most of the protests there. So the County Commissioners were doubtless not surprised to see me in their chamber Monday evening. That’s because the Commission has a “free speech” period before they begin work on their formal agenda, when anyone can address them, for several minutes, on whatever is on their minds.

[Above: Chuck Fager speaking to the Johnston County Commission, January 2019.]

This time I shifted a bit from my usual call for an investigation of Aero, because I was targeting the board of the entire Airport. Continue reading Mowing Down Free Speech in the Heart of Carolina

Quaker Theology at 20: People, Witness, and Ideas

Much of what we’ve published in the journal Quaker Theology has been about people, mostly Quakers, past and present. This may be unusual in theological journals, but Quakerism is very much a lived religion, embodied in people, their witness, and their thought.

[The first 32 issues of Quaker Theology are all online here [www.quakertheology.org], available to all in searchable form. The 20th Anniversary issue, #33, is now ready at Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/y26gmlbj ), and will be on the web soon. ]

Theology is about more than persons, though; it also deals with ideas. And while theological notions are often arcane and tedious, some can be startling, even shocking. At least several times in this effort they have shocked this editor. Many of these shocks came from reading and reviewing books. (It does help if a theologian is something of a book nerd.) 

For instance, the most acute critique of the reigning ideology of permanent war that has possessed America’s rulers since at least 2001came to my desk not from a liberal or left-winger, but from their polar opposite, a strict evangelical-fundamentalist and libertarian named Laurence M. Vance.

His book, Christianity and War, and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, was miles ahead of most other antiwar screeds I have read (or written); it was reviewed and excerpted in QT #20.  Continue reading Quaker Theology at 20: People, Witness, and Ideas

All God’s Quakers Got a “Place In The Choir” — Even the Non-Theists Who Can’t/Won’t Sing

So we’re hearing some complaints about sniping back & forth between “theists” and “non-theists in some liberal Friends meetings. I have some thoughts on that. Kind of a long read . . . .

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Let me work up to them with a story, going back to the turn of the years 1990 into 1991. I was working for the Post Office, as a Mailhander, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. I mainly shuffled bundles and sacks of mail back and forth across the floor of a facility about a quarter of a mile long. It processed several million pieces of mail every day. In those years, I had real calluses on my hands, and a lot fewer pounds around the middle.

I was also surrounded by veterans there, mostly from the Vietnam era, who had preference in Post Office hiring. We weren’t very familiar with the phrase PTSD then, but it was all around me. I felt a lot of solidarity with them, though I didn’t know how to express it. I was an Anti-Vietnam veteran, had protested one way and another all through those years, and bore my own set of scars from it.

November & December at the Post Office were always hectic: Christmas meant a continuing flood of packages, mandatory overtime, and running us off our feet. But the year 1990 brought a big additional burden of stress: the buildup to the First Gulf War, what’s known as Desert Storm, was in full swing.

I’m starting these reflections with a war story, not because I like war stories, but as part of my own grappling with the fact that when I look back over my 76 years, my life as an American and a Quaker has been dominated by war.

Big wars, punctuated by smaller and more secret wars, and then periods of tension and preparations for more war. I’m not sure that many Americans, and Quakers, really take adequate account of that over-arching reality: any American my age and younger has lived in a militarized, war-making country all our lives. And  that reality doesn’t appear to be changing much today.

August 5, 1990.

Anyway, I remember when the Gulf War buildup started, in late summer 1990, when the first president George Bush learned that Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, next door. My memory of Bush is that he was riding in the presidential golf cart, and pulled it to a stop where some news cameras were clustered, and said, “This will not stand. This will not stand.” (Actually, an old video shows him saying that after stepping out of the presidential helicopter. At least I got the words right.)

Reporters shouted questions, but he waved them off with a curt, “I gotta go to work.”  Continue reading All God’s Quakers Got a “Place In The Choir” — Even the Non-Theists Who Can’t/Won’t Sing

Post-Confirmation: Our World Won’t End Right Now. (But you can see the clouds gathering.)

The confirmation vote is is done.

I won’t hold it against anyone who feels stunned and numbed by the travesty in the Senate, and needs to take some time to scream, cry & regroup. (Just don’t forget the midterms!)

Yet soon enough, those on the progressive side will need to look beyond the next election to the long work of coping with other aspects of what Kavanaugh’s arrival on the court portends.

And yes, the outlook is mostly bad; terrible, in fact. And it was a terrible prospect even before any of us knew who Christine Blasey Ford or Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick were.

The upside down flag signals an emergency. I rest my case.

Further, it’s about what we knew, or could have known, before the explosion, that I want to deal with here. Continue reading Post-Confirmation: Our World Won’t End Right Now. (But you can see the clouds gathering.)

McCain’s best “Maverick” Performance: as a witness against torture

I have to start here by repeating a caveat, best stated by Esquire‘s Charles Pierce:

“It has been fashionable for a while now to place McCain somehow above politics; the “maverick” thing was based on a sparse list of examples. There was the campaign finance law that he championed with Russ Feingold, a law that lies now in ruins because of judges for whom John McCain loyally voted. He campaigned vigorously to give the president a line-item veto until a Supreme Court led by William Rehnquist explained forcefully that such a measure was hilariously unconstitutional. He thoroughly supported Reagan’s adventurism in Central America, was a protege of Henry Kissinger, got snagged in the Keating 5 corruption and became a campaign-finance reformer only after skating on that episode more cleanly than the other four miscreants, one of whom was John Glenn. He was a reliable Republican vote on every nomination and every policy that evidenced the Republican Party’s slow slide into madness and chaos and he was unable and not a talented enough politician to stop it.

All true, sadly. Yet Pierce, who differed sharply with McCain on Continue reading McCain’s best “Maverick” Performance: as a witness against torture

Dog Days True Tales: Vietnam & the Secret Life of Pizza

In the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary, there’s an episode which is called “Things Fall Apart.” It appears to center on an incident of violence during the January, 1968 Tet Offensive that produced one of the most unforgettable images of the war. This image still produces intense reactions.  Indeed, this photo was back on the front pages after that Ken Burns episode.

And I have something to say about that.

Not commentary, exactly, or film criticism. More of a footnote. A real-life footnote. It’s not in Burns’s documentary, and I’ve changed a name or two. But what follows is as true as when I lived it. I’ve called it “The Secret Life of Pizza,” and the connection to Vietnam will be clear enough in short order.

Continue reading Dog Days True Tales: Vietnam & the Secret Life of Pizza

Who Will Save Our Bacon? China Is Winning Its War With The U.S.

I’m reading more & more pieces like this one from the August 21, 2018 NY Times.

Yet they usually are not prefaced by what I think is the store of ancient Chinese wisdom that explains them all, namely, these quotes from Sun Tzu, in his classic text, The Art of War. (As it’s more than 2000 years old, it’s easy to find The Art of War online, complete & free. Here’s one edition.
I’m told Chinese strategists & planners treat it like the Bible, and I believe it. But good news for interested newcomers: it’s a whole lot shorter than the Western Bible.) Here’s a key quote:
 
“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. . . . In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. . . .
Now to the New York Times:
“Fears are growing that China is using its overseas spending spree to gain footholds in some of the world’s most strategic places, and perhaps even deliberately luring vulnerable nations into debt traps to increase China’s dominion as the United States’ influence fades in the developing world.
“The Chinese must have been thinking, ‘We can pick things up for cheap here,’” said Khor Yu Leng, a Malaysian political economist who has been researching China’s investments in Southeast Asia. “They’ve got enough patient capital to play the long game, wait for the local boys to overextend and then come in and take all that equity for China.”
NOTE: “The long game.” Such campaigns take awhile, But it sure looks to me like this one is working: bit by bit, billion (yuan) by billion, without “war,” but to the same end. Yet why have I not seen the pundits and the poohbahs taking account of these concepts? Sun Tzu said that such understanding makes a crucial difference:
Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. . . .
Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.This is the method of attacking by stratagem . . . .”
Back to The Times:
 
KUANTAN, Malaysia — In the world’s most vital maritime chokepoint, through which much of Asian trade passes, a Chinese power company is investing in a deepwater port large enough to host an aircraft carrier. Another state-owned Chinese company is revamping a harbor along the fiercely contested South China Sea.

Nearby, a rail network mostly financed by a Chinese government bank is being built to speed Chinese goods along a new Silk Road. And a Chinese developer is creating four artificial islands that could become home to nearly three-quarters of a million people and are being heavily marketed to Chinese citizens.

Each of these projects is being built in Malaysia, a Southeast Asian democracy at the heart of China’s effort to gain global influence.

But where Malaysia once led the pack in courting Chinese investment, it is now on the front edge of a new phenomenon: a pushback against Beijing as nations fear becoming overly indebted for projects that are neither viable nor necessary — except in their strategic value to China or use in propping up friendly strongmen. . . .”

NOTE: Malaysia is far away from me, here in North Carolina. So let’s add one more example, closer to home, and down home in initial ambiance:
The Smithfield Packing Company has its main meat processing plant in Tar Heel NC, a hamlet just off Interstate 95 near Fayetteville.

This photo hardly does justice to the ginormous megascale of the operation. The plant covers 973,000 square feet. Inside it approximately 32,000 hogs per day are slaughtered and processed, more than 3-million plus per year. It’s credibly reputed to be the largest hog slaughterhouse in the world.

That’s a heck of a lot of bacon. And it’s owned by a Chinese company, the WH Group, which snapped it up in 2013 for a mere $4-plus billion.

There could be many more examples, inside & outside the U.S.

Now, I admit I’m not an expert on China, or big time strategy, or even Sun Tzu.  But I know what I know, and see what I see.

And I see, too many Americans are lost in their social media underbrush, or haggling over a narcissist’s ignorant tweets. Also in the  meantime, a longtime pork belly fan like myself is blithely crunching the crispy rashers. And even I hardly ever remember these punch line paragraphs from this old wise guy:

Sun Tzu:  Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.

There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.

There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.

 In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack–the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.

And when the showdown suddenly comes (either in the Oval Office or at my favorite diner), I figure it will happen like this: “Your bacon, or your Bill of Rights. (Oh, by the way, your grandchildren will now be required to learn Chinese).”

Then, what am I (or they) going to say?

I’d say, “But wait; aren’t we supposed to have a war about this first?”

The reply will come with a condescending smile: “We already did. And you lost.
Here’s your new flag.”

David McReynolds: Peace Movement Titan Is Gone

Another Eminent Pacifist leader Is Gone: David McReynolds
 
I only sort of knew David McReynolds, but he hovered significantly in the background of peace work during my apprenticeship in the Vietnam years.
David McReynolds, pacifist organizer stalwart, October 25, 1929- August 17, 2018.

My most vivid memory of David was not a personal encounter, but in the pages of WIN Magazine, a “radical pacifist” journal published by the War Resisters League. In 1969 he joined several other elder eminences in coming out there. These were the first confrontations I had had with homosexuals as sympathetic figures and colleagues.

 His article was more personal than political, often embarrassed about how much his struggles in and out of the closet had cut into his driving impulse to organize nonviolent action against war and imperialism. Its candor and humility cut right through my unthinking, reflexive homophobia, pointing a way forward from it which I have worked ever since to follow.

Continue reading David McReynolds: Peace Movement Titan Is Gone

The Talk They Did NOT Hear at Friends Central School . . .

On May 25, Sa’ed Atshan was chosen by the Swarthmore College Class of 2018 to speak at their “Last Collection,” an opening ceremony of their Commencement exercises.

Here are some excerpts from his talk. (A full length audio version, 26 minutes, is here. A transcript of the talk is here. ) I’m posting them as a sample of Atshan as a speaker, and as a man sharing his identity and evolution with younger peers. I believe much of this would have been in the talk he was planning for Friends Central last year.

But this was an experience denied to the students at Friends Central  School. To prevent him from speaking there, two teachers at Friends Central were fired, and a high administrative official left.  This shameful incident is now the subject of a federal lawsuit. (More on that lawsuit and its background here.) 

Atshan’s Swarthmore talk was intriguing to me for several reasons, but one was a question I’m still seeking the answer to: 

What is it about this talk, and about this person, that was worth destroying the jobs of three loyal faculty at Friends Central School to stop him from giving it on their campus?

Many readers will know that the Friends Central administration has refused comment on this matter.  So we’re on our own to sort it out. This talk is not a final answer; but is worth reading and pondering as the seeking continues. 

Sa’ed Atshan, Swarthmore College Peace & Conflict Studies Assistant Professor.

Continue reading The Talk They Did NOT Hear at Friends Central School . . .

After Blowing Up The Iran Deal: Anybody Feeling a Draft?

After thinking about the remodeled “backing-up-new-Iranian-sanctions-with-War” scenario, I did some searching & quickly came across several disquieting facts:

1. Iran’s population is at least twice that of Iraq;
2. it’s also more homogenous, linguistically, culturally & especially religiously (90+% Shi’a Muslim; Iraq, 60/40 Shia vs Sunni); further,
3. Iranians tend to be quite proud of their country & culture even if they despise their government;

 

Continue reading After Blowing Up The Iran Deal: Anybody Feeling a Draft?