Veterans for Peace and PEACE Iowa, along with the University of Iowa Lecture Series, present Kathy Kelly speaking on “Why War is Never the Answer.”
The event is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19, 2022 in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber on the University of Iowa Pentacrest.
Kathy Kelly is an American peace activist, pacifist and author, one of the founding members of Voices in the Wilderness. Until the campaign closed in 2020, Kelly was a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. As part of peace team work in several countries, she has traveled to Iraq twenty-six times, notably remaining in combat zones during the early days of both US–Iraq wars.
Tickets are free to the public; first come, first seated. We hope too see you all there! For more details go to lectures.uiowa.edu.
Open Letter From Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and Citizens of the World Against War and Nuclear Weapons:
We reject war and nuclear weapons. We call on all our fellow citizens of the world to join us in protecting our planet, home for all of us, from those who threaten to destroy it.
The invasion of Ukraine has created a humanitarian disaster for its people. The entire world is facing the greatest threat in history: a large-scale nuclear war, capable of destroying our civilization and causing vast ecological damage across the Earth.
We call for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all Russian military forces from Ukraine, and for all possible efforts at dialogue to prevent this ultimate disaster.
We call on Russia and NATO to explicitly renounce any use of nuclear weapons in this conflict, and we call on all countries to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to ensure that we never again face a similar moment of nuclear danger.
The time to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons is now. It is the only way to guarantee that the inhabitants of the planet will be safe from this existential threat.
It is either the end of nuclear weapons, or the end of us.
We reject governance through imposition and threats, and we advocate for dialogue, coexistence and justice.
A world without nuclear weapons is necessary and possible, and together we will build it. It is urgent that we give peace a chance.
Signatories list of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates:
His Holiness The Dalai Lama (1989) International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985) International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (2017) Juan Manuel Santos (2016) Kailash Satyarthi (2014) Leymah Gbowee (2011) Tawakkul Karman (2011) Muhammad Yunus (2006) David Trimble (1998) Jody Williams (1997) Jose Ramos-Horta (1996) Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs (1995) Óscar Arias Sánchez (1987) Lech Walesa (1983) American Friends Service Committee (1947) International Peace Bureau (1910)
If you would like to join more than 780,000 other citizens of the world in signing this open letter, which will be presented to the leadership of NATO and Russia, click here.
Joint Statement from the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group Condemning Russian Nuclear Threats
WASHINGTON, DC— Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Representatives Don Beyer (VA-08) and John Garamendi (CA-03), co-chairs of the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, today issued the following statement condemning Russian nuclear threats:
“On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s nuclear deterrent forces to be put into an alert status, further intensifying his unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by threatening a nuclear attack.
“We, the Co-Chairs of the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, condemn President Putin’s threats to escalate a conflict of his own creation into nuclear war. His invasion of Ukraine has already resulted in the tragic loss of life, and an escalation to nuclear war would bring untold additional suffering.
“President Putin should recall what he said in January, along with leaders from the United States, France, China, and the United Kingdom, that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’
“We applaud the Biden administration for trying to deescalate against such provocative actions and for making clear that America’s own alert status has not changed. It is in the fog of war that there is the greatest risk that a conventional conflict escalates into a nuclear one. That is why it is imperative that the United States, Russia, and all nuclear powers back a No First Use nuclear policy and affirm that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter the use of nuclear weapons. The crisis in Ukraine is evidence that there are no plausible military options for direct confrontation between the United States and a nuclear armed adversary – and the folly of investing $1 trillion in unusable new U.S. nuclear capabilities.
“At the same time, as the U.S. works in lockstep with our European allies to rebuff Russian aggression, we must coordinate closely on our nuclear policy as well. The U.S. Department of Defense should also continue its efforts to open military communication channels with Russia, as they have done in other theatres where the Russians are present, so that “red-lines” are not inadvertently crossed.
“President Putin has already made his country a global pariah by launching an unjustified and unprovoked war against Ukraine. His threat to escalate his meritless invasion of Ukraine into nuclear war would cross a line from which our world cannot return. The United States and its allies must do everything in their power to disincentivize this dangerous and costly mistake.
“We continue to stand firmly with the people of Ukraine in this crisis as they fight to preserve their sovereignty and democracy,” the lawmakers said.
The crisis in Eastern Europe could become a regional and global humanitarian catastrophe if war involving nuclear-armed nations erupts in Ukraine. IPPNW hosted an emergency briefing on 19 February with a distinguished panel of experts to examine the terrible human cost if diplomacy fails. The experts’ remarks are outlined below, topics include:
Conventional war – Possible direct and indirect impacts of a conventional war in Ukraine on health, human rights, and the environment. Presented by Barry Levy, M.D., M.P.H.
Damage to nuclear power reactors – The risk of large radioactive releases from one or more of the 15 nuclear power stations in Ukraine that are vulnerable to deliberate or accidental destruction or meltdowns due to loss of power through cyber attacks. Presented by Linda Pentz Gunter
Escalation to nuclear weapons – The catastrophic regional and global consequences if nuclear weapons are launched intentionally or by accident or miscalculation. Presented by Ira Helfand, M.D.
During war, civilians are often injured or killed directly — sometimes accidentally — by the indiscriminate use of weapons. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But increasingly, civilians are targeted — attacked on purpose, as part of a strategy of war. Men are taken from their homes in the middle of the night, never to return. Women are raped and often killed. Even children are sometimes targeted and killed as a strategy of war.
However, most deaths during war are not caused by direct attacks, but indirectly. Many of these indirect deaths result from damage to infrastructure. After farms and the food supply system are damaged, people become malnourished and more susceptible to respiratory infections, like COVID-19. Water treatment plants are bombed, and people develop cholera, dysentery, or other diarrheal diseases. Hospitals and healthcare workers are attacked, public health agencies are not able to function, and people are unable to receive clinical care or public health services. And power plants, communication networks, and transportation systems are damaged, leading to disease and death.
Population displacement is another major cause of indirect deaths during war. People can be displaced within their own country or as refugees to other countries. Internally displaced persons are generally worse off because they have inadequate food, water, health care, and security — and therefore are at increased risk of disease and death. And if war continues, people may be displaced for long periods of time.
Indirect deaths far outnumber direct deaths during war. Since 1990, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program in Sweden has recorded an average of about 50,000 direct deaths per year in state-based armed conflicts. In a separate analysis for the same period of time, Mohammad Jawad and colleagues estimated about one million indirect deaths occurred per year, on average – 20 times more indirect deaths than direct deaths. Even if the estimate of indirect deaths is too high or the number of direct deaths recorded too low, indirect deaths far outnumber direct deaths during war.
Noncombatant civilians most frequently suffer from the following diseases during war:
Malnutrition — with young children and pregnant women at greatest risk
Communicable diseases, including diarrheal diseases such as cholera, acute respiratory infections such as COVID-19, and other diseases such as measles and tuberculosis
Mental disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide
Adverse effects on reproductive health, including higher rates of maternal mortality, infants born with low birthweight, and infant mortality.
Noncommunicable diseases, with greater occurrence and exacerbations of heart disease and stroke, chronic lung disease, and cancer — and less available treatment for these diseases.
While everyone is at risk, some populations are especially vulnerable: women, children, displaced people, older people, people with chronic diseases and disabilities, and ethnic and religious minorities.
How many people will suffer from the health impacts of a war in Ukraine? No one knows.
But there could be large numbers of civilian deaths, widespread damage to health-supporting infrastructure, millions of people displaced, many people with post traumatic stress disorder and depression, widespread violations of human rights, and substantial damage to the environment — all of which occurred after the U.S. invasion of Iraq 20 years ago.
Ukraine today is similar in some ways to Iraq in 2003 and different in others. Ukraine has 42 million people, Iraq then had 26 million, but was more densely populated. Life expectancy in Ukraine today (72 years) is about the same as it was in Iraq in 2003 (69 years). But the population of Ukraine today is much older than the population of Iraq in 2003; 17% of Ukrainians are 65 years of age or older, compared to about 3% in Iraq — the percentage of older people is five times higher in Ukraine than in Iraq. Therefore, they have higher rates of chronic disease and disability, more dependency on ongoing medical care, less mobility, and increased vulnerability to COVID-19. Therefore, the death rate in a protracted war in Ukraine could be even higher than in the Iraq War.
War and its health impacts can be prevented. There are four levels of prevention that can be applied:
Primordial prevention addresses the root causes of war.
Primary prevention addresses the precipitating causes of war and aims to resolve disputes nonviolently.
Secondary prevention attempts to end war and reduce its impacts
Tertiary prevention rehabilitates and restores the health of individuals and communities after war has ended.
But soon, it was be too late for primordial or primary prevention, and efforts may need to focus on protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure, providing humanitarian assistance, and working to end the violence as soon as possible.
Damage to Nuclear Power Reactors – Linda Pentz Gunter
The 15 nuclear power reactors at four sites in Ukraine both face and create a series of risks should a war or escalated conflict break out there. Even if the reactors sites —which deliver 50% of Ukraine’s electricity needs — are not embroiled in the conflict zone, they are still vulnerable to catastrophic outcomes.
The Chernobyl nuclear site and the Exclusion Zone are also potentially at risk.
The presence of 15 reactors in Ukraine, or any nuclear reactors anywhere, automatically adds to the medical risks for the surrounding populations should something else major happen. And that something else need not be a war.
We are already seeing the ravages of the climate crisis and how this can knock out
essential power supplies. Nuclear power plants are already vulnerable. They are more so if caught up in a war that could cause the grid to go down.
There are 15 reactors in Ukraine grouped at 4 sites and providing 50% of the country’s electricity needs. They are Russian VVER reactors of 1,000 megawatts each, similar in design to our traditional light water reactors.
And there is the closed Chernobyl nuclear plant in the north, which were RMBK graphite moderated reactors.
If a war takes out the electric grid, whether by accident or deliberate sabotage—including even through a cyber attack, the nuclear plant operators will try to shut the reactors down. But if they lose onsite power as well, should that backup power fail, as it did at Fukushima, things can get far more dire with similar outcomes to an actual attack.
Are any of Ukraine’s reactors likely to be within the battle zone? Rivne and Khmelnitsky in the far west, are probably out of harm’s way. South Ukraine is also less likely to come under direct attack. Of most concern, given its size and location is Zaporizhzhia. It’s the largest nuclear power station in Europe, with a net capacity of 5700 MW. The Zaporizhzhia reactors were already vulnerable during the Crimea invasion in 2014 when a far-right Ukrainian group tried to gain entry. They are about 200 kilometers from the Donbas conflict zone.
If any of these reactors are embroiled in the war zone but not attacked or hit, the nuclear plant workers, may fear for their lives and the lives of their families. They would want to — and should — evacuate with their loved ones.
But what happens if they do? The answer is they can’t. Or not all of them. Nuclear power plants, even under normal circumstances are never walkaway safe. Some workers would have to stay behind. If the nuclear workforce evacuates, you set in motion a cascade of meltdowns at that site, whether or not it is directly attacked.
If one or more of these reactors takes an accidental hit from a bomb or missile or even just artillery fire, we could be talking about another Chernobyl or, actually, multiple Chernobyls.
The worst of all possible outcomes is that a direct hit destroys the reactor immediately. But even if the reactor is severely damaged or disabled, then you start to lose coolant and the reactor heats up, the fuel rods are exposed, and explosive gases are created. One spark and you could see an explosion as we did at three of the Fukushima reactors.
Some of the workforce may be injured or killed, or struggling to shut down the remaining reactors. Added to that, if the spent fuel pools boil and evaporate, exposing the rods, these could catch fire. A fuel pool fire is even worse than the reactor exploding because spent fuel pools contain a far hotter radioactive inventory than the reactor itself.
Those radioactive releases would be dispersed across thousands of miles. We have already had a glimpse of what that would look like for human health after Chernobyl. The plume pathway for just radioactive cesium-137 resulting from the 1986 Chernobyl explosion hit Belarus, Russia and Ukraine the worst. But it went all across Europe. Not all the hot spots were concentrated closest to Chernobyl.
If any of Ukraine’s 15 reactors were hit, it would be much worse than Chernobyl. All of them are older than Chernobyl Unit 4 was in 1986. They have bigger radioactive inventories. And they are all multiple reactor sites. People all across Europe would be affected.
But what if there was a deliberate attack on the reactors, an act of sabotage to disable them, or even a cyber attack? We know nuclear sites are vulnerable to cyber attack. We’ve seen it before with the 2010 Stuxnet cyber attack on 15 of Iran’s nuclear facilities including the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.
Would Russia — or any country or even rogue group —really use reactors as weapons of war, allowing them to deliberately melt down and potentially contaminate wide portions of Europe?
This would seem like a scaled down exercise in mutually assured destruction, given prevailing winds would likely blow much of the radiation across Russia and Belarus. A deliberate attack on a nuclear plant would have much the same outcome as an accidental one. It would release a massive plume of radioactivity and would be a medical and humanitarian disaster of monumental and likely completely unmanageable proportions.
What would that mean for human health?
We should have a guide from the example of Chernobyl. But there was a scandalous and even heartless international effort, by agencies like the IAEA, with vested interests in minimizing the disaster, to do just that. We must look to independent sources to get a truer sense of the numbers. And here we must remind ourselves that, with Chernobyl, we are talking about just one, relatively new reactor not the multiple ones now in Ukraine containing far more radioactivity.
Looking at a specific sample of Chernobyl victims, Dr. Wladimir Wertelecki, a physician and geneticist, who conducted post-Chernobyl research in Polissia, Ukraine, found birth defects and other health disturbances among not only those who were adults at the time of the Chernobyl disaster, but their children who were in utero at the time and, most disturbingly, their later offspring.
So if reactors are breached during a war in Ukraine, that war, in a medical sense, will never be over.
But what about the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone? Could it, and the nuclear site itself, get caught up in a war?
Russian troops could choose to cross into Ukraine from Belarus, the shortest route to Kyiv, taking them through the Chernobyl Zone. But it is marshy and difficult terrain, in addition to being radioactive, so certainly not the ideal entry point.
The destroyed Chernobyl Unit 4, along with 200 metric tonnes of uranium, plutonium, liquid fuel and irradiated dust, are encased in a sarcophagus completed in 2019. But that sarcophagus, which is only supposed to last 100 years, could collapse under the vibrations of explosions in a war zone. That would loft radioactive dust into the atmosphere causing yet another major health crisis.
And there is one more huge threat to this area, as well as to any war zone involving nuclear plants, and that is fire. We’ve already seen literally hundreds of fires in the Chernobyl Zone, sadly many started deliberately. Under ever more extreme climate conditions, wildfires will get larger and more frequent. In 2020, a forest fire that broke out within the Chernobyl Zone threatened to reach the plant site.
Forest fires reloft and redistribute radiation trapped in the soil. The 2020 fire increased radiation levels to 16 times higher than they had been previously. War clearly raises the risk of fires. And the Chernobyl Zone is a tinder box.
Dr. Tim Mousseau and his team discovered that dead wood and leaf litter on the forest floors is not decaying properly, likely because the microbes and other organisms that drive the process
of decay are reduced or gone due to their own prolonged exposure to radiation.
Equally, wildfires triggered by war close to any of Ukraine’s operating reactors could have dire consequences. Even under just normal reactor operating circumstances, fire is considered the bulk of the risk for a core melt.
Wars in regions where there are nuclear reactors raise the dangers to almost unimaginable heights. All of this, in my view, strengthens the argument to permanently close and dismantle the world’s nuclear power plants as soon as possible.
Escalation to Nuclear Weapons – Ira Helfand, M.D.
A large scale conventional conflict in Ukraine will create a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. But the parties to this dispute, NATO and Russia, are armed with enormous nuclear arsenals, and so it is important to consider also the consequences if the conflict escalates to the use of nuclear weapons since both NATO and Russian military doctrines allow for the use of tactical nuclear weapons to fend off defeat in a major conventional war.
Despite reductions in nuclear forces over the last several decades, Russia still has 1900 tactical nuclear weapons and 1600 deployed strategic nuclear weapons. On the NATO side, France has 280 deployed nuclear weapons and the UK, 120. In addition the United States has 100 B 61 tactical bombs deployed at NATO bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey and an additional 1650 deployed strategic warheads. (Ref)
If even a single 100 Kt (kiloton) nuclear weapon exploded over the Kremlin, it could kill a quarter of a million people and injure a million more, completely overwhelming the disaster response capability of the Russian capital. A single 100 kiloton bomb detonated over the US Capital would kill over 170.000 people and injure nearly 400,000. (Ref)
But it is unlikely that an escalating nuclear conflict between the US and Russia would involve single warheads over their respective capitals. Rather it is more likely that there would be many weapons directed against many cities and many of these weapons would be substantially larger than 100 Kt. For example, Russia’s 460 SS-18 M6 Satan warheads have a yield of 500 to 800 Kt. The W88 warhead deployed on US Trident submarines has a yield of 455 Kt.
Major cities like New York or Moscow are probably targeted with at least 10 to 20 nuclear weapons each 30 to 50 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. To describe the destruction they would cause we can use the model of a single 20 MT (megaton) bomb. The total megatonage in an actual attack would be less, but, because the explosive force would be spread out more efficiently across the metropolitan area, the actual destruction would be even greater.
Within 1/1000th of a second, a fireball would form reaching out for two miles in every direction, four miles across. Temperatures would rise to 20 million degrees Fahrenheit, and everything–buildings, trees, cars, and people–would be vaporized.
To a distance of 4 miles in every direction, the blast would produce pressures of 25 pounds per square inch and winds in excess of 650 miles per hour. Forces of this magnitude can destroy essentially anything that we build including reinforced concrete and steel structures. Even deep underground bomb shelters would be crushed.
To a distance of six miles in every direction, the heat would still be intense enough to melt sheet metal. And to a distance of 10 miles in every direction, the blast wave would create pressures of 7 to 10 pounds per square inch and winds of 200 miles per hour.
To a distance of at least 16 miles in every direction, the heat would ignite all easily flammable materials–paper, cloth, wood, leaves, gasoline, heating oil–starting hundreds of thousands of fires. Fanned by blast winds still in excess of 100 miles per hour, these fires would merge into a giant firestorm 32 miles across and covering 800 square miles. Everything within this entire area would be consumed by flames. Temperatures would rise to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. And everyone would die.
If just 300 warheads in the Russian arsenal got through to urban targets in the US, 75 to 100 million people would die in the first half hour and tens of millions would be fatally injured. Huge swaths of the country would be blanketed by radioactive fallout and the industrial, transportation and communication infrastructure which we all depend on would be destroyed. The internet, the electric grid, the food distribution system, the public health and banking systems would all be gone. In the following months the vast majority of those who survived the initial attack would also die, from radiation sickness, epidemic disease, exposure and starvation. A US attack on Russia would cause similar devastation.
But these are just the direct effects. In addition, the large scale use of nuclear weapons would also cause catastrophic climate disruption. When a nuclear attack causes a city to burn, enormous amounts of soot are lofted into the upper atmosphere. If all of the deployed weapons in the US and Russian arsenals were used against urban targets some 150 Tg (terragrams or million tons) of soot would be generated, blocking out the sun and dropping temperatures across the planet an average of 100 C. In the interior regions of North America and Eurasia temperatures would drop 25 to 300 C. The Earth has not seen temperatures this cold since the last Ice Age. In the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere there would be 3 years without a day free of frost—the temperature would drop below freezing every single day. Under those conditions the ecosystems which have evolved since the last Ice Age would collapse, food production would plummet and the vast majority of the human race would starve. (Ref)
Even a much more limited nuclear war would cause catastrophic global climate disruption. As few as 250 100 kiloton bombs could generate 37 Tg. of soot dropping temperatures 5.5 0 C and triggering massive crop failures and catastrophic worldwide famine that would put hundreds of millions, possibly billions of people at risk. This would not mean the extinction of our species; if would mean the end of modern civilization. No civilization in history has survived a shock of this magnitude and there is no reason to assume that the delicate, complex economic system on which we all depend would do any better.
First published at Blog for Iowa on Sept. 11, 2011.
I was scheduled to fly from Moline, Illinois to Philadelphia on Sept. 11, 2001. My flight was cancelled. I returned to the office, and with the other office employees watched the twin towers burning and then collapse on television. I neither understood what happened nor knew what to do. But I turned to a president, one I believed stole the 2000 election, and said that I would support him after this act of terrorism. We all did.
What I remember most from the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 was my trip to Philadelphia a few days later. The plane was almost empty. As I approached the Eastern Iowa Airport, the radio announcer said President Bush was also heading to Philadelphia on an unannounced trip. Air Force One was already parked at Philadelphia International Airport when I arrived and I drove past it in my rental car heading to Interstate 95. There were hundreds of law enforcement officials stationed along the presidential route.
As I headed North, I passed the presidential motorcade returning to the airport. It was 10:30 a.m. On the radio I discovered that the President was in town fulfilling a campaign promise to visit a women’s shelter. He couldn’t have been in Philadelphia three hours. I shook my head, disappointed that after all that had happened, we were back to politics.
As the hope of getting something done in Washington D.C. this year wanes, and our attention turns to “jobs,” the “Super Committee” and the 2012 Presidential election, we are approaching the tenth anniversary of the event that brought almost everyone in the country together. I am referring to Osama Bin Laden’s successful hijacking of four aircraft and the deaths, destruction and economic damage it brought. It did bring us together, if only for the briefest of moments. Whatever consensus may have existed then, devolved into political gridlock unlike any in living memory.
We know about the deaths that day, and the illnesses of workers at Ground Zero. What we don’t consider enough is the death, destruction and economic damage caused by the United States reaction to Sept. 11, 2001. Hugh Gusterson reports in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his collaborator Linda Bilmes estimate that, in funds already disbursed or committed, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far cost the American taxpayer… $3.2 trillion.” It is noteworthy that this amount includes $200 billion in interest incurred after the decision to pay for the war with deficit spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the United States will incur another $800 billion in interest charges on the war debt by 2020. The wars are costing a lot.
In this month’s issue of The Lancet, Vic Sidel and Barry Levy published an article titled, “Adverse health consequences of U.S. Government responses to the 2001 terrorist attacks.” The article reminds us of the fact that there were more than the dollar costs of these wars. According to the article, as of July 26, 2011 there were 1,568 US Military deaths in Afghanistan and 4,408 in Iraq. There have been tens of thousands of US casualties. Likewise there were many times this number of Afghan and Iraqi deaths. Estimates are that 655,000 Iraqis died in the first 40 months of the Iraq War. Millions of refugees in both countries are on the move as a result of the wars. The health care infrastructure in Iraq was damaged, much of it destroyed. Thousands of villages in Afghanistan and their environs have been destroyed. Of 222,620 US military personnel who returned between May, 2003, and April 2004, 42,506 (19%) reported mental health problems and 68,923 (31%) used mental health services over the first year after they returned home. The article continues, but I have made the point: the cost of our reaction to September 11 was in more than dollars.
As we honor the lives lost and damaged by the terrorist attacks, I hope that for a moment we can include those lost and damaged by our political decision to invade Iraq and to prosecute a war with Afghanistan that no one has been able to win after more than thirty years of fighting.
Once we understand the true cost of war, it seems too high a price.
The headline in today’s Washington Post was “Afghanistan to be ruled under sharia law, Taliban commander confirms.” No surprises here. What did we expect if not that?
As the coronavirus surges in the county where I live, people have become more isolated. If we don’t stay on media constantly, we are checking it often and the news about Afghanistan is grim.
NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel began yesterday on Twitter by tweeting, “At kabul airport, military side, more order than before. Evacuations picking up. Seeing more Afghan families being taken through. Planes taking off. Base well guarded.” That was reassuring news midst the media claims of “chaos” in the country. I am deeply skeptical about media claims.
Someone asserted, “the reason all these people are stuck in Afghanistan right now is because the visa program that was created to get them here was purposely shut down by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller.” Like most Americans, I don’t recall enough of the last administration to remember this. What I do remember is the national news media, for the most part, gave Trump a pass on any hard questioning. This is being resolved by President Biden saying he assumes responsibility for the mess. Exiting our long-standing war was never going to be easy. Four presidents made the problems we see, and all of them are culpable for where we are today.
I don’t want to write about Afghanistan, yet it is on everyone’s mind. There is no avoiding the conversations, so we have them. It is not what we want to be talking about, yet we are considering a lock down again, leaving home only to exercise nearby and to secure provisions. We are stuck talking about what dominates the national news media.
A few people in the public eye take some of the pressure from us. Heather Cox Richardson writes an almost daily newsletter which explains what’s going on in the news from a historian’s perspective. Justin King, who goes by Beau of the Fifth Column, reacts to the news on YouTube almost daily from the perspective of a “Southern journalist” and former military contractor. Octogenarian and former CBS news person Dan Rather publishes an almost daily newsletter in which he brings perspective to news events. None of these writers are perfect and I suppose each has their issues. The calm demeanor with which they put things in perspective, what they choose to get upset about, and what they publish goes a distance to bring perspective to a cyclone of news that is terrible more because the reporting is inept than because events in Afghanistan are concerning.
Afghanistan persists and it is difficult for Americans to get a grip on it. Partly this has to do with the bubble in which most of us live our lives. What seems clear is the news media plays an active role in creating a narrative about ending our war. Some of these narratives are not accurate. Many of them distort the view we get of what’s going on on the ground there. Some of them are plain false. It is difficult to understand the relevance of daily events. Not all daily events presented by the news media are relevant.
As Afghanistan turns again to sharia law it is assured Westerners will not like it. To the extent our culture penetrated Afghan society, it will create problems for local citizens with the Taliban in charge. What is our responsibility? Like it or not, we have to stop propping up values that are not shared by locals and as effectively as possible withdraw our military from the country. We also need to protect those who supported us over the last 20 years. From Iowa it appears President Joe Biden is doing that. It’s messy, yet we have to support him in this endeavor.
Jessica Reznicek, a 39-year-old environmental activist and Catholic Worker from Des Moines, Iowa, was sentenced in federal court June 30 to eight years in prison for her efforts to sabotage construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
In November 2016, Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, a former preschool teacher, set fire to heavy construction equipment at a pipeline worksite in Buena Vista County, Iowa.
Over the next several months, the women used oxyacetylene torches, tires and gasoline-soaked rags to burn equipment and damage pipeline valves along the line from Iowa to South Dakota. Their actions reportedly caused several million dollars’ worth of damage and delayed construction for weeks.
Catholic activist sentenced for Dakota Access Pipeline vandalism by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy at NCROnline.com. To read the rest of the article, click here.
Reznicek’s criminal penalties were substantial. In addition to jail time, U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger included $3,198,512.70 in restitution and three years’ post-prison supervised release after she plead guilty to a single count of damaging an energy facility, according to Common Dreams. It’s hard to argue her protest was intended to be non-violent. She used an oxyacetylene torch to damage the pipeline without knowing if fuel was in transit.
Reznicek is being prosecuted as a terrorist. Is that what she is? It seems unlikely the board of directors or billionaire Kelcey Warren of Energy Transfer Partners felt terrorized. They had reason to know there would be protests during construction, and likely built defense from them into their operating, overhead, and risk management budgets. For ETP, pipeline protests represented business as usual. In 2018 there was a “protect the protests” direct action in Dallas, Texas where demonstrators accused ETP at its corporate headquarters of attempting to silence them with lawsuits.
Like many in the Des Moines Catholic Worker community Reznicek has been willing to break the law in peaceful protest and has been arrested. In 2014, she was detained for nearly 48 hours and then deported after flying into Israel to support Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to the Des Moines Register. It seems obvious the Iowa Legislature had people like Reznicek in mind when they recently increased penalties for protesters.
I received the first of a series of emails from Reznicek during the Occupy Movement in 2011. She was an organizer for Occupy Iowa, Occupy Des Moines, Occupy the Caucus, Occupy Monsanto, Occupy the World Food Prize, and other direct action protests. She was arrested at some of these protests. It seemed like boilerplate organizing. Whatever cache the Occupy movement may have had, the work she did was straight forward with transparency. It was not a terrorist plot the way in 1995 Timothy McVeigh plotted to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It would be better for the peace and justice movement if Reznicek did not have to spend her time serving time and defending herself in this prominent case. It goes with the territory, though.
The answer is no. Jessica Reznicek is not a terrorist. Society needs more people like her to call attention to injustice. If there is a cost to her protests, she has been willing to accept responsibility. If asked, my neighbors would say justice was served with Reznicek’s prosecution and sentencing. As it plays out in the judicial system, some of us wonder who will step in to fill her shoes in the peace and justice movement. It may be someone, but it won’t be her for a while.
I walked in the Coralville Fourth of July parade with two different groups: the first half with the Johnson County Democrats, and the rest with The People’s Coalition for Social, Economic & Environmental Justice. It was the first post COVID-19 vaccine social event I attended with people I know.
Regulars from previous years were missing, notably the World War Two veterans from Veterans for Peace, but also many my age or older. My cohort is stepping back from parade walking, even though there was a trailer with straw bales for anyone who wanted to sit during the two-mile route. Ambient temperatures reached the high eighties, so it was probably best for septuagenarians and older to stay indoors.
The community was out in force. Coralville is diverse and much different from the rest of Iowa. I enjoy the informal socialization that is part of walking in a parade.
It is positive the Democrats are transitioning to younger people. State Senator Zach Wahls will turn 30 in a few days, and State Rep. Christina Bohannan just turned 50. State Rep. Dave Jacoby was the oldest of the state legislators present at 65. The contingent was made of about half elected officials and half local political activists. Our presence was less than it has been during general election years.
The People’s Coalition is comprised of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Veterans for Peace, PEACE Iowa, 100 Grannies for a Livable Future, and other peace and justice friends. A characteristic of our local activities is collaboration when working on projects. I’ve been with Physicians for Social Responsibility since I was on the board of health, served on the board of PEACE Iowa, and am a charter member of our Veterans for Peace chapter. It was good to catch up with old timers like myself.
I received many compliments for the t-shirt I wore. I bought it from J.C. Penney for pride month yet didn’t attend any public events at which to wear it. The messaging, “love is love,” was very popular at the parade. People said, “I like your t-shirt,” multiple dozens of times. I said thank you when I could and Happy 4th of July. Someone shouted out, “go gay people!” I’m not sure what the sincere statement of support meant but acknowledged it.
It’s hard to say if I will attend future parades. I made it through yesterday and it was enjoyable. As long as that’s the case there is a reason to participate.
The weekend has been a stream of emails from friends leading to ratification of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
On Oct. 24, Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), reported Honduras became the 50th state to ratify the treaty. This started a 90-day clock for the treaty to enter into force and become international law on Jan. 22, 2021.
Congratulations to everyone who worked to achieve this significant milestone.
What we have known all along is the nine nuclear states have scant interest in eliminating nuclear weapons, even if most of them give lip service to Article VI of the Non-proliferation Treaty which calls for it.
During the Obama administration activists fully understood the United States would not lead on abolition of nuclear weapons. ICAN, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and others took the cause to the international stage and yesterday set the world on a more definitive path by making nuclear weapons illegal. The hard work now begins.
There remains a growing danger of nuclear weapons proliferation. In an Oct. 24 statement, reacting to the 50th state ratification of the TPNW, IPPNW laid out the risks:
The treaty is especially needed in the face of the real and present danger of nuclear war climbing higher than ever. The hands of the Doomsday Clock stand further forward than they have ever been: 100 seconds to midnight. All nine nuclear-armed states are modernizing their arsenals with new, more accurate and “useable” weapons; their leaders making irresponsible explicit nuclear threats. The cold war is resurgent—hard won treaties reducing nuclear weapons numbers and types are being trashed, while nothing is being negotiated to replace them, let alone build on them. If the Trump administration allows the New START Treaty to expire, then from 5 February 2021, for the first time since 1972, there will be no treaty constraints on Russian and US nuclear weapons. Armed conflicts which could trigger nuclear escalation are increasing in a climate-stressed world. The rapidly evolving threat of cyberwarfare puts nuclear command and control in jeopardy from both nations and terrorist groups. Close to two thousand nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched within minutes of a leader’s fateful decision.
~ Tilman Ruff, Ira Helfand, Arun Mitra, and Daniel Bassey—Co-presidents of IPPNW
This milestone is a moment for celebration as the plan to eliminate nuclear weapons comes together as well as it has since the United Nations was established 75 years ago. Whatever uncertainties there are in our global civilization — the coronavirus pandemic, economic injustice, and armed conflict — today there is hope for a better world. That’s worth noting.
Doctors group releases startling analysis of the death and destruction inflicted upon Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan from the “War on Terror” in Body Count.
WASHINGTON, D.C.– On March 19—the 12th anniversary of the onset of our country’s ill-fated military intervention in Iraq—Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) released the latest edition of Body Count for North American distribution.
The report, authored by members and colleagues of the German affiliate of the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), is a comprehensive account of the vast and continuing human toll of the various “Wars on Terror” conducted in the name of the American people since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
This publication highlights the difficulties in defining outcomes as it compares evaluations of war deaths in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Even so, the numbers are horrific. The number of Iraqis killed during and since the 2003 U.S. invasion have been assessed at one million, which represents five percent of the total population of Iraq. This does not include deaths among the three million refugees subjected to privations.
Dr. Hans-C. von Sponeck, UN assistant secretary general and UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq (1998-2000) calls the report, “a powerful aide-mémoire of their legal and moral responsibility to hold perpetrators accountable.”
“With the U.S. and Canadian governments now poised to escalate its military involvement in Iraq and Syria to counter the real and exaggerated threat posed by ISIS, the lessons of Body Count can contribute to a necessary conversation regarding the extreme downsides of continued U.S./NATO militarism,” said Robert M. Gould, M.D., Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Hopefully it can help the North American public better understand the links between the devastation caused abroad and the escalating military budgets that lead to increasing detriment of our communities and social fabric at home.”
Body Count takes a clear and objective look at the various and often contradictory—reports of mortality in conflicts directed by the U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The result is a fuller picture of the devastation and lethality to civilian non-combatants throughout these regions. Unfortunately, these deaths have been effectively hidden from our collective consciousness and consciences by political leaders seeking to pursue military solutions to complex global issues with little, if any, accountability.
Body Count underscores the scope of human destruction that helps fuel widespread anger at the Coalition Forces. It similarly provides the context to understand the rise of brutal forces such as ISIS thriving in the wake of our leaders’ failures. After an estimated cost of at least three trillion dollars over a decade of warfare, we need to fully account for our responsibility and learn the appropriate lessons to avoid a tragic exacerbation of the explosive situation we face today.
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