Previous editorials

Current editorial

February 2021

December 2020
November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020

December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019

December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018

December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017

December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016 (supplement)

December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015

December supplement
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014

December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013

December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012

December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011

December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010

December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009

December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008

December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007

December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006

December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005

December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004

December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003

December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
July 200
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002

December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000

16 Ravensdene Park,
Belfast BT6 0DA,
Northern Ireland.
Tel: 028 9064 7106
Fax: 028 9064 7106

This is an archive of material
mainly from 1992 until December 2020.
Please go to our CURRENT WEBSITE
for material from January 2021 onwards.
What's new?

Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Number 207: March 2013

[Return to the related issue of Nonviolence News]

Being hit with a big poll

Sinn Féin has been pushing for a border poll in Northern Ireland. This cannot be because they believe they will win it – there was never much chance of that, even with changing demographics, but the bank bubble debacle in the Republic put paid to any current possibility. As an intelligent political party who knows they cannot win the outcome it can only be because they see they will gain political advantage through doing it, whether this is placating its more republican supporters, putting down a marker where they can show they are gaining in the future, discomforting unionists, outdoing the SDLP, or whatever.

However the divisiveness of such exercises is not helpful. Of course at some point in the future Northern Ireland may need to make further big decisions on its future, and a continued version of the status quo (the link with Britain while have devolved government on most issues) may continue for a very long time to come. The key decision is actually going to be with Northern Catholics who within a generation will be the majority in Northern Ireland if anything like current trends continue. Many Northern Catholics are reasonably happy with their lot and do not want to risk that for a united Ireland, even if membership of the EU and Irish-British cooperation means that which flag flies is no longer of the same significance as it once was (though try telling that to Northern flag protesters and those who support their aim if not their means, a significant proportion of the Protestant community).

A recent BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight poll showed voting could be 65% for continuing as part of the UK and only 17% for a united Ireland at this stage. Those backing staying in the UK include 3% more Catholics than those who favoured a united Ireland, 23% of Sinn Féin voters, and just over half of SDLP voters. Of course there are many caveats about these figures but it does show that there is absolutely no prospect of a border poll changing anything at the moment.

We continually emphasise that democracy has to be about more than a majority making the decisions. The Good Friday Agreement recognised that in its own idiosyncratic way. And this is why we always say that wise unionists, instead of looking askance at human rights issues, would – having an eye to demographic trends – become converts to the maximum possible human rights protection for both the present and especially, from their point of view, for the future.

There is the issue of what questions are put to people to decide on, and how they decide. The old yes/no tribal political divisions are not helpful to taking Northern Ireland forward. People are entitled to identify as British, Irish, Northern Irish, Polish in Northern Ireland, whatever, and have their identity respected, but we have to find ways for people to work together, to come together for the good of all, without reverting to divide-and-rule politics. There are those who argue that Sinn Féin deliberately fomented the flags issue to discomfort unionists, by pushing the vote at Belfast City Hall but this may be a conspiracy theory too far, and attributing greater capacity for Machiavellian strategy to that party than they possess. But attributing destructive intent in the matter to the Alliance Party, as many unionists have done, is a bit like accusing your favourite aunt who has always been generous on your birthday of attempting to murder you in your bed.

Questions on the future of Northern Ireland should only be decided by consensus voting (as with the Modified Borda Count). Even then this should be used wisely and sparingly. There may well be less unionists willing to engage in the flags protest, basically an unwinnable issue (though it is only the presenting issue), than there might have been years ago. But discomforting any section of the population, intentional or not, may gain some side short term political advantage however in the long term leaves all sides worse off because of political instability, violence, and fear. And then rationality can go out the window. At this point we may need to reiterate the point made in a previous issue that it was the established unionist political parties who first raised temperatures on the flags issue with their ill-considered leaflets attacking Alliance.

The immediate question for Northern Ireland should be how to move beyond the Good Friday Agreement to a better, more decisive form of democracy while retaining the maximum cross-community inclusivity. The fact is that decision making has been poor on social and economic matters. There is no policy on Cohesion, Sharing and Integration. The inclusivity of the Executive system means that ‘opposition’ can take strange and incoherent forms. We are not saying that the system should become the common adversarial western democratic model but that the proof of the pudding has not led to very good eating on bread and butter, or indeed other, issues to date. This question should be the subject of an inclusive debate and not a border poll whose result we know in advance and whose effect would be more division.

The long term future of Northern Ireland needs to be the subject of a discussion which is not marked by strident claims and counter-claims from republican and loyalist advocates. At the moment the capacity for this is limited. Other things need to happen first. Maybe, with a tremendous amount of hard work and a wind blowing in the right direction then meaningful talks can come in a generation or so. But the reality is that, even with a lot of hard work, if the wind of sectarianism and narrow division continues then even this target may be blown off course.

The Syrian disaster

The death toll in Syria is acknowledged to be over 70,000 and rising (including a couple of men from Ireland who have died fighting for the rebels). There are hundreds of thousands of refugees abroad and more hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people – refugees in all but name, as well as millions of people in need of support. The rebels are slowly gaining ground, literally and figuratively, but the Assad regime may still have a lot of punch left, and, when it comes to supporters of a regime who have everything to lose (not least the lives of other people subservient to them) then the extent of violent tragedies can be overwhelming. Much of the country’s infrastructure is being destroyed through war or looting, the latter not being surprising in a desperate situation where people have to survive somehow.

Where did it all go wrong? And when the rebels of various shades do eventually win – as they will – what will be the outcome for a shattered country? How long will it take to recover? Who will be in control? The answer to this last question is uncertain but we know from other situations that strife between different factions will take post-Assad Syria to the brink, if not over the brink, of further violence and conflict.

Syria is undoubtedly the worst disaster arising from the ‘Arab Spring’. The primary fault may lie with the Assad regime itself in its repression and refusal to change and introduce necessary reforms. But the spur to violent retaliation to the regime’s violence came not just the regime’s repression but from MENA countries who provided military backing to the rebels and also from the different stances of outside powers – ‘the West’ backing the rebels even if not providing weapons directly as yet, and Russia providing direct military support to the regime. While it may be possible or arguable to talk about the reactionary violence of an ancien regime and revolutionary violence of forces who are working to overthrow said regime, in this kind of situation it can quickly merge into one bloodbath, and ‘the liberators’ engage in human rights abuses as well.

Dictators and oligarchs know how to deal with violence. Military confrontation with a powerful force which has lots of weaponry at its disposal, and people trained in using it, is a recipe for a bloodbath. We cannot blame Syrian people who decided to pick up weapons and fight against the regime. But we can question whether the path of military resistance to a powerful military force was a wise move. Continued nonviolent resistance would not have been easy, would have also required sacrifices, and it might not have had a swift outcome either. But we would argue strongly that nonviolence in the long term would have been more effective in introducing real change, democratic or pro-democratic structures, and human rights, and less destructive of people’s long-term wellbeing. There are still nonviolent initiatives even in the current war.

Let us hope and pray that out of the bloodbath that is Syria today the future will hold hope for the people who today are suffering so much. And there should be no praise to the various powers that were prepared to support the faction or factions that they saw would support their political position and give them most strategic advantage.

- - - -


Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Our Default Position

Why with our inventiveness and organising abilities have we neglected to heal our environment and ceased to do it harm? Why has our health and safety conscious society not turned away from the path of almost certain environmental and economic apocalypse?

It is now widely accepted that global warming is a human created condition which is having a profoundly negative impact on the lives of people in both the rich and poor world. Yet governments lack the resolve to agree to a meaningful international agreement that would see a sharp decline in the release of global warming gasses. There are a host of other environmental problems, such as loss of biodiversity and the scarcity of fresh water whose cause and consequences are common knowledge and yet our personal response and that of governments is to avoid the issue. It is as if we experience environmental degradation as in a dream. We know about it, wish it were not happening, but can’t mobilise ourselves to do anything about it. This dream-like condition is our default position.

For most of our history our survival has depended on parochial, short-term thinking. When our life-span was approximately 35-years we focused on the next hunt, harvesting the next bounty of fruit, nuts and other edibles. Our energy and ingenuity was devoted to keeping warm, safe and fed in the present which meant that consideration of consequences and long-term planning were not part of how we organised our lives. Survival was our concern not the welfare of future generations.

The advent of agriculture and the subsequent birth of cities had a profound impact on our existential view of our place in nature and we came to appreciate the importance of planning and preparation which has brought enormous benefits. Yet, the basis of our economic and political system is still rooted in the default position of our species, which is immediacy. The past 250-years of carbon fuelled industrialization, which ignores social and environmental costs, are a testimony to this. The prayer for economic growth made by politicians, prelates and pundits speaks of the fact that the survival strategies that saw us through 200,000 year of existence dominate our thinking.

Meeting the basic needs of the 7 billion plus people on earth, projected to rise to 9 billion in less than 40 years, requires a revolutionary change in our emotional and psychological template. Although we will always be parochial we need to embrace holism and recognise the threads that connect us to the environmental, political, economic and social circumstances of people all over the world. The food in our kitchens and our technological devices confirm the reality of our interdependencies.

Our short-term mindset is a survival liability. We cannot continue to sacrifice the long-term health of the biosphere for short-term parochial gains. Take the clear-felling of rainforests as an example. Their destruction brings a measure of wealth to all involved and is justified on these grounds. The loss of forest has, however, wider and long-term implications. It means the loss of unknown bio-riches that could be used in medicine, agriculture and industry. The financial wealth generated would benefit the inhabitants of the forests, the countries where the forests are, and through medicinal innovations people all over the world.

Destroying the forests means the loss of carbon sink holes, the disruption of local and cross-country weather patterns and the loss of a home and way of life to the people who live in the forests. Meteorologists have established a connection to the ever shrinking Amazonian rainforest and persistent widespread drought in the United States. The political consequences of this is that a shortage of basic food, such as grains, leads to a rise in food prices, which leads to social unrest which can morph into civil war. There is also the view that rainforests, like all life forms, have intrinsic value and therefore should not be wantonly destroyed.

Holistic thinking and the ecology of our interdependencies needs to be taught at all levels of society. If holism came to dominate our thinking and played a pivotal role in our decision making then we would have taken a significant step towards living in a manner our planet can sustain. It might also lead to a sense of identity free from arrogance, and in turn a less fractious and more just and prosperous society.

- - - - - -


Rob Fairmichael attended the Genderpeace conference – ‘unfolding powerful stories about gender and peace’ – organised by the MOST programme of Mediation Northern Ireland (MNI) in Belfast in February -

This day had four people sharing stories and analysis of their subject area under the theme. As someone who feels that any definition of ‘peace’ is meaningless without tackling a myriad of gender issues, most prominently male violence and control, I was looking forward to hearing the speakers and participating in the day (almost half the time was in small group discussions on each speaker). I was not disappointed.

This was not the culmination of work by MNI in this area, some meetings fed into it, and the content of the day could all be well justified under the general conference title. However I feel on reflection that one thing was lacking; this was a working definition of ‘gendered peace’ which would pull together the different aspects covered in the conference. So here goes: “Gendered peace is where people of all genders and sexual orientations are allowed and empowered to be themselves, interact with others like any citizen, and be free of violence and exploitative behaviour either as perpetrators or victims.” I’d be happy to have a better definition. We’re a long, long way from having this as our default situation.

Forty-five people gathered in Belfast for the Genderpeace day conference. First up to speak was Kellie Turtle of the Belfast Feminist Network. She fitted a jigsaw of stories around the different categories of things to consider when inviting or facilitating women’s participation in public life in a very broad sense. The ‘Things to consider’ were well illustrated by stories of women. The ten things are:

  1. She might be too busy caring.
  2. She might not be used to being heard.
  3. You might not be used to hearing her.
  4. She might be too used to hating herself.
  5. She might be carrying the trauma of violence.
  6. She might think her face is more important than her voice.
  7. Poverty might mean that her world is very small.
  8. She might not have a guide for the path.
  9. You might think she’s too old.
  10. You might think she’s too young.

The stories illustrating these points were many and varied. In No.1, there was the woman whose partner didn’t come in time to look after the children and when he did he was drunk; she subsequently pretended she had forgotten about the meeting in question she was due to attend. In No. 5 a woman who has been raped comes to learn, eventually that ‘Rapists cause rape’, not her. In No.6, challenging a children’s beauty contest causes a reaction. In questions, Kellie dealt with the ‘women as natural peacemakers’ angle and, while dispatching it, did say women bring a different and valuable perspective to the table.

Next up to speak was Dave Magee who gave reflections on peacemaking and Loyalist masculinities. It was interesting to hear from him that he feels twenty years ago the flags issue would have had a much more violent reaction, that things have moved on to a fair degree. Dave defined patriarchal masculinity as the will to dominate power relationships with women and other men. Low class white males do not have a ‘story’ that can make their lives intelligible. Thus there is the appeal of paramilitarism which can seemingly give men a ‘story’ in a situation of poverty, poor education and de-industrialisation (no jobs). But actually, as he detailed, the experience of men in paramilitarism can lead to major problems such as an inability of sleep and even, in some cases, men taking their own lives.

A Zimbabwean man in the discussion group I was in came on to the topic of nonviolence, which would also be an interest and commitment of Dave Magee. He said that Johan Galtung discovered at the time of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by ‘Rhodesian’ whites under Ian Smith in 1965, that the one thing the white government feared was women and children on the streets. The government had the guns and forces, they felt, to tackle any violent guerrilla activity. But the guerrillas, paradoxically, felt that they had to take up weapons because they did not want to be like women. This is a fascinating story about gender, violence and nonviolence, and one that might not have been as starkly put in the Northern Ireland Troubles but which would mirror it considerably.

Dave Magee challenged the accepted wisdom that, when it came to paramilitaries in prison, loyalists came out with muscles and republicans came out with degrees; he indicated that this impression might have come about through republican prisoners going into politics and being more visible. Concerning recent flags protests, he analysed the different tendencies involved but that soon the only ones left were anti-Good Friday Agreement/anti-powersharing loyalists and dissidents in loyalism and the UVF.

Rebecca Dudley spoke about trafficking, domestic violence and violence against women. She began with the story of a 22 year old Chinese woman’s body being found in the boot of a car in Belfast in 2004; Qu Mei Na was her name although it took dental records to establish that. It is likely that she had been trafficked for prostitution (she had been in Dublin) and was killed when she tried to escape though her killer, who presented himself as her boyfriend, tried to defend himself at trial by saying he killed her through righteous anger when he discovered she was a prostitute. He was found guilty of murder.

Rebecca said that the public perception of victims having given their consent, in some way, was the largest reason for tolerance of violence against women. She began research into trafficking following Qu Mei Na’s death. When people ask ‘what can we do?’, she said that working on, and dealing with domestic violence is the answer; patterns of coercive control of women take many forms and trafficking is one. But trafficking is not going to be as prevalent as domestic abuse, and the latter is something which any church or group can work on.

She made four suggestions for gender conscious practices of peace-making:

  1. Acknowledge the power of community – get together with others.
  2. Challenge walls, starting with the ones in your head. Domestic violence is a symptom of power imbalance. There is a need to challenge the false dichotomy between ’public’ and ‘private’.
  3. Equip yourself to use more tools for peace-mailing, including an analysis of power.
  4. Acknowledge our share of the destructive conflicts of society – e.g. through minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo in our mobile phones. This is also about avoiding a holier than thou attitude (she didn’t use that term) but did speak about ‘taking the moral low ground’.

Finally, Cara McCann spoke about some of the experiences and journeys of lesbian and bisexual women. She spoke of the many different patterns of families and that there is no such thing as ‘a lesbian family’ though there are ‘lesbian families’. Lesbian couples who have children may have them through a previous heterosexual relationship, through conception via a donor, through fostering, or even a gay man and gay woman may come together to have a child with one having the child during the week and the other at weekends. Cara also challenged the ‘biological’ definition of motherhood.

She herself experienced important aspects of support and normality (not her words, I am summarising) in her local community. But a doctor dealing with a pregnant woman may assume that the ‘husband’ is missing when there is no man present, but another woman is there. The pressures that exist, however, can lead to all sorts of problems including breakdown of relationships with children, alcohol abuse, mental health problems, isolation and so on; she told one woman’s story who had all these issues in her life.

The day was quite a diverse range through a variety of aspects of gender and peace. I leave you as the reader to judge whether my definition of ‘gendered peace’ near the start holds up. Mediation Northern Ireland will be taking these issues further, I am pleased to say.

The ‘stories’ from the day will be on the MNI website in due course. A couple of photos appear on the INNATE photo site

The day dealt with four takes on particular areas of gender and peace. For me, and I speak as a man, a key to various logjams is redefining masculinity, and I want to explore that here. Dave Magee’s definition of patriarchal masculinity (above) is about domination. Patriarchy exists in the concrete actions of men, and the thought patterns which lead to them. Changing requires a major shift in culture as a whole, and in many areas of life, each of which requires work and dedication.

The rise of feminism in the modern era has made things different for women; legislation, expectations and reality have changed in many ways. And in other ways they haven’t. It can be argued that Kellie Turtle’s No.6, “She might think her face is more important than her voice”, has in the modern era been redefined as “She may think her face or other parts of her body are more important than her voice.” The sexualisation of pre-pubescent childhood (and teenage years) has been one worrying factor; this may be partly commercially driven and be reprehensible in many ways but it can also have a lasting effect in relation to the quoted No.6. So there are steps forward and steps back, and the changing waters get very muddy indeed.

If 90% of physical violence (from interpersonal violence through to warfare) is carried out by men – and I take this figure as a fairly arbitrary ‘guesstimate’ – then changing the concept of masculinity is key to building a peaceful future. Yes, of course there is a problem with female violence, including psychological violence or women rooting for ‘their’ male warriors, and increasingly armies are co-opting women, but violence is predominantly a masculine phenomenon.

If sisters have done it for themselves through the feminist movement and the changes which have come about as a result, what are men going to do? Play violent video games and get drunk? Obviously the last question is a facetious stereotype but it tries to ask the question of where men are ‘going’. If some loyalist violence and intransigence in Northern Ireland comes from loss of dominance, do men who perceive themselves to have lost dominance simply become more intransigent, more violent? That is a possibility for some, and despite most loyalists and unionists in Northern Ireland moving or having moved on, many men may feel they have nowhere to go.

There is a carrot for men. On a course for men with the Women Peacemakers Program in the Netherlands, we did a brainstorm with a Dutch men’s group on the work done by men active on the subject of gender. One list was ‘Things we do for women’ and another was ‘Things we do for ourselves’. For me the most important thing in the first list is justice. In the second comes self respect, positive identity, shared burdens, mental wellbeing, better relationships with women (in general and in our intimate relationships) and so on.

I feel we need to build on the concept of the carrot. Men have not, in general, changed in the way that women have over the last fifty or so years. Masculinity has not been redefined in ways that femininity has (again this is a generalisation). Not to do so condemns men to be victims of their own outdated and often violent identity. This is obviously a major task and one that will take many years to accomplish.

A woman participant in the MOST discussion series leading up to the Genderpeace conference used the phrase about men (needing to) “overcome their masculinity”. How wonderful it would be if we men did not need to ‘overcome our masculinity’ because our masculinity chimed with feminist views of femininity and womanhood, and gave us a positive image and goal. Forward to a positive masculinity! Men of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your patriarchal chains, and everything to gain.

Iraq War 10th Anniversary

A dissenting voice

Ann Wright was a career soldier and then diplomat for the USA but the Iraq War of 2003 pushed her to resign her position. On a visit to Ireland during February at the invitation of PANA and IAWM, she travelled to various parts of the country, spoke at a public meeting in Dublin, and at a press conference in Belfast. What follows is an edited extract from what she said at the Belfast press conference. - - - -

“Having been first in the military for 29 years, retiring as a colonel, and then going into the State Department, as a US diplomat, I was in the State Department for 16 years serving in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kurdistan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia. I helped reopen the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2001, and then was in Mongolia when all the build up, and propaganda about why the United States and anyone else they could drag along should invade and occupy Iraq. It just didn’t make sense to me at all. There had been sanctions, there were no fly zones, there were 400,000 US aircraft sorties taking out virtually every military installation in the country.

All of these thoughts came out first in a dissent cable that I sent to Colin Powell [as Secretary of State – Ed]. In the US State Department there is a mechanism where you can go around the whole chain of command and go from your little desk in Mongolia all the way to Colin Powell’s desk in one move. So I wrote my dissent cable which spelt out all of my concerns. Of course the bureaucracy answers those, he doesn’t answer them himself, and although you are supposed to be free of intimidation or retaliation by using this channel you know that somebody is going to have to answer it and they have friends all along the line of your chain of command. So you use it at your own peril.

When the response came back, which was just a paltry rationale of what the Bush administration was using in public about Weapons of Mass Destruction, I thought, you haven’t answered my questions. So I ended up resigning in March 2003, I was the third of three US Federal employees that resigned. We were all in the State Department but we didn’t know each other. We each individually made our decision.

If you look at my career, I had been part of the problem for forty years, I had been a part of the US government. While within the system I had disagreed very strongly on some issues, but never publicly and I had never resigned over any of the incredible issues where people were taking to the streets, protesting in the United States and all over the world, about American policies in Vietnam, the Central American wars, and so on, the whole litany of things the US had been involved in. I found other places that I could work within the system that I didn’t feel like I was contributing to the policies I didn’t agree with, but I didn’t feel I should resign.

That is one of the weaknesses in most government systems, it doesn’t really matter who is in power, for the bureaucrats of the system all the government wants is loyalty, they don’t want dissent, they don’t want people challenging their political policies, certainly not in a public way. Even privately it really is your obligation as a government employee to give whoever the people have elected your best considered view as a professional who has been looking at these subjects for a long period of time, and the good, the bad and the ugly of their proposals.

But, that said, some administrations are pretty ruthless, letting people know they don’t want any dissent; they, the politicians know what needs to be done and don’t bother us with the minutiae of the possible negative consequences. And that is exactly the way the Bush administration was. They didn’t want to hear any dissent at all. So I finally did dissent on something in a public way within the system. ....

...I will say I was distraught at the time my boss, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, during the Clinton administration, when she came out and said the sanctions the US had on Iraq during the 1990s were totally appropriate, and the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi kids due to sanctions, that that was an acceptable loss. That was stunning but it was stunning for most people in the State Department to hear that, that outrageous comment. But if we had been that outraged we should have been bucking the system, that would have been another perfect time for a resignation, but I didn’t do it. ....

...Now that I am with a lot of people who have been challenging US foreign policies all their lives it really brings home all the things people have been doing over the years, to challenge these horrific, horrific things and I feel a bit badly that it took me so long to resign.

Some of the young people in the US military, and the British military, and other militaries, saw quite clearly what was going on, who volunteered for the military forces but then got involved in these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and said, wait a minute, you’re lying to us, what we are doing here is not at all what you, the government, have been telling us and I’m not going to be included, and you just go ahead and if you can find me, put me in jail, if you can’t find me I get away for a while, to go AWOL from the military. I know a lot of these young men and women from the US military and I admire them so very much. I resigned and got out but there were no consequences to me other than giving up a career. These are men and women in the military who say “I’m not going to do this any more”, there are major consequences. ....

Organisations like Veterans for Peace, and the Iraq Veterans Against the War, and if you go back four decades the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, are really important to provide a landing pad for men and women who are now challenging government policies, and particularly those who have gone AWOL and need support, whether they are in the United States or wherever they have gone.

After I resigned it took me some time to get some contacts in the peace communities. I just resigned and didn’t know anybody in the peace community. That wasn’t really my portfolio as a government employee. I didn’t know anybody who was in a peace group. It took about a year and it was Veterans for Peace that I first started working with and that was because of a big display that one Veterans for Peace chapter had in southern California. One Sunday a month they put crosses out on the beach to commemorate the number of Iraqi and American citizens killed. I was visiting a friend there and went down to the beach and there was this huge display, it was mammoth. I walked over and started talking to them and when I said my background in the military and that I had resigned over the Iraq war, they said they had to get me involved. .....

[Asked about how official US international policies could change] It’s a huge problem and when you have administrations which are hell bent to go to war, like the Bush administration was, there is nothing that would have derailed them, it appears to me. The largest protest marches throughout the world didn’t mean anything to them. Internal dissent within the government didn’t have any effect. We’re trying to develop a culture where citizenry evaluate and if they do something outside of what you think they were elected to do to put enormous pressure on them to get them to stop it. That’s the great challenge. Even with Obama. With the Bush administration we had virtually no success until eventually the excesses of it started coming out, and when you started having the torture of Abu Ghraib. It wasn’t because of us, it was because of a soldier at Abu Ghraib who saw the photographs of what was happening in one wing of the prison; and that young man, Joe Darby, was brave enough to get the photos to the investigative division of the military, and some whistleblower sent them over to Sixty Minutes and all of a sudden all hell broke loose about the torture. And that was when it really started coming out.

The encouragement of whistleblowers is an important part of our work. Other important parts include places where we see we can get an avenue in, on a policy that you want stopped, it’s critical that we exploit them. But how from the beginning we get a president to understand that it is not in his best interests to pursue these policies, that’s something we really haven’t been able to figure out. Barack Obama uses assassin drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia and is the only president that I know of who picks out every week who is going to live and die in Pakistan, in particular, by name. ..........

I think it is very, very important that we hold the leaders of these countries accountable who perpetrated war on Iraq. Tragically our work in the United States to hold the Bush administration accountable has led nowhere. We haven’t been able to find one prosecutor in all the United States. European countries however have been very good, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, have all had various law suits against senior officials of the US government. Those senior officials are unable to travel, they didn’t want to take the risk, Dick Cheney and George Bush, because they may get arrested. We now have 23 CIA agents in Italy who have been convicted in abstentia for their role in kidnapping in Italy who were kept in secret prisons for torture, and the former head of the Italian CIA was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for his role in extraordinary rendition. Holding people accountable is extremely important. .......

If you look at the memoirs of all these war criminals, George Bush in his memoirs talks about Cindy Sheehan and Camp Casey out at his ranch in Texas. Of course he is still pretty much calling her a crazy woman. We had 16,000 people that were out there, and worldwide publicity and it did have a dramatic effect on a lot of people. Bush talks about a national intelligence estimate that was written by professionals about the Iranian nuclear programme. The intelligence community knew that the political administration would try to squash their honest assessment that the Iranians had no nuclear weapons programme. So they put out an executive summary as an unclassified document to pre-empt it being hidden by the politicians. George Bush in his book says that with that estimate, in public, he could not go against it and authorise an attack on Iran.

There is the public nature of actions, and getting as much publicity as we can, in whatever crazy format, whether it is standing in Congress to yell at someone who should not be the director of the CIA. Some people say we are undercutting our credibility but the reason I do it is because I think it does have an effect. We were out in Austin, Texas and there is the LBJ, Lyndon Johnson, Presidential Library at the University of Texas in Austin. So we thought we’d go to see what LBJ had to say about the Vietnam war.

Well, to their credit, the librarians had put up a huge display on the Vietnam war. The section on protests was startling. They had the same lines, posters, as we have used to protest the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And there was one mural that had the words of Johnson’s wife, Ladybird Johnson, and it said that Lyndon would have a very difficult time some nights because all the people would be outside the White House, yelling in the middle of the night, ‘Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?’ They had written this on the panel of the presidential library, that that was so important to the wife of the president. So you never know when any of these things are going to touch the heartstrings, finally, of some of these people with iron hearts. “

- For a couple of photos, see here

- See also Dissent – Voices of Conscience – Government insiders speak out against the war in Iraq by Colonel (Ret.) Ann Wright and Susan Dixon, foreword by Daniel Ellsberg. Koa Books, 2008, ISBN 978 0 9773338 4 4.


Copyright INNATE 2021