Friday, December 28, 2012

Opening the Aperture: Targeting the Holy Innocents

“Herod is going to search for the child and destroy him…”
Mathew 2:13
“I’m looking for children with potential hostile intent…”
Lt Col Marion Carrington

It is Christmas time 2012. It is that time of the year when we celebrate the birth of a particular child in manger and lift up children everywhere. However, in the Catholic and Anglican calendar December 28 is also the Feast of the Holy Innocents or Feast of the Martyrs. The church commemorates this day as a way to remember the children Herod ordered murdered because they were a threat to his throne, his imperial power. He ordered his troops to kill every male child under two years old thus the slaughter of the innocents.  Though we name and some remember this Feast Day, the US Catholic bishops’ Conference omits verses 16-18 from Mathew’s gospel describing the massacre. Too bloody?  Too much like the present killing or targeting of children? Cultures of death can never stand cultures of life?

In April of this year at the Woodrow Wilson Center John Brennan made the case for a change in our counterterrorism policy from ‘imminent threat to ‘significant threat’ which essentially means we can go after or target anyone who we think might do something against the US interests.  The aperture for the use of lethal force widened.
In his speech in Oslo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize he said, “Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conflict. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard-bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength.”
In early December Lt. Col Marion Carrington told the Marine Corp Times that children as well as “military-age males” had been identified as potential threats because they were being used by the Taliban to assist in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. “It opens our aperture” said Carrington, to “looking for children with potential hostile intent.”
The aperture has indeed been opened even further, 178 children were killed by drone strikes this year. All significant threats?  All children with potential hostile intentions?
“Herod is going to search for the child and destroy him.” We are going to search for the child and blow him or her up. Are we prepared to say that such violence visited upon these children this year is somehow the price of freedom we are fighting for? Is this the new standard that America wants to put forward to the world? Is this not the old standard, killing children because they are a potential threat to established power?  Are we any different from our terrorist enemies who use children to kill if we target children who might have hostile intent?
If the prince of peace has really come and the birth of Christ is a proclamation that God’s peace and justice will be victorious then we need to begin to act like it were so, we need to begin to expose the false charges of threats---imminent or significant and begin to unmask militarism for what it is. We need to face our own Herods and demand that this aperture be closed.
One way is to refuse the move from imminent to significant threat that allows for lethal force against children. The other way is to call on the US House of Representatives to debate and pass Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s bill that calls for more transparency regarding U.S. drone strike policy.
Watch’s new video below to learn about the children who have died. The video names some of the children who have died in these strikes and the American policies that have been created to cover up these civilian casualties:

Friday, December 14, 2012

How Communities Are Using the Play "The Predator" to Question Drone Warfare

by Joe Scarry

"The Predator" is a play by Jack Gilroy that is being used by groups around the country to explore issues related to drone warfare and the larger questions of the militarization of our society.

The play revolves around a college student and some questions she is beginning to raise about her country's conduct in the world, and what her own response should be. The other characters in the play are: the student's Air Force officer mother, a U.S. senator, and an antiwar activist.

"As we move away from boots on the ground
and pilots in the air, drones will overtake
all forms of military spending.
We’re into a new era of defense."
Rosalie Reigle as Senator Barbara Lewis
in The Predator, March 2013 in Chicago.
Questioning War

Fundamentally, "The Predator" challenges us to question war and what we think about war.

Do we have a true appreciation of war? Have we really thought about the "defense" activities of our own government?

As an antiwar activist character in the play says, "The truth is that we have a Department of War, not Defense," and the "enemy" is "the indigenous people of any region where we decide we have interests." We are asked to think about "the indoctrination of home, school, media and government." The college student explains that she has come to realize, "I’d been duped."

Going a step deeper, the play asks:
  • What do we think about militarization of schools?
  • What do we think about having an economy that benefits from militarization?
The play turns on the question of whether the student will pursue Peace Studies or participate in ROTC. (Or, as the it's-all-good Senator suggests, do both!)

And, remembering perhaps that our morality is seldom far from our pocketbooks, the Senator suggests, "As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have an opportunity to bring this work to my good people of Syracuse and other regions of New York. There is a huge growth of industries engaged in the design, production, and testing of unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles. . . . Our economy may be in trouble but the drone industry is hot." In contrast to the views of the Senator, the antiwar activist's suggestion that we "develop technology that is life-giving, not death-giving" feels like the sun coming out from behind a dark cloud.

And then there is the specific problem of those "unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles," or drones, The play takes its name from the "Predator" drone. Is there something in particular about drones that we need to pay special attention to? Consider the contrast between two descriptions of civilians killed by drones -- "collateral damage":
"In our attempt to destroy evil, accidents can occur."

"Their bodies, carbonized, were fully burned. They could only be identified by their legs and arms. One body was still on fire when we got there."
The play is all about the detachment from the consequences of violence that drone warfare epitomizes.

Personal Decisions

How should a person define "duty" and "responsibility"? The mother in the play is certain that she is pursuing a life of duty and responsibility by being a drone operator. "My whole life has been devoted to keeping the peace," she says, and finds solace in the notion that, "For me, I shall do my duty and have faith that my God and my country are ordering me to do the right thing." However, she faces the devestation of hearing her daughter say, "I can’t support your mission any longer," and of hearing the antiwar activist say of U.S. casualities, "They died in vain."

Moreover, the play poses the question: what should we think when we see people engaged in acts of dissent? As the Air Force officer mom confesses, "When some peaceniks did a die-in at the Creech Air Force base back in 2009, I never would have guessed my own daughter would have taken their side."

The Faith Connection

The playwright is particularly interested in the impact of faith traditions -- particularly the Roman Catholic Church -- on views of nation, society, and war.

Specifically, the play challenges us with the question: What do we think about "Just War" Theory? In the introduction to the play, Gilroy says, "This play hopes to quicken the moral juices of Jesuit students who have been taught it’s okay to go to war and kill as long as you have good reasons provided by your country’s leadership." As the antiwar activist says near the end of the play, "No war is just."

More broadly, the play poses the question: does our faith come to our aid when it is time to respond to the problems of war and violence? Perhaps the most eerie testimony comes from the Air Force mother: "When Cain killed Abel, the arms race began. Making weapons is part of our nature, because self-preservation is the rule."

Learn more about how people are challenging the myth of "just war" on the World Beyond War website.

"The Predator" is available for free download on the Pax Christi website.

Read more about the playwright, Jack Gilroy, and the story of his work against drones in Drones and Friends of Franz Jagerstatter.

Recent performances of "The Predator":
Chapel Hill, NC: Elders for Peace Stage "The Predator"

Columbus, GA: School of the Americas Watch - Ann Wright, the first US diplomat to resign her job when the war on Iraq began, took the role of the activist in The Predator when it was presented at the Columbus Convention Center, on November 17th, 2012, just a short distance away from the new drone operation at Ft. Benning.

Wittenbeg, OH: Wittenberg to Perform Gilroy's "The Predator" September 16

Washington, DC: during the November, 2011, Ignatian Family Teach In at Georgetown University

Syracuse, NY: Pebble Hill Presbyterian Church

Syracuse, NY: St Lucy's Church - a performance in which Kathy Kelly took a reading role, when she was in town facing charges for an anti-drones action at the Syracuse drone base

Syracuse, NY: part of a Spring, 2012, workshop in a peace studies conference at Syracuse University

Related posts

In Chicago on Good Friday, 2013 (March 29), a cast consisting of long-time Chicago antiwar activists was joined by a NY playwright (and defendant in actions against US drone bases), Jack Gilroy, for one of the events kicking off a month-long campaign of anti-drones events across the country: a performance of Gilroy's play, The Predator.

(See "The Predator" in Chicago - Good Friday, 2013 - "A Passion Play for the Drones Era")

In the fall of 2007, a friend, Bernie Survil of Greensburg, PA, and a Catholic priest who worked for decades among the poor of Central America, called to say that he was going to Linz, Austria for the beatification of the Austrian Catholic peasant, Franz Jagerstatter, guillotined during the Third Reich for his refusal to bear arms for Hitler. Would I please go along for this momentous occasion?

(See Drones and Friends of Franz Jagerstatter )

My trial will be one of the first jury trials for this so called ‘crime’ of speaking out against killer drones. If convicted, I was told by the Judge to expect to be sentenced to the Jamesville Penitentiary for one year . . . .

(See You're Gonna Put This Guy in Prison? Really?? )

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Drones and Friends of Franz Jagerstatter

[Jack Gilroy previously wrote a two-part meditation on the experience of Irish-Americans and War, including the role of Catholic education in attitudes toward war, and the part played by Irish-Americans in resisting drone warfare and other violence, and in perpetuating it. Here he explores how socially conscious Roman Catholics relate to the tradition of war resistance within the Church, and how that is leading some of them toward anti-drone activism.]

by Jack Gilroy

In the fall of 2007, a friend, Bernie Survil of Greensburg, PA, and a Catholic priest who worked for decades among the poor of Central America, called to say that he was going to Linz, Austria for the beatification of the Austrian Catholic peasant, Franz Jagerstatter, guillotined during the Third Reich for his refusal to bear arms for Hitler. Would I please go along for this momentous occasion?

Four of us traveled together to Austria. All of us were practicing Catholics: two priests, one former priest, and myself, a lay Catholic. We were pleasantly dismayed, maybe shocked, that the Catholic Church, an institution that for almost 1700 years partnered with militaries around the world and accepted and sometimes encouraged Catholics to take up arms and fight for their fatherland, would bestow such an honor upon a man who steadfastly refused to fight! This has been especially true in Germany, Austria, Britain, Australia/New Zealand and the United States.

We knew that Catholics were unlike peace church members who refused to train to kill. Catholics were those who often led the charge to prove their love of country by dying for their country. And now, the Vatican is putting one man who refused to render to Caesar as a candidate for possible sainthood? Amazing!

A small group of members of Pax Christi, an association that started in Europe after World War II to focus on ending war, met in a classroom of Johann Kepler University in Linz. The Americans among the group decided to bring back to the United States the spirit of courage and conscience that Franz Jagerstatter displayed in his refusal to fight for the Nazis.


On the way home from the ceremony in Linz (and a visit to the village where Franziska Jagerstatter, the widow of Franz, still lives), John Dear SJ, who had previously written about Franz Jagerstatter, penned a fine piece for National Catholic Reporter: "Blessed Franz Jagerstatter".

Fr. Roy Bourgeois said he would work to do a video on Franz, and by 2010 did that with Franz Jagerstatter: A Man of Conscience, with Martin Sheen as the voice of Franz.

We contacted Orbis Publications and requested that the letters and writing of Franz Jagerstatter be translated and published in the United States. Robert Ellsberg, editor, agreed. (See Franz Jagerstatter: Letters and Writings from Prison, based on the work of Austrian writer, Erna Putz.)

One of our Friends of Franz members wrote a play, Franz Jagerstatter—Render to Caesar? - free for download on the Pax Christi website.

With the leadership of Bill Privett of Buffalo, NY, Friends of Franz put together a web site -- Franz Jagerstatter: People For Breaking the Silence -- that we invite people to use. The submission of articles to the web site is not only welcome but encouraged.


Attempting to move United States Catholic Bishops to take a firm moral stance to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Friends of Franz meet monthly in an upstate NY lake house to plan strategy. Letters to Catholic Bishops were crafted by Bill Privett of Buffalo with input from other Friends of Franz members. Over several years six letters were sent to over 300 Catholic bishops respectfully requesting them to take a strong stand on war and the preparation for war. Friends of Franz received just one response, a postcard acknowledging the receiving of one of our letters.

Some members went to Baltimore for the annual Catholic Conference of Bishops meeting hoping to make contact. We were not admitted inside but learned that the large dinner gathering for the Bishops was sponsored by the United States Military. Only Bishop John Michael Botean of the Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, OH, found the grace to walk up to the peacemakers and engage in conversation. He has proved to be the one friend we are proud to know.

Friends of Franz did other actions to inform Bishops when we embarked on a 40 day fast during Lent in 2009. Some folks camped on cathedral steps (Syracuse, NY), and others gathered in mass in Des Moines, IA, with prayer, signs, petitions. In New Orleans, LA, Friends of Franz supporters waited in sack cloth and ashes for the Bishop as he proceeded into the cathedral for Ash Wednesday Mass. His assistants were given our literature but we received no response from Bishop Alfred Hughes.


Obviously frustrated but not defeated, we have spent over two years trying to arrange a meeting with the Catholic Bishop of Syracuse. In June of 2012 we did get to hear out the Bishop of Syracuse on the issue of drones. We had sent the Bishop letters and also got to him through one of his diocesan priests. Our strategy was not to preach to him about drones being triggered just a few miles away from his office in downtown Syracuse (Hancock Air Base), and often ending in assassinations thousands of miles away. We simply asked him his view on the use of drones.

Bishop Robert Cunningham told us that he’d been reading the literature we sent to him on drones and other publications as well. He said he was not ready to make a moral decision on drones. He said he respected our views and admired our attention to this issue of drones and noted that drones keep our soldiers away from foreign places and that is good. He also said that many Catholics work at Hancock Air Base. And drone manufacturing does supply work for people in the area. (For instance, Lockheed is in Syracuse.) We pressed him to take a moral stance but he held off making a commitment.


Blessed Franz we pray for the Bishops to find the grace and courage you had knowing death would be your fate.

Our focus will continue to be militarism. Our Friends of Franz play, The Predator, is just one of our efforts to educate the general public about drones. Ann Wright, the first US diplomat to resign her job when the war on Iraq began, took the role of the activist in The Predator when it was presented at the Columbus Convention Center, on November 17th, 2012, just a short distance away from the new drone operation at Ft. Benning. Ann thinks the play is very good and hopes it can be used around the country. It has played in a number of venues but as a reading. Several critics note that the play would be even better if memorized rather than read. Friends of Franz hope that college campuses take on the play and perhaps have street theater on campus and community to promote the play. The play can be downloaded from the Pax Christi website: The Predator.

Ten of our of our Friends of Franz members have been arrested at the Syracuse, NY, drone facility: Mary Snyder, Jim Clune, Dick Keough, Bernie Survil, Mary Ann Grady, Clare Grady, Jack Gilroy, Mark Scibilia Carver, Vickie Ross and Jerry Berrigan. The Upstate NY Coaltion to Ground the Drones and End the Wars and Friends of Franz would like to see new faces on the line at Hancock where the upstate drone committee is successfully doing Gandhian Waves. Gates to the Hancock drone base have been blocked numerous times in the past year and a half. Just recently, the base commander was able to get an order of protection from peace activists who cannot be found 100 feet from the base commander. We, of course, are committed nonviolent activists and neither the Base Commander of the Attack Team nor any of his associates are in danger from us. Apparently, we have to be careful of who is sitting next to us in a diner or pumping gas at a public station. We could be arrested for endangering the leader of the Hancock Attack Force. Friends of Franz would like to see an order of protection given to the families in countries where drone Hellfire missiles are fired.

Friday, November 30, 2012

I Dream of Pakistan

A Creative Writing Piece on the Drone War in Pakistan and the Hope of Nonviolent US Resistance

By Meghan M.M. Trimm

I am in a dream. I see an SUV hit a biker, with a child carrier. It was an Arab-looking man with a baby on the back of his bicycle. I hear wailing -- an infant’s cries. The father’s skull is cracked on the pavement. He is dead. The streets around him are paved in red. All around me I notice my neighbors going to work, mowing their grass, sipping tea on their front lawn, but there is no one scrambling to aid. I have the stunning realization that I am the only person in this world who knows what is happening. I try to yell for help, but there is no sound like someone pressed the mute button.

The woman who was following them is in shock -- the mother. She puts down her bike, shaking, and falls on her knees. I can see the blood of her husband seeping into the threads of her burka around her knees. She hasn’t even cried yet -- her face caught in an agony that cannot yet bear sound. I feel compelled to move, but I am rooted to the ground until the spreading bodily fluids reach my sneakers. Suddenly I am in full motion, dashing to the baby carrier. The child’s arm is crushed between her seat and the pavement by the weight of her father. She is bleeding from her head with cuts around her mouth and eyes. She landed in broken glass. I feel shame for the trash thrown in the streets of my careless city. I want to lift her out of there and give her comfort, but I know I could do more harm than good if she has an injured spine.

The mother is screaming, she is moving toward her lost husband on her hands and knees. She does not feel the glass, or if she does she doesn’t care. I feel I can do nothing. I am on my knees holding the infant’s hand.

The blood covering the streets is seeping up into the neighbors’ yards. It reaches beyond this invisible scene, creeping up and soaking the lawn, drenching the lawn furniture; it reaches my neighbors' hands. I look on in amazement as they go about their lives unnoticing. How can they not see they have blood on their hands!? I feel angry and helpless.

The SUV, with tinted windows, backs up and attempts to drive past. I have found my purpose. Without thinking I step into its path. The engine roars at me like a mad beast, but I know I have to stay. Scrambling my phone from my pocket I call for emergency care.

As I stand there waiting in the path of the beast I feel a tug on my jeans. I look down and see the child. She has grown into a 3 or 4 year old now. She looks up at me with sparkling piercing happy eyes. When I meet her gaze, I am awake.

Her Name is Peace
by Meghan M.M. Trimm

Monday, November 5, 2012

Benson to CIA's Top Lawyer: "Your time has come to do the right thing."

Elizabeth I. Benson
Chicago, IL 60626

October 31, 2012

General Counsel Stephen Preston
Central Intelligence Agency
Offcie of General Counsel
Washington, DC 20505

703-482-1739 703-613-3007

Dear General Counsel Preston,

I am writing to express grave concern about targeted killing strikes carried out by the CIA and the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command outside the context of armed conflict and against people who do not pose an imminent threat. It is in your power to help put an end to illegal targeted killings, including those that target U.S. citizens.

Targeted killing is illegal both under U.S. law and international treaties signed by the U.S. The only exception is when a person poses a concrete, specific, and imminent threat or, in the context of armed conflict, against a person who directly participates in hostilities. Even in these narrow circumstances, all attempts to capture the person must be exhausted and the government must take measures to protect civilian bystanders from harm. But these are not the standards your agency is using.

I reject the proposition that your agency can carry out targeted killing of people who do not pose an imminent threat in coutnries with which and in which our nation is not at war. I am also deeply concerned about reports that the CIA is carrying out "signature strikes" based on patterns of behavior, and that the CIA presumes "all military-age males" in particular strike zones are targets unless intelligence proves them innocent -- after they are dead.

As the top legal authority at the CIA, you have the power to advise decision makers to follow the law. Your time has come to do the right thing.

I look forward to your earliest possible response to my concerns and requests. Thank you.


Elizabeth I. Benson

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Nearsighted Drone

Previous installment: "Modern Applications of the Buddha's Teachings on Love and on the Suffering Attributable to Misperception"

by Jack Lawlor

Drone warfare may reflect an anxious, fearful society deeply out of touch with its highest values, and lost in misperception.

Are we proceeding with an assumption that certain "types" do not deserve to live?

Rather than take the time and look deeply into what we are doing, who we are targeting, and providing rudiments of due process and the rule of law, we are slating growing numbers of people for assassination. Rather than question the saneness of this approach, its morality, its relationship to the rules of engagement in warfare, and how we found ourselves in need to use robot aircraft, we push ahead and set a lethal precedent for other nations.

Rather than learn from the protestations of others who protest the sudden death of so many innocent from within their territory in our pursuit of untried terrorist suspects, we purchase and accelerate the use of more and more drones, never pausing to contemplate the world we will have created once other nations have this technology within a few years.

Despite the optimism of children teaching their parents of how the Buddha met the Jetsons, and despite the pleas of Tolstoy to make what's good and what's whole possible again, our hearts are somehow hardened to the possibility of beginning anew, in wisdom and compassion.

In reliance on technology, we understand less and less, rather than more.

What are the underlying causes and conditions of our suffering, and of the suffering we inflict on others?

How did we get to this place?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Body Pieces

by Pat Chaffee
“We are still finding body pieces.”

My job was to gather the body pieces after an IED explosion, trying to keep pieces on one body together.”

“My uncles were cut in pieces.”
I heard the first statement when I volunteered at the rest station set up for first responders in St. Peter’s church near Ground Zero. The second statement I heard during an NPR interview with a Marine.

I heard the third statement as I sat on the floor in the office of the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) in Islamabad, an organization that provides legal aid for victims of U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan. Shahzad Akbar, founder of FFP, had invited -- or more accurately, challenged -- Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war activist group CODEPINK, to bring a delegation to Pakistan to meet with victims and survivors of drone attacks.

So, on October 4, 2012, thirty-four U.S. citizens and one Canadian sat on the floor listening. Kamir Kahn, a survivor in his fifties, wearing traditional tribal garb, told of the drone attack on his village on December 31, 2009, that killed his 18-year-old son and his brother. He picked up their body pieces for Muslim burial.

Body parts. I invite us to say the words slowly: body parts. A body ripped apart by an airplane crashing into a building, by an IED, by a drone. In Waziristan, we must picture not only the limbs of women and men, but also the severed head of a child.

Noor Behram, a brilliant, committed Pakistani photographer, overwhelmed the delegation with his photographs of children killed in drone attacks. They are not pleasant to look at. Why does Noor take on this horrific mission? Why does he drive seven hours to take the picture of a shrapnel-riddled child before he is buried?

He does it for the same reason that I went to Pakistan—to give the lie to the official report from the U.S. government that drones are smart weapons, that in the past year, not one single civilian was killed in a drone attack. Noor has no images of women killed by drones. This does not mean that drones spare women; Islamic custom forbids photographing women. Noor, however, does his best to work around this law. He photographs the bloody clothing of women. And in one photo of a dead woman with a dead child,, he cut away the image of the mother. We could see the curves of the child holding on to his mother’s body.

A gruesome topic -- body parts. Disturbing to our protected sensibilities. We were so maddened by body parts falling from the towers of the World Trade Building, we determined to blow other people to pieces. We mourn over our own women and men blown apart by IED’s; yet we continue of slice the heads of babies with drone strikes.

“When you go home, tell your government to stop sending drones.” We were given this plea by Karim, Noor, and the hundreds of Pakistanis we encountered.

Pat Chaffee
Racine, Wisconsin

More on Pat Chaffee's Pakistan trip: "Why Do They Hate Us?" on the No Drones Wisconsin website.

For more photos see the Code Pink delegation photo site.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Irish-Americans and War (Part 2)

by Jack Gilroy

(Continued from Irish-Americans and War (Part 1) "voices of Irish American human rights activism . . . the Berrigans . . . Kathy Kelly . . . Megan Rice . . . Brian Terrell . . . the Hancock 10 . . . .")

But these Irish-American activists of today find little company in the United States Federal Government. Few Catholics, Irish or otherwise, are ready to strongly oppose war and the preparation for war. In fact, Irish-American leadership in militarism is the norm.

Paul Ryan and Joe Biden square off.
During the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate, Catholic Vice President, Joe Biden, told his Catholic opponent, Paul Ryan, that what he was saying was “a lot of malarky”. That was, Biden noted, “Irish talk”.

Yet, neither candidate talked the real talk of political violence. Like most good Catholics, they skirted Catholic Social Teaching. The first basic principal of Catholic Social Teaching is Life and Dignity of the Human Person. The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Every person is believed to be precious. Does this not mean people outside of the geographic borders of the United States?

What the nonviolence of their Catholic faith insists on is trumped by political reality. Both Democrat and Republican candidates accept violence of war, violence of assassinations and preparation for war violence.

Did Biden and Ryan actually ever have a class on nonviolence during their Catholic education? Not likely. American Catholic schools K-12, as well as, American Catholic colleges and universities are major recruiting centers for the military. Over 100 Catholic colleges and universities have Reserve Officer Training Schools (ROTC). Most Catholic High schools allow military recruiters into their schools and some Catholic Middle and High schools have Junior ROTC training for their students.

While investigation, interrogation and arrest is police work, the prime function of the military is to find the enemy and kill them. Catholic Social Teaching has a place for police work but it cannot justify militarism and its killing machine.

Yet, Catholics are often leaders in teaching and accepting military and extrajudicial killing. Names like Mullen, Dempsey, Brennan, and Donilon are leading characters in modern American militarism.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Britain note that since President Obama took office between 285 and 535 civilians were credibly killed by drone strikes including more than 60 children. A joint study of drone causalities by New York University and Stanford University has much higher civilian death rates.

President Obama in the Oval Office with Thomas E. Donilon, left, the national
security advisor. On the right is John Brennan, Chief Counter terrorism advisor.
(Photo: Pete Souza/The White House)

John Brennan, Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, made the claim in 2011 that no civilian causalities occurred. Brennan, son of Irish immigrants, had a K -12 Catholic education then went on to graduate from a Catholic university (Fordham). Brennan says that while riding a bus to Fordham, he saw a sign for CIA recruiting and decided it was something he wanted to do “for public service”. Fordham honored Brennan in 2012 with an honorary doctorate degree. Former White House CIA analyst, Irish American, Ray McGovern, said “John Brennan’s open identification with torture, secret prisons and other abuses of national and international law, led to Fordham University’s invitation to him to give the commencement address on May 19 brought, well, shock and awe to many Fordham students, faculty and alumni.”

Pictured with Brennan and Obama in a NY Times article, (May 29, 2012) studying the weekly ‘kill list’ in President Obama’s office, is Thomas E Donilon. Donilon, National Security Advisor, figured prominently during formulation of strategy for Afghanistan and associated discussions, notes Bob Woodward's 2010 book, "Obama's Wars". Donilon, a grandson of Irish Catholic immigrants, attended Catholic schools K-12 before graduating from Catholic University.

Donilon had previously worked with Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen.

Admiral Mullen attended Catholic schools K-12 in California before going off to the US Naval Academy.

When Admiral Mullen retired as Joint Chief, President Obama appointed General Martin E Dempsey as the present Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dempsey attended John S Burke Catholic High School in Goshen, NY. Dempsey’s family is from the Irish speaking region of Donegal.

Admiral Mike Mullen
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
General Martin E. Dempsey

With all that history of Catholic military leadership, one might want to label the group as the Irish American Military Mafia.

However, Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, had Italian parents. Panetta attended Catholic elementary schools in Monterrey and in 1960 graduated from Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution, and three years later received his law degree from Santa Clara.

If this group of Catholics represent Catholic Social Teaching, it begs the questions: Is it time to revise Catholic Social Teaching to fit American culture?

It’s said that WC Fields, the American humorist of the 1930’s and an avowed atheist, was found with a Bible on his death bed. Asked what he was doing, Fields said “looking for a loophole.”

Is it time for Catholic lay and clergy teachers to find some loopholes to allow a clear conscience for Catholic students who have been taught to embrace violence and military heroes who have served their county in violence?

Or is it time to insist on teaching the nonviolent message of Jesus to love one’s enemies, not kill them?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Irish-Americans and War (Part 1)

by Jack Gilroy

Anti-Catholic cartoon by Thomas Nast, 1867.
Many years ago, my wife and I backpacked across Ireland. As international travelers, we found the Irish the warmest people we had ever encountered. As Irish-Americans, this was comforting. Personal contact with so many loving people was in stark contrast to what we had learned in history studies about truculent Irishmen. We knew well that Irish immigrants in America were often depicted as angry, fighting Irish. Even Notre Dame University picked up on the late 19th century American cartoon bigot, Thomas Nast. Nast drew hundreds of caricatures of ugly shillelagh carrying Irishmen ready to smash skulls. Today, the Notre Dame mascot symbol is a leprechaun with green hat and fists turned up to take on any enemy.

Historians give many reasons why immigrant Irish in America developed the stereotype of fighters. Religious discrimination seems to rank above all other reasons including fear of job losses taken by Irish willing to work for low wages. Yet, there’s a long Irish history of war dating before the Christian period. In fact, many Celtic centuries of violence. Later, from the 16th century and into the 19th century, Ireland became a reservoir of mercenaries drawn to fight various wars on the European continent. Known as the Flight of the Wild Geese, thousands of Irishmen left their families and homeland to fight in France, Spain and wherever there was a cause that attracted them.

But the flight of Irish to America was supposed to offer good jobs, not jobs to kill, as soldiers do. Yet, soon after arrival in the land of promise, the American government lured the Irish to fight for pay.

San Patricio (Saint Patrick's) Battalion
Famine Irish came to America for a better life but found themselves pushed into the American Army warring against Mexico in 1847. Some Irishmen defected to the Mexican Army to be with their Catholic Mexican brothers. Just sixteen years later, the Civil War riots (1863) of New York City occurred. Irish immigrants fighting conscription into the Union Army led to the “largest civil insurrection in American history” notes Eric Fonet in Reconstruction – America’s Unfinished Revolution (1863-1877).

Irish-American opposition to war in the 20th century was not as open fisted as the Mexican and Civil wars.

There is really only one outstanding Irish-American character who stood in opposition to the call of his country and his church to fight and kill in 1917. The American author, Torin Finney, focused his book, Untold Hero of the Great War on the Denver, Colorado Irish Catholic, Benjamin Salmon. Salmon, in 1917, refused to follow not just his President (Wilson) but Cardinal Gibbons, the leading American Catholic religious leader who urged all good Catholic men to train for war. Finney describes in detail the humiliation and torture of Ben Salmon. Salmon, who said there was no such thing as a ‘Just War’ was detained in federal prison for years, he was the last conscientious objector released in World War I.

There was little Irish American opposition to World War II. In fact, Irish Catholics played a major fighting role in the war. But the carry over of war hawkishness into Vietnam had major Irish Catholic stumble blocks.

The Berrigans
The Vietnam War had many conscientious objectors and for the first time, a large number of Catholic objectors. Leading the movement of Catholic objectors were the Irish-American brothers, Fr. Phil Berrigan and Fr. Dan Berrigan. Dan Berrigan was called by Time Magazine and the FBI as Public Enemy #1 for his opposition to war. Both Phil and Dan carried draft cards from a Selective Service office and burned them with home made napalm. They were arrested, tried and sentenced to federal prison.

But the Berrigans were simply the forefront of Catholic activists who would grow the movement far beyond the size of Army divisions before the war was ended in 1975. Irish Americans Catholic objectors found leadership in Senator Robert Kennedy and Senator Eugene McCarthy. And then, the leader of the House of Representatives, Thomas Tip O’Neill, became a partner to the nonviolent movement. All came to the conclusion that war was not the answer.

And some of the best voices of Irish American human rights activism have been women. Kathy Kelly of Chicago has been nominated three times for a Noble Peace Prize for her work with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Kathy braved the misery of the sanctions, the shock and awe of the American attack on Baghdad and now is deeply involved with Afghan children trying to recover from emotional and physical trauma directly the result of America’s longest war.

Kathy Kelly
Megan Rice
Brian Terrell
Just this past summer of 2012, Irish American peace activist Megan Rice, a Catholic Sister, was arrested for what the US Government calls the “biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s nuclear complex.” 82 year old Sister Megan was moved by her religious and moral belief that nuclear weapons put the planet closer to total destruction.

In October of 2012, Irish American peace activist Brian Terrell of the Iowa Catholic Worker was sentenced to six months in prison for attempting to deliver a war crimes indictment to Whiteman Air Force base, a drone firing base in Missouri.

When ten people shut down the entrance way to another drone base (Hancock Air National Guard, Syracuse, NY) on October 5th, 2012, six of the ten were Irish Catholics.

(To be continued in Part 2: "But these Irish-American activists of today find little company in the United States Federal Government. Few Catholics, Irish or otherwise are ready to strongly oppose war and the preparation for war. In fact, Irish-American leadership in militarism is the norm . . . . ")

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ending Drone Killing: The Spirit Is Moving

(See previous reflection: Is God Urging Us to "Risk It"?)

by Joe Scarry
Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh."
As if the bud's essential oils brush
Christ's fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh

Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it's me,

- from "Supernatural Love" by Gjertrud Schnackenberg
We are inevitably asked to accept injury to innocents as an unavoidable consequence of a goal that is considered very important. Assuming for the moment that we accept the "very important goal" ... what does a confession of faith clarify about such "collateral damage"?

People who absolutely reject violence, in general, and/or reject drone killing, specifically, find the problem of collateral damage to have an obvious solution: it's wrong and the actions leading to it should be stopped.

The solution to the problem is much less obvious to those who think there are ends that can and should be attained using violence. A recent exchange on the "Morning Joe" about drone strikes between Joe Scarborough and Time columnist Joe Klein put a fine point on this difficulty:
"This is offensive to me, though," Scarborough said. "It seems so antiseptic. It seems so clean. And yet you have four-year-old girls being blown to bits ... this is going to cause the U.S. problems in the future."

"The bottom line in the end is whose four-year-old gets killed?" Klein responded.

"Does that matter?" Scarborough said.

"What we're doing is limiting the possibility that four-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror," Klein concluded.
Note: "limiting the possibility that four-year-olds here will get killed"!

Though the assertion that "the bottom line in the end is whose four-year-old gets killed" is abhorrent to me, I must recognize that it neatly sums up the point on which a great many people experience a failure of understanding. To some people -- Joe Klein, for instance, in the example above -- it is as obvious that some four-year-olds matter as it is that some others do not.

I came back from a conference on drones in April, 2012, determined to increase people's understanding of drone killing. I believed that they didn't know that young children were being killed, and I assumed that I could arouse their awareness by providing visceral images. As I worked at this, I came to recognize that there are many possible pathways to understanding, and many different obstacles, and that different kinds of information and different levels of stimulus are required for different people.

Do Christian beliefs help us to find a way to address this?

When I think about the difficulties that people experience in understanding -- in understanding the world around them, and notions like justice, and ultimately in discerning God's will -- and the hope of surmounting those difficulties, I think about the meaning of the expression "the Holy Spirit." The Apostles' Creed includes the words, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." My understanding of the Apostle's Creed is that the Holy Spirit includes all those ways that God becomes known to us -- through the Bible, for instance, and but also through people - including Christian people ("the holy Christian church," which I understand to be cognate with "the communion of saints") but, perhaps more importantly, simply through people in general.

Consider, for instance, the witness provided by Nick Mottern, director of the Know Drones project, describing an encounter during one of his presentations during a tour of Ohio and Pennyslvania.
In the late afternoon of September 20, 2012, in Room 101 of Maginnes Hall at Leigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a young woman student from Yemen touched off a blast of reality that startled and sobered 50 or so of her fellow students and townspeople attending a talk I was giving about US drone attacks and surveillance. Paraphrased, she said:

“I get the feeling that there are those in this room who value American lives much more than the lives of other people in the world. I am from Yemen. I am a city girl, but I live not far from a village where I have family members and where US drones killed 40 people who were doing nothing but minding their daily business. The people in the village have no idea why this happened, they know nothing of al-Qaeda; they are trying to sue the United States.”

After she spoke, there were other comments and questions, but her words hung in the air, a stark personal, undeniable witness to the fact that yes, US drone attacks are killing people and creating great suffering. For all of us there, drone killing now had a face, and the United States stood convicted. At the end of the Q & A, people went up to her to talk and to say they were sorry for what is happening; several, including me, gave her a hug and more thanked her for speaking out.

The woman, with a sweet, friendly disposition, speaking in a soft, direct but extremely firm way, crystallized what appears to be the main reason that the American public is so accepting of drone wars – that is, the widely-held feeling that Americans are exceptional.
(Excerpted from Challenging Dronotopia, available soon on the Know Drones website.)

Why does it take someone from the country affected in order for these killings to become understandable. Why do we only begin to understand when the killings "have a face"?

""Absence" by Jane Norling

This helps remind me of one of the meanings of "sin" -- of human frailty: that, for all our pretensions, we are beings who are capable of only very limited amounts of abstraction. To relate this to the Apostles' Creed: we are not capable of clearly discerning God's will through our belief in God the Father alone. The meaning of Jesus Christ is that humans needed something more "up close and personal" to shake their consciousness'. And -- dare I say it? -- Jesus Christ (narrowly defined as that man who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago) isn't enough unless we open ourselves to the continual and every-present impact of God and Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, acting to continuously break through the human fog.

"At a local school"
(from the Code Pink Pakistan delegation)
The Holy Spirit is moving in the testimony of people like Nick Mottern and the woman from Yemen at Lehigh.

The Holy Spirit is moving in the testimony of people like JoAnne Lingle and her colleagues in the Code Pink peace delegation that went to Pakistan, and the stories of the people they met there.

The Holy Spirit is moving in the work of the many artists who contributed to the exhibit Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan.

And our awareness of the movement of the Holy Spirit is only just beginning.

I predict that when we finally extract ourselves from the hell that we have waded into with drones, we will look back and realize that we didn't "think" our way out of this problem, but that we "opened" our way out of it -- and that God met us in our opening up.

Read more about the questions that I think we need to be asking ourselves about drones.

"Absence" by Jane Norling is part of the exhibit Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Is God Urging Us to "Risk It"?

(See previous reflection: Drones vs. Up-Close-and-Personal Reality)

by Joe Scarry

To read what's buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor

Trying to stitch "Beloved" X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle's point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text

- from "Supernatural Love" by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Before she left for Pakistan to participate in the Code Pink delegation, my friend JoAnne Lingle, from Indianapolis, told me, "We want to reach out to the people there to show that we care about their lives; we want to show the American public how civilians are being targeted by drones; we want to come back to the US and tell the stories of drone victims. Our larger goal is to stop the drone strikes." (Read more at My visits to Pakistan and Kurdistan.)

Map of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan
I find this in stark contrast to the attitude implicit in the official U.S. approach to much of the Mideast and South Asia: "We're going to go over there and get them before they come here and get us."

And, in fact, in the last week the newspaper has seemed to be especially filled with stories about people "getting" each other - "getting" people who were too liberal, "getting" people who were suppressing liberation, "getting" people who were acting suspicious . . . and on and on . . . .

Each of these accounts or characterizations is steeped in violence, and corresponding to each of these accounts or characterizations, there is a worldview that explains the utility, justification, and/or desirability -- indeed, the extreme praiseworthiness -- of that violence.

I believe the significant feature of the faith that Christians confess when they recite the Apostle's Creed is that it forces us to confront the question: why doesn't God deal with us violently? If ever there was a utility or justification for destroying someone or something, it is the implacable, stubborn imperfection present in people. Why doesn't God just get rid of the lot of us? Why, instead, does God choose to get "up close and personal" with us, meeting us where we are, in our own sinful, mortal bodies?

In other words, I believe that God sees another way forward for us, even when all we can imagine is "going over there and getting them before they come here and get us." Even when, in our desperation, all we can imagine is throwing our own life away in order to offer a glint of hope to comrades combating a brutal regime. Even when all we can imagine is venting our rage on people who threaten us with painful social change: them, their families, and anyone who helps them. Even when we build a towering military establishment dedicated to destroying entire other cultures, as long as it keeps "them" over "there" where they can't possibly ever bring harm "here" to "us."

God shows us that other way, and it involves trying to walk together, and eschewing violence.

During the Code Pink peace delegation to Pakistan:
A sunset march through Jinnah Market with the student
group of PTI in Islamabad followed by a candlelight vigil.
What God is strangely silent about, by the way, is death! Often, we make an idol of life itself. We become trapped in the worship of our own guaranteed well-being. Think about it: extreme aversion to being harmed inherently translates into measures to pre-empt harm, at any cost, and no matter if they are marginally effective (or even counterproductive!).

Conversely, if you believe in a God who accepts the reality of the human experience, even death, then it suddenly seems ridiculous to hold as a value the prevention of harm at any cost. It's immediately apparent that God wants us to take the risk to get near our fellow humans and interact with them, hear them, negotiate with them, engage in diplomacy with them .... even if we're not 100% guaranteed of success!

Next installment: Ending Drone Killing: The Spirit Is Moving

* * * * *

For more photos from Pakistan, see the Code Pink delegation photo site. And be sure to read JoAnne Lingle's full account of her trip!

Read more about the questions that I think we need to be asking ourselves about drones.