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.