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Waging Peace

By Leah Bolger

20 August, 2013

Pauling Lecture, Oregon State University, Power Point

Good evening. I want to thank the committee for inviting me to speak with you this evening—it is such a pleasure to be here.

When I received the letter from Professor Clinton congratulating me on being nominated as the 30th person to receive the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Memorial Lectureship for World Peace, I was stunned! After I went to the website and read the names of the 29 others who had given this lecture in years past, I became increasingly filled with a sense of honor, humility and gratitude that I had been chosen to follow in the footsteps of such notable intellectuals and activists as ***John Kenneth Galbraith, William Sloane Coffin, Noam Chomsky, Robert Kennedy Jr., and Grace Lee Boggs, not to mention the 8 Nobel Laureates: ***Linus Pauling, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Mairead Maguire, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Jose Ramos-Horta, Betty Williams, Rigoberta Menchu, and Jody Williams. And now my name was going to be added to this prestigious list. I started feeling a strong sense of burden and responsibility to live up to the honor that had been given me. What could I possibly tell an audience that would be worthy of this lectureship? Even calling it a “lecture” gave me a sense of responsibility that I have not felt with any other speech or presentation that I have given. Although I enjoy telling people that by serving 20 years on Active Duty in the Navy, I am now able to live off of my military pension and work as a full-time volunteer peace activist, I have only been an “activist” for the past 6 years or so—a relative novice compared to so many others who have dedicated their lives to peace and justice. And so, I went very quickly from feeling elated that I had been chosen to give this lecture, to feeling a bit inadequate and unsure of what to say.

But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that perhaps I had been chosen to give this lecture precisely because I was not a big name celebrity, or a Nobel Laureate. Maybe I had been chosen because I am like so many of us—just someone who is outraged by injustice, and plugging along in the trenches, trying to exact change on the issues we believe in. Maybe I could use this opportunity to speak with you, not to “lecture” you, but perhaps to encourage and motivate you to realize the power of our potential as activists. The fact is that you don’t have to be a Nobel Laureate to make a difference. The work of most activists will never be recognized outside of their own communities, but we must remember that the power of activism is about all of us contributing a little. These little contributions, when coupled with the actions of others, multiply in their power exponentially.

***“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” --Margaret Mead

People often ask me how it is that I came from being a career military officer to a peace activist. I explain that I did not join the military for ideological reasons. The fact is that I needed a job, which is the same reason that the vast majority of people join the military. When I joined the Navy in 1980, we were at the height of the “Cold War,” and women were prohibited from filling combat roles. My first four tours were in support of a passive sonar system that detected and tracked Soviet submarines. I was never faced with any crisis of conscience decisions. I never had to shoot at anyone, and I never had anyone shoot at me. I went through my 20-year career not as a gung-ho, pro-military warrior, but rather as a relatively uninformed, indifferent participant in the military machine, just doing my job, which never directly involved killing. That said, my politics and leanings did not match most of my active duty peers. When I was a student at the Naval War College, I wrote papers on the importance of the United Nations, and conflict termination—and I took positions that were not widely supported; yet I never really stood up and questioned our foreign policy or ubiquitous military presence. It was easy to serve from 1980 to 2000 in a very insular way--without questioning, or being challenged, about the morality of what I was doing. Though during my tenure in the military, the U.S. was heavily involved in several Latin American countries, and we went to war against Iraq in 1991, I could not have been further removed from those actions.

I’m not sure if most people get into activism gradually, without realizing it, but for me there was a specific trigger that pushed me from being someone who just believed that war was wrong, to someone who decided to do something about it. It happened not until 5 years after I retired. Though my husband (who is also a retired Naval commander) and I both opposed the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, we had never acted on our convictions. But one day in 2005, we went to Eugene to view a traveling exhibit organized by the Quaker group, the American Friends Service Committee, called ***“Eyes Wide Open.” This exhibit consisted of rows of military boots with dog tags attached, lined up in neat rows as if they were tombstones at Arlington, or as if they were soldiers standing in formation—one pair for every American soldier killed in Iraq. The exhibit also had piles of civilian shoes—men’s sandals, women’s shoes, and small children’s shoes—to represent the Iraqis killed. I had a visceral reaction to this exhibit—it hit me like a kick in the gut, and at that moment I became an activist.

So, what constitutes activism, really? I looked up the word “activism” and this is what I found: “The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” To me, the key word in this definition is the word “action,” (although I like the “vigorous” part too!) Activism is about engaging people to “do something” about the issues which concern them, challenging authority and the status quo, and realizing the power that they hold as citizens.

Although there are various degrees of activism, from writing letters to the editor, to committing acts of civil disobedience or resistance—they all involve doing something--making public your position in an effort to persuade others and affect policy.

In 1973, ***Dr. Gene Sharp identified 198 methods of non-violent action in his book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Vol. 2 The Methods of Nonviolent Action. Here you can see a partial list of the methods—I didn’t have room to show you all of them. They range in complexity and risk, but there are many things on this list that all of us can do. ***And they don’t have to be serious!

After seeing the Eyes Wide Open exhibit, I went on to join Veterans For Peace and to form the Corvallis chapter, which was renamed as the Linus Pauling chapter last year. Veterans For Peace is an organization that began in 1985 as a bridge between Vietnam veterans and the peace community. The strength of VFP is that we use our collective experience as veterans to tell the truth of war and militarism. The overall mission of our organization is to abolish war.

I began doing some of the 198 things that Dr. Sharp identified in his book. I started ***participating in protests, writing letters, and conducting lobby visits. I organized peace fairs and rallies, wrote op-ed blog pieces, dropped banners, and marched in the street. I built memorials, started petitions, gave presentations, and disrupted Congress. Each act led to the next. The more involved I got, the angrier I got as I realized more and more of the real harm that is being done by my country in my name. I began to understand the absurdity of war and that it must be ended, and I began to realize how great the need is for organized activism. Ending war may seem impossible, yet we have to try. We have a responsibility as compassionate human beings to continue the struggle for peace and justice, no matter how daunting the task.

When I was given the invitation to speak with you tonight, I just happened to be reading a book by West Point graduate Paul Chappell, entitled The Art of Waging Peace. He opens the book with an excerpt from a speech by ***General Douglas MacArthur on the need to abolish war, given to the Los Angeles American Legion in January 1955. I’d like to share part of that excerpt with you as well:

“The leaders are the laggards. The disease of power seems to confuse and befuddle them…They debate and turmoil over a hundred issues—they bring us to the verge of despair or raise our hopes to utopian heights over the corollary misunderstandings that stem from the threat of war—but never in the chancelleries of the world or the halls of the United Nations is the real problem raised. Never do they dare to state the bald truth, that the next great advance in the evolution of civilization cannot take place until war is abolished…

He continues, “Sooner or later the world, if it is to survive, must reach this decision. The only question is, When? Must we fight again before we learn? When will some great figure in power have sufficient imagination and moral courage to translate this universal wish—which is rapidly becoming a universal necessity—into actuality? We must break out of the straitjacket of the past. There must always be one to lead, and we should be that one. We should now proclaim our readiness to abolish war in concert with the great powers of the world. The result would be magical.”

***I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity. --Dwight D. Eisenhower

Veterans are the ones who see the horror of war so clearly. And that is why Veterans For Peace believes that our power is in our stories. If we can relate our experiences and truly educate the public to the real truth of war, the people would end it. But our government does not want us to know the truth. There is a young man named ***Bradley Manning who is facing life in prison for leaking classified information about the truth of war to Wikileaks. The information he passed on depicted war crimes carried out by the U.S. military—blatant violations of the Geneva Conventions and international law. Our government overclassified this information because they did not want the public to know the truth. Bradley has been in jail now for more than 3 years awaiting court-martial. 10 months of that time was spent in maximum-security solitary confinement in conditions labeled by the United Nations as torture. Even though a soldier is required by military law to report war crimes, our government has mustered all of its legal power to prosecute Bradley Manning, charging him with 22 counts, including Aiding the Enemy. The fact is that war itself is a crime, and aggressive wars of choice are the ultimate crime.

One of the pieces of information that Bradley released was a ***video shot from an Apache helicopter. This video shows the gunning down of 12 Iraqi civilians and 2 Reuters journalists. For the average civilian, watching the video is shocking and horrific. It depicts a bloodlust and enthusiasm on the part of the Americans who congratulate each other for their kills, and laugh as the dead bodies are run over by military vehicles. When the soldiers realize that children were in the vehicle that they just blew up, they blame the Iraqis for bringing their children into a combat zone. After the video became public, the Army declared that there had been no wrongdoing…no breach of proper procedure…no crime. The Army considered what happened in that video to be appropriate. How is it possible for human beings to treat each other this way? The reason the Eyes Wide Open exhibit affected me so profoundly is because those shoes humanized the casualty count and made it more than just a number. The military teaches soldiers to dehumanize the enemy. If they didn’t do that, it would be much more difficult for men to kill one another.

Because human beings are not naturally inclined to kill each other, doing so often brings on psychological damage—what we are now calling post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is a natural response to something that is unnatural. The American public is starting to become aware of the emotional and psychological wounds of war. We are concerned that our troops are not getting the appropriate mental health care, and we are alarmed at the number of veteran suicides—22 a day, according to the Department of Defense. If war has this kind of effect on our soldiers, what must it be doing to the other side--people who are living with ***on-going stress? What about the PTSD suffered by an Iraqi mother whose son was killed while collecting firewood? Or an Afghan family who never know when their doors will be kicked in by American troops looking for insurgents?

Last October I was a participant in a delegation that went to Pakistan to meet face to face with the victims of U.S. combat drone strikes. We heard stories of families who would no longer let their children go to school. One man told us that 17 people in his tribe had committed suicide, something that is unheard of in Pashtun culture. In parts of Waziristan, drones circle overhead 24 hours a day, creating a form of psychological torture for the people living below them.

In thinking about war and the need to abolish it, I have come up with a theory that there are four basic reasons why war and militarism should be opposed:

***The first is that it is immoral. War kills and injures innocent people. It destroys homes, businesses and infrastructure, and makes refugees out of ordinary people who are just trying to live their lives and who are guilty of nothing. It leaves emotional scars as well as physical ones. As the late Howard Zinn said: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” Yet as compelling as this reason—the moral reason—is, it is not compelling enough for most Americans. I think it is a sad commentary about the American people that we are not just as outraged about the deaths of Pakistani children by Hellfire missiles launched from drones as we are about the American children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But that is the sad truth—partially it is because the American public is sheltered from the truth of war. The military-industrial-media complex glorifies our soldiers as heroes and never reports the ugly truths. But partially it is because generally speaking, the American public is incurious and indifferent to the harm we are causing non-Americans. We are only concerned about our own lives and circles, so sadly, the immorality of war seems not to be reason enough for the American public to actively oppose it.

***The second reason is that it is illegal. The wars that the U.S. waged against Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military actions it has taken in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, have all violated numerous international laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the U.S. Constitution. A war of aggression, or a war of choice, is the most egregious crime there is; yet the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan were just that. Drone attacks in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia violate the sovereign boundaries of those countries and are responsible for killing thousands of innocent people. The Bush administration has admitted that it tortured people and illegally rendered prisoners, yet the U.S. seemingly acts with impunity. Our country along with Israel and Sudan, are the only three countries that refuse to become parties to the International Criminal Court. The U.S. operates according to its own rules—to paraphrase Richard Nixon: “If we do it, it isn’t illegal.” This is American Exceptionalism.

***The third reason we should oppose war is that it is ineffective. To fight wars for the purpose of creating peace is oxymoronic. It is particularly ludicrous to fight a war against a concept or a principle as in the Global War on Terror. It’s bad enough that war is not effective in solving problems, but it is actually counterproductive, creating exponentially more enemies with every death, injury and injustice we cause. Indeed, war is terror.

But the fourth reason we should oppose war and militarism is the one that I believe has the most traction with the American people and that is ***that it costs too much, and so I believe that opposingthe economics of war and militarism may be the most effective path to reducing and ending them. Even before the sequestration kicked in, we started to see Americans connecting the dots between the federal budget and local health and human services programs. *** Martin Luther King said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” The austerity measures that Americans are facing may be the wake-up call that we need as a society to demand that our tax dollars be spent on programs of “social uplift,” as Dr. King described. Our government is spending ***57 centsout of every discretionary budget dollar on war making and militarism. We spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined! It costs $1.2 million to put one soldier in Afghanistan for a year. For the same price, we could send 50 people to college for a year. Which expenditure would benefit humanity more? On a bigger scale, we could eradicate world hunger for $30 billion a year. Last year the U.S. spent $737 billion on war and militarism, so for the same price we could have eradicated world hunger for 25 years. Let me say that again: We could have eradicated world hunger for 25 years!

So you see, opposing the military machine for economic reasons has a moral component to it as well. Not only is there the cost of the dollars expended for war, but there is also the opportunity cost of programs that were not purchased. How do you put a price on the children who are homeless because we didn’t allocate enough money for subsidized housing? How do you put a price on the deaths caused by water-borne disease because we didn’t spend the money on clean water? President Eisenhower expressed that point in this famous quote: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

It is clear that there are moral implications by how we spend, and how we don’t spend, our tax dollars.

We have a government and a culture that glorifies war, believes in American Exceptionalism and revolves around the Military Industrial Complex. The United States has over 1000 foreign bases or military installations distributed among 130 nations. The Department of Defense has divided up the entire world into what it calls ***Unified Commands: North Command, South Command, European Command, Pacific Command, Central Command, and the latest: African Command. This unified command structure is the vehicle by which the U.S. establishes control, occupation, or supervision over the continents, oceans, and even outer space.

Of course this type of global dominance comes with a very high price tag. When it comes to military spending, “we’re #1!” How does the U.S. rank in other categories…? We’re also the #1 arms exporting nation. We hold the top spot by far, in gun ownership and incarceration. We’re #2 in our energy consumption footprint. We spend the most in expenditures for health care, yet rank 38th in health care itself; 34th in infant mortality. We rank 3rd in people living below the poverty line, but 2nd if you look just at children, with 23.1% of American children living in poverty. In education, we rank 17th overall, 29th in science scores and 35th in math. How is it that the richest country in the world has its priorities so screwed up?

I agree with the Interfaith Worker Justice Coalition that the federal budget is a moral document because it reflects and shapes our country’s priorities. Quoting from their report: “Congress should craft the federal budget based on the needs of all. In Proverbs (31:9) we are reminded of our responsibility to “Speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.” The federal budget should reflect a government that provides hope, opportunity, and a place at the table for all, especially for poor and hungry people.”

One of the reasons that more Americans are not actively opposed to war is because we have been sheltered from the reality of it. The Main Stream Media conglomerates (which are now a big part of the Military-Industrial Complex) rarely report on our wars, and when they do, it is to sanitize the ugliness and glorify the rest. This is why the government acted so strongly in reaction to the information Bradley Manning released to Wikileaks. The truth of war spoils the image that the government and the MIC want you to see. I remember during the Vietnam war…every night there would be reports from the field. When was the last time you saw a news report from Afghanistan? Some of our biggest defense contractors are owned by the same people who own our media outlets. General Electric, which owns NBC is a good case in point. ***Retired General Barry McCaffrey, who is frequently interviewed as a military expert, sits on the board of directors of military contractor Dyncorp and is also on the payroll of NBC. Our government and the main stream media have successfully conflated supporting war and supporting the men and women who serve in the military, so that even legislators who are opposed in principle to our wars, vote to fund them because they have to “support the troops.” As an American, it is easy to avoid the ugly truth of war.

So, how do we change these policies? How do we convert the American culture of war and militarism to a culture of peace? How did we get to this culture in the first place? As Americans, where is it along the line that we lose our compassion for others? Remember when former Ambassador to the UN, Madeline Albright said that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to our sanctions program was “worth it?”

At what point do we decide that an American life is worth more than anyone else’s?

We all grow up being taught the Golden Rule. ***Children everywhere are taught to treat others as they would like to be treated. They are taught to share. They are taught teamwork. Children have a natural affinity for friend-making. You can put children from different cultures and who don’t speak the same language together, yet they will play and get along just fine. So how is it that we lose this reciprocal caring? What happens to our empathy over the years so that as adults we are not outraged when our government kills children in Iraq or Afghanistan? How is it possible that our government can spend trillions of our dollars killing people and destroying property in other countries while our own citizens go hungry or without a home? The answer is that there is no hunger lobby. Homeless people are not contributing millions of dollars to political candidates. There is no children’s PAC.

So, with such formidable obstacles to overcome for peace activists, it is often very frustrating and demoralizing, as progress seems miniscule. Yet we must resolve to continue the struggle. We must build a culture of peace and glorify the peacemaker instead of the warrior. ***“War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. --John F. Kennedy. We must try to create different and more effective actions that will help “awaken” our fellow citizens to join us in this challenge and will move the policy makers towards the changes we seek.

I am often asked the question, “How do you know if you are doing any good?” The answer is that you don’t really know when you are having a positive effect. You never know when something you say or do will resonate with someone, just as the Eyes Wide Open exhibit resonated with me. But it is so important that we try; that we continue to persevere and trust in the power of our collective acts. There are many ways that one can become an activist ranging from signing electronic petitions to acts of civil disobedience. While some actions may not seem very consequential, it is important that we not discount their impact. Remember, the sum of the whole is greater than its parts. One drop of water has little effect, but many drops can wear holes in stone. Mahatma Gandhi said: “It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. ***You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

We also need to remember that we are not all capable or ready to commit the most extreme actions, but we should try to push ourselves to the right on the spectrum of engagement. We need to step out of our comfort zones.

I’d like to tell you the story of Steve and Michelle DeFord. Their son, ***David Johnson worked as a cook in several upscale restaurants in Portland. He was good at what he did and he dreamed of going to culinary school and becoming a world class chef. After 9/11, David joined the National Guard as a cook in order to serve his community in the event of a disaster. That summer he helped fight forest fires and cooked for his unit. Then his unit was called up for active duty and sent to Iraq. David was reassigned as a gunner because the U.S. government was paying private contractors like Halliburton to do things like cooking. With virtually no live fire training behind him, David was given a position in the back of an unarmored vehicle. Only days after his arrival in Iraq, David’s vehicle hit an IED and he was killed.

Six years ago, I organized an anti-Iraq War protest here in Corvallis and invited David’s parents to speak. I vividly remember listening to David’s father, Steve tell us the story that I just told you. Then he said, “Where are the masses? Every day I do something to try to stop this war. I make phone calls, I march, I write letters, and I tell this story. My wife and I travel the country telling our story, and working with other activists to end this war.” He implored all of us in the audience to get involved; to do our part. I felt so badly for him and Michelle; wondering how they could ever get over their grief when every day they were keeping the emotional wounds open by telling and retelling their story. But the courage and commitment they showed that day served as an inspiration for me and everyone else who heard them.

Some of the most powerful stories I have heard come from soldiers who were involved in hurting or killing children, because it is impossible to dehumanize children, and because they see those children as their own. Recently I listened to an Afghanistan War veteran relate one of those stories. He and his unit had a building surrounded and he called for bombs to destroy it. Afterwards they were required to do “Battle Damage Assessment” or BDA, which involves sifting through the rubble looking for weapons or possible prisoners who might have survived the attack. He said that the first thing he saw were the body parts of women. Then he made his way into what was the bedroom where he could see children’s bodies underneath a partially collapsed bed. He had a flash of hope that one of the children might have survived the attack, sheltered by this bed. He went to lift the head of a young girl, but it was no longer attached to her body. This child was about the same age of his own daughter and he instantly knew the true horror of war. This young man now has to live with this memory forever. He says he sees the dead child whenever he looks at his own daughter. He, like the DeFords, are now telling their stories. They are stepping out of their comfort zones, doing what is difficult; to try to help others understand the truth of war.

The power that we have as peace activists is personal. It comes from righteous indignation. It comes from outrage and it comes from empathy. We have to transform our outrage and our anger into positive nonviolent action. If we have a story to tell, we must tell it, and the rest of us must listen, absorb what we are told, and then help carry the message. We each must do our part.

***I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. –Helen Keller

While change may not seem to happen quickly, it does happen. We should remind ourselves that only 150 years ago slavery was legal; and we are only three generations away from women getting the right to vote. Look at how much progress the gay and lesbian activists have made in just the last few years—even the last few weeks! We are now to a point where senators are tripping over each other to come out in support of ***marriage equality. Now, being in support of the LGBT community is the “politically correct” thing to do. The peace movement must continue its work until support for war making and militarism becomes shunned…when the failure to use every diplomatic avenue available and to take up arms against another is seen as a complete failure. The peace movement must organize and build politically so that a Congressman fears losing his seat if he votes for war. We need to put pressure on Congress not just in the streets with demonstrations and rallies, but also on the inside--lobbying and pushing, electing only people who will work for our values, and building a network of insiders who will work with Congress to craft legislation which supports peace and justice. We have to understand that one tactic will not be effective on its own. We can’t rely solely on protest marches to affect policy change, just as we cannot expect to end war simply by writing our Congressman. It is going to take continuous, sustained organizing, with pressure from all sides.

Now our country is seemingly in another rush to war, this time with Iran. Our politicians have enacted extremely harsh sanctions that constitute collective punishment—something that is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. Our own Senator Wyden is an original co-sponsor of Senate Resolution 65 that calls for military action against a country which has done nothing illegal; nothing to harm the United States. Military action against Iran would be another aggressive war of choice, yet just like Iraq, it seems our Congress is embracing this option. They refer to the sanctions as acts of “diplomacy.” Sanctions aren’t diplomacy! Sanctions are punitive! Sanctions killed half a million children in Iraq! Diplomacy means talking. Diplomacy means sitting down together and respecting the other. Diplomacy means give and take. The United States has embassies or missions in every country in the world except five, including Iran. We need an embassy far more in a country like Iran than we do in one like France or Australia. If we can’t talk with other countries, then what is left? You know the expression, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail…?”

Former presidential advisor and author Gavin de Becker believes that Fear, not Distance, is what separates the people of the world from each other. He says that we are divided by our belief that people in some nations are profoundly different from us, and by imagining and dwelling on our differences, it is easier to drop a quarter-million cluster bombs on Iraq.

I just came back from a trip to Dallas where several hundred of us were ***protesting the opening of President Bush’s library on the campus of Southern Methodist University. We believe that President Bush as well as others in his cabinet are guilty of war crimes and should be prosecuted. We also believe that President Obama will never prosecute anyone in the Bush administration because he is guilty of many of the same crimes. As I speak, 133 prisoners in Guantanamo are on a ***hunger strike. These men have been held for over a decade without charge. Many of them were turned over to the United States military because we paid a bounty—not because there was any evidence of wrongdoing. 86 of them have actually been cleared for release, yet they languish in cages. Now the men are fighting back with the only power they have—to refuse food, but the Obama administration is taking that last bit of power away from them as well, as they are now being force-fed. The men are tied up in chairs, their hands and feet are bound, and a hose is inserted through their noses and into their stomachs. This procedure is extremely painful and constitutes torture, according to the United Nations. Guantanamo is just one example of illegal and immoral action taken by our government.

In Dallas I met an Iraqi man named Salaam (which coincidentally means ‘Peace’ in Arabic). Salaam believes that if people from other countries and cultures meet each other and build relationships, it will be impossible for them to think of each other as enemies no matter what their governments might say. He said that most Americans have a cliché idea of the Middle East as a place in the desert with camels—that we don’t know anything about its history or multiple cultures. So Salaam traveled around the U.S. with two American Iraq war veterans and they spoke to people—audiences just like this one. The American soldiers used the speaking tour to renounce the Iraq War and apologize for their part in it, and Salaam used the tour as an act of forgiveness and education. At the conclusion of his presentation in Dallas, Salaam said a bit sardonically, “I believe we should know the people before we think, “Should we shoot them or not?”

So one thing we have to do to wage peace, is to not succumb to fear. When our government tells us that people in other countries are our enemies, and that we should be afraid of them, we must stand up and say: “You are wrong! We refuse to let you label other human beings as “evil! We refuse to let you kill, injure, and destroy them in our name! “

When our Congress budgets our tax dollars to pay for war and weapons instead of health care and education, we must stand up and say: “You are wrong! We refuse to let you spend our money this way!

And when it seems like our voices are being ignored by our government, then we must double our efforts to be heard. We may never be able to buy the kind of influence and access that the military-industrial-media complex has, but what we have on our side is righteousness. We have compassion. We have humanity. We have love. And our power can never be defeated.

***The only sane policy for the world is that of abolishing war. –Linus Pauling

Thank you very much.

Leah Bolger spent 20 years on active duty in the U.S. Navy and retired in 2000 at the rank of Commander. She is currently a full-time peace activist and serves as the President of Veterans For Peace.





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