August 14, 2008
By Robert C. Koehler
Tribune Media Services
Peace is no more -- and no less -- than the audacity of sanity, reaching past the dubious geopolitics of national self-interest and standing, as Hank Brusselback did, underneath the ancient bridge in Esfahan, Iran, listening to the men who had gathered to sing.
It's called civilian diplomacy, and it is one way we will create the peace our leaders don't believe we're ready for.
"If the government isn't willing to talk to people, then the people need to be willing to (talk to each other)," Brusselback said. "It comes from a belief in the nature of security -- it's not about weapons, fear and posturing on the world stage. It's about communication, talking to people, everyone having their basic needs met. If you understood security that way, you'd see that security is about dialogue."
At the beginning of May, Brusselback, a painter (http://www.bufflecake.com/bufflecake/iran.html) and political activist, and his wife, Gaia Mika, of Dixon, N.M., were part of a delegation of citizen diplomats to Iran sponsored by the 93-year-old Fellowship of Reconciliation, an organization that has been at the forefront of significant national and global change throughout the 20th century -- from the founding of the ACLU to the rescue of Jews in the Nazi era to the Montgomery bus boycott and the dawn of the civil rights movement.
Mostly FOR has been about stopping war, something that may still seem like futility itself, but consider how futile it must have seemed in 1914, when the Great War started while an ecumenical conference among European clergy was being held in Switzerland to avert the outbreak of war. According to the FOR-USA Web site, two of the participants, Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker, and Friedrich Sigmund-Schultze, a German Lutheran, upon meeting at a railroad station in Germany as they headed home, "pledged to find a way of working for peace even though their countries were at war."
This was a pledge of courageous determination, made to the future of the human race. The Fellowship of Reconciliation was founded out of this pledge a few months later, in Cambridge, England; and in 1915, a second fellowship was established in the United States. Throughout the 20th and into the 21st centuries -- for the first time in the long history of the human race -- humanity's passion for peace, justice and connectedness has had a permanent structure from which to challenge the short-sighted self-interest of governments, and their predilection to prepare for and wage wars.
And so, with the Bush administration in popularity freefall, its splendid little war in Iraq having run aground, many Americans have been eying its hollow belligerence toward Iran with acute nervousness. But some have decided to be pre-emptive themselves, rather than simmer in their anger and helplessness.
"Our determination was to do something different than go out in the streets, which we did for Iraq," Brusselback told me. "We wanted to give a message to Iranians -- to let them know there are lots of us here who believe in peace."
This, as I say, is the audacity of sanity, and a sign that the world is changing, the war paradigm is shifting. The May delegation, which consisted of 21 U.S. citizens, was the seventh that FOR-USA has sent to Iran in the last three years. The delegates talked to religious leaders (including Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians as well as Muslims). They toured the country.
"We wore pins, written in Farsi: 'We are part of a peace delegation,'" Brusselback said. "And (people) just had this big, warm smile. They wanted to give us hugs and shake our hands. 'We love Americans!' They told us that day after day."
They also talked to people about the complexity of life in Iran. The country has plenty of problems. People rolled their eyes when talking about President Ahmadinejad, especially his Holocaust-denial posturing. And, yeah, Iran has laws "about all kinds of things that really get in your face personally, especially women," he said. "Morality police. No makeup, can't show legs or hair. (Some people) struggle to push the edges. They're brave. They risk arrest."
But ladies and gentlemen, none of this is fodder for war. The highest order of ignorance is required before airstrikes, and the slaughter of these warm, courageous people, can be condoned.
Brusselback talked about his wife's experience in historic and beautiful Esfahan, when she found herself amid a group of schoolchildren in Imam Square. "The teacher asked who she was," he said. "Then all the children introduced themselves to her one at a time, each saying a phrase in English. It brought tears to her eyes."
He also talked about coming upon a group of men who had gathered under Esfahan's 300-year-old bridge to sing, because the echo there was out of this world. As he stood listening, one of them struck up a conversation. "So you're from the U.S.," the man said. "Do you think we're terrorists?"
If we know enough we'll never go to war again. This is globalization that matters.
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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.
© 2008 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
August 07, 2008
A Short Message to the UC Regents: Get Out of the Nuclear Weapons Business
By David Krieger
Designing and developing weapons of mass annihilation should not be business as usual, especially for a great university. And yet, for the UC, it is business as usual. Since the beginning of the Nuclear Age, the UC has been in the business of providing management and oversight to the nation's principal nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The UC is now in that business with corporate partners such as Bechtel.
Your involvement with the weapons labs is arguably illegal under international law, is certainly immoral and, from a security perspective, perpetuates US reliance on nuclear weapons, which undermines US and global security. It also sends exactly the wrong message to the young people who are educated at the University of California. It suggests to them that it must be acceptable to create weapons capable of destroying civilization when a great university engages in doing so.
The UC shares in the responsibility for creating all nuclear weapons in the US arsenal. Should these weapons ever be used, by accident or design, the responsibility and accountability for that use will rest not only upon decision makers in the US government, but upon the UC system – including upon those who remained indifferent or apathetic in the face of the UC oversight of the weapons labs.
Some at the UC refer to its work on nuclear weapons as a "national service." I would say it is a disservice, both to the nation and to the University.
The most important thing that can be said about nuclear weapons is that they do not and cannot protect their possessors. By continuing to rely upon these weapons, a prospect furthered by the nuclear weapons laboratories, the US upholds nuclear double standards that encourage nuclear proliferation.
I suggest to you that a day will come when the UC will deeply regret having sold its good name to provide respectability to the creation and maintenance of nuclear weapons. In the interests of the UC and the country, I would urge you to take the following three actions:
First, support the Student Department of Energy Lab Oversight Committee, which has already demonstrated serious intent and done important research on the weapons laboratories and how their work negatively impacts national and global security.
Second, follow the example of the Norwegian government pension fund and divest the UC investment portfolio of corporations involved in creating nuclear weapons and their component parts.
Third, withdraw from the management and oversight of the weapons labs on the grounds of legality, morality and human security. By doing so, you would be setting an invaluable example for UC students and for institutions of higher education in our country and throughout the world.
Such acts of conscience by the UC Regents would help spark a national discussion on the need for US leadership for a world free of nuclear weapons.
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). On July 17, 2008, members of the public were allotted one minute each to express their views in the public comment portion of the UC Regents' meeting.