Last month, Judge G. Mallon Faircloth sentenced me
to three months in prison for participating in a November, 2003 peaceful protest,
organized by the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), at Fort Benning, GA. During
three days of trial, 27 activists offered moving testimony about why they carried
crosses and coffins onto the base. Defendants called for an end to the U.S. Army
combat training school, the SOA-WINSEC. All were found guilty. Some were sentenced
to probation, others to probation with fines, and still others to three to six
month terms in prison. As in previous years, the trial provided a forum for defendants
to speak on behalf of people whose voices can never be heard in U.S. courts, the
voices of those who've been wounded, orphaned, maimed, disappeared and murdered
because of U.S. militarism.
For my part, it was important to recall experiences tracing back to 1985, when
I traveled to San Juan de Limay, in the north of Nicaragua. Children there were
radiant and friendly, many of them too young to understand that during the previous
week, U.S.-funded Contras had kidnapped and murdered 25 people in their village.
Later that summer, I fasted with Nicaragua's Foreign Minister, Rev. Miguel
D'Escoto, himself a Maryknoll priest, and listened to stories pour forth
as many hundreds of Nicaraguan peasant pilgrims vigiled and fasted in the Monsenor
Lezcano church to show solidarity with the priest-minister's desire to
nonviolently resist Contra terrorism. Rev. Miguel D'Escoto urged those
of us from the U.S. to return to our homes and there develop nonviolent actions
commensurate to the crimes being committed. This experience gave me reason to
believe that the U.S. could have used negotiation and diplomacy to resolve disputes
Likewise, in Haiti, the poorest country of the western hemisphere, nonviolent
activists had experienced, through peace teams, an arrow pointing to the potential
for nonviolent activism to protect human rights. The Christian Peacemaker Teams
maintained a steady presence in Jeremie, in the southern finger of Haiti, throughout
the time when the U.S. had determined it was too dangerous for U.S. soldiers
to be there. I was there for three months in 1995 just before the U.S. troops
returned. Throughout this stretch of history, the U.S. spent more money on moving,
equipping, and training troops, than it spent on meeting human needs. The Commandant
of the region, Colonel Rigobert Jean, commented publicly that he was "ashamed
and embarrassed that it was left to the Œblans (Creole for foreigners)
on the hill to preserve peace and security in the region." He was referring
to our five person team. Again, I had reason to believe that unarmed peacemakers
with almost no funding could be relied on to create greater security than the
military could provide, in an area of intense conflict.
Indelibly marked in my memory from that summer are the Creole words that children
could no longer suppress as evenings drew to a close and they longed for adequate
meals. "M'gen grangou" – I'm hungry.
More recently, in Iraq, during the U.S. bombing in March and April of 2003,
I saw how children suffer when nations decide to put their resources into weapons
and warfare rather than meeting human needs. All of us learned to adopt a poker
face, hoping not to frighten the children, as ear-splitting blasts and gut wrenching
thuds exploded across Baghdad. During most days and nights of the bombing, I
would spend a little time holding little Miladhah and Zainab in my arms. That's
how I learned of their fear. These two little girls were grinding their teeth,
morning, noon and night. But they were far more fortunate than the children
who were survivors of direct hits, children whose brothers and sisters and parents
were maimed and killed, and children who were themselves scarred and deformed.
A recent report in the London Observer quoted U.S. Armed Forces medical personnel
warning that 20 percent of the veterans returning from Iraq will suffer post
traumatic stress disorders – already 22 soldiers have committed suicide.
As of this writing, over 500 U.S. soldiers, caught in an inconclusive war in
Iraq, have been killed, and 9,000 wounded.
How can we best educate the U.S. public about the futility of pouring U.S.
resources down the rathole of military spending?
During the recent SOAW trial in Columbus, GA, as co-defendants told what motivated
them to risk imprisonment and heavy fines, we heard stories of military atrocities
that explain why increasing numbers of people in other parts of the world feel
seething rage and antagonism toward the U.S. In a very real sense, our dangerously
over-consumptive lifestyles were on trial, just as much as U.S. readiness to
use threat and force, overwhelming military force, to protect the American way
of life. The belief that, as President George Bush said at a 1992 energy conference
in Rio de Janeiro, "the American way of life is non-negotiable," leads
others to justify violent responses to stop U.S. imperialism.
For most of us, the U.S. government does not want our bodies on the line in
combat. It wants our assent and our money. Elected officials often perceive
that we put them in power to protect our inordinately comfortable lifestyles,
and if they have to use violent means to do so, we will foot the bill. Refusal
to pay for war (through war tax resistance) and readiness to radically resist
militarism through nonviolent means helps us find what Rev. D'Escoto pointed
us toward: "actions commensurate to the crimes being committed."
Before sentencing me, Judge Faircloth asked me why the campaign I work most
closely with is called "Voices in the Wilderness." I explained that
we believe there is a wilderness of compassion here in the U.S. I'm grateful
to have been part of the passion that motivated defendants in the courtroom.
We haven't given up on nonviolence. Rather than advocate that others risk
torture and slaughter as the only way to resist U.S. warmaking, this group and
the many thousands of supporters who are part of the SOAW network are committed
to "the further invention of nonviolence."
By telling a judge that we are willing to go into the prison system, and there
give witness on behalf of mothers and fathers separated from their children
by a cruel and wrongheaded prison-industrial complex, we can point to a radically
countercultural departure from accepting the status quo that now exists in the