How do we defuse an aggressive culture? How do we end an endless war?
A new group of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists from the USA, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan offers a variety of answers to these conundrum questions. In opposing militarism we’ve moved beyond demonstrations and petitions into direct action, flouting the government’s laws and impeding its ability to kill our fellow human beings. As criminals for peace, we’re defying the Patriot Act and working underground in secret cells to undermine the US military empire.
I’m the spokesperson for the group because I live outside the “homeland” and as a Special Forces combat veteran I’m used to being under attack.
We’ve become outlaws out of despair. Obama’s morphing into a war president was the last straw. By continuing the aggression he’d promised to stop, he’s shown himself to be just another imperialist killing thousands of people to maintain US power. He portrayed his latest plan for Afghanistan as progress towards peace, but it really paves the way for long-term fighting as in Iraq: US bases and support troops staying indefinitely to prop up the local army. The killing will continue, but mercenaries and local soldiers will be doing most of it while the USA provides back-up. Just as many people will die, but far fewer will be Americans, so the war will disappear from the news and people’s minds. This is not a plan for peace but for prolonged war.
A similar betrayal of democracy occurred in 2006 when the Democrats gained control of Congress by pledging to end the war. Instead those same politicians then voted a huge increase in military spending and supported US troop surges.
The sad fact is that American voters don’t control our government. Corporations do. The government represents business, not us. If business needs cheap oil, the president and congress will make war to get it for them, with time-out every few years for some campaign rhetoric about peace. It’s obvious now their rhetoric is lies.
Both parties are designed to prevent basic changes, to divert the public’s demand for change into dead-end streets that don’t challenge the power structure. The Democratic Party exists to drain our potentially radical energies off into superficial reforms that actually strengthen capitalism.
Since changing the system from within has failed, our program has become sedition, subversion, sabotage: direct action to bring the system down. We’re helping soldiers to desert, destroying computer systems, trashing recruiting offices, burning military equipment, and sabotaging defense contractors.
In doing so, we use only nonviolent methods. Violence means harming living creatures. It’s only because our society sees property as more important than people that it labels destroying property as violence. We are destroying the government’s means of violence, the equipment it uses to kill people. And we’re very careful not to injure anyone while we’re doing that. In other words, we’ll throw a rock through the window of an army recruiting office, but we won’t throw a rock at the recruiter. We don’t have anything against him as a person. And we don’t have anything against the police as people. It’s the system we’re trying to break, and breaking its windows, burning its trucks, and zapping its electronics helps with that.
Setting bombs and burning buildings where people could be inside can’t achieve anything worthwhile. It just reproduces the same mentality we’re trying to change.
Rather than randomly smashing windows and torching autos, we restrict our activities to institutions that support or profit from the war. Our goal is to make the war too expensive to continue, to convince the politicians they don’t have enough money to conquer Iraq and Afghanistan. A few acts of sabotage won’t do that, but thousands can. Government and corporate resources are limited. Taxes and the deficit are already so high that they’re crippling the economy. Every dollar the government has to spend keeping things running here is one they can’t spend killing people overseas.
We believe that direct actions like these aren’t a substitute for traditional organizing, but in critical situations like the present they can supplement it and reenergize it. Sedition, subversion, and sabotage won’t build a new society, but they can help weaken the old one so the new one can be built.
Some of the members of our group:
A woman soldier who was raped by a fellow GI in Iraq. Her commanding officer refused to prosecute the rapist and threatened her with disciplinary action if she “made trouble.” With the help of the group she deserted and is now living with a female partner in the Netherlands.
Trucker, the code name of a man who is committed to aggressive forms of resistance such as destroying government property. He classifies his sabotage as nonviolent because it doesn’t harm human beings, only things. His specialty is burning military vehicles.
An Iraqi student whose family was brutalized by American soldiers. She tells how this turned her into a pacifist and her brother into a resistance fighter.
A high school teacher who was fired and blacklisted for teaching her students how US foreign policy has provoked terrorism. The experience changed her from a Republican into a radical activist.
A gay Afghan refugee who describes the similarities between the Taliban and the US Army.
A Granny for Peace who found young allies in her struggle against military recruiting.
A janitor who destroys computers at defense contractors with electrical surges.
A young woman whose friend returned home from Iraq crippled. She hurled a rock through the window of the local recruiting office . . . and discovered she likes the music of shattering glass.
A seminary student who was assaulted by soldiers at a peace demonstration. She decided to learn to love her enemies by becoming a military chaplain and subverting from within.
A woman soldier who deserted after being sexually harassed by both male and female colleagues.
A sailor who went on weekend pass to a Buddhist retreat and came back a pacifist.
A wounded soldier who escaped from military detention and deserted rather than being sent back to combat.
We’ve written a book about our efforts, RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War. Not surprisingly, it has aroused controversy. Conservative critic Joanne Eddington described it as, “Loathsome . . . further evidence that the hatred of America is reaching hysterical dimensions.” On the other side of the political spectrum, Noam Chomsky described it as, “A book that captures such complexities and depths of human existence, even apart from the immediate message.”
Chapters are posted on a page of the publisher’s website.
William T. Hathaway is a Special Forces combat veteran turned peace activist. His other books include A WORLD OF HURT (Rinehart Foundation Award), CD-RING, and SUMMER SNOW. He is an adjunct professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.