War – Twenty Years Too Many
Reprinted from The Common Good, No 56, Lent 2011
In January 1991, along with three other Catholic Workers calling themselves the ANZUS Ploughshares, Moana Cole sought to ‘disarm’ a B52 bomber primed to fly to Iraq. They entered the Griffiths Air Force Base in Syracuse, NY, where they symbolically hammered on the warplane, before pouring their own blood on it and kneeling in prayer to await arrest. Moana was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. She gave this address at the 20th anniversary gathering commemorating the start of the Gulf War, at what became the final official peace vigil to be held outside the Christ Church Cathedral, subsequently devastated by the 22 February earthquake.
In 1990, the most serious resistance to the preparation for war did not come from the peace movement. It came out of the US military itself.
The most dramatic resistance caught on camera was of Marine Pte Jeff Patterson sitting on the tarmac refusing deployment when his company were being deployed to Iraq. It was a dramatic sight, an officer screaming in his face, whilst he remained so composed and peaceful.
Jeff was the first of a number of marines who refused deployment and these men and women were sentenced from several months to several years in the military brig. They received little recognition and support from the peace movement.
On Jan 15 1991, B52 bombers carrying out the longest combat mission in US history flew from the US to Iraq and dropped the first bombs of the war, timed to coincide with prime time TV. The Iraqi infrastructure was destroyed and the death ratio for the war was 1000 civilians killed for every western soldier killed, the highest ratio in history. I do not have figure for the subsequent invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, but it would be similar.
In the Christian tradition, Satan is known as the father of lies and there are no bigger lies told than the ones to justify war and the subsequent huge civilian toll. What these lies are most afraid of is the truth. I want to focus my support at this time for a man who has revealed truth in the face of lies and is suffering terribly for it.
Pte Bradley Manning, a 22 year old intelligence analyst, allegedly released a video which became known as collateral murder video. It showed US soldiers gunning down unarmed civilians, journalists and children. There was no return fire and 11 were killed and 2 children seriously wounded.
He is also suspected of leaking the Afghan war diaries, tens of thousands of battlefield reports that describe civilian deaths and cover ups, corrupt officials, collusion with warlords and a failing US/NATO war effort.
Pte Manning argues he released his government’s secrets of criminal and corrupt acts to trigger discussion, debate and reform. He did not sell them to another country or publish them for profit.
His revelation of the truth has earned him a prophet’s reward – 13 months imprisonment so far, in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, locked for 23 hrs each day in a tiny cell, no exercise permitted whilst in a cell, no sheets, no pillows, being woken through the night every 10 minutes to be asked if he is all right, only being allowed to sleep during certain hours. It is a brutal torture that is designed to break him and intimidate others. It is being carried out by the American military on American soil, in ‘the land of the free.’ It is ongoing.
Brothers and sisters in prison for revealing the truth and/or disarming the weapons of war should always remain a central focus of our peace movement. They have sacrificed their liberty for us. They are in there for us and we should be out here for them. If resistance were better supported it would be more widespread. I can tell you from my own experience that prison is designed to isolate and intimidate. What kept me going and what will keep Bradley Manning going is our letters of support and our continuation to speak out on his behalf.
One final point. Let’s look at our own complicity in this Afghanistan occupation. New Zealand has troops there that are part of the problem, not the solution. Get them out should be our mantra. What has also been publically revealed via Wikileaks is what organisations like Anti-bases Campaign and the Catholic Worker have claimed all along: that through the Waihopai base near Blenheim, New Zealand becomes a significant part of an intelligence network that spies for our US masters. Let us say ‘No’ to such networks, given all that we now know thanks to Bradley Manning.
Postscript: In May 2011, Bradley Manning was transferred to a military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he is no longer in solitary confinement..