Friday, April 3, 2009

Beyond Afghanistan: Choosing Nonviolence

A Statement by the War Resisters League

As we approach the April 4 anniversary of Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s great 1967 "Beyond
Vietnam" speech in New York City's Riverside
Church, the War Resisters League reiterates
King's urgent cry for nonviolence­and nonviolent
resistance. The parallels between the war in
Afghanistan and the U.S. war against Vietnam fill
us with foreboding. While we adamantly oppose
continued U.S. military intervention in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, we also call upon
people of conscience to think beyond Afghanistan
and challenge, as King did, "the giant triplets
of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism."

Others have laid out reasons­from Afghanistan's
topography to the U.S. economic crisis­that would
make an expanded war in Afghanistan "unwinnable."
But WRL does not base our opposition on such
arguments. While they may be correct, we
challenge the very idea of a "winnable" war and
oppose this one as we oppose all war: not solely
for practical and strategic reasons, but because
of our, and King's, decades-long commitment to nonviolence.

Purveyor of Violence

Much has changed in the 40-plus years since King
made that speech, yet the United States remains,
as he named it then, "the greatest purveyor of
violence in the world." WRL stands, as he did,
against that violence, which is not only wrong in
itself, but cures nothing and rebounds on its perpetrators.

King declared that the people of Vietnam "must
see Americans as strange liberators." The
assessment applies today to the people of
Afghanistan. Afghanistan has lost more than two
million civilian lives to war in the last 30
years alone, and the toll is rising again, in a
dreadful example of the ways in which violence
boomerangs and warfare begets only devastation
and more warfare (including attacks by groups
like Al Qaeda). For centuries that battered land
has been subject to imperial aggression and
intervention. The Taliban rose to power with the
support of the U.S. and Pakistani intelligence
services, intervening against the USSR's
invasion. Today, Afghanistan's infrastructure is
destroyed. Each year, pregnancy and childbirth
kill 25,000 women, and diarrhea kills 85,000
children. Landmines planted in turn by troops of
the Soviet Union, the Northern Alliance, and the
Taliban kill 600 people per year and maim so many
that manufacturing artificial limbs is a major
industry. The infamous U.S. "detention center" at
Bagram continues to hold more prisoners than
Guantánamo. Rather than bombing and shelling
Afghanistan­and maintaining a prison there­the
United States could promote economic development,
public health, education, food security, women's
empowerment, and de-mining efforts.

The Enemy of the Poor

War wreaks its devastation within our own country
as well. In this period of increased global
instability and recession, the world is
undergoing a tectonic shift in its assumptions
about the institutions of capitalism. That
re-evaluation must include its assumptions about the institution of war.

"I knew that America would never invest the
necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of
its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam
continued to draw men and skills and money like
some demonic, destructive suction tube," King
said in 1967. Substitute "Iraq and Afghanistan"
for Vietnam, and the sentence is equally, terribly true today.

Here as abroad, war remains, as King called it,
the "enemy of the poor." While the Pentagon pours
billions of tax dollars into implements of
destruction and rains down bombs on poor
civilians in Afghanistan, our own infrastructure
crumbles, and our own people are struggling
without decent schools, healthcare, and
employment. The funds that we need to provide
housing and care at home end up diverted into
killing people thousands of miles away, and
people of color, immigrants, and lower-income
whites are targeted by military recruiters to do
the killing. Massive bailouts line the pockets of
bankers, unemployment skyrockets, and military
recruiters are having the easiest time meeting their quotas in years.

Nonviolence in Afghanistan and at Home

Despite the monumental obstacles they face, many
in Afghanistan and Pakistan are working
nonviolently for peace and to repair the ravages
of war and warmaking. In Afghanistan,
Parliamentarian Malalai Joya­despite illegal
suspension from Parliament and assassination
attempts­has continued to denounce the warlords
and call for human rights, women's rights, and
governmental accountability. Thousands of peace
advocates in northern Pakistan and southern
Afghanistan have met in the assemblies called
jirgas to imagine and formulate peace and
reconstruction initiatives. The lawyers' campaign
in Pakistan has mobilized thousands, despite
beatings and arrests, to reverse the military's
control over the courts. Others are building
schools and countering the bitter legacy of
violence against women. U.S. peace advocates
should be promoting and publicizing these
nonviolent actions to rebuild Afghan and
Pakistani society in the midst of war,
devastation, warlordism, and patriarchal control.

In our own country as well, there are
increasingly loud voices against war and for a
reordering of our priorities­for affordable
housing, universal healthcare, gender justice,
disability rights, clean energy, quality
education, restorative justice, fair food, and an
anti-racist society. Among these allies are
newcomers to the United States, people who have
survived and resisted wars and challenged
immigration policies that facilitate the
extraction of profits from cheap labor, even
while being criminalized, imprisoned, deported,
and denied citizenship. Some of those most
forsaken by the U.S. government have continued to
build organizations and networks for those with no safety net.

The Choice

The War Resisters League urges everyone to join
us in organizing, protesting, and demanding the
closing of Bagram prison (and all such "detention
centers") and an end to military actions in
Afghanistan and Pakistan and across the globe.
Organize against military recruitment­the
military is preying on those most affected by the
battered economy. Support the voices and actions
of the survivors of war. Listen to veterans of
the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; create space for
their heartbreaking stories of remorse and
harrowing accounts of the worst kinds of violence
and dehumanization. Stop funding war­become a war
tax resister. Instead of paying to train men and
women to kill, foster ways to help all of us rebuild our communities.

The so-called "war on terrorism," with its
occupations and detentions, its torture and
carnage, has failed because military action can
never lead to security. We don't have easy
answers, but we know that the cycle of violence
has to end, and we have to help end it. While
thousands of people in Afghanistan and Pakistan
are finding the courage to risk their lives to
work for nonviolent solutions, we have a
responsibility to lift our voices. We must reject
the notions of good wars and bad wars, legal or
illegal wars, winnable and unwinnable wars. We
must decide whether our identity as a nation will
be based on a culture of cultivating life or
dealing death. As King declared, "A nation that
continues year after year to spend more money on
military defense than on programs of social
uplift is approaching spiritual death. ... We
still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence
or violent co-annihilation." Together, let's choose the path of nonviolence.

For suggestions for actions opposing war in
Afghanistan, see United for Peace and Justice,
the antiwar coalition to which WRL belongs,


War Resisters League
339 Lafayette St.
New York, NY 10012

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