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Rusty Nelson on Peace and War: “Making History”

by pjals Monday, Dec 5, 2016 | 2:14pm | Comment on this

Rusty Nelson on Peace and War: “Making History”

Rusty Nelson

Rusty Nelson

For years, I have railed against the wholesale use and abuse of certain inescapable terms in the popular lexicon of American discourse.  Along with certain obscenities that continue to nibble away at my own vocabulary, “The Economy” is one that stands out.  Pundits, politicians and pedagogues seem to agree that the term has the same meaning for me that it does for Matt Shea, Bill Gates, and Domantas Sabonis.  “The Economy,” of course, bounces off me differently than it does anyone else, including my children and their children, and I resent the implication that I’m just another naked chick in a crowded nest, open wide for whatever worm that differently-feathered parent figure dangles above me. Read more »

Rusty Nelson on Peace and War; Fire!

by pjals Thursday, Sep 15, 2016 | 12:12pm | Comment on this


rustyAs tough as it always is to narrow the scope of my commentary, I had done the writing before going to church Sunday morning. I planned to tinker with it and submit it in the afternoon, almost in time. But Sunday was not a good day for polishing a manuscript.

We noticed the menacing plume from the South Hill. It was disturbing but hardly surprising, and we reassured my daughter when we stopped at her home. When we arrived at our place, we had driven past the expanding column of smoke and chatted with our neighbors about its trajectory and tried to contact Jerry and Marilynne Mueller, our partners who were visiting her sister-in-law in hospice care. The smoke grew thicker in the relentless wind. Despite our assessment, Lara, 8-months pregnant, her husband working in Florida, was told to evacuate. We suggested she head to Spokane with her four-year-old and her dog. No sense joining us in the path of the fire.

The fires are not out, not even contained, and smoke is everywhere. We have a few items packed, in case, but Lara is back in her home. Muellers returned before the highway was closed. Their earth-sheltered home may be as fire-resistant as any in the county, but a family compound on the river, including a cabin built by their own hands decades ago, is reported destroyed in the Hart Road Fire.

The humidity is almost nonexistent. Fire danger is high in the entire area. Homes have been lost, lives altered, and two connections will inevitably be made. Climate change and war. Neither will be taken seriously enough.
Of course it’s always hot and dry in our summers. We see this much damage from lightening-caused fires. Our conflagrations pale in comparison to those raging in Southern California, or even those so close to us last year. But the extreme weather causing misery across the globe only matches one pattern, the herds of tornadoes and incredible floods in other parts of the country, climate change spurred by the ways humans bully nature. And now our smoke springs into the mix, spewing carbon with no safe place to land. We’re watching a cycle that’s killing our planet and hoping for another price drop for our precious fossil fuels. We argue over the safety of trains freighting frighteningly incendiary fuels through our midst, while it’s the safely delivered cargoes that make us weak and sick, cause the greatest degradation of our air and water, threaten the environment of humanity. We have climate deniers in Congress and climate liars in corporate board rooms, and our resolve to save the earth is wavering.

War? Seriously? What could three little wildfires, now called the Spokane Complex, have to do with war? One might be allowed to wonder if we might have safer electrical transmission methods than wind-whipped, vulnerable lines stretched across miles of crunchy, parched vegetation if the bulk of our research and development dollars was not dedicated to death and destruction.

Nobody has died in this cluster of local fires. Are we getting carried away?
But someone will say, “It looks like a war zone.” There’s a lot of trauma when fires gobble, or even threaten, our cherished possessions. We depend upon courage, perhaps heroism, from ourselves and others in our community. Terror and adrenaline push our physical limits. Fear and anger are to be wrestled and conquered. But this is no war zone. When you emerge from your burning house, no one is waiting to shoot you. Mortar rounds won’t find you as you set your hose and sprinkler. Neither IEDs nor landmines await the wheels bearing your family members and pets away from the inferno.

I would be wrong to trivialize any loss you’ve known by fire, here or far away, sentimental articles or loved ones or material value or precious family or friends. I will never forget hearing in the middle of the night that the offices of PJALS were burning, standing in the parking lot and watching firefighters douse the flames, sifting through charred and soaked documents that had been as dear to me as the earliest crayon drawings of my precocious children. It was not war. No rockets red glare or bombs bursting in air. No second airliner zeroing in to finish us off.

Perhaps these fires are little more than background noise for you. The smoke blows by or enhances your sunset. It’s not a war. The trees will come back, the forest will survive, insurance will help with crops and houses. But don’t ever say “firestorm.” That’s too close to home. My country has been in denial all my life about firestorms. When did you know about firestorms as military weapons?

I was nearly forty when I learned we dropped atomic bombs on Japan to show the Soviet Union what we could do, not because we needed more weight to win the war. A few years later, I learned about Dresden, Germany’s military-free city, when I read Slaughterhouse Five. The only way Vonnegut could tell his story of the shameful allied firebombing was to wrap the truth in fiction. It was only a few months ago that I learned it was common knowledge in Hawaii in 1941 that the Japanese were about to bomb Pearl Harbor. And there are still more dirty little secrets about firestorms the U.S. inflicted upon civilian populations. You know about 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, but do you know about the 30 firebombings after Tokyo, the firestorms U.S. aircraft set in city after city, some burning at temperatures never seen before, burning women and children whose men were away in the emperor’s military. Not every bombing produced that firestorm that burned steel and cement and vaporized human beings, but there was enough heat and death to end the war. Still, we could not end the war without revealing our perfection of the art of war. We could not disappoint the creators of the atomic bomb, the heroes of Los Alamos and Hanford.

If someone doesn’t take your fire too seriously, perhaps they’ve been already burned, scorched by war, singed by the insensitivity of the powerful and haughty. We all need to watch and listen for ways to get over the willingness to burn our enemies by the unit, by the family, by the millions. We need to find generals, presidents and prime ministers who will refuse to kill millions of innocent people. Imagine a president who could say no to war, no to military contractors, no to nuclear weapons, no to the briefcase with the nuclear codes.

It starts with us. Let’s make it simple. No killing. No war. No preparation for war. No new nukes. No refurbished nukes. No first use. No second use. There is no use for nuclear weapons.

We still wonder where this fire will go next. It’s uncontained, and its smoke gauzes our prized view of the north Palouse. Our electricity is on. Our phone works, and we communicate with neighbors without any sense of doom or panic. It’s not war. There’s hope. -RN

A Time for Nostalgia

by pjals Tuesday, Nov 17, 2015 | 11:11am | Comment on this

Rusty NelsonRusty Nelson: On Peace & War

There was never time for nostalgia, here, even when I wrote this column every month. Just as PJALS was so often derailed from local projects by global violence and the siren call of war, my plans for a 40th anniversary recollection have been curbed by horrible attacks in Paris. Curbed, but not cancelled.

Here’s what must be said in November, 2015: The established powers of the earth continue to prepare for the same war, thinking we’ve learned from every tragic human sacrifice offered in the names of peace, panic and greed. Now, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our outraged allies to prove we have not yet learned the lesson of the Trojan Horse, never mind Vietnam or Iraq. Read more »

Rusty Nelson on Peace and War: Trying to Support the Troops

by pjals Friday, Feb 27, 2015 | 12:12pm | Comment on this

Rusty Nelson on Peace and War: Trying to Support the Troops

               It must have been several years ago because the signs we held said “Free Bradley Manning,” and we Vets for Peace didn’t have to defend Chelsea Manning’s transgender rights while bringing attention to the persecuted, military whistle-blower Americans were trying to ignore. At an event in Riverfront Park, I was approached by two burly young men who said they were active duty military and considered Manning to be a traitor. They thought the army intelligence analyst’s reporting a massacre by U.S. helicopter crews was insignificant compared to the release of other classified information to Wikileaks. At least they knew something about the case. But then, they issued a challenge they might like to have back, now. “If you want to do something for an American soldier, put our government to work to free Beau Bergdahl.”

How things change. Private Manning, known now as Chelsea, is serving a 45-year prison sentence while the soldiers she reported remain uncharged and unpunished. Sgt. Beau Bergdahl is back in the U.S. after a controversial hostage/prisoner exchange, awaiting a decision on whether he will be charged with a crime. The story is different from the one several years ago, and several men from his unit want to see Bergdahl punished for being a deserter and putting them at risk. Read more »

Another Look at the Cycle of Violence

by Rusty Nelson Friday, Aug 29, 2014 | 12:12pm | Comment on this

Rusty Nelson on Peace & War

I believe you know that support for capital punishment in this country: is diminishing; was only a foot deep when it was a mile wide; is based upon fear and ignorance rather than common sense or justice, and; is always weakened when executions are honestly examined as factors in the cycle of violence in our communities and institutions.

You should also know that Gov. Inslee’s moratorium on executions is little comfort to the men on our death row in Walla Walla, who believe they are likely to be killed when a new governor takes office. Believing this is a splendid time to ban the death penalty and that public enlightenment is the best way forward, the Inland Northwest Death Penalty Abolition Group wants Spokane to see its new production of The Exonerated on November 21 or 22, at Gonzaga University. The Center for Justice produced two performances of The Exonerated, five years ago at the Civic Theatre, and is co-sponsoring this show, which will, again, be directed by Bryan Harniteaux, Spokane’s attorney/playwright. Read more »

Write, Tinker, Abolish

by Rusty Nelson Monday, Jun 2, 2014 | 1:13pm | Comment on this

Rusty NelsonRusty Nelson on Peace and War

By the time I wrote my first editorial about the death penalty, Nancy had produced several articles, including a commentary in the Spokesman Review, but Washington had not yet killed Dodd and Campbell. Lethal injection was catching on, but Nevada had resumed executions with a firing squad, Florida electrocuted a man whose crime would have been self-defense if he had not been gay, and Washington was dusting off its gallows. If I had been better organized and more careful, I could compile a book from our experiences, observations and opinions on state killings. And I have a lot more to say. More than I’ll try to cram into this space.

To paraphrase Einstein, everything’s changed about executions in the U.S. but the way we think about them. Two recent developments should affect the way Americans think about capital punishment, but thinking doesn’t change easily. Read more »

Commemoration of What?

by pjals Friday, Feb 28, 2014 | 10:22pm | 3 comments

Rusty NelsonRusty Nelson on Peace and War 

Veterans for Peace is such a tonic for me that it seems almost unthinkable there could be sharp divisions among its members and chapters. I remember the thrill of solidarity at the national convention in Seattle a few years ago and affirmation from Spokane vets who attended subsequent conventions. I loved being with Western Washington members last November in Auburn, and in Tacoma in February, not to mention planning, laughing, and solving global problems with our local members.

What disharmony could exist among veterans who agree that war should be abolished as our default foreign policy and that our leaders should be accountable for the devastating costs of war? Alright. That’s a silly question for anyone who’s spent years working in peace and justice organizations.  Peace mongers come in all imaginable types. In fact, it was reassuring to hear VFP leaders talk, at our Tacoma conference, about recent internal squabbles, because they involve disagreements which allow for constructive discourse and encourage independent points of view.

As one who joined VFP about the time I started working for PJALS, I was not drawn to the regional conference to be enlightened by workshops, but to be part of the community-building for our chapter as well as among state-wide chapters. Feeling some success in that, I was caught off guard by one workshop: “Vietnam Commemoration.” Read more »

Over the counter

by pjals Monday, Nov 25, 2013 | 12:12pm | 3 comments

Rusty NelsonRusty Nelson on Peace and War 

May Americans with some degree of accountability or any inclination for peace please agree to stop pretending that counter-terrorism is something other than terrorism?

It seems to me that the land of the free and the home of the brave used to be a little more squeamish about openly discussing our intentions to terrorize populations in other parts of the world. Today, anyone we want to call a terrorist is considered fair game for murder or torture by our counter-terrorists, and if we kill a few too many bystanders who happen to be elderly, pre-adolescent, and/or female, well, they could hardly have been less than potential terrorists. “Collateral damage” is a specious term and so last war. And if we can’t nail them as terrorists, they must be, at least, insurgents. This is all said or thought, not out of freedom or courage, but out of debilitating fear. Read more »