Rusty NelsonRusty Nelson on Peace and War

Long ago, in a time of relative innocence and prosperity, the people of the Spokane area hitched themselves to the star of the U.S. Air Force. It didn’t take much reflection or study, just a simple faith that our country and it’s military establishment had always been noble and right and would never betray our confidence that Fairchild Air Force Base would make us all safer, prouder, and wealthier.

As the USAF celebrates 65 years, many of us have been cynical for a long time, especially we who have done horrible things under military orders and then watched as our safety, pride and wealth are stripped from people and bestowed upon corporations. In spite of hard numbers and unresolved superfund sites, we are expected to believe that Fairchild is the best thing that ever happened to our area’s economy.

Local workers and locally-owned businesses are ignored by Greater Spokane, Inc. and elected officials who focus upon sustaining Fairchild’s production of horsefeathers and snake oil. The current spin is that we should keep favoring Fairchild so we’ll eventually benefit from having the new generation tankers here. That may be a consolation to our congressional delegation, but I hope it provides some perspective to the community about the nature of the war economy under which we are now oppressed. The tanker program, notwithstanding the tragic deaths of three Fairchild-based airmen (If I were a female officer, I could not tolerate being called an airman.), is little more than a military and corporate welfare plan to help us forget the jobs shipped overseas to benefit the rich and keep American workers on their knees.

In the big picture, Fairchild is only a small obstacle to peace and economic justice, but as part of the ingenious geographical web of the Pentagon, it ensures most of our neighbors swear fealty to the obsolete system of military preparedness and inevitable war which keeps the United States unprepared for peace and jealous of prosperity for any but our corporate masters.

Have we even been able to hear some of the startlingly refreshing statements from our executive branch? President Obama, after five years as Commander-in-Chief, seems to be losing tolerance for the facets of war nobody wanted to tell him about and his enthusiasm for killer drones which had become the pride of the military. And Secretary Kerry, after passing on his chance to talk peace as a presidential candidate, is talking about reducing our country’s reliance on war as foreign policy, a departure from typical State Department rhetoric since the Carter administration. It could be a mistake for us to dismiss these flickers of hope as too little too late. It’s tempting to keep bashing the government as hopelessly violent, but for positive change, we are going to have to be involved, and we need every encouraging word we can find.

There can be no doubt that the challenge is monumental. Notice how difficult it is to get the Spokane establishment to question the very worst things the Air Force has done to our area. On top of that, the public follows the lead of the mass media in insisting that each casualty among our military men and women was killed or injured while heroically protecting our way of life or “making the ultimate sacrifice.” To do that, one has to forget or condone many atrocities committed by our best and brightest and learn as little as possible about massacres of civilians, friendly fire, and relentless reports of command rape and other sexual assaults by our troops against our troops. With heroes like these, who needs enemies?

A few days ago, angered by the military’s ineptitude at cleaning up the mess it has made of incorporating more women into its ranks, I was reminded of Suzanne Swift, a soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, who was court martialed for going AWOL when her unit was sent back to Iraq. We brought her mother, Sara Rich, to Spokane six or seven years ago to tell us how Swift was expected to keep her mouth shut and do her job during the day while, at night, she was the sex slave of her squad leader. Suzanne liked being a soldier and didn’t share her mother’s moral objections to the Iraq war, but she decided she just could not go back to a war zone and be trapped in the same abuse with the same personnel. Ultimately, to avoid prison and stay in the army, she accepted a reduction in rank and a bit of safety from the notoriety of her case. The sergeant who abused her retired without any blemish on his record. During the current fuss, I have heard no reference to the Swift case or others like it from the Bush years, and there appears to be no online record of Swift since 2008.

How can an American combatant be distinguished as a hero for killing someone who is acting exactly as he or she would if our country were being infiltrated by a foreign military power? How can we glorify all our troops when that includes, psychopaths, drug addicts, and sexual predators? How can we raise thousands of dollars to send WWII veterans on a nostalgic visit to war memorials in D.C. when we can’t provide suicide prevention for 25-year-old veterans?

The answers may be blowing in the wind, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t heard, read or thought them. We do know that, “War is not the answer!”

Free Bradley ManningMy bias is not against the U.S. Air Force, specifically, nor airmen, soldiers, sailors or marines. It is against war. I hate war, and I am profoundly sad that I lent part of my youth to studying and practicing the science of killing and destroying any portion of humanity. I cannot hate the young men and women we send to do our killing, today, because I am they, just as I am Bradley Manning and Camilo Mejia. I cannot hate the benighted souls who tell me I’m wrong, but that they would fight to the death to protect my right to make my foolish declarations, or those who say if it weren’t for our military, we’d be speaking German, Japanese, or Russian. (Does that explain why English is so widely spoken among people over whom we claim military victory?) I feel sorry for them, though, as I feel sorry for every American who feels that military victory is somehow possible, or even inevitable, in the 21st Century. I’m sorry for Americans who think it is courageous and patriotic to keep sending young people to repeat the crimes of our past, or that peace can be achieved through the basest violence to be found among human beings, or that military spending is a sound investment for following generations.

Let’s reframe the dialogue about military spending, national security, local economies, and heroes. They’re all connected. And conventional wisdom, concerning all of them, is killing us. – RN