Posts Tagged ‘war’

Letter to Gates, McHugh, Casey RE. Former Student

October 22, 2009

Robert Gates

U.S. Secretary of Defense

1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington DC 20301-1400

 

 

Re: The War Budget Generally & Specifically the Sending of My Student to Afghanistan

 

 

Dear Mr. Gates,

 

I write to you as a former high-school teacher, a person of faith, and a citizen concerned for marginalized communities and our national values.  The current debate about funding and sending more troops to Afghanistan misses the point in that it frames the choice as between Iraq and Afghanistan.  War is not inevitable; conflict is.  War is not a viable long-term solution to conflict – it has never brought about real peace in any circumstance, unless it was the stillness of a cemetery. General Barry McCaffrey himself has said, “We can’t shoot our way out of Afghanistan;” this is not solely limited to Afghanistan but applies to war in general.

 

In a time of rebuilding after a worldwide economic crisis, Dr. King’s words ring louder than ever: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” The trillions of dollars funding the killing of other human beings overseas would be better served in feeding hungry children, funding small business, investing in schools, and enabling social welfare programs which have been gutted recently by many state and federal budgets.

 

One of my former students, Tony, is leaving for Afghanistan this week because of your orders.  He was one of the most intelligent and promising students I had the pleasure to work with as a high-school English teacher at Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas.  Tony plans to one day attend law school and give back to his community.  Tony joined the military to fund his higher education. 

 

While he will be in my daily prayers, I owe more to my student than that.  I am writing to you in hopes that you will reconsider all our current wars and pursue peace-building, civil solutions with all parties involved.  I close with another quote from Dr. King:  “I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor . . . I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop must be ours.”

 

Please take the initiative to end our current military engagements, for Tony, for me, for our nation, for the world.

 

Respectfully,

 

Matthew Webster

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Medicine and Migration in Minnesota

April 3, 2009

In this snowy city where once Norwegians and Swedes had their own hospitals, the 446-bed Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) currently spends $3 million on interpreters fluent in 50 languages to translate over 130,000 times a year. Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali community in the United States, some 35-40,000. The Twin Cities also have large Hmong and Latino communities, in addition to Liberian, Sudanese, Russian, and most recently Bhutanese immigrants. HCMC has adjusted its practice to better meet the needs of the diverse immigrant population it serves, a community that comprises 20% of its patient base. (Grady, Denise. “Foreign Ways and War Scars Test Hospital”)

Catering to its patient mix, HCMC’s obstetrics unit is now predominantly female, since Muslim women cannot have their children delivered by male doctors. Imams are often consulted prior to medical procedures, such as drawing blood during the month of Ramadan. No questions are asked about immigration status, and indigent patients are offered a sliding-scale fee, though not all can afford even this. Many of these immigrants are refugees from war-torn countries, and their medical care often includes the surgical removal of shrapnel and more difficult treatment of buried pain. Some 47% of women and 25% of men in the Somali community experienced torture (a number extremely high even for refugees), and their care necessarily includes counseling and holistic treatment. (Grady, Denise. “Foreign Ways and War Scars Test Hospital”)

HCMC’s dedication to its immigrant patient population is surely to be lauded. In an economic climate that has hospitals seriously worried about budgets, this Minneapolis hospital is noteworthy in its continued efforts to better serve its community. It is refreshing to see such a positive community response to the new challenges immigration brings; the impact of these efforts at integration and outreach can be seen in the faces of fellow passengers every time one steps on a bus or the Light Rail in this Silver City.



Tashlikh

October 1, 2008

A few feet from the newly rebuilt 35-W bridge, the air smells like autumn. Below where we stand on the all-but-abandoned people bridge, the Mississippi moves wordlessly resolute toward the sea. It is the day after Rosh Hashanah, and though I have never celebrated this Jewish New Year before, I have also never had a friend willing to let me tag along.

We are perched between the West & East Banks of the University of Minnesota to practice tashlikh. This tradition dates back to Abraham and Isaac, when a goat was sacrificed in place of Abraham’s only legitimate son. Tashlikh also is a variance on the Levitical custom of the entire community reciting their sins of the past year over a “scape goat” which was chased away into the desert bearing the guilt. In lieu of a goat, my friend and I have pieces of the bread which was broken for his Rosh Hashanah meal the evening before.

As Eddy reads a Hebrew poem and prayer, I concentrate on the regrettable things I have done in the past year. If this bread is to take away my sins, it should probably carry my pride and my lack of communication to those closest to me. I must be more generous in the coming year. I regret I haven’t used my talents to help more people. I regret that the War continues and I do so little, that nativism still poisons the lives of so many and I am quiet.

The bread spirals down to meet the muddy water. Eddy tells me that until Yom Kippur I am to engage in introspection and prayer, that I might not repeat those sins now bobbing below. A splash, a ripple, and the bread is gone.

I marvel that I have read the Old Testament in Christian circles many times over, and yet have never been so touched by this simple command to get rid of the old and purpose to do better. Maybe it was because it was in another language, maybe it was the power of a friend. Perhaps it was the changing leaves or the cold sunlight. Maybe it was that I felt like Abraham, a sojourner in a new land, seeing something for the first time.

$4.8 Million Dollars a Mile

September 23, 2008

The United States government signed contracts to build the border wall in south Texas yesterday, Sept. 22.  DHS negotiated contracts with Clute, MCC, and Keiwit to construct 7.6 miles of barrier for $37 million.  After Congress approved a $400 million appropriations request for the enactment of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, DHS contracts on Monday to spend $4.8 million for land in Los Indios, El Calaboz, La Paloma, and Bluetown, all of which are towns formed by Spanish land grants dating back to the 18th century. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/construction_90253___article.html/million_contracts.html)

My heart goes out to the families of these border towns who are more afraid of decrepit levees than illegal immigrants.  As the Rio Grande Valley is moved one step closer to having a border wall slice through its communities, one wonders how the United States can justify begininning to spend $400 million on a border wall which is clearly unpopular when our banks are declaring bankruptcy, millions are foreclosing, the War drags on, and the dollar falls in relation to oil prices.  I pray these actions and these contracts are forestalled long enough for a new administration to realize the lack of logic in building a border wall while neglecting immigration reform and for the country to finally hear the cries of these border towns in the way.

Nonviolent Refugee

September 11, 2008

This past week, the philosophy of nonviolence was compounded with a high-profile case of immigration. On Sept. 6, the Toronto Star ran an article about Peter Jemley, a 42-year-old Arabic linguist who is seeking refugee status from Canada. He is currently an American soldier who, after enlisting in 2005, recently discovered this last February that the United States sanctioned new rules on questioning terrorists. Jemley’s petition for refugee status forces Canada to comment on the actions of its southerly neighbor – is the U.S. engaging in torture tactics which constitute international war crimes?

While Canada has been quiet on this issue for the past year, Jemley’s refugee case will make the government issue an official statement as to whether waterboarding, sleep deprivation, intimidation, and humiliation are indeed devices of torture. Previous Iraq War refugee cases in Canada have centered on the legality of the ongoing military conflict; a dozen refugees are still awaiting word on their status as military deserters.

Jemley’s lawyer clearly described the international question his client’s case poses: “Nobody should associate themselves with torture or violations of the Geneva Conventions because if we start to wink at violations of the Geneva Conventions they’re no longer law, they’re just guidelines.”

The entire world will await the outcome of this refugee case. For adherents of nonviolence, this case provides the perfect context in which immigration could one day be used to facilitate change in a nation. If Jemley succeeds in his refugee petition, borders could potentially be opened enough that countries with aggressive war policies would suddenly find themselves without soldiers and nations which discriminate between races or classes or sexes might find an entire segment of their population emigrating. In a small way, the fate of this 42-year-old-father of two could be a beginning to a nonviolent alternative to war – refugee emigration.

Moving Toward the One

September 7, 2008

Always, we begin again toward the One…

At this morning’s Friends Meeting in Rochester, MN, one woman felt inspired to share these words. Its truth could not have more evident after a week which saw Minnesota sadly moving toward division and disunity.

The Republican National Convention was held in St. Paul this past week. George Bush, leader of the GOP and the nation, was noticeably absent from the Xcel Center, the first time in 40 years that the incumbent President was not present at his party’s convention (Von Drehle, David). An entire country looked to the capital of Minnesota to witness the celebration and inauguration of the Presidential race in earnest. After a graceful Democratic convention the previous week, everyone’s eyes were tuned to see how newly chosen Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin would compare to Obama’s running mate Joe Biden. The United States looked calculatingly toward St. Paul to see how the Republicans would celebrate their past successes, apologize for their past missteps, and prepare for a hotly contested Presidential campaign.

What the nation got was the worst kind of rhetoric. To watch Palin’s first speech as a Vice-Presidential running mate was to watch a vicious personal attack (New York Times). In a night that should have been full of celebrating, Wednesday’s speeches were concerned primarily with jabs and uppercuts. Rather than tout her party’s successes or laud John McCain’s many admirable qualities, she instead focused on demonizing Obama and Biden and the entire Democratic party. Her speech was less about accepting her nomination and more about rejecting commonality and unity. It saddened Republicans and Democrats and Independents alike to see an entire speech devoid of civil discourse, brimming with violence and overflowing with disunity.

While John McCain’s speech was graceful and stately, it was overshadowed for many by the speech Palin gave the night before. In stark contrast to the Democratic Convention the week before, the Republican speakers rarely used the words proud, together, thanks, and grateful. Whereas Hillary Clinton used her speech to bridge gaps and convert opposition into unity, Palin’s speech, and Giuliani’s before hers, widened differences, infused hate into the rhetoric, and filled the public sphere with negativity. It was sad to see a race which had been surprisingly cordial and civil take a decided turn for the worse.

Always we begin again toward the One…

Sadly, the protests of the Republican National Convention ended little better. While most demonstrators were peaceful, the presence of many physically and verbally violent protestors drained its potentially positive impact. Nonviolence is not simply the absence of violence but rather the presence of something positive. These protests, then, failed to live up to the high standard of nonviolence. Few were edified by the anarchists’ riots of Monday, and Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have recognized the Poor People’s March on Wednesday. Signs reading “Eat the Rich, Feed the Poor” and chants calling for the National Guard troops on downtown buildings to “Jump, Jump, Jump” would have horrified Gandhi or John Lewis (Minnesota Independent).

As Dr. King and all nonviolence philosophy holds, we are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality. Therefore, violence towards some is violence towards all. And as Gandhi reiterated throughout his life’s work, the end is necessarily preexistent in the means. If we strive for peace, we must do it in peaceful ways. If we yearn for unity, we must seek reconciliation with those who oppose us. The protests of this past week were ineffective toward that end. When anti-war protests are verbally abusive or physically violent, then they can only help to create a more disunified world of violence.

So begins a new week. Hopefully this week Minnesota and the entire nation can begin to move away from the “us versus them” mentality. Perhaps we can abandon the idea of the “other,” a philosophy which has produced slavery, imperialism, colonialism, nativism, xenophobia, and war in all its guises. Always we begin again Toward the One…