A Hard Rain: Afghanistan, St. Louis, and How to Make Peace

Join us for a round table discussion with Andrew Wimmer on his article, “A Hard Rain: Afghanistan, St. Louis, and How to Make Peace” (Karen House Round Table, Winter 2011) …

Monday 28 February 2011
1077 South Newstead
Forest Park Southeast
Saint Louis, MO

Potluck dinner at 6 (please bring something to eat or drink)
Discussion of article begins at 6:45
Please read Andrew’s article beforehand and come with thoughts, questions, connections, and insights!

A Hard Rain: Afghanistan, St. Louis, and How to Make Peace
Andrew Wimmer

War and Capital: “A Hard Rain’s Been Fallin’”
We are living in a time of cataclysmic change. Multiple wars, financial crises. I fear, though, we’ve heard only the initial rumblings. Over the past thirty or forty years, capitalism has established itself globally. National and international laws, treaties, and regulations have been thoroughly refashioned to protect and further its he­gemony. Technology has connected us all, obliterating the limits of time and space in ways unimaginable just a decade or two ago. Capital, which by its nature abhors limits and restrictions, has been liberated to grow by means of transactions conduct­ed in nanoseconds, playing each and ev­ery odd. The global economy (the funda­mental mechanism of exchange that makes it possible for each of us to live) has been converted into a giant roulette wheel under which we are being crushed to death.  Capital, in its relentless drive, needs protection, and for this, the most destructive arsenal ever seen on this planet has been constructed. It’s not a metaphor, and often the language we use is to talk about it is too complicated.

During the course of my lifetime I’ve seen those who oppose wars be transformed into defense analysts, gath­ering data like demons. I include myself. There is always another country’s political complexities to master, an­other weapon system to study. Websites, links, blogs.

The reality is much simpler. The most recent ten years of war waged in defense of capital have seen a civiliza­tion destroyed in Iraq, with more than 4 million people now living in exile. Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine. Constant threats against Iran. Do we need to rehearse the numbers? Or do we simply numb ourselves by their repetition? 300,000 Soldiers with PTSD because they’ve been asked to make the ‘ultimate sac­rifice’ – to abandon their humanity. Unending, ubiquitous warfare. Ro­bots and drones enlisted to serve when human beings can’t, or won’t, or fail. Everything is a battlefield. This is not dif­ficult to understand.

Kathy Kelly wrote this week from Afghani­stan, “It’s hard to imagine the extent of explosive popular rage that would result…if U.S. people were subject to aerial bombing, night raids, destruction of civilian homes, displacement and starvation.”

The Local Connection: “Meet Me in St. Louie”
St. Louis is at the center of these efforts. Each morn­ing I receive a press release in my email. Here’s December 3, 2010:

Boeing to Provide A160T Hummingbird Unmanned Aircraft for US Marine Corps
“We look forward to working with NAVAIR and the Marines to provide this important capability to warfight­ers on the front lines,” said Vic Sweberg, Unmanned Airborne Systems director for Boeing. “The A160T has proven its ability to autonomously deliver cargo to for­ward operating bases in austere conditions in a demon­stration setting, and we are confident in its ability to do the same in battlefield conditions.”

And the signature: “Headquartered in St. Louis, Boe­ing Defense, Space & Security is a $34 billion business with 68,000 employees worldwide. Follow us on Twitter: @BoeingDefense.”

In short, most everything capital needs to wage wars of aggression and domination is made here:

  • The Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a new “bunker • buster” bomb, conceived and built in St. Louis.
  • Drones for Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • High-tech security walls for Israel
  • B-2 stealth bomber
  • Satellites and space-based weaponry

These are the projects being worked on by Boeing in St. Louis and directed from St. Louis. And as a Boeing executive said a few years ago in a speech at Webster Uni­versity, “Boeing feels very comfortable in St. Louis.” Part of the family. Indeed, just about everyone in St. Louis has a relative, friend, or neighbor who works for Boeing.

With the departure or demise of corporations with long St. Louis ties, Boeing and Monsanto stand as the two premier corporate citizens. Their influence is woven into the fabric of this city.

At St. Louis University, the Board of Trustees has regularly included Boeing executives and other military contractors during Lawrence Biondi’s tenure as University President. In an interview marking his twentieth year in the job, Biondi singled out former board president Michael F. Shanahan as a gifted mentor and trusted con­fidant. Shanahan was also one of the most handsomely rewarded CEOs in the United States when his St. Louis corporation, Engineered Support Systems, Incorporated, posted stratospheric earnings in 2004 and 2005. “The Army goes nowhere without us,” boasted Shanahan. Unlimited, ubiquitous warfare requires a lot of support. When Biondi asked Shanahan to chair the drive for a new arena for the school, Shanahan and his wife donated the first million. Billiken basketball; Iraqi and Afghan dead.

By most anyone’s reckoning, capital’s onslaught these last few decades has been an unmitigated success. Today, the top 1% of the population in the United States holds 42% of the financial wealth. In 1970, the top 1% of the population earned 9% of the annual income. By 2008 that number had grown to a staggering 28%. The top 1% in the United States earns more than at any time since 1928. These figures translate into power. Power to control. Power to buy protection.

Propaganda: “We Have All Been Here Before”
Robert Gates, standing alongside Hamid Karzai at a news conference last week in Kabul, told reporters, “I will go back convinced that our strategy is working,” adding that the war efforts had “exceeded my expectations.”

In October 1966 Daniel Ellsberg stood on the tarmac with Robert McNamara at Andrews Air Force Base after returning from a trip to Vietnam. On the flight home McNamara had acknowledged to colleagues that “the underlying situation is really worse.” When he stepped from the plane, however, he told the assembled report­ers, “We’re showing great progress in every dimension of our effort.” The event set Ellsberg on his course to release the Pentagon Papers.

But then there is Wikileaks. Can the release of a huge trove of documents make an impact in an age that is drowning in information already? Perhaps not im­mediately. A recent poll in the United States reported that almost 70%, of respon­dents viewed the release as “dangerous,” and almost 60% called for prosecution of Julian Assange and oth­ers involved in the leaking. A mere 20% expressed the opinion that the leaks may serve some useful purpose. A version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“The president expressed his regrets for the deplorable action by WikiLeaks,” accord­ing to a recent White House release, though Philip Gi­raldi, a former CIA agent and military intelligence analyst wrote, “Call me Saul on the road to Damascus. I have seen the light. As a former intelligence officer, I was initially appalled at the leak of a quarter of a million classified documents by someone who had responsibility for protecting them. I was highly skeptical of the entire WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning saga, but following the leaks has convinced me that there is a lot of material that deserves a public airing to demonstrate to the American people how Washington is pursuing a senseless policy almost everywhere in the world. I have been particularly mortified in reading the accounts of meetings of U.S. Ambassadors and Under­secretaries of State with their foreign counterparts, encounters revealing an unbelievable arrogance derived from the Bush Administration dictum ‘you are either with us or against us.’ Persian King of Kings Darius addressing his satraps could not do it any better.”

What to Do: “Stand in the Place Where You Live”
Barack Obama, in his first address to the joint houses of Congress back in February 2009 brought everyone in the room to their feet for a sustained minute of applause when he praised “our brave men and women” in the Armed Forces. What brought the members of Congress to their feet was Obama’s forceful contention that “every American” supported and honored their service. “We stand with you…”

In February 2007 when more than fifty people here in St. Louis were arrested over the course of several weeks at sit-ins at Russ Carnahan’s office at the time of a Congressional vote to appropriate new war funding, Democrat David Obey was lambasting the mother of a Marine veteran outside his office for being stupid about the ways of power. “We don’t have the votes!” But, of course, two years later, with both houses of Congress in Democratic hands and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate as President, we still don’t have the votes.

It is long past time for us to get clear about “we” and “they.” “We honor your service.” No, it is not “we.” Draw the line. Make a simple state­ment. Where do we stand?

Let’s look locally. A met­ropolitan area of almost 3 million people, 10 years of war, yet no real understand­ing of where people are. There are no public forums, few conversations, and no place to have them. Our efforts need to be local, seri­ous, and sustained. We need to make the global issues lo­cal by making connections. Repeatedly, publicly, and seriously.

In 2008 the media were happy to portray the election of Obama as an overwhelm­ing mandate. The ‘peace candidate’ had been elected; the people had spoken. Once that fiction had served its purpose, it was jettisoned, leaving the people off bal­ance.

It is important to think about a very simple statistic. Polls continue to show that a majority of people in the United States oppose the wars. And then what? I don’t believe that it is a question of “speaking truth to power.” The phrase has become something of a trap from which we need to liberate ourselves. Let’s not be naïve. Power is ruthless and its juggernaut is rolling over us all.

Much more to the point, we need to learn to speak truthfully in our daily interactions. Fill all the spaces of silence that have been created. Speak in all the places where we have allowed them to tell us it is “inappropri­ate,” “not the right time,” “not professional,” “not busi­ness-like.” Reclaim the public time and space. Confront, build a movement.

The antiwar movement, born in the 60s, has run its course. Let it die. Let’s give birth to new thinking, new constellations, new language. Let’s abandon the familiar­ity of the liturgical forms that we find so comfortable. This should take a concrete form. Each of us has myriad relationships with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. A quick mental survey would reveal, I’m sure, plenty of places to begin to break things open. Where have you kept quiet?


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