6) Exit programs, and conscientious objecting expanded…

On a stop in South Bend, Indiana, I met with Holy Cross College theology professor Mike Griffin, who is a co-founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship.   He said like any other job in America, there should be provisions for those joining the military to be able to opt out if they find it’s not for them.

 

For instance, he suggested that there be an “Exit Program” for those, say, completing basic training.  During this time, a soldier might discover he/she can’t shoot someone.  Or they might discover military life is too stressful for them.

Common sense says that in either case, you wouldn’t end up with an optimal soldier.  And the soldier would probably end up with emotional complications.

 

We’d agree.

 

Professor Griffin also said he believes the criteria for conscientious objecting would expand from, say, an Amish person opting out altogether for religious reasons to, say, a Catholic soldier who could opt out of going to war if, for instance, the Pope deemed a conflict not to be a “Just War.”

 

As an example, former President George W. Bush consulted with Pope John Paul II before going to war with Iraq.  The pope said it didn’t fit the criteria of a Just War, yet bush still went to war.

 

Professor Griffin said in these cases, Catholic soldiers, for instance, should have been able to opt out of going to Iraq for religious reasons.

 

Along these same lines, Ben Peters, who answers the Catholic Peace Fellowship phone hotline told me he had gotten a call from a scared, desperate new U.S. soldier who was hearing consistent reports of U.S. military shooting of women and children at check points in Iraq.  This serviceman said that for moral purposes he didn’t want to be put in a position of killing innocent civilians.

 

Our administration would look at forcing someone to go to war in this type of case would put them in a position where they had to violate their conscience, which is antithetical to Religious Freedom.  (No different than the Obama administration, through the new HHS Mandate, forcing Catholic organizations to pay for abortion, sterilization and contraception through their new insurance program.  All three of these are directly counter to Catholic Church teaching.)

 

7) Depleted uranium munitions

Another duality (tragic irony) is that in looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we were using limited weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

 

That is, we are using depleted uranium tipped armor piercing bullets and bombs.

 

According to a Toledo Blade article just after the start of the Iraq War, Science Editor Michael Woods wrote that depleted uranium is radioactive and formed as a byproduct in production of fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors and nuclear weapons material.

 

At the time of the article, Iraq was expressing concern about long-term civilian health in that

country because of the use of depleted uranium.

 

And they were expressing it with good reason, according to Ohio Northern University Professor Ray Person. He is on the advisory board for the relatively new Global Association for Banning Depleted Uranium Weapons (GABDUW).

 

At a talk I attended on the subject, Professor Person said that during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, U.S. munitions released more radiation than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leaving a silent trail of horror.

 

Professor Person explained that when one of these uranium-depleted bullets pierces a tank, or a bomb penetrates a steel bunker, at the point of impact, 70 percent of the projectile’s radiation is eleased into the atmosphere.

 

Professor Person said some 300 tons of uranium were dispersed throughout Iraq, the first time.

 

He continued that besides the radiation now in the water and soil in Iraq from the depleted uranium, there are still highly radioactive bullets, shells and abandoned tanks lying about the region.

 

The uranium’s half-life: 4.5 billion years.

 

Professor Person said this has led to a tremendous increase in cancer in Iraq. He said statistics show that in the small town of Basra, Iraq, for instance, the cancer death rate has increased “17 fold,” from 34 deaths in 1988 to 538 in the year 2000. And this increase seems to be playing itself out across the region.

 

As with the aftermath of the atomic bombing in Japan, babies are being born in Iraq with multiple birth defects and many young children are developing leukemia, said Professor Person. (Andbecause of the sanctions, many of these children have had little, or no, medical aid.)

 

Again, this data deals with the aftermath of the first Gulf War, which was relatively short. The current Iraq War has been quite lengthy with regular use of depleted uranium munitions usage again. The long-term effects to the health of the Iraqi people could be catastrophic, given the data from the first studies. (And there have also been articles written about the potentially negative effects of U.S. military handling the depleted uranium munitions as well.)

 

Our administration would immediately get behind the drive to ban depleted uranium munitions. We would also urge providing as much long-term medical funds and medical personnel help to a populace that could be plagued for generations with the effects of this radiation contamination.

 

In the Toledo Blade article referenced earlier in this section, Col. James Naughton, director of munitions for the Army Material Command responded to a question about the depleted uranium: “The Iraqis tell us terrible things happened to our people because you used it last time,” Col. Naughton said. “Why do they want it (depleted uranium munitions) to go away? They want it to go away because we kicked the crap out of them – OK?”

 

Our administration would take a tremendously dim view of such a response.

 

Also according to the Just War criteria: “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man… A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons – especially biological, chemical or atomic weapons.”

 

Given the ‘nuclear nature’ of depleted uranium munitions, and the potential long- term effect in the cities of Iraq, the use of these munitions would in no way line up with Just War criteria.

 

Note: In Canfield, Ohio, I interviewed Terry Martin who is involved with the “Children of Chernobyl” project. He and his wife have been a host family for four years. Each summer they have taken in Alexei Bogdonik. His family lives 20 miles from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant – the area is still quite radioactive. The boy’s mother died of cancer and each year when he gets here, Martin said the boy is “ashen white.” However, after eight weeks here, Martin said the boy is “full of color,” his immune system having time to heal.

 

As president, I would propose a similar “Children of Iraq” program for children who are living in the aftermath of this depleted-uranium, radioactive war zone.

 

8) Radioactivity in U.S.

And the radioactivity gone astray, so to speak, isn’t just a problem in overseas war zones, it’s been a major problem here in the U.S.

 

For instance some of the 77,000 tons of low level nuclear waste, that has been so problematic in regard to finding a place to dispose of it, was generated by nuclear weapons manufacture.

 

We traveled to Luck, Wisconsin, where we met with Bonnie Urfer, who is co-founder of NukeWatch., a non-profit nuclear industry watch dog agency.   

 

Ms. Urfer pointed out that anywhere the nuclear waste if eventually “buried,” it could someday be prone to earthquakes, volcanic reactions…  What’s more, there’s a good possibility the containment vessels won’t outlast the nuclear reactions going on inside.

 

This could become a major problem for future generations in the region.

 

Then there is the danger involved with the actual manufacture of the nuclear weapons.

 

In the mid part of last century, the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant was involved in nuclear weapons manufacture.  The plant is located in southeastern Washington.

 

Documents show that there were a significant number of controlled radiation releases from the plant.

 

According to a Seattle Times article, in early December of 1949, scientists conducted a secret experiment. They poured caustic chemicals on a ton of radioactive uranium fresh from a nuclear reactor. This spewed a plume of radiation that was carried downwind to, among other places, Walla Walla, Washington.

 

Walla Walla’s Steve Stanton was five-years-old at the time. He went on to become the father of three, a civil engineer, and in his mid-30s – contracted thyroid cancer. The Times article said Mr. Stanton, and some 2,300 “Hanford Down Winders” with cancer, birth defects, respiratory illness, and other physical maladies that could possibly be tied to the radiation releases, were suing the companies that built and ran Hanford.

 

On a stop in Walla Walla, I interviewed a woman (who requested anonymity).  She grew up here during some of the radiation releases. Her career (TV meteorologist) was cut short when she contracted a brain tumor, and a number of other debilitating physical problems. She, too, believes her physical problems were tied to the radiation releases from Hanford.

 

And a woman (who also requested anonymity) believes her late husband’s cancer problems were tied to radioactivity and the military.  The husband had died two years earlier of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (a form of cancer).  He had been stationed at a nuclear missile silo in Montana.

 

The woman said of 600 people at various missile silos throughout Montana (during the five years they were there, there were nine other cases of similar cancer among those stationed in the silos.  The supposition in some circles, she said, is that this was caused by radiation in the missiles.

 

And the other dynamic is, to have nuclear weapons you have to have nuclear power plants.  This, in and of itself, is risking all kinds of accidents, including complete meltdowns and huge amounts of radiation releases, like what happened at Fukishima in Japan and Chernobyl in Russia.

 

For instance, clouds of deadly radioactive material were released into the atmosphere for 10 days following the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.  Dr. Vladimir Chernousenko, who is the former head of the Ukrainian Academy of Science and was the lead investigator of the Chernobyl Clean-Up, said the amount of radiation emitted from Chernobyl’s accident was comparable to the detonations of all nuclear tests – ever.

 

With incidents at both the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania and the Davis- Besse Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio, America has already come dangerously close to this.

 

Another thing that is dangerous, and actually has gotten way out of hand when talking about war, is the international arms trade.

 

9) International Arms Trade

According to the “No-Nonsense Guide to The Arms Trade,” with the development of international relations after WWII and the strengthening of Cold War alliances, cross border weapons manufacture started up.  Weapons producers became relatively independent commercial concerns – though often still receiving subsidies from host countries.

U.S. weapons companies have traditionally led the way in the world.

 

The book notes in this current age of constant conflict, many children grow up knowing nothing but bloodshed, maimed relatives, the daily risk of landmines and bearing arms themselves.

 

The book also notes that like companies manufacturing sports equipment and toys, arms manufactures locate their production lines wherever wages are low, taxes are cheaper and environmental requirements are non-existent.  In other words, these arms corporations have become  “unregulated transnational monoliths, rather than state controlled and supervised companies.

 

Then there are all the ethical questions that swirl around governments selling their own used weaponry. The book notes that the world’s worst dictators, despots, human rights abusers and anti-Democratic regimes in general, have been the customers of all the major arms supplying countries.  Profit is profit.  

 

For instance in the past five years, the U.S. has authorized $37 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries.  (Then in 2012, the Obama administration approved the sale of $60 billion in fighter jets and missiles to Saudi Arabai.)  And this was approved even though Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records of any country in the world.

 

The U.S. has for years had a strong, and “strategic,” economic and military alliance with Saudi Arabia. Yet according to Amnesty International, and other human rights groups, Saudi Arabia is a monarchy replete with human rights violations.

 

For instance, the United Nations Committee Against Torture condemned Saudi Arabia for amputations and tremendously excessive whippings. There are, for instance, amputations of feet and hands for robbery.

 

Saudi women make up five percent of the work force, the lowest percentage of any country in the world. There is a law against Saudi women driving cars. They are primarily relegated to the home.   As of now, women are not allowed to vote or to hold public office -- and there is even sex segregation seating in public places, etc.

 

Saudi Arabian law does not recognize religious freedom and the public practice of anything other than the Muslim religion is banned. And freedom of speech and the press is severely limited and constantly subject to government censure.

 

So…

 

On October 20, 2010, the Obama administration told Congress of plans for a multi-year, multibillion dollar weapons deal with Saudi Arabia.   According to CNN, the sale is meant to “further align the Saudi military relationship with the U.S. and enhance the ability of the kingdom to defer and defend threats to it and its oil structure, which is critical to our economic interests,” said Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary for political and military affairs.

 

Translated (in part): Because we want continued access to Saudi oil, not to mention the U.S.

 

wanting to get a huge amount of money for this military sale, we are, in essence, providing things like 84 F-15 fighter jets so – Saudi Arabia can continue to protect a “kingdom” saturated with human rights abuses.

 

Once again, our foreign policy spins around our “economic interests,” as opposed to it spinning around: doing what’s ethically right. Besides this moral failing, the oil we are using from Saudi Arabia (and other countries) is adding tremendously to global warming – which is devastating the world. This is the proverbial case of: ‘two wrongs not making a right.’

 

Our administration would push to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as it would push to stop using oil from Saudi Arabia. This would help force us to quickly move to a different energy paradigm across the board. To quote another proverb: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

 

In tandem, being free of this economic and military enmeshment, our administration would join with others across the world to decry (with protests, sanctions, and so on…) the human rights abuses going on in Saudi Arabia.

 

10) Base Realignments and Closings

As president, I would call for a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).  (President Obama has recently called for one.)

 

BRAC Commission is an independent entity that submits its findings and recommendations to the President in regard to military downsizing of bases and weapons systems.  This was a process initially created by Congress in 1977.

Since then, there have been five BRAC reports.

 

For instance, in 2005 the Defense Department proposed to close 33 major military bases and downsize 29 others.  The plan was intended to save $50 billion over 20 years.  BRAC analyzed these recommendations.

 

BRAC then evaluated and modified these proposed cuts.  This was the last time this Commission was convened.

Once a base is closed, it can be, say, sold for multiple uses.

 

While touring California, we stopped at Fort Ord, which was a U.S. Army post on the Monterey Peninsula in California.  It had recently been closed.

 

Since then the base has been converted to several new uses.  There is now, for instance, the Fort Ord Dunes State Park.  Also, California State University Monterey Bay was opened there using some of the old base building, and so on. (This was part of President Bill Clinton’s Peace Dividends Program and there is a current enrollment of some 4,500 students at the college.)

 

A “Veterans Transition Center” has also been established on what was the old base.

 

This center is a non-profit rehabilitation center and shelter for veterans.  (It is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and urban Development and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and it relies on private donations as well.

 

The population is homeless veterans and their families and includes transitional housing, emergency services and case-management programs with vocational rehabilitation components.

 

While our administration would call for a good deal of military cutbacks in a multitude of areas, we would push for more funding for veterans.  These are people who were willing to risk their lives for their country, and we should do everything we can to help them -- across the board.

 

11) Veterans Affairs

We have traveled the country talking to veterans and learning their plight.

 

In Warren, Pennsylvania, I met with Vietnam veterans Gary Seymour and Joby McAulay.  McAulay started the local chapter of Veterans of the Vietnam War, Inc.  The intent is to provide help and referrals (they have a hotline) for Vietnam Veterans struggling with the difficulties of “everyday living.”

 

McAulay said there were multiple problems for vets coming out of Vietnam.  Probably the most glaring was all the people at home who were against the war, and some returning soldiers got considerable backlash from this.  Then if you overlay the physical and psychological maladies for soldiers coming back, it made for an extremely difficult transition for many. 

 

However, McAulay said he was proud he served and wants veterans – any veterans --  to get all the help they need.

Our administration would second that.

 

In addition, McAulay said he wanted people to remember.  And to that end, the year we were there, he spearheaded a drive to get “The Moving Wall” (a 5/8ths replica of “The Wall” [Vietnam Memorial] in D.C.) to come to Warren. (He said in this town of 9,000, there were 4,000 people there for the opening ceremony.)

 

In St. Ansger's, Iowa, I met with Dean Church.  A military veteran, some six years prior he started the first Vietnam Veterans of America chapter north of De Moines.

 

Founded in 1978, Vietnam Veterans of America is the only national Vietnam Veterans organization congressionally chartered and exclusively dedicated to Vietnam-era veterans and their families.  

 

Organization programs include:

 

1. Aggressively advocating on issues important to veterans

2. Seek full access to quality health care for veterans.

3. Identify the full range of disabling injuries and illnesses incurred during military service.

4. Create a positive public perception of Vietnam veterans

5. Seek the fullest possible accounting of America’s POW/MIAs

6. Support the next generation of America’s war veterans.

7. Serve local communities.

 

Our administration would work exhaustively for these types of things for all veterans, period.

 

Note:  Something that has been tremendously debilitating for many Vets is Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder.  And quality healthcare for veterans would include quality mental health assistance, especially in the face of increasing levels of PTSD.

 

On a stop in a small town in southern Washington, we met with another Vietnam vet.  His PTSD was so pervasive he’d developed agoraphobia (fear of going outside the house).  For eight years, he had spent most of the time by himself and, for the most part he said, had just been given meds at the VA Hospital.

 

What he needed, to deal with the problems at the roots, is long-term quality counseling or psychoanalysis.  Our administration would lobby that this man get the most quality mental counseling possible.  And it’s not that some of this isn’t available through the VA, it’s just that our administration would push for much more of it – as well as more comprehensive help for the families.

 

12) Long term stability in Afghanistan, in Iraq…

 

There are serious questions about whether the pre-emptive strike into Iraq was justified under Just War principles.  Yet we believe we have a moral responsibility to help stabilize the country as much as possible, especially because we’re the ones who helped unleash the war in that country.

 

The University of Notre Dame’s Gerard Powers would agree.  (I sat in on one of his classes at Notre Dame, and subsequently read a story about a talk he gave in Cleveland on this subject.)

 

He said the challenge was that an “…unjust war didn’t lead to an unjust peace.”  He said America should stop equating the withdrawal of U.S. troops with an end to the war.  He said Sunni and Shiite clashes continue there, as do terrorist attacks on Iraqi civilians, and there is general chaos there as well.

 

If a sustained troop presence is still needed in Iraq if, say, the Iraqi Security Forces needed more time, we would consider that.

 

According to an Associated Press article, once the foreign troops are gone in 2014, Afghanistan’s defenses will depend entirely on a force “being molded from poorly educated recruits, many of whom complain of feeling under-armed, under-trained and up against an elusive enemy.”  The article also noted that there were prevailing fears that once the Westerners had left, the country will again splinter into militias ruled by warlords.

 

Besides the military front, Powers said we must work to stabilize the country in general.  

 

We agree.  And what’s more, this would be the same for Afghanistan.

 

For instance, Afghan president Hamid Karzai is currently trying to seek some reconciliation with the Taliban.  He has set up a 70-member “Peace organization” to help support this.  If America’s help was needed to supplement this, we would help.  (For instance, we propose a U.S. Department of Peace and would send some of this department’s people to Iraq to consult.)

 

Another key to stability in Afghanistan (and Iraq) is helping that country develop much more economic stability.  

 

Afghanistan’s GDP in 2009, for instance, was $26.9 billion, which was 110th in the world.

 

The U.S. Defense Department has in play a “Task Force for Business and Stability Operations” in Afghanistan. (This is also in Iraq.)  Creating sustainable businesses and jobs in Afghanistan is crucial for long term stability.  There is a team of 75 people in this TASK force and a budget of $150 million annually.  Our administration would push to boost both these figures significantly.

 

Likewise, Karzai is also the president of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency.  They go all over the world (China, U.S., India…) promoting investment in Afghanistan (Through 2010, 3,267 companies were established in Afghanistan through this, and 38,000 new jobs.)

 

Our administration would also ramp up aid to this type of effort as well.

 

Individual businesses worldwide are also starting to partner with Afghanistan businesses.  For instance, the U.S.’s Kate Spade company has partnered with Kabul’s Turquoise Mountain non-profit to create an Afghan crafts industry.  (The company wants to employ up to 1,500 women by 2013.)

 

And our administration would create incentives for way more American businesses to partner with Afghanistan businesses.

 

It will only be in this sustained, multi-dimensional push that the Afghan people (and Iraqi people) will gain sustainability, and safety.

 

Note:  There is another front in Afghanistan that needs significant help.  And that’s the agricultural front.  One of the major complications has been the traditional growing of poppies there.  (Afghanistan is the top producer of illicit opium in the world.)

 

The poppy growing often happens on small farms and is frequently the staple for Afghan farmers and their families.

There is currently a Poppy Eradication program, with soldiers going from field to field destroying some of the poppies.  In tandem, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other Western organizations are attempting to lure farmers away from growing poppies – with bags of wheat seeds, fertilizer, and so on.  But according to a recent National Geographic article, this aid isn’t stretching far enough and families that subsist off the land are going hungry in the wake of their destroyed fields.

 

Our administration would ramp up help through USAID and we would send more Peace Corps volunteers to help these farmers with the transition to other crops, and so on.

 

13) Drones

A military topic that is getting a considerable amount of attention lately is the military use of drones.  At the time of this writing, the Obama administration has undertaken 255 drone attacks, as opposed to 48 drone strikes while George W. Bush was president.

 

The strikes are against “suspected” terrorists, but they have also taken out innocent civilians.  This is causing quite a furor in places like Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia… and throughout the Arab world.  (If the tables were turned, and say Iran was using drones to take out CIA operatives, and their neighbors became “collateral damage,” can you imagine the uproar (and response) in this country?

 

Also with drone strikes, we are starting to engage in a war without borders.

 

At present, the Obama administration is working to shift control of the CIA’s lethal Drone Program to the military.  

 

This would make the program subject to international laws of war and undertaken with the consent of the host government.

 

This would provide for a lot more accountability.  However, our administration would see some tremendously more inherent problems with the program.

 

For one, the drones are controlled from bases in places like Nevada and Virginia, far removed from the war theatre.  In all this, there’s an inherent danger of the targets on the screen becoming, in essence, no more than the equivalent of video game characters.

 

What’s more, it will open the door to a whole new type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  As an example, a drone controller will go to work at a military base in Virginia on a given day.  A “suspected terrorist” will be targeted in a rual tribal village in Somalia.  The coordinates will be locked in and the controller will guide the drone, while watching its progress on a big screen (8,000 miles away).

 

When in position, the controller will push a button that releases a laser guided missile toward a hut the “suspected terrorist” might be in.  The terrorist(s) is killed, and so is a young boy kicking a soccer ball in the dirt next door.

The controller in Virginia will punch out later that afternoon and head to a suburban soccer field to watch his young son play in a match.  

 

Living in these two worlds day in and day out can’t help but create a tremendous amount of stress and internal conflict.

 

Our administration would seriously rethink drone warfare, including the possibility of ending it all together.

 

 

 

 

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