By Contributor on April 14, 2014

By Kathy Kelly

In early April, 2014, the U.S. Navy unveiled its Mach 7 Magnetic Mangler, “a railgun straight out of Star Trek that can take out targets at 100 miles with a projectile flying at nearly 7,000 feet per second.” So far, the U.S. military has spent $240 million developing the railgun over a period of ten years. CBS News reports that the railgun won’t go to sea until 2016, but one article, published in The Gazette, suggests that the U.S. military may have decided to show off the Magnetic Mangler in order to send a message to the Russian government.

While the American public gets to see the weapon, so do America’s enemies. The military in recent years has timed the unveiling of new technology to global events.

The last time North Korea got frisky, the Navy showed off an anti-missile laser.

Now, with the crisis continuing in the Ukraine, the Navy is showing off something even scarier.

In advance of the University of Wisconsin's recent “Resources for Peace” conference, a professor friend asked participants to consider whether the increasing competition for depleted global resources, for goods to meet essential human needs, would tend inevitably to make people less humane. She was thinking particularly about what she termed “the shrinking humanism” seen in dystopian novels and films that portray cruelty and violence among people who fear for their survival.

I posed her question to Buddy Bell, one of my young friends here at Voices, who has traveled to several war zones and has worked steadily among people suffering displacement and poverty in the United States. “Well,” he said, after a long pause, “there are precedents for dramatic and selfless service on behalf of sustaining a community, even in a time of desperation and war.” Then he went to his room and got me a CD. “Listen to the story Utah Phillips tells on Track 3,” he said.

Utah Phillips, a folksinger and storyteller, had been a U.S. soldier in Korea. His son asked if he had ever shot anyone. He said he didn’t know, but that whether or not he shot anyone wasn’t the story. He told his son about a day when he was longing to take a swim in the Imjin River. His clothes and boots were rotting, and he had mold growing on his body. Chinese soldiers on the other side were having a wonderful time swimming. Why, then, were the local Koreans insisting he must not swim in the river? “A young Korean told me, ‘You know, when we get married here, the young married couple moves in with the elders, they move in with the grandparents, but there’s nothing growing! Everything’s been destroyed, there’s no food. So, the first baby that’s born, the oldest, the old man, goes out with a jug of water and a blanket, sits on the bank of the river and waits to die. Then, when he dies, he’ll roll over the bank and into the Imjin River and his body will be carried out to sea. And we don’t want you to swim in the river because our elders are floating out to sea.”

Utah Phillips seemed to want his son to understand that leaving people with nothing when you have everything is as serious a crime as shooting them. Utah Phillips, at least, consented not to use a resource he could have decided was free to everyone, out of respect for the cost his use would impose on people already giving up everything so that their young could survive with next to nothing.

The tradition of selfless and benevolent behavior continues in Korea’s Jeju Island. Last week, we said goodbye to Joyakjol, a young South Korean activist who is part of the intergenerational campaign to protest construction of a U.S. military base on the pristine shores of Jeju Island. Every morning, activists commit civil disobedience at the gates, risking arrest to block the trucks, and construction equipment that comes to tear apart their land.

People living in landlocked Afghanistan also struggle to cope with consequences of interventionary struggles. They face mounting costs in lives and resources. Kevin Seiff, reporting for the Washington Post, has written several articles about risks to Afghan civilians, especially children, posed by undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells the U.S. military leaves behind as it vacates scores of firing ranges in Afghanistan.

Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked. Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.

Clearing the rest of the contaminated land — which in total is twice as big as New York City — could take two to five years. U.S. military officials say they intend to clean up the ranges. But because of a lack of planning, officials say, funding has not yet been approved for the monumental effort, which is expected to cost $250 million.

According to the Mine Action Program in Afghanistan, most of the land requiring clearance would otherwise be used for agriculture, a “significant obstacle in a country where 70% of the labour force earns an income through farming or animal husbandry.”

Among the main casualties of war are those who starve and fall ill when valuable farmland is left as minefields.

Some people pull together in the face of scarcity; some demand everything even when others have nothing. Today's crop of grim, dystopian novels and films, the concern of my professor friend, may at times ignore the kindness and solidarity that can occur among the dispossessed.

When many impoverished people, worldwide, don’t want “the haves” to invade them, when, as “have-nots,” they say, 'please, this is ours, it is almost all that we have, we cannot have you storming in and claiming it because you can,' we are astonishingly ill-equipped to understand their objection and honor their need.

These weapons we tout aren't futuristic; they announce our lack of a future. But everywhere around us, we can spot people who are volunteering to live simply so that others can simply live. And that choice is, in reality, open to each of us.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence www.vcnv.org and is active with the World Beyond War campaign www.WorldBeyondWar.org When in Afghanistan, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjournetytosmile.com)

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A plea to United States citizens to work for peace

An Indian journalist globally renowned as an advocate for the poor, Palagummi Sainath detailed the detrimental...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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