Militarism

The Devil Down in Georgia

On the chilly morning of Nov. 23, the names of thousands of people killed as a result of U.S. support for wars in Latin America were sung from a stage positioned in front of the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. The SOA (renamed in 2001 the Western Hemis­phere Institute for Se­cur­ity Cooperation) is a U.S. Army training facility for Latin American soldiers connected to numerous human rights atrocities, including the 1981 El Mozote massacre and the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests in El Sal­vador. “[The school] is encouraging militarism in the world and especially in Latin America,” Ceci [last name withheld], a Latin American woman who has volunteered for eight years with SOA Watch, told Sojourners.

The annual vigil and protest to close the SOA began 18 years ago with just 13 people; this year the crowd was estimated at 20,000. Six people were arrested for at­tempting to take the protest onto the base; they face federal trial in January, with possible prison sentences of up to six months. In 2007, a bill to close the SOA failed by six votes in Congress, but 34 members of Congress who opposed the bill lost their seats in the November election.

—Kaitlin Barker

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Sojourners Magazine February 2009
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In Defense of Peace

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Article 9, the Constitution of Japan

Since the end of World War II, Article 9 of Japan's Constitution has shaped Japan's foreign policy, guided its active engagement in efforts to reduce the global trade in weapons, and prohibited the possession, production, and introduction of nuclear weapons on Japanese territory. Though conceived by the victors, it has been embraced by most Japanese people. Few more powerful examples exist of national policy committed to pacifism and nonviolence.

But a disturbing and dangerous effort to revise Article 9 is gaining momentum. In 2004, a contingent of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Forces was sent to support the U.S. in Iraq—the first time since World War II that Japanese troops have been dispatched to a conflict situation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the support and encouragement of the Bush administration, has campaigned to revise Article 9, permitting Japan to maintain de jure military forces to be dispatched anywhere in the world and enabling Japan to take a proactive military role in the U.S. Asia-Pacific security strategy as part of the global "war on terror."

Religious leaders in Japan, including the Japanese Catholic Bishops' Conference, say such a revision of Article 9 would have profound reverberations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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Research Needed

In "School of Shame" (February 2007), the author addresses the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in a way that is deceitful and false and libels the good people who work here by suggesting that they teach illegal, immoral, and unethical things.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I challenge you to do some research about our current activities. Tell people what courses are offered here, and that members of Congress, clergymen, lawyers, and others routinely oversee our activities. You and your writers should know that there is nothing hidden here. Anyone can come, sit in our classes, talk with students and faculty, and review our instructional materials. You will find people here every bit as serious, moral, and conscientious as any of your staff.

Lee A. Rials
Public affairs officer, WHINSEC

Hendrik Voss responds:

In 2003, a School of Americas Watch activist received from Lee A. Rials a copy of the Army's Strategic communications Campaign Plan for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). With a total budget of $246,000, including $9,000 for "media monitoring software" and $50,000 for Internet work, the plan calls for flooding the media with letters to the editor in an effort to balance the negative press the school has received with a "desired 'end state'" that the "congressional audience will not support legislation to close the WHINSEC" because "the number of letters from constituents to Congress criticizing the WHINSEC is decreased."

The fact that the Army perceives letters from constituents as a threat to the future of this school confirms that we are making a difference every time we encourage a neighbor to study the history of U.S. state support for torture and "military solutions," and to take action against it.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2007
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A Nuclear Surge

In the Bush administration's new budget, programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and early childhood development will be cut to make room for more than half a trillion dollars for the Pentagon and war-fighting. Against the backdrop of such enormous spending and a war that is draining $2 billion a week, the Department of Energy's "weapons activities" budget seems almost small at $6.4 billion.

But that budget line points to a key White House policy objective that receives scant attention. Under President Bush, nuclear weapons—once viewed as an apocalyptic scourge in need of abolition, disarmament, or at the very least strict arms control—are baaaaack. In fact, they are surging forward.

During the Cold War, spending on nuclear weapons averaged $4.2 billion a year (in current dollars). Now, almost two decades after the nuclear animosity between the two great superpowers ended, the United States is spending one and a half times the Cold War annual average on nuclear weapons.

In 2001, the weapons-activities budget of the Department of Energy, which oversees the nuclear weapons complex through the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), totaled $5.19 billion. Since Bush's January 2002 "Nuclear Posture Review" asserted the urgent need for a "revitalized nuclear weapons complex" able "to design, develop, manufacture, and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground testing," there has been a jump in nuclear spending of more than $1 billion a year. But it is just the beginning: The NNSA's five-year "National Security Plan" calls for annual increases to reach $7.76 billion a year by 2009.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2007
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Teach Your Children Well

Leading Venezuelan educators and critics of President Hugo Chavez are calling his creation of 500 schools constructed and supervised by the military a political program for "ideological indoctrination and militarization." Aimed at educating some of Venezuela's poorest children, proposals include compulsory military training that proponents claim will aid in "vocational orientation." In the United States, similar claims and accusations have been made concerning the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program, in which retired military personnel teach elective courses in public high schools or special academies.

Supporters claim that JROTC programs benefit poor and minority students by boosting grade point averages and SAT scores, and by lowering absentee and drop-out rates. Fifty-four percent of JROTC cadets are racial minorities, and 65 percent of the programs are in low-income communities.

Harold Jordan of the American Friends Service Committee says it's a matter of flawed priorities: "The government would rather put its resources into a program which, in effect, tracks young people into the military than it would to put its money into programs that improve the overall educational quality."

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2001
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The Invisible Issue

Ten years after the end of the Cold War, as military spending continues to make up about half of the country's annual discretionary budget, talking about cuts remains the ultimate political taboo. During the presidential campaign, both candidates strongly supported the military budget, differing only on how much to increase it.

Gov. Bush proposed a $45 billion increase in the next 10 years, saying that he would "skip a generation" of technology in conventional weapons, be more reluctant to engage in foreign "peacekeeping" operations, while dramatically expanding spending on missile defense. Vice President Gore, on the other hand, pledged a $100 billion increase to continue all current plans for new weapons along with continued development of a missile defense system.

The candidates' arguing over who would spend the most led to a Wall Street Journal article headlined "Defense Stocks Rise on Vows to Increase Military Spending," noting that whatever happened in the presidential election, the military technology industry could claim victory.

Ironically, neither met the escalating demands of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who recently testified to Congress that the current budget of $300 billion per year is $50 billion per year short of what they would like. They argued that developing and purchasing new weapons systems, modernizing existing systems, and conducting missions around the world remain essential.

The deeper questions of mission and strategy are seldom addressed. In a world without a single overpowering adversary, the U.S. military remains structured for a "two-war" strategy—preparing for two major simultaneous regional wars. Former Reagan Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, in a recent report for Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, noted that this strategy is "widely regarded as wasteful," and argued that the defense budget could be cut by at least 20 percent.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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Peace Talks at SOA

While 10,000 protestors gathered outside the gates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) last fall, 40 students from Goshen College—a Mennonite school in Indiana—met on the base with the SOA commandant Col. Glenn Weidner. For nearly four hours, the SOA officials explained why they teach courses such as urban warfare and drug interdiction. The Goshen students discussed the Mennonite peace position, why they think that increased military involvement in Latin America actually increases instability, and possible ways of resolving conflict without violence.

Goshen student Eric Kanagy initiated the meeting by a phone call to the base commander. "How many times do you get two sides together and really talk and really understand each other," Kanagy said. "It made the school a real place with real people and real issues. We came out of there understanding each other. Not agreeing, but understanding."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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East Timor

Once again this fall, as in Kosovo last spring, the world was confronted with genocidal massacres in a far-off land. Something terrible happened on the little island of Timor as the world delayed in deciding whether it would do anything about it. That indecision was a clear moral test for the international community, and especially for the NATO allies who had earlier intervened in Kosovo.

After almost 80 percent of the people of East Timor voted in a U.N. referendum to become independent of Indonesia, criminal militias supported by the Indonesian military and police went on a bloody rampage. Hundreds of people were murdered, as many as 200,000 fled their homes, tens of thousands left the country, and an orgy of burning and looting created a scene of "utter destruction," according to eyewitnesses. The capital city of Dili was left in "smoldering ruins," said many observers, after an organized assault that devastated the city’s commercial and residential areas, especially targeting independence leaders. "It’s scorched earth, it’s ethnic cleansing," a U.N. spokesperson told The Washington Post. Others compared the rape of Dili to the 1975 takeover of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, by the brutal Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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Shattered Skies

Nancy Hobbs and her husband, Jack, had a dream. Three years ago they bought a 100-acre farm at the end of a gravel road nestled in the gentle, rolling hills of southwest Wisconsin.

They raised a herd of Nubian goats and began to breed rare steers from France and mares from Scotland. Master gardeners, their goal was to create an English-style country estate that would also serve as a "learning center" for urban visitors.

But Nancy and Jack's idyllic dream has been shattered by low-flying Air National Guard cargo planes, which have caused their goats and cattle to stampede and their watchdog to cower in the barn.

"I can't deal with it anymore," Nancy Hobbs laments.

But this is only the beginning. If an Air National Guard proposal is approved, soon F-16s, B-52s, B-2 Stealth bombers, and other aircraft will conduct up to 2,150 low-level practice bombing runs annually up and down the picturesque Kickapoo Valley.

The Guard plan includes a 7,137-acre expansion of a bombing range at Volk Field, 80 miles northwest of Madison, Wisconsin; creation of two new low-level flight corridors in Wisconsin and Iowa; and increased use of an existing corridor running west into Minnesota.

Residents fear that the serenity and natural beauty of the region (home to several major wildlife refuges) will be threatened and tourism, farming, and other means of livelihood jeopardized by military jets roaring over the ridgetops. At least four coalitions have mobilized in Wisconsin and Iowa to oppose the plan.

The Ho-Chunk Indian tribe, which operates day care and senior centers and a casino near the range, has formed a coalition with local businesses, cranberry growers, and other non-Indians to thwart the expansion plan.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1996
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