Interview with Op-Ed News and Joan Brunwasser

From Op-Ed News earlier this week:

Matthew Hoh with More on Hagel’s “Forced Resignation”
By Joan Brunwasser

My guest today is Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. A former Marine who served on US Embassy teams in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Hoh was the highest ranking official to explicitly resign because of US policy in Afghanistan. Welcome to OpEdNews, Matthew. Everyone’s abuzz regarding Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s resignation. What do you make of it?

Hello, Joan. Getting past the name calling and the personal attacks on Hagel by anonymous officials in the White House, which is often the case when the White House has something to hide, I think what this ultimately will be about is that Chuck Hagel did not want to go along with the re-escalation of the war in Afghanistan, which is the most unpopular war in American history, or the involvement of American forces in the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars that will not work.

I haven’t spoken to Chuck Hagel directly in the last two years, during his time as Secretary of Defense, but I have known him for five years now, and his views of the wars prior to his appointment as Secretary of Defense were that they were reckless and counter-productive. So, it wasn’t a surprise to me that he is leaving the Administration, particularly in light of the emphasis on the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan; wars that will prove counter-productive and morally and politically disastrous. I expect, in time, that Hagel’s resignation will be seen as an act of personal integrity in regards to disagreement with perpetual war.

Before we delve into Hagel’s positions on the subject, I’d like to go back your comment about the war in Afghanistan being the most unpopular war in American history. Is that really true? Is your statement based on a single CNN poll? I’ll tell you why I’m asking. I was around during the Vietnam War, and that felt very different to me: there were numerous well-attended rallies and demonstrations, a lot of media coverage. The anti-war movement was energetic and very visible. This just doesn’t have the same feel. Am I misremembering or way off-base here?

Here is the Gallup poll information. Here is data from Pew. The BBC has the most recent poll I could find. And here is a Washington Post article comparing polling data on previous wars, leading to the classification of our war in Afghanistan as America’s most unpopular war.

It makes sense why the White House kept silent its decision to re-escalate the war in Afghanistan until after our mid-term elections. What doesn’t make sense is our congressional leaders silence on it.

So, help me understand, please. Admittedly, I haven’t been following this closely. But I thought that we were actually winding down. Now, we’re escalating. Why? How did this come about? And why is Congress holding its collective tongue on this? There are many mysteries to unravel.

This weekend, The New York Times revealed that several weeks ago, President Obama signed a secret order to re-introduce American troops in Afghanistan back into an active combat role. Over the last couple of years, American troops have withdrawn from direct combat with the Afghan insurgents, focusing on training Afghan Army and Afghan Police forces (which should not be viewed as an inclusive national force as Pashtuns in the south and east of the country are very much under-represented in the Afghan Security forces and over-represented in the insurgency hence the nature of the war in Afghanistan as a civil war and one that has long needed a political solution and reconciliation).

For what I believe to be primarily domestic political reasons, President Obama has ordered American troops to once again kill and be killed in an Afghan Civil War that dates back to the 1970s. President Obama has bowed to hysterical pressure from hawkish Republicans and Democrats over the violence in Iraq and Syria. To protect himself from criticism that he is prematurely (after over 13 years!) ending the war in Afghanistan, and to prove that he is as tough as his critics, President Obama has committed American troops to combat, once again, in Afghanistan.

This move by President Obama also belies the notion that America’s war in Afghanistan, so publicly embraced by Presidential Candidate Obama in 2008, has been successful in militarily defeating the Taliban as a path to peace and stability in that part of the world. Rather, we have seen that America’s escalation of the Afghan War in 2009 has only produced greater violence, more corruption and a larger insurgency with no end in sight to the war or to the suffering of the Afghan people.

As for the silence of members of Congress, the words craven and corrupt come to mind. Members of Congress are terrified to speak their minds on the war, afraid of being accused of not supporting the troops, not being tough or not being patriotic. Additionally, with a $1 trillion a year national and homeland security Leviathan, members of Congress are ensconced in a cocoon like cycle of war-policy chasing war-money and war-money chasing war-policy. So, members of Congress see no political, policy or financial advantage in questioning the war, even if they believe the war to be wrong, misguided or failing.

And essentially, the fact that this war is exceedingly unpopular makes absolutely no difference, in terms of form or substance, in terms of derailing this juggernaut? Where does that leave the American public? And what does this portend in terms of a state of perpetual war? This is very very bad.

I think we should look back a year and look at the groundswell that came from libertarian and progressive organizations against American involvement in the Syrian Civil War that was pursued by the Obama Administration in the summer of 2013. A concerted and unified opposition by the American public to US bombing in Syria took the Obama Administration by complete surprise and derailed efforts to begin American intervention in Syria. This was a real success for not just the anti-war and peace movements, but also for American Democracy. It is important to remember that the system can be responsive and responsible to the citizens and so we should not lose hope, even when we are up against such an overwhelming force as the American war machine.

However this lesson was not lost on the Obama Administration and so, this year, when the opportunity came for the United States to insert itself into the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the Administration was much better prepared to sell the war. The Administration was also more inclined to demonstrate patience and not offer a rush to war. Through a very effective public relations campaign, in many ways similar to the public relations campaign utilized by the Bush Administration to sell the Iraq War in 2002 and 2003, the Obama Administration has been able to manipulate the American public into fearing the Islamic State and demonstrating a need for American intervention (again, this is very similar to the public relations tactics used by the Bush Administration in 2002/3). This lesson is as important for us to remember as the lesson of success we had in 2013 in stopping American entry into the Syrian Civil War.

Those of us opposed to the state of perpetual war that we find our country committed to, and in many ways dependent upon, must understand the environment and dynamic that we must work with: public opinion, media and narrative. These elements are fluid and alive, but are also very susceptible to manipulation by the US government. To engage against the wars we must be robust in our work, learning from past experiences, anticipating future events and making sure that we utilize the greatest strengths of our movement: that America’s war in our modern age, despite US government narratives to the contrary, have nearly all been immoral and counter-productive.

You’re right, understanding tactics and history is undoubtedly important. But, how exactly do we join forces to mobilize in an effective way? What resources are there to utilize against this huge government/military machine? Can you give us anything more concrete?

Communication and education, of course, are paramount. However, I think we are too often entrenched in partisan or identity politics to build momentum. For instance, look at how many members of the Democratic Party were against the warrantless wire tapping program conducted by the Bush Administration, yet how many members of the Democratic Party were ok with the same spying on American citizens by the Obama Administration. We are a nation that divides and then further divides ourselves into artificial and ultimately meaningless sects; so reaching across these lines is key. Without dissolving these divisions, the wars at home and the wars abroad will continue and those in power will remain in power.

I also see greater need for non-violent civil action and disobedience, but this must be well-led and appeal to and not threaten other segments of the public. The Occupy Movement captured attention and sympathy from both the public and the media, but I believe their lack of leadership and lack of organization failed to capitalize on that media and public attention. Additionally, the civil action must be inclusive and welcoming of others, and must do all it can to make people want to join and support it. I think many who were at first open to Occupy quickly soured on it and came to view it as a collection of professional agitators and protesters. Whether or not that is the case, the perception became reality for the public and the media and the Occupy movement failed to maintain the widespread support it initially received.

Finally, I will say that what we are up against is well organized, well funded and very, very media savvy. Our movement will never be able to match those resources head to head, but we must be aware of the strengths of our opponents and counter or diminish those strengths. We must find the resources to build and sustain organizations capable of operating in the media, in Washington, DC and in local communities. What Occupy tapped into we must follow up on, because the people in the United States know the wars overseas are wrong and they know the divisions in our country are wrong. What the people need is someone to lead on these issues.

Thanks so much for talking with me, Matthew. I learned a lot. I’m looking forward to getting the backstory in our next go-round. I went to your blog last night and see that there’s been a lot going on. People need to hear that, too, it’s all part of the larger picture. Thanks so much for what you’ve done.

I’m happy to do another interview in the future. Thanks, Joan!

Profile in VICE: The First US Official to Resign Over Afghanistan Is Fighting to Help Whistleblowers

I’ve liked VICE for a bit of time now, so it was pretty cool to have been profiled by VICE UK while I was in London. Much appreciation for to Joe Sandler Clarke and Adam Barnett for their time and effort telling my story.

The First US Official to Resign Over Afghanistan Is Fighting to Help Whistleblowers

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It’s five years since Matthew Hoh became the first US official to resign in protest over the government’s handling of the Afghanistan war, resulting in a PR disaster for the US government.

“After I resigned, I was in a bar and it just so happened that I was sitting next to an editor from the Washington Post. We got talking and he told me to call the foreign affairs desk the next day.” He did and a few hours later, Post journalist Karen DeYoung was on the phone. They spoke for six hours and within days, his resignation letter was on the front page.

In the letter, Hoh explained he had lost confidence in the tactics being used in the conflict, and that he had no idea why it was going on. He wrote, “My resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.”

Today, sitting in his hotel room in central London, wearing a War Resisters International badge and with leather elbow patches sown onto his jacket, he admits he is surprised by his journey from Marine Corps captain to peace activist. “I never planned any of this,” he says. “In a year I went from thinking I would have 35 years in the government before getting a PhD and teaching at a small college somewhere to saying, ‘Fuck you, I am not doing this anymore. It’s wrong.'”

The years since he resigned have been marked by the current administration embarking on what Glenn Greenwald has called “the mo​st aggressive and vindictive assault on whistleblowers of any president in American history.” Of the 11 times the Espionage Act has been used to prosecute whistleblowers who have leaked information to journalists, seven have been under Obama. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist James Risen is to this day ​facing possible prosecution for refusing to reveal the identity of his one of sources to the authorities.

Hoh now fears that if he had blown the whistle today as he had done in 2009, he would be facing prosecution. This explains his motivation for becoming an advisory board member at ExposeFacts, a new website led by veteran journalist and activist Norman Solomon. The project is designed as a place for people to leak information safely, while also offering better protection to whistleblowers and campaigning to shield reporters from state surveillance. It already has the backing of a host of Pulitzer Prize winners and Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.

The day before I meet him, Hoh was part of panel of former intelligence workers at the launch of ExposeFacts that told the world’s media that they were fighting back against the Obama administrations “war on journalism and whistleblowing.”

They aim to provide technology for secure, anonymous whistleblowing, and to push the actions of whistleblowers “to the forefront of the public consciousness.”

Having enlisted for the Marines in the heady days before 9/11, initially Hoh’s military career was “just like the brochure said it would be.” He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, with his days spent training, traveling the world, and hanging out at the base’s private beach.

Hardworking and intelligent, with supreme self-confidence and an inherent curiosity about the world, Hoh enjoyed what he describes as a “Forrest Gump-like” rise through the ranks.

By the time US forces invaded Iraq, he was working for the Secretary of the Navy. By 2004, he was leading reconstruction projects in Iraq, handing out money to political leaders and making arrangements, ostensibly so the country’s devastated athletics facilities could be rebuilt. He would travel with his own security team, with a pistol tucked into his suit pocket and $25 million in cash.

“It was part Scarface, part Lawrence of Arabia,” he recalls. “But it was very instructive to me about the folly of war.”

Throughout the conflict, Hoh was skeptical about the reasons for going to war and the mission itself. “I certainly doubted why we were there and could see it wasn’t adding up. I was doing all I could to do it right,” he says. “But it doesn’t matter how much honor you possess if a war is morally fraught.”

He worked with a group of women in Baghdad and the memory of them haunts him still. They were modern and educated. They wore hijabs that matched their mascara and believed in the US mission.

“We gave them this hope and this promise and then we gave them a hell that you and I can’t even imagine,” he says. “I know one of them is still alive, but that is something that has haunted me ever since. I don’t know if they were blown up in a car bomb, or if they were raped, or if their families were killed. That’s where a lot of my moral injury comes from.”

After a period spent moving from one prestigious desk job to the next, Hoh was back in Iraq in 2007. He was with a small group of men when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed over the Persian Gulf. “It was kind of ironic because you go to the desert and almost die in the water,” he says. “Four guys died, including one who was a friend of mine and I could not save any of them. It crushed me. I had survivor’s guilt.”

On returning home he could barely function. While spending a day at the beach in Delaware, he had a flashback. “It came over me as soon as I went in the water. All the stereotypical PTSD symptoms you hear about not liking fireworks, or not being in crowds, they’re all a joke, compared to this moral injury. It’s just blackness,” he says.

“The alcohol became key. I was always a big drinker, but this was different. It was the only way I could get through the day. My days in this period consisted of getting up, going to work, leaving work as soon as possible, getting home, working out, drinking, blacking out by 10 PM and then doing it all again.”

Two years later, figuring that if he was going to die, it may as well be in Afghanistan, he went back to fight. He was the State Department’s senior representative in Zabul province, an area which had seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war. But five months into his year-long contract, he was done with the military.

“I didn’t believe any of what was being said. That we were there to protect ourselves from another 9/11 and all that stuff. It just wasn’t true,” he remembers.

That’s when he resigned and before long he was being chased by journalists who wanted to hear of his disaffection. “It was a huge deal,” recalls Hoh. “I had three TV news trucks outside my house and 75 media requests, the day after it broke.”

Despite US Envoy Richard Holbrooke telling him that he understood his misgivings about the war and that his letter was being “taken seriously,” after news of his resignation went public Hoh found himself cut off from the Washington establishment. A Wikipedia page about him that downplayed his role in the State Department and featured a clip of him being used in an al Qaeda propaganda video surfaced online. For more than two years, he couldn’t find work and had no money coming in. He found himself selling cars for a few months just to get by.

Being frozen out took its toll. By 2011, suicide had become a daily obsession. He would plan it meticulously, figuring out when and how he would do it, how he would tell his family. “The only thing I didn’t do was buy a gun,” he says.

Ultimately, it was through the support of family and an ex-girlfriend who forced him into therapy that he was able to dig himself out of that feeling. A sense of having a greater purpose helped too. Every time he saw a politician lie on TV, or when he read a newspaper article he knew to be untrue, he kept wanting to speak out. “I was out in public and doing media, so I felt like I couldn’t kill myself,” he says. “People would say, ‘You’re gonna listen to what that guy thinks about the war?! He shot himself in the head!’ I had this cause, this purpose and I could not discredit that by killing myself.”

Hoh is now 41. Having left Washington vowing never to return, he lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and earns $48,000 a year through his job the Center for International Policy. If he had stayed in the military, he says, he would be earning more than double that.

He’s turned his back on a career, a high salary, an institution, and a way of life—now he’s determined to help others who want to do the same. For all he’s lost by speaking out, he’s also gained a tremendous amount. “I’m very happy,” Hoh tells me later. “With the moral injury, the PTSD, the depression, the suicidality, I have my bad periods, but I’m getting through. I don’t own a gun, I don’t keep alcohol in my house, I see my psychologist every week, I take medication. I manage it like you would manage high blood pressure. I’m just happy that I can express my own thoughts and think my own way. That’s worth more than any amount of money.”

Journalism, Whistleblowing and the Security State

I took part in a fantastic panel at University of London on Journalism, Whistleblowing and the Security State. My fellow panelists were Norman Solomon, Katherine Gun, Kirk Wiebe and Coleen Rowley (Time‘s 2002 Person of the Year).

The audio podcast of the panel can be found here:

http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/2014/11/journalism-whistleblowing-and-the-security-state/

Also, while in London we did a host of media interviews including with The Guardian. Here’s an editorial The Guardian published on our efforts:

A diverse quartet of characters share a platform at the Foreign Press Association in London on Friday 21 November. They are a mix of effusive and reserved, leftist, conservative libertarian and politically unaffiliated. But all four have worked for US or UK security agencies, and all four have blown the whistle on misconduct as they saw it. They’ve won accolades for their integrity, yet none was in the end able to remain in post with his or her employer after airing inconvenient truths.

Matthew Hoh, Colleen Rowley and Kirk Wiebe are, like Edward Snowden, all one-time servants of the American security state. The former GCHQ translator, Katharine Gun, exposed an NSA plan to bug the UN offices of countries that George W Bush and Tony Blair regarded as potential swing votes in their doomed quest for a security council rubber-stamp for an invasion of Iraq, on which they were already set. She was, until the prosecution proved unwilling or unable to muster any evidence, pursued under the Official Secrets Acts, legislation that has rendered the British state a notorious shadowland for a century. The US is traditionally seen as blessed with more open government, but the immediate backdrop to today’s event is the increasingly ruthless pursuit of American whistleblowers.

For all Barack Obama’s background in civil rights law, his administration has charged more people under the Espionage Act, a 97-year old law rushed through in the first world war, than all previous administrations combined. Phone records covering journalists and, presumably, their sources have been subpoenaed. The trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer charged with revealing details of a botched US plan to feed Iran false nuclear leads, is pending. While British journalists are, as we report, resorting to legal action against Scotland Yard for monitoring their activities as part of a “domestic extremism” programme, US government directives and information campaigns are being trained on the “insider threat”, the new parlance for employees who are not to be trusted with classified information.

The whistleblowers taking to the London stage have been concerned with security threats and international relations, including matters of war and peace. There are of course some secrets in these fields that it is in the public interest to protect. Very often, however, embassies and spy agencies will wish to keep things hushed up for exactly the same sort of reasons that affect less exotic institutions – concealing cock-ups, and avoiding daylight falling on things that ought not be happening at all.

A banker with a conscience, Paul Moore of HBOS, lost his job after asking awkward questions about loans and sales practices. The daughter of a mis-treated patient, Julie Bailey, saw her mother’s grave vandalised after she began telling the truth about the NHS disgrace at Mid Staffs. Nobody, however, would today deny that both were on the right side. And from Iraq to waterboarding and mass surveillance, whistleblowers within the security state, too, have more often than not ended up being vindicated.

RT TV Interview on Chuck Hagel and Afghanistan

From November 25, 2014:

 

http://www.rt.com/op-edge/209179-hagel-wars-obama-policy-disagreement/

Chuck Hagel’s disagreement with Obama’s position on the Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan wars is most likely behind his resignation. The administration didn’t expect him to speak against the White House, former State Department official Matthew Hoh told RT.

RT: You’ve seen this machine at work from the inside. What do you think is behind Chuck Hagel’s resignation?

Matthew Hoh:I think, of course, there is much more to this story than simply “Chuck Hagel no longer worked well with the administration.” I think you could tell by how quickly and how viciously the White House anonymously attacked Chuck Hagel as soon he announced his resignation. There were a lot of personal attacks against Hagel: he didn’t have leadership, he couldn’t do the job, he wasn’t up to the task, and I think any time you see the administration or the White House so quickly denouncing somebody, you know automatically there is another story to this. And what I believe to be case is that Chuck Hagel does not agree with the Obama Administration involving American troops in the middle of the Iraqi and the Syrian civil wars. And he is in disagreement with the American re-escalation of the war in Afghanistan that was just announced this past weekend.

RT: Judging by yesterday’s warm hugs between Obama and Hagel, the personal relationship between the two is quite friendly. How sincere were those smiles and handshakes?

MH: It’s Washington DC; it’s the Hollywood of politics. So, absolutely. I think may be in earlier time it could be described there is how cordial relations were among politicians, among elected leaders, among our senior people. But now it’s just as you described – it was a show.

RT: Recently Chuck Hagel became quite critical of the administration’s policy in Syria and Iraq. Do you think this made him an outcast in the White House?

MH: I think for the administration not to expect Secretary Hagel to be vocal or to speak up would have been be a very big mistake for them in their understanding of Secretary Chuck Hagel. Chuck Hagel earned the national reputation in the United States about 10 years ago or so for going against the Iraqi war. Chuck Hagel is a republican and member of President George Bush’s party and he very famously went against the Iraq war. So for the Obama Administration to have thought that Chuck Hagel was pliable, someone who was just going to go along with whatever decision they made and not to offer disagreements whether in private or in public, I think that was a huge mistake on their part. And so I think as I said as the story unfolds and as we get more perspectives on it, we’ll see the level of disagreement that was within the administration, within Obama’s Cabinet between Secretary Hagel and more hawkish members.

RT: Chuck Hagel is known for his anti-militaristic approach to U.S. foreign policy. Now that he’s going does it mean the Pentagon will become more aggressive?

MH: I think, unfortunately, the administration has bowed to pressure from both within the administration, from those in the administration who are beholding to a pro-intervention or a “military-first” policy as well as to very hawkish or warmongering senators on Capitol Hill. So I think the Obama Administration has made a commitment to expand America’s role in the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars. I think that is a cycle that will only worsen and deepen. Case in point – Afghanistan – where the United States escalated the war in 2009.Five years later, there is no end in sight for the war, the Afghan people continue to suffer, the government remains incredibly corrupt, the Taliban are stronger and the drug trade is the only industry in the country. I think what’s happening with American re-escalation of the war – sending American troops back into combat – is that President Obama is bowing to pressure, feeling stoned by abusing criticism that he is not tough enough. He is recommitting American troops to the war in Afghanistan, so that he cannot be criticized for ending the war prematurely. [But] they have been there for 13 years and that war, according to polls it has an 83 percent unfavorability rating in the United States, and is most unpopular war in American history, even more unpopular than the wars in Iraq or Vietnam.

Peter Kassig’s Death: Revenge Is Not The Answer (from a college friend of Peter’s)

Angela Miller, my colleague at the Center for International Policy and Win Without War, was a fellow college student with Peter Kassig, the most recent Westerner to be publicly murdered by the Islamic State. In the below essay Angela argues against revenge and blood lust and movingly asks for compassion, intelligence, patience and wisdom in dealing with the Islamic State and the wars in the Middle East.

We have all seen those whose lives have been exposed and exploited by violence, very often the killing of a child, make public appeals for peace and reconciliation. Michael Brown’s parents in Missouri are the most recent example. And, of course, it seems that those who have not personally shared in the suffering wrought by murder and war, are those most triumphant, righteous and, tellingly, short sighted in their calls for revenge.

I am sorry for your loss Angela.

Peter Kassig’s Death: Revenge Is Not The Answer

“Sometimes rebels want to know if I will join the fight. I always tell them no … I can either be in a position to deliver tens of thousands of dollars of antibiotics for women and children, or I can be another young man with a gun.”

-Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig

On Sunday, Nov. 16, the U.S. confirmed that Islamic State fighters had beheaded Abdul-Rahman (or Peter, as I knew him) Kassig, my classmate from Butler University.

The next day, I returned to work at the Win Without War coalition. One of my peers had been murdered, yet my job was to organize opposition to U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. On a deeply personal level, I had to reconcile my career choice with the fact the Islamic State had just murdered my classmate.

When I found out about Peter’s death, my gut reaction was to seek immediate revenge, to see his murderers bombed. The Islamic State could not get away with kidnapping, torturing and beheading innocent American citizens and humanitarian aid workers, I thought.

However, by reflecting on Peter’s life and by speaking with others who knew him, I came to believe Peter would not have wanted us to continue bombing Syria in his name. During conversations with friends, professors and others from the Indianapolis community, no one mentioned the idea of vengeance. Instead, everyone spoke admiringly of Peter’s humanitarian work and brainstormed ideas of how we could carry on his legacy by helping the Syrian people. Many of us realized that what we wanted, more than retribution, was to make sure that Peter did not die in vain.

Peter first went to the Middle East as a U.S. Army Ranger. In 2012, he returned as a man of peace, founding a nonprofit called Special Emergency Response and Assistance, and using his emergency medical technician experience to aid Syria’s wounded. In a 2012 letter, he explained his resolve to work for peace: “War never ends, it just moves around … Loss and destruction in this land brings about only survival; the determination to press on and rebuild … because there is nothing else. To rubble and dust and back again.”

It takes strength to listen to our better angels instead of giving in to revenge. As a nation, we will benefit from resisting our initial instincts and asking the hard questions about our latest war in Iraq and Syria: What do our desire for vengeance and our revulsion at the barbarism of the Islamic State mean in real policy terms? Will airstrikes and ground troops actually degrade the Islamic State, or will they be counterproductive?

The majority of Americans believe this new enemy must be degraded; yet nearly 70 percent have little confidence that U.S. airstrikes will succeed in accomplishing that goal. After 13 years of endless war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are right to believe that we cannot solve every problem with military might.

National security experts have presented viable and effective alternatives to endless war, and President Barack Obama should heed their advice. Instead of giving in to our first gut reaction, the American people should join these experts and demand, at a minimum, a more fundamental debate about the effective alternatives to military force that might allow us to address the threat from the Islamic State without perpetuating the cycle of violence.

The simple truth is that war isn’t working. After months of U.S.-led bombing in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State is reportedly stronger than ever, controlling roughly the same territory they did when the first bombs fell. Instead of being degraded, the group has also seen a massive increase in recruitment and continues its horrific campaign of violence and terror. And, tragically, American bombs have killed innocent civilians and may be making political solutions to the broader conflict harder to achieve.

One way to honor Peter’s memory is to write your representatives in Congress and request they advocate for effective alternatives to endless war. As Iraq war veteran and Center for International Policy fellow Matthew Hoh explained, “The beheadings are bait. The Islamic State is a parasite of war. Its narrative needs war for their personal, organizational and ideological success.”

I understand the temptation to demand revenge, but we need to take a step back and reflect upon where retaliation through bombing ultimately leads.

Peter Kassig saw the futility of war and gave his life in the struggle to bring peace to the people of Syria. As Peter’s parents wrote in their statement on Nov. 16, “We prefer our son is written about and remembered for his important work, not in the manner the hostage takers would use to manipulate Americans and further their cause.”

ABOUT THE WRITER

Angela Miller is the digital director for Win Without War, a coalition of national organizations that aims to promote a more progressive national security strategy. Angela is a 2012 graduate of Butler University, where she was a classmate of Peter Kassig. Readers may write her at info@winwithoutwar.org.

Two Poems: One of Death, One of Life

I wrote an essay a couple of years ago expressing my views and feelings towards Veterans Day. I still hold those sentiments in my mind and soul as true.

At the end of my essay I emplaced Siegfried Sassoon’s World War One poem Suicide in the Trenches; which I vowed to read each Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day as Sassoon’s contemporaries, festooned with poppies on their lapels and overwhelmed by much dead in the ground and in their memories, would establish to mark the war to end all wars….

This year I read Suicide in the Trenches at our small Veterans for Peace Swords to Plowshares Memorial bell ringing service at the North Carolina State Capitol on Veterans Day. Here are Sassoon’s words, a more eloquent, concise and honest description of war I do not know:

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

War and its primary companion, suffering, may take possession of your life, but by no means does war need to be in permanent claim of your mind and soul, by no means does war need to be the victor. Through love, through mercy and though kindness your soul and your mind may find forgiveness in yourself, and this, which is a process and a journey, is often enabled and emboldened by the grace of a stranger.

Such a stranger sent me a poem. The life war takes away, love, and its acts, can restore.

The Summer Day – Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

So now I have two poems to read each Veterans Day. One to ensure those who have suffered never leave my purpose and my life, and the second, to remind me that this is my purpose and that this is my life.

Thank you Megan.