As we approach the April 4 anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s
great 1967 "Beyond Vietnam" speech in New York City's Riverside Church,
the War Resisters League reiterates King's urgent cry for nonviolenceand
nonviolent resistance. The parallels between the war in Afghanistan and
the U.S. war against Vietnam fill us with foreboding. While we adamantly
oppose continued U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan,
we also call upon people of conscience to think beyond Afghanistan and
challenge, as King did, "the giant triplets of racism, extreme
materialism, and militarism."
Others have laid out reasonsfrom Afghanistan's topography to the U.S.
economic crisis that would make an expanded war in Afghanistan
"unwinnable." But WRL does not base our opposition on such arguments.
While they may be correct, we challenge the very idea of a "winnable" war
and oppose this one as we oppose all war: not solely for practical and
strategic reasons, but because of our, and King's, decades-long
commitment to nonviolence.
Purveyor of Violence
Much has changed in the 40-plus years since King made that speech,
yet the United States remains, as he named it then, "the greatest
purveyor of violence in the world." WRL stands, as he did, against that
violence, which is not only wrong in itself, but cures nothing and
rebounds on its perpetrators.
King declared that the people of Vietnam "must see Americans as strange
liberators." The assessment applies today to the people of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has lost more than two million civilian lives to war in the
last 30 years alone, and the toll is rising again, in a dreadful example
of the ways in which violence boomerangs and warfare begets only
devastation and more warfare (including attacks by groups like Al Qaeda).
For centuries that battered land has been subject to imperial aggression
and intervention. The Taliban rose to power with the support of the U.S.
and Pakistani intelligence services, intervening against the USSR's
invasion. Today, Afghanistan's infrastructure is destroyed. Each year,
pregnancy and childbirth kill 25,000 women, and diarrhea kills 85,000
children. Landmines planted in turn by troops of the Soviet Union, the
Northern Alliance, and the Taliban kill 600 people per year and maim so
many that manufacturing artificial limbs is a major industry. The
infamous U.S. "detention center" at Bagram continues to hold more
prisoners than Guantanamo. Rather than bombing and shelling
Afghanistanand maintaining a prison there the United States could
promote economic development, public health, education, food security,
women's empowerment, and de-mining efforts.
The Enemy of the Poor
War wreaks its devastation within our own country as well. In this
period of increased global instability and recession, the world is
undergoing a tectonic shift in its assumptions about the institutions of
capitalism. That re-evaluation must include its assumptions about the
institution of war.
"I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies
in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam
continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive
suction tube," King said in 1967. Substitute "Iraq and Afghanistan" for
Vietnam, and the sentence is equally, terribly true today.
Here as abroad, war remains, as King called it, the "enemy of the poor."
While the Pentagon pours billions of tax dollars into implements of
destruction and rains down bombs on poor civilians in Afghanistan, our
own infrastructure crumbles, and our own people are struggling without
decent schools, healthcare, and employment. The funds that we need to
provide housing and care at home end up diverted into killing people
thousands of miles away, and people of color, immigrants, and
lower-income whites are targeted by military recruiters to do the
killing. Massive bailouts line the pockets of bankers, unemployment
skyrockets, and military recruiters are having the easiest time meeting
their quotas in years.
Nonviolence in Afghanistan and at Home
Despite the monumental obstacles they face, many in Afghanistan and
Pakistan are working nonviolently for peace and to repair the ravages of
war and warmaking. In Afghanistan, Parliamentarian Malalai Joyadespite
illegal suspension from Parliament and assassination attempts has
continued to denounce the warlords and call for human rights, women's
rights, and governmental accountability. Thousands of peace advocates in
northern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan have met in the assemblies
called jirgas to imagine and formulate peace and reconstruction
initiatives. The lawyers' campaign in Pakistan has mobilized thousands,
despite beatings and arrests, to reverse the military's control over the
courts. Others are building schools and countering the bitter legacy of
violence against women. U.S. peace advocates should be promoting and
publicizing these nonviolent actions to rebuild Afghan and Pakistani
society in the midst of war, devastation, warlordism, and patriarchal
In our own country as well, there are increasingly loud voices against
war and for a reordering of our prioritiesfor affordable housing,
universal healthcare, gender justice, disability rights, clean energy,
quality education, restorative justice, fair food, and an anti-racist
society. Among these allies are newcomers to the United States, people
who have survived and resisted wars and challenged immigration policies
that facilitate the extraction of profits from cheap labor, even while
being criminalized, imprisoned, deported, and denied citizenship. Some of
those most forsaken by the U.S. government have continued to build
organizations and networks for those with no safety net.
The War Resisters League urges everyone to join us in organizing,
protesting, and demanding the closing of Bagram prison (and all such
"detention centers") and an end to military actions in Afghanistan and
Pakistan and across the globe. Organizing against military recruitment is as important as ever now that the
military is preying on those most affected by the battered economy.
Support the voices and actions of the survivors of war. Listen to
veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; create space for their
heartbreaking stories of remorse and harrowing accounts of the worst
kinds of violence and dehumanization. Stop funding war - become a war tax
resister. Instead of paying to train men and women to kill, foster ways
to help all of us rebuild our communities.
The so-called "war on terrorism," with its occupations and detentions,
its torture and carnage, has failed because military action can never
lead to security. We don't have easy answers, but we know that the cycle
of violence has to end, and we have to help end it. While thousands of
people in Afghanistan and Pakistan are finding the courage to risk their
lives to work for nonviolent solutions, we have a responsibility to lift
our voices. We must reject the notions of good wars and bad wars, legal
or illegal wars, winnable and unwinnable wars. We must decide whether our
identity as a nation will be based on a culture of cultivating life or
dealing death. As King declared, "A nation that continues year after year
to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift
is approaching spiritual death. ... We still have a choice today:
nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation." Together, let's
choose the path of nonviolence.
For suggestions for actions opposing war in Afghanistan, see United
for Peace and Justice, the antiwar coalition to which WRL belongs,