Peace activists take on the Pentagon and its corporate
Days after a U.S. warplane bombed a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins
Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing forty-two
people, twenty-four of them patients, the international president of MSF, Dr.
Joanne Liu walked through the wreckage and prepared to deliver condolences to
family members of those who had been killed.
A brief video, taped in October,
2015, captures her nearly
unutterable sadness as she speaks about a family who, the day before the
bombing, had been prepared to bring their daughter home. Doctors had helped the
young girl recover, but because war was raging outside the hospital,
administrators recommended that the family come the next day. “She’s safer
here,” they said.
The child was among those killed by the U.S.
attacks, which recurred at fifteen minute intervals, for an hour and a half,
even though MSF had already issued desperate pleas begging the United States
and NATO forces to stop bombing the hospital.
Dr. Liu’s sad observations seemed to echo in
the words of Pope Francis lamenting
war’s afflictions. “We live with this diabolic pattern of killing one another
out of the desire for power, the desire for security, the desire for many
things. But I think of the hidden wars, those no one sees, that are far away
from us," he said. “People speak about peace. The United Nations has done
everything possible, but they have not succeeded.” The tireless struggles of
numerous world leaders, like Pope Francis and Dr. Joanne Liu, to stop the
patterns of war were embraced vigorously by Phil Berrigan, a prophet of our
“Oppose any and all wars,” he urged. “There
has never been a just war.” “Don’t get tired!” he begged people, adding,
“I love the Buddhist proverb, ‘I will not kill, but I will prevent others from
People who’ve embraced his message continue
meeting at the Pentagon, as happened December 28 when activists commemorated
the “Feast of the Holy Innocents.” Christians traditionally dedicate this day
to the remembrance of a time when King Herod ordered the massacre of children
under two years of age because of a paranoid belief that one of the recently
born children in the region would grow up to oust Herod from power and kill
him. Activists gathered at the Pentagon held signs decrying the slaughter of
innocents in our time. They’ll protest the obscenely bloated military budget
which the U.S. Congress just passed as a part of the Consolidated
Appropriations Act of 2023.
As Norman Stockwell of The Progressive recently noted, “The bill contains nearly
$1.7 trillion of funding for FY2023, but of that money, $858 billion is
earmarked for the military (‘defense spending’) and an additional $45
billion in ‘emergency assistance to Ukraine and our NATO allies.’ This means
that more than half ($900 billion out of $1.7 trillion) is not being
used for ‘non-defense discretionary programs’—and even that lesser
portion includes $118.7 billion for funding of the Veterans
Administration, another military-related expense.”
By depleting funds desperately needed to meet
human needs, the U.S. “defense” budget doesn’t defend people from pandemics,
ecological collapse, and infrastructure decay. Instead it continues a deranged
investment in militarism. Phil Berrigan’s prophetic intransigency,
resisting all wars and weapons manufacturing, is needed now more than
Outraged by the reckless slaughter of innocent
people in wars ranging from Vietnam to Afghanistan, Phil Berrigan insisted that
weapons manufacturers profiting from endless wars should be held accountable
for criminal activity. The weapons corporations rob people, worldwide, of the
capacity to meet basic human needs..
The appallingly greedy Pentagon budget
represents a corporate takeover of the U.S. Congress. As the coffers of weapons
manufacturers swell, these military contractors hire legions of highly paid
lobbyists tasked with persuading elected officials to earmark even more funds
for companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon United, and General
Atomics. According to militarists, stockpiles of weapons must be used up, in
order to justify more weapons manufacturing. Media complicity is necessary, and
can be purchased, in order to frighten U.S. taxpayers into the continued bankrolling
of what could become worldwide annihilation.
Phil Berrigan, who in his lifetime evolved
from soldier to scholar to prophetic anti-nuclear activist, astutely linked the
racial oppression he opposed as a civil rights activist to the rising
oppression caused by militarism. He likened racial injustice to a terrible
hydra that contrives a new face for every area of the world. Throughout his
life, Phil Berrigan identified with people menaced by the hydra’s new faces of
war. Elaborating on this theme in a book called No More Strangers, published in 1965, he wrote that the
dispassionate decision of people in the United States to practice racial
discrimination made it “not only easy but logical to enlarge our oppressions in
the form of international nuclear threats.”
How can we in the United States prevent the
killing that goes on, in our name, in multiple wars, exacerbated by weapons
made in the U.S.A? How can we resist the growing potential, acute scourge of a
nuclear exchange as warring parties continue issuing nuclear threats in Ukraine
One step we can take involves both political
and humanitarian efforts to hold accountable the corporations profiting from
the U.S. military budget. Drawing on Phil Berrigan’s steadfastness, activists
worldwide are planning the Merchants of Death War
Crimes Tribunal scheduled to be held November 10 to 13, 2023. The Tribunal
intends to collect evidence about crimes against humanity committed by those
who develop, store, sell, and use weapons to commit crimes against humanity.
Testimony is being sought from people who’ve borne the brunt of modern wars,
the survivors of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, and Somalia, to name
but a few of the places where U.S. weapons have terrified people who’ve meant
us no harm.
“We render you, corporations obsessed
with war profiteering, accountable; answerable!,” declares the
Reverend Dr. Cornel West on the Tribunal’s website.
On November 10, 2022, organizers of the Merchants
of Death War Crimes Tribunal and their supporters served a “subpoena”
to the directors and corporate offices of weapons manufacturers Lockheed
Martin, Boeing, Raytheon United, and General Atomics. The subpoena, which will
expire on February 10, 2023, compels them to provide to the Tribunal all
documents revealing their complicity in aiding and abetting the United States
government in committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, bribery, and
People menaced by the hydra’s new faces of war
often have nowhere to flee, nowhere to hide. Thousands upon thousands of the
victims are children.
Mindful of the children who are maimed,
traumatized, displaced, orphaned, and killed by all of the wars raging today,
we must hold ourselves accountable as well. Phil Berrigan’s challenge must
become ours: “Meet me at the Pentagon!” Or at its corporate outposts.
Humanity literally cannot live in complicity
with the patterns that lead to bombing hospitals and slaughtering children.
Kathy Kelly (email@example.com) helps plan
the Merchants of Death War Crimes Tribunal (merchantsofdeath.org); she is board
President of World BEYOND War and a co-coordinator of BanKillerDrones.org