Why I Became a Peace Activist

by Daniel Riehl

My father voted only once for president, was fooled and never again voted in a political election.  A wise decision. He had voted for Woodrow Wilson because he promised to keep the U.S. out of the war in Europe but after his election he led our nation into what became known as WWI which then led to WWII and then the Cold War.  And since then we have been in seemingly endless conflicts.

Much more recently, many people saw a lot of hope in Mr. Obama, he spoke nice words and promised many things.  In addition he is African-American and we in a nation which had practiced racism for so long needed to undo our wrongs toward African-Americans.  But Mr. Obama actually did just the opposite of what he had promised to the disappointment of many.  Again, my father was proven correct.  Have you ever heard the question,  “How do you know when a politician is lying?”  The answer is given as “When you see their lips moving.”  There is a lot of truth in that humor.

As the years go by I’ve become ever more appreciative of my upbringing.  My parents and significant others in my childhood and youth instilled in me a very strong sense of fairness, justice and honesty.  In the summers of 1943  to 1944, my father and 2 uncles employed German Prisoners of War in their tomato fields.   They were housed in a camp in Reading, PA and we could communicate in PA Dutch, became friends with them and often would give them extra food to supplement their prison diet.  I remember that one day I invited one of the prisoners into our living room to play a game of ping pong which he did but he kept being afraid the guard would see him so we played only one game.  We were friends not enemies.  We had fun.  After the war there were visits and correspondence across the ocean between the former prisoners and ourselves.

I remember August 6th and 9th, 1945 very well, days of infamy, when we incinerated hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We were told that it was necessary to save hundreds of thousands of American lives and to shorten the war.  That I learned much later was a heinous and abominable lie.  And our government had been lying to us before that and ever since.  I now believe that no war our country has ever fought was ever necessary not even the revolutionary war.  This idea is expressed in a book entitled “The Missing Peace” (as piece in a puzzle but spelled p-e-a-c-e) and written by a Mennonite and a Quaker.  This also, is the opinion of many other authors.  For some 70 years the colonial Pennsylvania government was in the hands of Quakers and Mennonites and the Indians were treated justly and anyone regardless of religion was welcomed into the colony.  This was in contrast to the other areas in colonial America where those not adhering to the official faith persuasion were discriminated against and even persecuted.

Over the years of our Republic (now world empire) our government has invented enemies to scare us with and to learn to hate and to cow us into being willing to go and fight so a president can be reelected (don’t change horses in midstream) and, perhaps even worse, so that war profiteers can get very rich.  Gen. Smedley Butler said after 33 years as a marine, “War is a racket.  The few profit and the many pay.”  He said that he finally realized that he had not been fighting for democracy or freedom but for the enrichment of wealthy corporations who took advantage of the people in other countries as well as caused impoverishment of our own citizens.  Gen Butler said, “There is money to be made in every peasant killed and every village that is destroyed.”

I think that in every country most people regardless of creed, religion or race are mostly peace-loving but their government can use propaganda to make it’s people hate and kill the government’s “enemies”.  Hermann Goring, Hitler’s propaganda minister said, “Naturally the common people don’t want war,”….in no country under any kind of government or creed….but “the people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders…..all you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.  It works the same in any country.”

Do you remember the frequent repetition of the run up to the Iraq war?

“Don’t wait for a mushroom cloud to be the smoking gun”?  George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and others were heard to say this repeatedly on the news media.  But Iraq had absolutely no ability to attack the U.S.  Had no weapons of  mass destruction.

And now we hear the same kind of baloney about Iran!

Unfortunately, I believed the baloney way too long even knowing I shouldn’t have.  Lyndon Johnson, the domino theory that if we don’t rescue S. Vietnam, the whole surrounding area will fall to the communists.  President Johnson staged a false flag incident in the Gulf of Tonkin in the run-up to the war.  The result was the death of 3.4 million Vietnamese and 58,000 U.S. soldiers.  Reagan was involved in the Iran-Contra war in Nicaragua that resulted in the death of 30,000 peasants.  In the Nixon/Kissinger years, the CIA had coordinated the assassination of democratically-elected Salvador Allende in Chile followed by the cruel Pinochet regime of that country whom we supported.  The CIA has coordinated death squads in Latin America.  George H. W. Bush fought wars in Latin America against the “communists” which were “threatening” to take over that continent.

But about 15 years ago my thinking began to change.  Now, I am very much ashamed of myself for not speaking up for the 500,000 Iraqi kids who died during the George Herbert Walker Bush and the Clinton administrations in the 1990ties.  They died for lack of food and proper medical treatment which we kept from them because of the sanctions we imposed on that country.

The experience that really turned me around was a course that my wife, Marie, attended called “Latin American Cultures” at West Chester University over a decade ago and urged me to attend and I did.  The course was taught by Dr. Erminio Braidotti, who after 3 years of training as a Jesuit priest had been asked to leave Latin America because of his radical campaigning for the poor and indigenous peoples.

Dr. Braidotti taught the class with film clips and videos, including the one about Archbishop Oscar Romero who bravely and fearlessly stood up for the poor and persecuted people of El Salvador before and at the beginning of their civil war.  George Herbert Walker Bush supported the Salvadoran government by training their soldiers at the School of the Americas (now called Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) and by sending them guns and money with which they suppressed and slaughtered their own people.  Mon-senor Romero’s Sunday sermons broadcast the news of the atrocities that the Salvadoran peasants had to endure, his sermons became very popular with the poor. The good Archbishop was murdered by a government thug just a day or two after his Sunday sermon when he preached to the troops (they all had radios) to lay down their guns and for God’s sake stop killing their fellow countrymen.

Dr. Braidotti showed films on Cuba where the poor were exploited by wealthy international companies such as the United Fruit Company.

We had films about the Philippines, one was about a good plantation owner (a breath of fresh air) who gave his workers decent wages, health care and education (built a medical clinic and school on his own property) and also gave them a share of the profits. He was the only plantation owner in the region who felt comfortable about staying at his plantation overnight and didn’t need to go back to town to a safer environment to sleep.  His business was as profitable as any.

To make a long story short, I came to the place where I thought it is my highest christian duty to speak out against our unjust, immoral and criminal wars and against the government-imposed social injustices in our own country.  I believe that war is by far the worst scrounge of mankind and the biggest sin anyone can commit.

I believe my own faith has become much stronger.  I have a worthwhile purpose in life.  For a long time my faith in God was very weak.

Learning about the massacres of peaceful indigenous peoples and poor peasants in Latin America as well as the frightful consequences of our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and other countries brings the words of Christ much closer to me.  In Matt: 25 and also in Revelations, Jesus says “In as much as ye have done it onto one of the least of these my brethren ye do it unto me………….”  Also the epistles of John make it very clear if we don’t love our brothers, we can’t love God.  I take brother to mean any man or woman in the world since we are all creatures of God for whom Christ died so they might live.  If we don’t grieve for the 100 Afghan babies and toddlers that froze to death last winter because the war drove their parents out of their homes in Kabul out into the snow-decked hills, of what good is our grieving for Christ on the cross which is celebrated every year and in many churches every Good Friday?

I believe that the only way we can see God or Christ in this life is in the eyes of others, especially the marginalized, the poor and mistreated humans.  By loving these people and speaking up for them including the victims of our own government in other countries we express love for Christ.  I see no other way.

A quick comment;  How can anyone accept the fact that the current man in the White House in Washington DC every day pours over a list of persons from which he picks names of “terrorists” and orders them to be murdered by drone attack.

My dad, believe me, was right and I for a long time was wrong.

Finally, Marie and I pray the prayer of St. Francis of Asisi every night in bed.  A prayer for ourselves to be true peacemakers both in our families, church and community as well as abroad.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master; grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

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This entry was posted in American Military Culture, Death, End of the Empire, The Left's Challenge, The New Peace Movement, The Right's Challange, World War II and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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