ROBERT C. KOEHLER – Martin Luther King, in 1964, warned of the escalation of violence and its consequences when he delivered his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, pointing out to the world that: “. . . in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. . . . Violence ends up defeating itself.” Verge of Civil War II? Consider the signs.
ROBERT KOEHLER – The U.S. military needs more than just money (a trillion dollars or so) in its annual budget. It needs access to America’s young people as well — their wallets, their bodies, and their minds.
ROBERT C. kOEHLER – Curbing sexual assault — ending it — is not a power struggle. It’s far more complex than that, a process that can only begin with honoring and valuing the victims, setting aside what we think we know, and listening to them.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – Why, why, why, as our ecosystem collapses, as millions of refugees flee the horrors of war and poverty, as the pandemic continues, as World War III and the possibility of nuclear Armageddon rears its evil head, as the planet trembles, does ever-expanding, global militarism remain our primary national purpose?
ROBERT C. kOEHLER – The only thing obvious about the Russia-Ukraine-West conflict is that war will make it worse. What can all sides, working together, create to turn it into peace?
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – The speech, â€œBeyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,â€ is remembered and celebrated (or not) as MLKâ€™s official condemnation of LBJâ€™s war, inappropriately â€œmixing peace and civil rightsâ€ and shattering ties with the countryâ€™s pro-war liberals. My takeaway after reading it: The speech is a lot more than that.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – Agent Orange, the most powerful of the herbicides used in Vietnam in Operation Ranch Hand, begun on August 10, 1961, contained dioxin, one of the most toxic substances on the planet. We dropped 20 million gallons of this and other herbicides on Vietnam, contaminating 7,000 square miles of its forests. Half a century later, we are fully aware of the consequences of this strategic decision, not just for the Vietnamese, the Laotians, the Cambodians, but also for many American troops.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – What a world this is. I fear far less â€œaidâ€ is given, and far less profit is envisioned, to promote â€œthe right of all people, regardless of their faith, to have self-determination and equal rights.â€
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – The questions, as President Biden takes office, turn increasingly paradoxical: Is a coup, and resulting fascism, the nationâ€™s biggest worry? What about the return to normalcy? I fear the latter as much as I fear the former.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – The scariest part about the legacy of Columbus, and Europeâ€™s â€œAge of Discoveryâ€ â€” ah, the white men break out of their cage and find the rest of the world â€” is that itâ€™s still alive. And while thereâ€™s a growing demand that we should dump Columbus Day as a national holiday and replace it with Indigenous Peoplesâ€™ Day, I think something else is necessary as well: We need to look deeply at the legacy of Columbus and begin to own it. No more whitewash!
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – Democratic majorities were crucial this summer to the defeat of three separate bills, introduced by progressive Democrats, to reduce military spending and/or undo the militarization of police departments. These included amendments in both the Senate and the House to the National Defense Authorization Act, diverting 10 percent of the Department of Defense budget to health care, education and jobs; as well as a Senate proposal to end the 1033 Program, which allows the Pentagon to transfer military gear to the police. The amendmentâ€™s defeat in the House was especially an outrage in that the Dems hold a majority in the House and could have passed it.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – Americaâ€™s reluctant democracy: It demands a lot more of us than weâ€™re taught to believe. Yes, voting is important (if you can), but claiming the right to vote and have your vote counted â€” and being able to vote for more than simply the lesser evil and the maintenance of the status quo â€” requires continual struggle in the face of lies and teargas. Election season never ends.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – We live in a dangerous and paradoxical world. OK, fine. But is our social infrastructure capable of calmly and sanely handling new dangers that emerge â€” or is it more likely to make them worse?
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – The mainstream media imposes some serious certainties on the 2020 presidential election that drive me into a furious despair.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – When the mainstream media writes about war, even critically, the image that often comes to mind for me is an infant wrapped in plastic. That infant is naked reality, a.k.a., the present moment, suffocating and screaming for its life; the plastics smothering it are the journalistic euphemisms by which murder and terrorism turn into abstract acts of national necessity.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – One thing that becomes clear to me when I wander into the world, and the minds, of geopolitical professionals â€” government people â€” is how limited and linear their thinking seems to be.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – The people do not want war, but right now we have almost no say in the matter. A future without war will not be an easy birth. We must continue learning how to become a democracy.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – Veterans For Peace, an organization that speaks truth to war like nobody else, is attempting to reclaim Armistice Day, the Nov. 11 holiday that was flipped on its head 65 years ago when it was renamed Veterans Day â€” and became a celebration not of the end of war but of its perpetuity.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – A serious part of a new consciousness concerning climate change must be addressing what it means to live as part of one global community that is in peril from the consequences of exploitative human behavior. This is not a mere moral abstraction, something to do because itâ€™s right and good. We will disappear as a species if we donâ€™t â€” no matter how much money we have.
ROBERT KOEHLER – The Green New Deal needs to go further than it does. Since itâ€™s already being pilloried as the most radical piece of legislation in modern history, it might as well open itself up to become just that: the cornerstone of a truly sustainable national and global future. The Deal should take on militarism and war as well as climate change and poverty; they are all linked.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – “We are people who believe in the worth of every human being,â€ Elizabeth Warren said the other day, and I wondered for a moment what life would be like if that were true. The more crucial question, however, is: How can we make it true?
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – Thereâ€™s a bigger problem embedded in the social order than our lack of effective gun laws, and I hope the movement that emerges out of the Parkland massacre makes the leap beyond anger and single-issue politics. The nationâ€™s weak gun laws â€” the easy availability of AR-15 assault rifles â€” are, in fact, a symptom of the general cheapening of human life in American society, which is reflected in the nationâ€™s ever-expanding obsession with war and a military budget the size of Godzilla. War always has a way of coming home.
ROBERT KOEHLER – Is this moment in history empty of all hope and sanity, occupied as it is by the forces of empire and a militarized presidential ego? Or is there a global, evolutionary counterforce out there as well, equal to or greater than the corporate militarism that seems to have a stranglehold on the future?
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – Itâ€™s time to free MLK from his day of honor and put him back at the center of the national news.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – Dred Scott lives! With the Supreme Courtâ€™s declaration that President Trumpâ€™s third version of a Muslim travel ban is now enforceable, even as legal challenges against it proceed, the court and the country reopen the racism that permeates American history.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – This time, the â€œthe fire and the furyâ€ of American mass murder erupted in church. Twenty-six people were killed, including children, one only 18 months old. How do we stroke their memory? How do we move forward? This is bigger than gun control. We should begin, I think, by envisioning a world beyond mass murder: a world where rage and hatred are not armed and, indeed, where our most volatile emotions can find release long before they become lethal.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER — â€œTell them, I want everybody to know, I want everybody on the train to know, I love them . . .â€ These words are also part of the geopolitics of murder â€” these words of light and hope, alive and pulsing amid the bullet casings, the blood and wreckage, the shattered lives. They were the dying words of Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, one of the two people stabbed to death last week on a commuter train in Portland, Ore., after they had intervened to stop a manâ€™s tirade of racial slurs â€” â€œgo back to Saudi Arabia!” â€” directed at two teenage girls on the train.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – The American will to wage war â€” endless war, pointless war, total war â€” is, I fear, impervious to public opinion and even political action. It remains alive deep in the underground bunker of American militarism, protected from sanity. This goes beyond the staying power of our loser generals, who have ever freer rein in the Trump administration to expand the war games of the 21st century. There is a quiet determination among those who serve the god of war â€” or so it seems â€” to engage in, and presumably win, a nuclear war.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – Whatâ€™s the difference between education and obedience? If you see very little, you probably have no problem with the militarization of the American school system â€” or rather, the militarization of the impoverished schools . . . the ones that canâ€™t afford new textbooks or functional plumbing, much less art supplies or band equipment. My town, Chicago, is a case study in this national trend.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – â€œFor over forty years our criminal justice system has over-relied on punishment, policing, incarceration and detention. This has ushered in an age of mass incarceration. This era is marked by sentencing policies that lead to racially disproportionate incarceration rates and a variety of â€˜collateral consequencesâ€™ that have harmed our communities and schools. . . .â€
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – â€œThe people are being reduced to blood and dust. They are in pieces.â€ The doctor who uttered these words still thought the hospital itself was a safe zone. He was with Doctors Without Borders, working in Kunduz, Afghanistan, where the Taliban and government forces were engaged in hellish fighting and civilians, as always, were caught in the middle.
ROBERT C. kOEHLER – Maybe if we declared â€œwarâ€ on poison water, weâ€™d find a way to invest money in its â€œdefeat.â€ David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz make this point: â€œThe price tag for replacing the lead pipes that contaminated its drinking water, thanks to the corrosive toxins found in the Flint River, is now estimated at up to $1.5 billion. No one knows where that money will come from or when it will arrive. In the meantime, the cost to the children of Flint has been and will be incalculable.â€ I sit with these words: â€œNo one knows where the money will come from.â€
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – â€œJust as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. And . . . as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it. â€œSo today, I state clearly and with conviction Americaâ€™s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.â€ Uh . . . These words, the core of President Obamaâ€™s first major foreign policy speech, delivered in Prague in April 2009, now resonate with nothing so much as toxic irony â€” these pretty words, these words of false hope, which disappeared into Washingtonâ€™s military-industrial consensus and failed to materialize into action or policy.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – The New York Times reported last week that U.S. soldiers still fighting the war in Afghanistan â€” 14 years on â€” are under orders to be â€œculturally sensitiveâ€ regarding different attitudes among our Afghan allies about, uh â€¦ the sexual abuse of children.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – The awareness that must emerge from a decade-and-counting of torture revelations is that absolute power over others does not keep us safe and should not be pursued. And torture is only a minute fraction of the wrong we promulgate through unchecked militarism, the aim of which is domination of the planet. Step one in the unhealthy pursuit of power is the dehumanization of â€œthe enemy.â€ The consequences of what we do after that will always haunt us.
ROBERT C. kOEHLER – â€œThe definition and practice of war and the definition and practice of mass murder,â€ I wrote last year, â€œhave eerie congruencies. We divide and slice the human race; some people become the enemy, not in a personal but merely an abstract sense â€” â€˜themâ€™ â€” and we lavish a staggering amount of our wealth and creativity on devising ways to kill them. When we call it war, itâ€™s as familiar and wholesome as apple pie. When we call it mass murder, itâ€™s not so nice.â€
ROBERT C. KOEHLER – The money system we live under, as Charles Eisenstein points out in his book Sacred Economics, is backed by growth: the necessity for more money. Itâ€™s called profit. We understand wealth, then, to be not a state of spiritual balance with ourselves and our environment, but as something that endlessly and forcefully accumulates, to no end except sheer linear growth. Our allegiance to such growth bequeaths us a moral system that justified (and continues to justify, with different terminology) slavery; and that excuses us from looking after the future. Knowing this may be the key to deciding to grow up.
ROBERT C. KOEHLER -â€œWe cannot afford to lose another decade.â€ My God. Thereâ€™s more darkness in this quote than the New York Times intended. I winced when I read these words of Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chairman of the committee that wrote the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC report, which the Times quoted in a recent editorial headlined â€œRunning Out of Time.â€