North Country Peace Builder
Vol. 53, No. 1, March 2002
Surrounded by Contras in Nicaragua
(May 20-June 3, 1990)
By Don Irish
Witness for Peace teammate Helen Duffy and I were 180 miles northeast of Managua, formerly jungle, now mostly cattle country (raised for America's hamburgers). The only US citizens there, we were initially housed with the International Commission for Aid and Verification (CIAV). We slept in their tents and ate their meals, while observing the process of demobilization and disarming of about 2500 Contras. (The Contras were organized, financed, trained, armed, and indirectly guided by the US military, serving as our surrogates aiming to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.) Two young French women, with the organization Doctors Without Borders, provided medical attention. On a nearby hill, UN "peace forces" from nine countries protected the wider "security zone." A daily helicopter landed there with newspapers.
Soon, Helen and I each found hospitality with families in the nearby community, El Azote. Our meals provided the standard Nicaraguan variety--rice and beans at breakfast; beans and rice for lunch; and gallo pinto (mixture of the two) for evening. Hammocks hung from ceiling beams. We slept in rooms shared by the families. Each dwelling had pigs and chickens underneath and was a "house with path." I resided with Jose and Rosa Feliciano.
As official international observers, we were present in the tents where the Contras individually were identified, interviewed, and relieved of their weapons. The Contras were given some medical tests and then they changed from their camouflage uniforms into civilian clothes. Later they were provided sacks of rice and beans for their waiting families and were transported to their home villages.
Informally we met and spoke with Contras outside the fence and entrance to the camp. Others were stationed in nearby woods. We walked the same trails, washed in the same stream, spoke the same language, responded to each others' greetings. Most of the Contras were young men, some young women, all going HOME! They had had their hopes and dreams, experienced their fears and sorrows. They laughed and cried like other human beings. We could not view them as demonic. As is probable with many armies, they had committed atrocities "under orders" and/or by "emotions of the moment." Also, as in most contemporary "on-the-ground" battles, the powerful utilize some of the poor to combat others who also are poor, for the advantage of the privileged.
When conflicts become very polarized and emotional, opponents are often "demonized," given offensive generic labels. For Americans in the past century there were "Huns," "Japs," "Gooks," and now "terrorists." When hateful labels stick, with authority and repetition, opponents may come to be seen as subhuman. Brutality increases; violations of civilians mount.
William Safire has written that modern high-tech warfare enables attackers to kill more people with less guilt. At the moment of "button pushing," the "automated warriors" can be unaware of the human and environmental devastations wrought unseen. The Geneva Convention(s) defines direct attacks on civilians or civilian infrastructure as violations of the "rules of war." My friend Clark Rieke has challenged that limited conception. "Innocent civilians" represents too narrow a perception of "collateral damages."
Even given the consolidation and control of our American media, which precludes a well-enlightened citizenry (which Jefferson said is necessary to develop and maintain a real democracy), aren't all Americans at least partially responsible for what their nation does? They are both victims and victimizers. The Contra and Sandinista soldiers, with even less adequate media, were citizens "used" yet also responsible for their individual actions. What of the alive children in Vietnam deformed by Agent Orange? Or the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died from the imposition of the embargo? Or the widowed and orphaned in Afghanistan? The US soldiers who return home mentally broken, suicidal, addicted to drugs? How about the victims of land mines in Cambodia? Even the ill-informed military draftees or volunteers who do not fully comprehend the true nature of what they are to be trained to do and be?
Means must be consistent with ends.
Helen and I endeavored not to demonize the Contras or sanctify the Sandinistas. Death is not an enemy! Killing is! The preparation for and conduct of war are evils, certainly in modern warfare. We all constitute "collateral damage," more so or less so!
"I cease not to advocate peace; even though unjust, it is better than the most 'just' war."
--Cicero, Roman orator and statesman
Declaration of Israeli Soldiers Who Refuse to Serve in Occupied Palestinian Territories
Published January 25, 2002, in Ha'aretz newspaper
We, being officers and soldiers in the combat reserves of the Israel Defence Force, having been brought up on Zionism, self-sacrifice and contribution to the Israeli people and the state of Israel, having always served in the front line, having always been the first to carry out any mission, easy or difficult, to defend and buttress the state of Israel;
we, combat officers and soldiers who serve the state of Israel for many weeks each year, regardless of the heavy personal cost, have rendered reserve service throughout the occupied territories and received or-ders and instructions that had nothing to do with the security of the state, and whose sole purpose is perpetuation of our domination of the Palestinian people;
we, having witnessed with our own eyes the bloody toll that the occupation takes on both sides of the divide; who have sensed how the orders we received erode every value we have imbibed in this country;
who understand today that the price of the occupation is loss of the humane image of the IDF and corruption of the entire Israeli society;
who know that the territories are not Israel, and that the Jewish settlements there will ultimately have to be evacuated;
We hereby declare that we will no longer fight in the war for the welfare of the settlements in the territories. We will not continue to fight beyond the Green Line [Israel's pre-'67 border] for the purpose of dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire people.
We hereby declare that we will continue to serve in the Israel Defence force in any assignment that will serve the defence of the state of Israel. The assignment of occupation and repression does not serve that aim--and we will have no part in it.
(52 signatures, with reserve rank ranging from first sergeant to major) <www.alternativenews.org>
News of The Fellowship
National FOR Has New Leader
After a year-long search, the FOR has a new national coordinator. Pat Clark assumed her responsibilities in mid-March. She comes to FOR from the American Friends Service Committee, where she held a national program position since 1994. Before AFSC she did anti-death-penalty work in California ('90-'94) and worked in the Klan Watch project at the Southern Poverty Law Center ('85-'90). She began her career working with Habitat for Humanity International in Zaire in the late '70s and early '80s. FOR is fortunate to have this experienced, able, and dynamic new leader.
Introducing New Board Members
Hi, I've been asked to introduce myself as a new board member. I am originally from Cambridge, MN and lived in St. Paul for a time before moving to St. Cloud with my husband when we married just over a year ago. My full name since getting married is Katrina Dolezal-Mersinger, but I still usually just use Katrina Dolezal. I am working this year as a substitute teacher and taking some classes toward my masters degree in education. Some of the activities I enjoy in my free time include gardening, reading, and sewing. I joined the FOR just under a year ago when I began organizing the Minnesota Peacemaker Project, which my sister Maryrose and I co-facilitated in July. The Minnesota Peacemaker Project was a wonderful learning opportunity for me and prompted me to become more aware of and involved in peace and justice work. I am looking forward to continuing to expand my involvement in the Minnesota FOR while serving on the board.
Youth is the first victim of war; the first fruit of peace. It takes 20 years or more of peace to make a man; it takes only 20 seconds of war to destroy him.
I was born by the shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya. I belong to the Luo ethnic group, and am the first of 10 siblings (7 surviving). I received a B.A. from the University of Nairobi and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Purdue University.
I moved to Minnesota with my wife Yujung Hu from Indiana in 1996. Our son Victor Okello was born in May 2000. We enjoy having three nationalities living under the same roof.
I am an associate professor of philosophy at Hamline University and also the director of the African American Studies Program. I teach and write in the areas of comparative philosophy, African philosophy, and social and political philosophy.
Ed. note: A third new board member, Matthew Ryg, will be introduced in the next newsletter.
Ed note: Bishop Gumbleton's s Wednesday night speech and remarks made at the Thursday retreat were videotaped by Leslie and Wilhelm Reindl for Altera Vista, the Channel 6 Friday midnight cable TV show. Both tapes are available from Altera Vista (1233 Ingerson Road, St. Paul 55112, 651-633-4410) for $5.00 each plus $1.95 postage (1 tape) or $3.50 (2 tapes).
Join the List of "Un-Americans" Two months after September 11, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an academic watchdog group founded by Lynne Cheney, issued a report entitled "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It." The report painted academe as a passivist fifth column undermining the war effort with anti-American statements. ACTA cited 117 instances and announced it would send the list to 3,000 trustees at colleges across the country.
To see the list of "un-American" people for yourselves visit <www.goacta.org/>. Also see <www.commondreams.org/views01/1202-04.htm>. You might consider adding your name to the list, and ask friends and colleagues to do the same, to show solidarity with those named (and implicitly threatened) by ACTA. ACTA's e-mail is <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The Nation magazine has started a web site for academic "self-tattlers." If you are a teacher, you might want to add your name to that site. You'll find it somewhere at <www.thenation.com>.
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North Country Peace Builder
Produced quarterly (September, December, March and June) by the Executive Committee of the Minnesota Fellowship of Reconciliation. Send article, letters, and comments to Leslie Reindl <mord001 @ umn.edu>, editor, in care of
Leslie Reindl, editor
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St. Paul, MN 55
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