Get out of Afghanistan

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 52, Lent 2010

John Dear SJ

American Jesuit priest and Ploughshares activist John Dear was recently in New Zealand. Our peace correspondent met with Fr John at the Catholic Worker in Otaki.


CG: What would you say to the NZ government and the NZ people about our new commitment to sending SAS troops to Afghanistan and upping our support to the US military?

I would say to the NZ government and people that you are making a grave mistake. Not only are you continuing the myth that you’re going to stop terrorism through war, you’re actually breeding terrorists. You’re part of the American machine which is turning millions of people around the world and in Afghanistan against the West and feeling sympathy for the Taleban. And that is happening all over the place.

So, NZ should have nothing to do with the US war in Afghanistan. I would say bring home every soldier today, maintain your blockade on US nuclear weapons, cut all ties with the US war machine, whether it be satellites or whatever, and then what you should be doing with your own history of non-violence and peaceableness, is trying to figure out how can NZ be a light of non-violence, peace and disarmament to the whole planet.

You’re part of the American machine which is turning millions of people around the world and in Afghanistan against the West and feeling sympathy for the Taleban.

NZ’s Role

And you could do that. The world needs that and the world will listen to NZ with your connection with Australia and the Brits, and the Pacific Rim. You’re an important people, and with global warming who knows where the future is going, as an island nation and so forth. You have a moral authority and you’re losing it by going along with the American empire. So I’m saying, it’s not going to work, it’s impractical what you’re doing, but much more – your role is to help the world disarm more and more and to be a thorn in the side of the American empire, and lead other nations to non-co-operate with. The Obama administration needs pressure from the international community to have the courage to end the war in Iraq and to stop sending troops. And they’re stuck in the rut of 50 years of Pentagon thinking that the military is the only thing and now we’re all just relying on the military, and that’s the only solution we know, and now Obama is going more and more into that. He needs nations to say ‘No’ to him. I don’t understand how NZ could be so dumb to go along with the US warriors.

CG: Many here would regard Obama as being a new John F Kennedy, a new light of enlightenment to lead the world to more peaceful days. Is that how you would view the Obama administration?

I would say yes, he is in many ways like John Kennedy, but I want much more than John Kennedy, I want Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day, people to help get us back to Jesus of Nazareth which is working towards non-violent ways to resolve international conflict, abolishing extreme global poverty and nuclear weapons and global warming, and helping the world move towards a new kind of world, without war, a new world of non-violence. That’s our future, that’s our only hope.

So Obama is very bright, a brilliant speaker and charismatic and very smart, but he’s a politician, a liberal Democrat and a big supporter of war in many ways. For example, one of the greatest things he said is that Prague speech where he said ‘The future is a world without nuclear weapons.’ He’s right, that’s the Christian response, that’s true leadership, to lift up the vision of the world… Then he said, ‘Of course that will never happen in our lifetimes.’ That’s wrong. It not only has to happen in our lifetimes, it has to happen this year at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. That’s our only hope, because the billions going into nukes we need for the poor of the earth to relieve starvation and to begin to figure out how to clean up the environment.

Obama doesn’t see that and we have to push him and he’s determined to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan. (Obama subsequently announced troop increases of 30,000 for Afghanistan. Ed) We’re in our ninth year of this war and I think he could see this war going on for decades. I could go on and on; I actually think Obama will continue the Iraq war and it’s the same old, American military response. We need something much greater than that and the people of the world have to push the Obama administration to do the right thing.

It not only has to happen in our lifetimes, it has to happen this year at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. That’s our only hope, because the billions going into nukes we need for the poor of the earth to relieve starvation and to begin to figure out how to clean up the environment.

CG: What impact would it have for NZ to take a more independent stance in relation to US?

It could only be good. We don’t know how the US would respond, but you’ve already done it in 1985 when you said ‘No’ to the presence of US nuclear weapons and probably really angered the Reagan administration, but the impact? You inspired millions maybe billions of people around the world to think ‘Wow! a nation can stand up to the US.’ You inspired me, as a young activist, to take a stand and say ‘What am I doing to get rid of nukes; I live in the US, these people did this and who would think NZ could do it?’

You inspired me, as a young activist, to take a stand and say ‘What am I doing to get rid of nukes; I live in the US, these people did this and who would think NZ could do it?’

So, what I’m saying is nobody really knows yet the power of a true non-violent stance and resistance to the American empire. And you’re blowing it now by going along with Afghanistan. You already stood up to them once, I’m saying ‘Let’s really stand up and say no to any involvement in the Afghan war’ and meanwhile push the US more than ever in this historic moment to get rid of nukes. It’s very important and I think the first response would be you’d inspire many people around the world. Ireland has done some of this, Scotland is doing some of it, Australia is not doing it. Australia is really going along… So you might inspire Australia. Who knows the impact you’d have on the Pacific nations and then if you could get other nations to do likewise then we might have a real impact on the UN and the world? So, it’s again, everybody’s afraid to take a non-violent stand but the other stand is actually scarier, to continue this madness of war. And who knows we might lead to a great breakthrough, for example, to the abolition of nuclear weapons. So I would say ‘Let’s take the risk of peace’ and New Zealanders have to push their government to do the right thing and really be a land of peace.

CG: The non-proliferation treaties are due for signing in May 2010. How critical are they to the future, do you think?

Some activists say this is the most important thing happening in the planet right now. It’s more important than global warming. It’s really hard for me to hear that, but I’m very impressed that very serious people in the US have been saying that. We just had a conference in Mexico last week and that’s what some of the experts who have studied nuclear weapons are saying. If this doesn’t get signed, within five years as many as 30 more nations could have nuclear weapons. And then you’re talking about nukes being lost, and terrorists getting nukes, and we’re headed toward a nuclear bomb being used, Pakistan and India or something like that.

CG: The non-proliferation treaties are due for signing in May 2010. How critical are they to the future, do you think?

A: Some activists say this is the most important thing happening in the planet right now. It’s more important than global warming.

This treaty would set a boundary which could then lead further, building strength for division of a world without nukes. So every activist should be somehow or other pushing their government to do that and everyone on the planet…So we all have to be involved in that somehow or another. And you guys should be pushing the New Zealand government to have a say in the UN and to be pushing the UN to make that treaty happen.

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