Friday, August 21, 2009

New website exposing US military violence against women

There's a new website up and running as of this week, produced by a team from California State University at San Marcos, where a proposal for a ROTC program was recently shelved as a result of well-organized opposition on campus.

The website deals with the issue of violence against women within the military.

Here is the team's objective, as posted on their home page:

This blog is part of a collaborative project designed to deepen and broaden understandings of the relationships between U.S. militarism, foreign policy, imperialism, racism, sexism, and violence against girls and women.

See the site here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The dilemma of draft registration for men age 18 - 26

Great article about draft registration, posted today on Common Dreams and originally published in Yes! Magazine:

Registering for Peace
by Tobin Jacobrown

On Wednesday, the 29th of July, I filed a lawsuit against the federal government declaring that, because of my religious beliefs, I should not be required to register for the draft unless it could be officially recognized that I claim to object to all war.

I grew up believing not only in nonviolence, but also that I should never submit myself to a system that is contrary to my beliefs. As traditional principles of Quakerism, these were part of my religious education; but also, by Quaker teaching, a person must come to these conclusions only by checking their own conscience.

There was no time that my beliefs were challenged as deeply as when I first had to decide whether or not to register.

I had just come back from six months working with Burmese refugees in Thailand when I was delivered a letter threatening prosecution if I didn't sign a draft registration card, already inscribed with my name and address. Having just lived on the edge of a war-zone, my beliefs were as clear as ever before.

On the other hand, refusing to register for the draft is a felony and, though no one has been convicted in two decades, it's punishable by up to five years in prison. Refusal also makes you ineligible for federal aid in paying for college, and, because of a recent wave of legislation, it can even keep you from renewing your driver’s license in all but a shrinking handful of states (my home state of Washington among them, lucky for me.) According to the Selective Service System, the organization that runs draft registration, many states with these license laws have seen registration leap to 99 percent.

But a more pressing question for me was: What does a belief in nonviolence really mean? I had to go back to the beginning, to the very root of my beliefs.

To me it came down to this: if I register, I'm saying, “If there's a war and you need someone to fight, call me up.” That's not a statement I can make and still respect my conscience. To me, any lie I put my word behind is reprehensible, and one that also violates my principles of belief is out of the question. If I'm ready to give up my beliefs for a little ease or regularity, what does that make me?

I sent in the first of many letters to the SSS indicating my refusal and asking for relief on religious grounds (and making it clear that I would be happy to register for service, as long as it would be recognized that I was indicating service at a nonmilitary facility such as a hospital or school). Two years later, still denied federal college aid or recognition of my beliefs, I sat with my lawyer, Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU, in a benign waiting room deep in the DC federal court house, watching the friendly clerk as she photocopied the 15 pages of my legal complaint.

I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I’m happy and exhausted, in the capital of this nation that will always be my home, no matter how far I travel. I feel grateful to finally have a way that I can seek relief; still, I think the change that I'm asking for is mostly a change of minds.

I can't tell you how often people have said to me, “I had no idea young men still have to register for the draft.”

Many of those young men are unaware, too. Over and over I talk to men my own age who say, “I never registered.” I ask them if they're in college and, if so, if they're receiving any financial aid. If the answer is yes, then I tell them, “Well, then you did register.”

I nearly registered myself on accident when I was filling out my application for student aid. There's a tiny line in the middle of the application for federal aid: the innocuous phrase, “Register student for Selective Service?” Below that is the fine print saying that if you answer “no” you won't be eligible for any financial aid. It's such a no-brainer that so many people answer yes, not realizing that a signature at the end of the form counts as an official signature registering you for the draft.

Now, like anyone involved in the legal process, I have to be patient. The defendants have 60 days before they have to respond, and it could be several years before this matter is settled. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to a country where service means more than war—and no other people, religious or secular, have to violate their beliefs in order to enjoy their rights.

Toby Jacobrown wrote this article as part of YES! Magazine's ongoing coverage of breakthrough opportunities for peace. Toby is pursuing a lawsuit against the Selective Service System that would make it possible for those committed to nonviolence to register as Conscientious Objectors to war, as was possible before 1980. He writes about registration and nonviolence on the website

Monday, August 10, 2009

Universal Soldier

A friend recently reminded me of these lyrics from the song, "Universal Soldier," written by Canadian singer/songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie and famously covered by British singer, Donovan, in 1965. More than forty years later, the lyrics continue to speak to today's dilemmas.
The last stanza is controversial. Rather than placing the blame for war solely on soldiers who fight them, I see the lyrics as asking all of us, including soldiers, would-be soldiers, non-soldiers and those who pay for war, to examine our roles in war-making and peace-making. I'll dedicate this post to GI resister, Victor Agosto, who took a firm stand for peace and personal responsibility when he was court-martialed last week for refusing to prepare to deploy to Afghanistan.

Universal Soldier
by Buffy Sainte-Marie
He's five feet two and he's six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He's all of 31 and he's only 17
He's been a soldier for a thousand years

He's a Catholic, a Hindu, an atheist, a Jain,
a Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew
and he knows he shouldn't kill
and he knows he always will
kill you for me my friend and me for you

And he's fighting for Canada,
he's fighting for France,
he's fighting for the USA,
and he's fighting for the Russians
and he's fighting for Japan,
and he thinks we'll put an end to war this way

And he's fighting for Democracy
and fighting for the Reds
He says it's for the peace of all
He's the one who must decide
who's to live and who's to die
and he never sees the writing on the walls

But without him how would Hitler have
condemned him at Dachau
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He's the one who gives his body
as a weapon to a war
and without him all this killing can't go on

He's the universal soldier and he
really is to blame
His orders come from far away no more
They come from him, and you, and me
and brothers can't you see
this is not the way we put an end to war.