Today the list of casualties among the U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan reached 1,000. Marking this occasion has become a tradition in the peace movement as we saw the death toll in Iraq pass one, two, and then three thousand. The news of our carefully counted 1000th casualty is accompanied with the news that 33 Afghan civilians were killed by a NATO airstrike in Uruzgan province. The exact total dead suffered by the Afghan people is not counted by our military, although circumstantial evidence suggests thirty-three to one is as good a guess as any.
How many have died is not important to me. What is important is that their deaths were unjust and preventable. Let’s not refer to the dead as troops or terrorists. Both of these labels tend to justify their deaths and rob them of their humanity. Putting on a uniform or picking up a weapon doesn’t make them any less human. Their deaths are tragic and we must lay blame not on them, but on a political and economic system that creates troops and terrorists out of brothers and sisters.
This day reminds me of why I have committed myself to the anti-war cause. A long time ago I came to realize my connection with all living things. We are all a part of the same living eco-system. From this universal perspective it should be obvious that we are all equally deserving of our human rights and dignity. All men are my brothers and all women are my sisters. But by the fate of fortune I have the privilege to be standing here speaking to you while so many others have suffered a cruel and untimely demise under the leadership of our government.
We cannot continue to rally only when the fatalities of war reach a new round number. We owe those who have died; those who continue to suffer; and those yet to be victimized at the front lines of this war much more than we have offered so far. I don’t care how many rallies I have to attend, how many meetings I have to sit through, or how many phone calls I must make. These are not inconveniences in my life. This work is the honor, privilege and duty of my life; and I am grateful to have it so easy.
We cannot afford to put the burden of fighting against this war on the veterans, their families, or even the core of the peace movement. Everyone is responsible. Everyone has a legitimate voice. Everyone’s participation will be necessary if we are going to stop these wars. In the words of the late historian Howard Zinn, “You can’t stand still on a moving train.” Don’t let anyone get caught standing still on the question of war.
Our distance from war, both physical and psychological, has provided our unwitting consent and a slippery escape for the warmakers in Washington. In this global society, we must not allow our physical distance or personal identity to limit our compassion or sense of ethical responsibility to one another. My challenge to you, and every U.S. citizen, is to break through this shroud that protects war. Get to know the people of Afghanistan. Learn about the history of Afghanistan and U.S. militarism around the world. Get to know the veterans and their families in our communities. Make this war personal to you, and you will find the time and courage necessary to fight back.
I believe in the good character of the American people. If we lived in a true democracy we would not have chosen to build this global military empire and we would not be occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States government was a tepid experiment in democracy that has turned into a murderous monster. The people’s history of the United States has been the history of trying to tame this monster. I say “enough!” the monster must be slain! The American people deserve, and have a right to, an authentic democracy – a democracy based on a classless exploitationless society where we own our own economy, and govern our own communities. Only by slaying this monster can we crush the seeds of war, tear down nationalist barriers to solidarity, abolish capitalist exploitation, share in our common wealth, and live in true peace and security with the Earth and all its people.