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Book Discussion

Posted on: March 17th, 2017 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Things That Can and Cannot Be Said: Essays and Conversations by Arundhati Roy and John Cusack

In central India, a forest of tall thin-trunked Sal trees is the home of several protected species including sloth bears and leopards, and local tribes depend on the natural produce of the forest for sustenance.  All of this is in jeopardy because of the coal reserves below the forest floor.  Tribal people are resisting the plans of multinational companies to exploit these reserves.   Arundhati Roy talked to the people involved in the resistance, “ . . the poorest people in the world have stopped some of the richest mining corporations in their tracks.”   The superintendent of police explained the difficulty.   “The problem with these tribals is they don’t understand greed.  Unless they become greedy there’s no hope for us.  I have told my boss, remove the (police) force and instead put a TV in every home.  Everything will be automatically sorted out.”  The truth is simple. Greed is the life-blood of capitalism and exploitation.  Roy shines a light on this uncomfortable truth that capitalism is the basis of societal ills.   When capitalism is equated with freedom and democracy and all things virtuous, this truth is one of the “things that cannot be said. “

The book of essays and conversations was John Cusack’s idea.  He wanted Edward Snowden to meet Daniel Ellsberg because of the similarities of their actions and their courage.  They both leaked government secrets.  Both have been vilified as well as honored.  In fact, on their way to meeting Snowden in Moscow, the party of Roy, Ellsberg, and Cusack stopped off in Stockholm for the ceremony where Snowden, in absentia, was being honored with the Right Livelihood Award, “the Alternative Nobel.”  The Moscow meeting wasn’t a formal interview, so they didn’t get the cautious, diplomatic, and regulated Edward Snowden, which also meant the jokes, the humor, and repartee that took place cannot be reproduced.   More “things that cannot be said.”

The image of the two men so pleased to meet each other is a balm to our spirit, as we affirm Daniel Berrigan’s words. “Every nation-state, by supposition, tends toward the imperial. . .we agree with those who denounce the hideous social arrangements which make war inevitable and human want omnipresent, which fosters corporate selfishness, panders to appetites and disorders and wastes the earth.”

Dorothy Sampson

Book Discussion

Posted on: September 14th, 2016 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Superpower by Ian Bremmer

I’ve just finished reading Superpower, a book by Ian Bremmer which examines three possible scenarios for American defense and foreign policy for the next President. They are Indispensable America, Moneyball America and Independent America. He says he wrote this book as an exercise for himself to consider which of these three plans had the most appeal. Indispensable America is the most costly which closely parallels our current approach and postulates that as the world’s only superpower, we need to continue our present policies and perhaps even enlarge upon what we’re currently doing.

Moneyball America says we should consider our strategic interests and fund those alliances that only advance our strategic interests. Finally, Independent America is somewhat akin to Moneyball, only it acknowledges that we cannot be all things to all people and that by constructing a more caring and equitable society here at home, we can lead by example and reduce our defense expenditures and use the savings to fund education and medical care and other social needs. He also says that it is time for Japan and Korea and Germany and France and other developed nations of Europe to pay more of their own defense expenditures. He says further that too much allegiance or opposition is paid to the prevailing views of the political party in power, so very little critical thinking is applied to what we should really do as we go forward.

I think it’s a book that is long overdue and, as an examination of our defense and foreign policy, it is very worthwhile to consider. My view is that our outsized defense budgets do no one any good and that we definitely need to carefully think through what we can and cannot do.

Jim Anderson

 

Book Discussion

Posted on: April 25th, 2016 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

The connection between blue skies and happiness runs deep in our collective consciousness.  The small natural grocers where I shop in Eugene has a ceiling painted cerulean blue and decorated with fluffy white cumulous clouds.   On a dreary day, this artifice can lift my spirit.  But what if we lived in a world where the only blue skies were painted on ceilings?  One of the proposed solutions to global warming is to inject the stratosphere with sulfur, turning the sky perpetually gray.   This “mad” science might block the sun, but it also might not be reversible.  Do you really think that not giving up air travel or air conditioning or HDTV or trips to the mall is worth the trade-off of never seeing actual blue skies.  We live in a decade where we will be forced to choose.

The consensus of 97% of scientists is that the earth today stands in imminent peril from the environmental cataclysm of dangerous climate change caused by human activity.  If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, the mounting evidence of global warming is everywhere.  Arctic Sea ice and glaciers are melting faster.  The increasing acidity of the oceans is causing coral reef destruction.  Temperatures continue to break records.  The number of extreme floods and fires is increasing.   To make matters worse, CO2 emissions are increased by dying forests, and by melting ice that loses the ability to reflect heat, and by melting permafrost which release even more CO2 and methane.

So why aren’t our governments pursuing policies to save the environment by stopping the use fossil fuels?  The answer is capitalism, with its twin motives of profit and greed. Solutions to the problem of the warming earth are systematically sabotaged by

the forces of free market fundamentalism, conservative politics, and corporate opposition to environmental regulation.   Additionally, since the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions we’ve bought in to the belief in our ability to control nature.  While we pursue greater material wealth and profit, we have forgotten the truism that “nature bats last.”

Klein places her hope in the human spirit and in local opposition to environmental degradation.  We have seen some successes in Oregon.  Federal regulators rejected plans for a massive liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay.  The Federal Court ruled in favor of youth bringing a suit against the Federal government because it fails to protect the atmosphere for future generations.  The Oregon LNG Company abandoned plans for a gas export terminal in Warrenton, OR.  There are possibilities to stop the madness when we work together.

In her book, “Reweaving Our Human Fabric,” Miki Kashtan helped us visualize a world after the “transition” where there is no scarcity or zero sum economics and where everyone’s needs are met. Klein has shown us is that the transition is upon us now and how we must accept a role in shaping it.  To change everything, we need everyone.

Review by Dorothy Sampson

 

Book Discussion

Posted on: March 16th, 2016 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Reweaving Our Human Fabric, Working Together to Create a Nonviolent Future by Miki Kashtan

In John Lennon’s song, he asked us to imagine all the people living life in peace. . . . .sharing all the world. While we look around us and see systems that oppress democracy, foster vast disparity of wealth, and contribute to a culture of alienation, Miki Kashtan offers us a new, transformational vision and a way to realize the world that Lennon sang about. She affirms that a world in which human needs are the organizing principle for creating social structure, global institutions and governance is possible. She backs up her premise with practices to engage in social transformation and “wisdom tales”, stories that show what the world could look like.  We can become more than dreamers.  We can be the doers.

Dorothy

Book Discussion

Posted on: January 24th, 2016 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

General Sherman famously said that war is hell. What Irene Nemirovsky shows in the novel, Suite Francaise, is how the hell of the battlefield spreads insidiously to noncombatants. Under occupying German forces, the French themselves lose their veneer of empathy and humanity. “The compassion of civilization fell from her like useless ornaments, revealing her bare, arid soul.”  When the Parisians flee ahead of the invading forces, as often as not, they are met with inflated prices and closed doors. “There were just too many of them. It prevented the townspeople from being charitable.” The crisis of war and occupation did not bring out the best in people. There is little nobility or valor or courage in this ironic story, but rather infighting, jealousy, and collaboration with the enemy.

Nemirovsky is embedded in the story. A Jew, she and her husband and two small daughters fled Paris for the countryside where they hoped to elude the Nazis. But just as her novel was interrupted, so was her life. In 1942, she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz where she died. With the help of their governess, the little girls survived along with the suitcase that held their mother’s manuscript. Sixty-four years, after Irene’s death, her work was finally published. We are fortunate that we can now read how she bravely “denounced fear, cowardice, acceptance of humiliation, of persecution and massacre.” Another cost of the war was the loss of her genius.

Review by Dorothy Sampson

Book Discussion

Posted on: July 10th, 2015 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Pay Any Price, by James Risen

James Risen’s book reports on little known and suppressed stories of the “war on terror.” Throughout history, those in power usually control the story. With his reporting, Risen offers us an alternative to the narratives of the government, an alternative about abuses of power and the motivation of greed.

The stories offer answers to many questions such as why did the Bush Administration throw out any notion of using the American legal system to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Who has cashed in from this decision? Why is the truth that torture was a direct result of official government policy suppressed?   Why have both the Bush and the Obama administrations prosecuted whistleblowers and leakers so rigorously? Why are there so few incentives to end the war? How has the emphasis on secrecy promoted compartmentalization that conceals illegality? Risen puts the questions in front of us and then with careful, sometimes laborious, detail uncovers facts and lets the reader draw his own conclusions.

Just after 9/11 but before we invaded Iraq, an open-ended “sweetheart” contract called LOGCAP, the army’s main field support program, was awarded to KBR. While the country was still in peacetime mode, no one gave much thought to the contract’s specifications. KBR performed the traditional supply and rear echelon work of the army. Under the terms of their contract, they were reimbursed for all costs associated with the work as well as bonus payments. In the chaos of the invasion and the immediate needs, KBR was allowed to do the work and submit the paperwork and billing later. KBR never provided the army with an original cost estimate and, therefore, could claim it was owed any amount. Their profits have been staggering. Risen reminds us that KBR was a spin off from Halliburton, the Texas based oil services company run by Dick Cheney before he became vice president. We can draw our own conclusions.

There have been brave citizens who have tried to hold the government accountable . Our government has retaliated with ruthless suppression, ruining the life and health of many. Through all this America has become accustomed to a permanent state of war. It is not enjoyable to look into a moral abyss, but if we don’t acknowledge what has happened and is happening, how can we change?

This is the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War. The Pentagon planned for a national official commemoration. They were seemingly surprised by the push-back that came from Vietnam veterans themselves. The Veterans groups are resisting a false narrative and questioning a plan to celebrate the start of the war that was a debacle. It’s time to confront our past with shame & sorrow. That is why we need to remember the truth of what happened in Vietnam and to learn the truth about what is happening now in our endless wars.  Risen’s book can start us on that path.

Review by Dorothy Sampson

Book Discussion

Posted on: April 20th, 2015 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Eugene has a Beyond War Book Group that meets monthly to evaluate books and create discussion questions to include in a Beyond War Reader’s Guide in order to help other Book Discussion Groups.

The Dandelion Insurrection by Rivera Sun

When Occupy Wall Street hit the news from Zucotti Park in September 2011, the media buzzed with the question, “What do they want?” By October, Occupy protests had taken place or were ongoing in over 951 cities worldwide. After the police dispersed the last iteration occupying public space, the question became “What had they achieved?” Even the most ardent detractors concede that the protestors had changed the conversation. The phrase “we are the 99%” entered the vernacular. The disparity between the wealthy 1% and rest of the country was openly discussed.

In her novel “The Dandelion Insurrection,” Rivera Sun borrows heavily from the Occupy Movement. The novel is set in a near future dystopia. The United States has become a police state run by corporations. Zadie and Charlie, the young revolutionaries actively organize against the vertically hierarchical systems of the repressive government and the resulting distributive injustice.

Zadie explains the real price of wealth. “Every time we idolize the wealthy and try to become rich like them, we’re perpetuating the suffering of billions. . .if people keep lusting after money and power, no amount of revolution is going to help us.” (p.68) She argues that democracy has always been a threat to elitist power structure and the government doesn’t really want an informed citizenry. They only want soldiers and consumers. Consumption had once described a deadly disease, but now it described a wasting of the soul. Zadie appeals to people to stop all forms of excessive consumption, to withdraw not only their worship of wealth, but also their approval of the wealthy.

Sun’s novel is laudable in its goals. However, the writing style is a distraction. It is fraught with an exhaustive overuse of action verbs and purple prose. A more serious criticism is that while espousing nonviolence, Sun poses enemies by dehumanizing the faceless men in power. In the book “The Nonviolence Handbook,” Nagler cautions that “The more you respect the humanity of your opponent, the more effectively you can oppose his or her injustice (p.15). . . all violence begins in the failure or refusal to recognize another as fully human.”(p.17) If Zadie and Charlie operated with this intention, they could more effectively amplify the change in consciousness that can change systems.

Reviewed by Dorothy Sampson

Book Discussion

Posted on: March 9th, 2015 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Waging Peace by David Hartsough

David Hartsough was only fifteen when the FBI began a file on him.   At that age, he had organized a demonstration of kids at the Nike Missile site. If it is so that racism and bigotry are passed along to children with their pabulum, Hartsough’s story shows that compassion and empathy can also be imprinted.  His mother was a teacher who spent her summer vacations picketing a germ warfare plant. His father worked for the Quakers as the American Friends Service Committee’s college secretary. Following his parents’ model, David decided very early that he needed to do something with his life to challenge and change the terrible injustices in society.

Through his Dad’s work, David met many of the spiritual giants of the civil rights movements. Ralph Abernathy invited the Hartsoughs to visit him in Montgomery where they also met the twenty-six year old Martin Luther King. While they were there, Abernathy drove them around so they could see for themselves the total segregation of neighborhoods, churches, swimming pools and buses.

Inspired by this experience, David entered Howard University. He embraced the opportunity to join several black students in sit-ins at establishments that refused service to black people. He was twenty years old, sitting at the counter of the People’s Drug Store in Arlington Virginia, when a man with a knife in his hand threatened to kill him. “You Nigger lover. Get out of this store in two seconds or I’m going to stab this through your heart.” David said to his assailant, “Friend, do what you believe is right and I will still try to love you,” the man turned and walked away.

In that powerful moment, David understood viscerally that “a few people with some courage and commitment to nonviolence don’t have to just sit and curse and feel powerless when terrible things are happening. We can challenge and transform injustice, violence and oppression to achieve a more just society. We can change the course of history!”

He has kept that faith, working for peace and justice for sixty years from the days of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, to protesting American involvement in suppressing the people of Central America, facing death squads in the Philippines, working for reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia, and opposing American wars in the Middle East.

His actions were always informed by his faith. David learned well the power of turning the other cheek if you also stood your ground. Two thousand years ago when a Roman soldier passed a Judean peasant, he could strike him with the back of his hand to knock him out of his way, a dismissive gesture.   But if the peasant stood his ground and turned his other cheek, the soldier would be forced to look him in the face in order to strike again. The soldier would be forced to see the humanity of the one he would subjugate. In this spirit of nonviolent resistance, David Hartsough has stood his ground and forced oppressors to look at what they were doing, to acknowledge the humanity of those they would dominate. He has stood his ground when it meant risking going to prison, physical pain, or even death. His courage inspires all who work for peace and justice.

Reviewed by Dorothy Sampson

Book Discussion

Posted on: December 14th, 2014 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

The Terrorist’s Son by Zak Ebrahim

Years after his father was imprisoned for life, Zak Ebrahim, as an advocate for peace, gave a speech in front of a couple hundred federal agents at the FBI headquarters in Philadelphia. After the talk, some agents formed a line to shake his hand.   One agent, a woman, who had been crying, took his hand.   She had worked on his father’s case. “I always wondered what happened to the children of El-Sayyid Nosair,” she said.

This brief book is the answer to that question.

The adult males in Zak’s life had modeled fanaticism, bigotry, and violence for him. He was only seven when his father assassinated the leader of the Jewish Defense League. Then while in prison, Nosair helped plan the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. By deciding that other people’s deaths were more important than his own family’s lives, he had condemned his wife and his children to poverty and shame, a miserable rootless existence. They had to pay the price for his crimes.

Just having survived the bullying and negative dogma of his childhood is an achievement, but Zak went further and redefined himself. He had a lesson in empathy when he tried bullying himself. He saw a look on the poor tormented kid’s face that he recognized viscerally and knew he could not do to others what had been done to him.

Through small opportunities to experience the world, as a Rhino Rally guide at a theme park and by watching John Stewart on TV, Zak realized he had been taught lies. He began taking every fundamentalist lie he had been told about people—about nations and wars and religions—and held it up to the light. Turning someone into a bigot is the first step in turning him into a terrorist. But as Zak learns, bigotry cannot survive experience, and having been victimized, he understood deeply how little the world needs more victims. And so the son of the infamous terrorist, El-Syyid Nosair, stopped taking his father’s calls from the prison in Illinois and began a new life, a life of empathy, peace, and nonviolence.

Reviewed by Dorothy Sampson

Book discussion

Posted on: October 15th, 2014 by BWNWAdmin 1 Comment

Conscience by Louisa Thomas

“I know what I know,” the lyric from the song by the same name echoes Norman Thomas’ understanding of conscience.  It was the heart of his pacifism and his dedication to social justice.  He believed that every person had a conscience –“a sense that he is more than a creature of instinct, an awareness of ultimate ethical ends.”  Everyone knows what is right, though not everyone is free to act on that knowledge.

Norman’s great-granddaughter, Louisa Thomas, uses her access as a member of the family to tell the story of how Norman’s conscience developed.  This is both a strength and a weakness in the book.   The details of Norman’s parents and grandparents lives in the early chapters delay the narrative of Norman’s own story, which is worth telling.   He ran for President six times on the Socialist ticket, but that was preceded by his stand for peace and civil liberties during World War I.  These extremely unpopular positions are the focus of the book and the author should have gotten there sooner.

Norman’s parents did not have the money to send their sons to Princeton.  When an uncle offered to pay Norman’s tuition, he entered Princeton as a sophomore on the condition of passing extra exams.   Though he was woefully underprepared, he graduated valedictorian.  Woodrow Wilson was the new president of Princeton, and Norman took every class from the popular lecturer that he could.   He idealized him.  This only increased his disillusionment years later when Wilson took the country into war.

Norman followed both his father and grandfather into the Presbyterian ministry, but he didn’t share their belief on the inerrancy of the scripture.  At his ordination test, conservatives on the panel pushed Norman for his interpretation of the literal factuality of the Bible.  He had to “deploy a little sophistry” to satisfy his questioners.  His answers disappointed his father, and, for opposite reasons, Norman felt his performance was not his most principled hour.  This was a milestone in the development of his conscience.   From then on, he aligned his words and actions with his beliefs.

Newly ordained, he left a promising position in an upscale Manhattan church for a new parish in East Harlem that served immigrants and presented enormous challenges.  During this period, Wilson was elected President of the United States. His presidency began with a series of reforms, and he was reelected with the slogan “He kept us out of war.”  To Norman’s disappointment, Wilson changed course shortly after his reelection and asked Congress for a Declaration of War in April 1917.

If Norman was not really successful as a missionary for the Presbyterian church, on the subject of the war, he was evangelical.  He was convinced that an ethical society could not emerge from the inferno of battle, and he believed that capitalism meant the “practical denial of brotherhood” in favor of greed and distrust with war the most horrific evidence that exploitation leads to violence.

Norman was not subject to the draft, but he supported his younger brother, Evan, a conscientious objector who was court-martialed, imprisoned, shackled, brutally force-fed, and finally sentenced to life in prison for refusing to eat.  Norman called attention to the injustice and absurdity of Evan’s penalty.  Yet while he championed Evan, he also maintained dialogue with and respect for his two brothers who had enlisted.  In our polarized times it’s a remarkable achievement that the Thomas brothers found ways to be true to themselves and to each other.

In a letter to Evan, Norman expressed his reasons for hope even in discouraging times.  ”I am still enough of an optimist about the universe to believe that truth, righteousness, reason, not as abstractions but as the expression of the deepest desires of living men and women, will ultimately triumph if we serve them with methods consistent with them and abandon the false and perilous maxim that the end justifies the means.”   In our own discouraging times of continuous war, Norman Thomas’ words offer hope to us also.

Dorothy Sampson