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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Kathy Kelly: Imprisoned for Peace

"War is Peace" - Anthony Freda Art
Henry L. Racicot

I’ve been appalled my entire adult life by American militarism, and especially so in the post-9/11 era. The unholy violence of American "foreign policy" not only strikes me as unjustifiable in its victimization of the others, but irrational, as well. For example, Americans were told by the Bush administration the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would prevent Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, yet the results of America’s brutal military intervention, combined with an incoherent post-Saddam political strategy, produced exactly the opposite, turning a terrorist-free zone into an alphabet soup of jihadi extremism. Similarly misguided and blood-stained adventurism has been repeated in Somalia, Syria, Libya. After observing the deathly results of post-9/11 American "foreign policy," the only conclusion I can draw that makes sense of the bizarre policy is that the real goal of American intervention is to create chaos guaranteeing a state of perpetual conflict with which to feed the American War Economy.

I find America’s latest war fad, drones, to be particularly disturbing, since it further distances the reality of the violence from the American people. With a robot air force doing an increasing share of the killing, there are now fewer coffins returning home to plumb the consciousness of what was an already small percentage of the American population cognizant of the flesh-and-blood cost of the War Economy.

Surrounded by friends, neighbors and co-workers untroubled by America’s robot wars, I despaired for peace, and thus it was with great interest, and even greater admiration, that I stumbled across, not in mainstream Media, but via the alternative media of the internets, of course, the story of Kathy Kelly. 

Ms. Kelly, a peace activist and co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, actually tried to look the American War Beast in the eye, and say “stop!” Kelly traveled to Whiteman (how ironic, given the color of America’s drone victims) Air Force Base, a ground control station for unmanned Predator drone "missions," and with a goodwill offering of a loaf of bread, tried to deliver a letter to the base commander expressing her concerns about the drone program. For her humanitarian effort, a judge sentenced Ms. Kelly to three months in a Federal Prison in Lexington, KY.

I felt compelled to write Ms. Kelly in prison and express my thanks and admiration for her efforts on behalf of peace. I also included the following questions, anticipating that her answers might prove eye-opening and inspiring to any readers who happen across this corner of the internet. . .

Q: Was there any particular meaning, besides being a goodwill gesture, in your offering a loaf of bread to the Whiteman Air Force Base commander?

A: Georgia Walker and I believe that “we are all part of one another.” For Georgia, an ordained woman priest, breaking bread indicates readiness to become bread, broken for others. For me, the Afghan tradition of breaking bread together, while seated on the floor when meals are served, inspires trust in our capacity to use words instead of weapons. Albert Camus called the choice “a formidable gamble,” in his essay Neither Victims nor Executioners. Military commanders should be approached by ordinary people. We, the people, own the base and it’s lawful, under the constitution’s first amendment, to assemble peaceably for redress of grievance. We hoped our gift of bread would be received as a sign of peaceful assembly.

Q: In reading news accounts of your trial, the prosecutor is quoted as saying you were in need of "rehabilitation!" Can there be any more damning evidence of the lack of tolerance of dissent? And shouldn’t we find it disturbing the state has such a twisted view of peace advocacy?

A: U.S. courts consistently refuse to allow a necessity defense—a claim that one acted to prevent a greater crime—and rarely allow defendants to say they exercised 1st Amendment rights to assemble peacefully for redress of grievance. I’d like to rehabilitate the Military Industrial Complex and the Prison Industrial Complex. It was disturbing to read, in late January, that Senator McCain referred to Code Pink activists as “low-life scum. We need to objectively assess what actions most threaten security and well-being of people. Topping the list would be manufacture and sale of nuclear weapons, any form of war profiteering, environmental destruction through corporate pollution and over-consumption of resources, manufacture of alcohol, firearms and tobacco. . .these are the BIGS. I don’t want CEOs to be imprisoned, but rehab would be good.

Q: What is your opinion of American media? Do you believe the media actively supports (and limits criticism of) US war policy?

A: The mainstream US media self-censors reporting on international news and foreign policy. The subservience to US government and military pressures create a vise-like grip on education here in the US. During the thirteen year stretch when the US imposed economic sanctions (through the UN) on Iraq, the media silence regarding the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children dismayed me. Drumbeats for a new onslaught of airborne attacks and invasion enabled more punishment of people who had meant us no harm. A handful of reporters refused to cooperate with mainstream war-mongering.

Q: Do you see any hope of a wide-spread anti-war movement forming in the US, such as occurred in the 1960s?

A: I hope we can build strong affinities between concurrent movements within the US, helping link activists together. Sometimes groups compete for funds, attention and support. I hope the antiwar movement will be quite clear about readiness to cooperate with other left-leaning groups dedicated to building a better world.

Q: Does a volunteer military naturally limit peace activism, since the citizenry have no reason to fear having to fight in a war?

A: I suppose a “draft” would cause a dramatic uptick in numbers of activists resisting war, but I’d recommend first drafting people who are forty years and older.

Q: Why do you think the revelations of the falsehoods used by the Bush administration to generate support for the Iraq war met by such indifference by the American people?

A: Dr. John Tirman’s book The Deaths of Others, tackles the question of why US people are so indifferent to the casualties suffered in Iraq, during and after the war, afflicting Iraqi civilians. Why wasn’t there indignance and outrage when it became clear that Iraq’s government didn’t harbor weapons of mass destruction? Dr. Tirman says that when the government can persuade the US public that a war is waged for “humanitarian” purposes, such propaganda causes the majority to become indifferent—they won’t try to make a difference because there is genuine fear of harming people in the thrall, for example, of an evil dictator or an evil Taliban movement.

Q: Do you believe the Obama administration uses falsehoods to justify the drone program?

A: The government pretends that drones enable “surgical strikes,” but the proponents of drone warfare exaggerate exactitude, and besides, surgery is meant for healing. The government doesn’t inform the public of Reprieve’s report that between November 2002 and November 2014 for every terrorist that was killed, twenty-eight civilians were killed.

Q: Is there any benefit from the drone program that could not be derived by peaceful means?

A: No. As a pacifist, I see no benefits in killing people, destroying buildings and livelihoods, creating enmity and exacerbating spiraling levels of violence.

Q: Do you believe the American people really understand the drone program? Are they aware of the civilian casualties? If you believe they are aware, why are not more people upset by the casualties?

A: I don’t think US people regularly learn of civilian suffering caused by drones. I’m reaching far into the past, but in the ‘90s, a little girl, JonBenet Ramsey, was front page news for months because she was a victim of abuse and murder. Just about anyone I knew was well aware of the details in the case. If US people are steadily informed of innocents who suffer, the populace will respond, but media serves up heaping portions of distractions (via sports and entertainment) and seldom helps the US people comprehend and analyze suffering of innocent people caused by US wars of choice.

A: I don’t think US people regularly learn of civilian suffering caused by drones. I’m reaching far into the past, but in the ‘90s, a little girl, JonBenet Ramsey, was front page news for months because she was a victim of abuse and murder. Just about anyone I knew was well aware of the details in the case. If US people are steadily informed of innocents who suffer, the populace will respond, but media serves up heaping portions of distractions (via sports and entertainment) and seldom helps the US people comprehend and analyze suffering of innocent people caused by US wars of choice.

Q: Granted American media shelters the people from the truth of the consequences of American military action, but don’t the people nonetheless have a responsibility for discovering for themselves this truth about what is done under their flag? Haven’t the American people hid from this responsibility? Don’t the American people themselves bear some guilt for the violence committed by the government they elect?

A: I’ve liked being guided by Dorothy Day’s writings as regards responsibility for “holy mother the state.” (Dorothy’s term). She recommended against allowing the state to usurp our own responsibilities to care for our neighbors in need or our own family members. When we refuse to pay for war by becoming war tax refusers, we can redirect our funds and energies toward life-giving endeavors, toward practicing “the works of mercy” and totally rejecting “the works of war.” Go to any impoverished neighborhood in a US city or town and it’s likely that you’ll find a house of hospitality, or a shelter, or a soup kitchen where volunteers try to help meet the needs of people who for one reason or another have fallen through the cracks in a social safety net. Joining these communities of service and sharing helps resolve questions about responsibility for US violence. We build a new world within the shell of the old.

Q: Have you been a peace advocate your entire adult life? What motivates your advocacy? Why do you care about the lives of others?

A: Since I was 28 years old, I’ve been privileged to “rub shoulders” with activists dedicated to simple living, sharing resources, living simply and nonviolently, resisting injustice. It’s a gift to be able to believe a few truths passionately and to align one’s life to live in accord with those truths. I’ve been very, very fortunate. A short answer: I fall in love easily. I easily fall in love with hospitable, kindly people, such as those who have hosted us in Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan.

Q: Excluding encounters with law enforcement, has your peace advocacy caused disharmony in your personal life, such as friendships or relationships ended?

A: I’m not aware of personal friendships or familial relationships that are disharmonious because of my peace activism. Fifteen years ago, I would have said that immediate family members were exasperated with me. But I became my father’s full-time care-giver for eight years, during which time my family grew to know and appreciate the Voices activists who took excellent care of my dad. Relations now are quite harmonious, and I’m enjoying correspondence with my sisters.

Q: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, and thank you for your service in quest of peace. If any who read this exchange feel like supporting Voices for Creative Nonviolence with their time and/or money, can you provide contact information?

A: Readers who feel interested in our work can write to Voices via email at Anyone visiting Chicago is welcome to visit our home/office at Voices for Creative Nonviolence, 1249 W.Argyle, Chicago, IL 60640. This is also the postal mailing address. Activists who have been part of our campaigns and delegations live in cities and towns across the US, and we’ll readily suggest local contacts to anyone who writes to us. Monthly phone calls with our young friends in Afghanistan happen on the 21st of every month. Visit for more information and and Checks can be made payable to VCNV and mailed to the address above. (We don’t have paypal). Feel free to call 773-878-3815. Thanks for asking! Kathy, after 21 April 2015.

Thank you, Ms. Kelly, and may God bless your peacemaking heart. . .

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