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February 12, 2004

Merchants of Death

Living Room Dialogue with Simon Harek

Simon Harak, SJ, a founder of Voices in the Wilderness and currently on the staff of the War Resisters League, talked about U.S. economic exploitation of Iraq. Important note: Fr. Harak supplied a great deal of statistical information in his talk. Our notetaker did her best to record this, but the numbers in this account might not be completely accurate.

Fr. Harak said the 13+ years of sanctions following the Gulf War and continuous U.S. bombing of Iraq during those years was comparable to medieval siege warfare, where cities would be bombarded and starved, in Fr. Harak's opinion. He cited the 1999 UNICEF study showing the numbers of deaths of Iraqi children since the Gulf War as 500,000. That and the present occupation are having the effect of eliminating the Iraqi people as a viable ethnic group.

The purposes of the recent U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq were:

We can safely say that weapons of mass destruction were never the issue in invading Iraq. Establishing democracy was never the issue; we work with dictators all over the world. The U.S. occupation has been hiring back most of the members of Saddam Hussein secret police.

In recent budget, Congress voted to transfer $28 million in the Department of Energy funds away from alternative energy and into the development of mini nukes. 80% of the DOE' money is spent on the development of nuclear weapons.

The military itself is the main consumer of energy in the U.S. For example, a jet plane that flies for one hour uses the same amount of fuel that will power a regular car for two years.

Enormous amounts of money are being spent on military materiel. For example, a plant in Seattle that makes bullets cannot keep up with military's demand although it produces 4,000,000 a day. Production has had to be outsourced - Israel is now making an additional 70,000 a day.

Big weapons manufacturers contribute large amounts of money to political campaigns. Lockheed Martin contributed $3.4 million to candidates in the last election. In 2002 it received $17 billion in contracts from the Department of Defense and another $2 billion from the Department of Energy. Vance Kaufman, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, earned $25 million a year (that's $98,000 a day). Compare that to the salary of an Army private - a little over $19,000 a year.

Executives of former executives from weapons manufacturers sit on the Defense Policy Board and advise the Department of Defense on weapons and services. They can decide a particular kind of weapon or strategy is necessary and then go after the contract to provide that weapon or services. For example, in 1992 Halliburton was given a contract to research the out-sourcing of many tasks people in the military used to do, for example digging latrines, building barracks, preparing and delivering meals, transporting oil. Once the research showed that this would save the military money by hiring cheap local labor, Halliburton got contracts to provide the services. Now, for example, a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root is paid $2.65 a gallon to transport oil which is then sold for 4 cents a gallon in Iraq.

Military contractors have no incentive to cut costs because they work on a cost-plus basis. They are paid a percentage of profit over whatever the cost is to them.

The question arose, "What can we do about this?"

In Fr. Harak's opinion, going to elected officials to stop war profiteering is a waste of time and because of the political structure, it doesn't make any difference who we elect. He recommended thinking about how Gandhi confronted an alien power and sought to create massive, non-violent non-cooperation. He gave the examples of the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the Marcos government in the Philippines as examples of successful non-violent resistance. Such strategies are not a quick fix - it took Gandhi 30 years.

Non payment of taxes is one possibility. Creating an alternative economy is critical. Consumerism breaks us apart. Simplifying our lives, sharing resources, creating barter systems are all ways we can resist.

C--- said that we needed a better analysis of what transpired in Iran and the Philippines since the overthrows of the Shah and Marcos has not brought improvement in those countries. Capitalism cannot be left intact. In South Africa, while the ending of apartheid was a great victory of non-violent action, most people are still desperately poor. We need to fight for justice in this country, for example to end the exploitation of home health attendants in New York - 80-100,000 of them-who are paid little, have no health benefits, etc.

Other participants in the group talked about the need to educate and inform people, letting them know how their money is being spent.

K--- said she thought people need hope. Also, participation in some activity was needed in order for information to be taken in. There has to be a risk in it.

Fr. Harak said all the successful non-violent revolutions had a religious aspect to them. People need a strong community to take the risks. Courage comes from one another.

J--- agreed that standing up for each other is the only way we gather courage. An example of solidarity for him is the soup kitchen at St. Mary's run by formerly homeless volunteers. A St. Mary's group has been talking about reaching out in the places where we work or are retired from since there are a number of union members in the St. Mary's group. He noted that a general strike in Seattle in 1919 had the effect of stopping a U.S. invasion of the Soviet Union. Word got out that U.S. soldiers were to be sent to kill peasants andworking people.

Fr. Harak said he no longer uses the word "power" to describe the actions of government or corporations. Better terms are "domination," "subjugation," "corruption." He will only use the word as it is used in the New Testament to refer to healing and nurturance.

Fr. Harak commented that it is important to speak to small groups like ours this night.

J--- spoke about the value of talking to families of soldiers and soldiers themselves, organizing within the military. Along these lines, Fr. Harak recommended the War Resisters League's GI Rights Hotline and the groups Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) and Veterans for Peace.

Regarding the upcoming elections, K--- noted that the Democrats will be swallowed up in the same system. John Kerry supported the sanctions in Iraq and voted for the recent war, etc.

C--- said she thought we have to be involved in the elections. As far as Kerry is concerned, she recommended checking out his idea for a New Army of Patriots which includes mandatory service for high school students. Also recommended was looking at a Brookings Institution publication "United We Serve."

Fr. Harak's last remark was that he agreed with K--- that hope was important but that it was also important not to put our hope in the wrong places. We should withdraw hope from the hopeless, for example, political figures, and find things that are "hopeworthy."

J--- had a final thought, that at St. Mary's a group was reading about the Jesus movement as political resistance against empire and repression and thus a model for today.

Recommended further reading: "How Much Are You Making on the War, Daddy" by Hartung.


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