Mothers & grandmothers, weighing and paying the price of war
Peace Front Interview with Becky Lourey, a three-part series.
This is Paul Ogren, bringing you a poignant, first-hand look at the most horrific costs of war. Today, my guest interviewee is Becky Lourey, whom I got to know as our political paths crossed in the Midwest. In 1990, she was elected to serve in the Minnesota House; she later served in the state Senate for a total of 16 years. She also ran for governor in 2002 and 2006.
In 2005, Senator Lourey received the sad distinction of being the highest ranking public official in the entire United States to lose one of her own offspring on the battlefield. Her son Matt, Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army, was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq. On May 27 of that year, his helicopter came under enemy attack and crashed at Buhriz, Iraq.
Q: Welcome to The Peace Front, Becky.
We’re told by leading political thinkers that armed conflict between tribes, religions, and nations is inevitable; that peace in our time, in our world, is at best a naïve dream. You’re the mother of twelve children. One of them, your beloved son Matt, died in combat in Iraq. Within a family it is famously hard for siblings to get along with each other, and conflict between parent and child is routine as well. You’ve been practicing conflict resolution for many decades now. What are your insights as to how people can peacefully co-exist?
A: First of all, we should strive to know and understand one another. To embrace other cultures. And to celebrate the diversity among all people and all religions, all deeply held beliefs. Just as important, we need to keep what all human beings need uppermost in our minds: health, food, and the opportunity to use one’s talents.
To achieve this, we need non-biased news sources and educational institutions. When news organizations are funded by entities with a specific agenda in mind, citizens lack the tools to comprehend what’s really happening.
Q: What are your additional thoughts about conflict?
A: I’ve been reading Andrew J. Bacevich’s book, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. I recommend it to anyone who’s trying to understand why we keep going to war. He quotes Henry Adams, who said, “… men invariably follow interests in deciding morals.” This is true. It is a huge barrier not only to peaceful relations, but to protecting the earth, the air, the waters necessary to sustain life.
What happens when a society allows its leaders to manipulate the populace? These leaders create fear, thus allowing them to follow their own path to riches derived from claiming the resources of nations they “invade.” The end result? We as a people relinquish control of our humanitarian impulses.
Q: Becky, tell us more about the behind-the-scenes workings of Washington D.C. from your perspective.
A: First of all, the lack of honest and probing news sources tends to bend the will of elected representatives. They really want to be re-elected but some are afraid to voice their opposition to war. Why? Because they do not want to look unpatriotic as portrayed in some news sources. Neither do they want to appear unable to “protect” the people they represent. What is so very sad about this stance is that often our actions actually make us less safe.
Q: Please give us your take on the U.S. reaction to Al-Qaeda and 9/11.
A: Ever since that terrible time, I’ve been concerned that we have given Al Qaeda the status of a nation by “declaring war” on them. Terrorism is a crime and should be thought of as a crime. Our response to Al-Qaeda, however, has helped radicalize anti-American groups. Our response has even become a recruiting tool for them.
Q: You were telling me about an ancient female wisdom group that offers some solutions for today’s world. Who are they?
A: They call themselves the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. They believe that their ancestral ways of peacemaking and healing are vitally needed today. You can read about the work of these living legends from five continents online at www.grandmotherscouncil.org. Their teachings about confronting violence, war, and poverty could move us closer toward getting along with each other.
Q: Any more thoughts along those lines?
A: Speaking of powerful women: I’m reminded how wonderful it would be to reclaim Mother’s Day for the purpose for which it was created. When Julia Ward Howe wrote her proclamation in 1870 it was written with the same intent that the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers embrace - gathering women from all over the world to work for peace.
I believe that we can and must make peace more than a hope—it must become our first priority. To reach it, we’ve got to work toward a critical mass of people all over the world who embrace peace as an everyday goal.
Thank you, Becky—and please join us on my next blogpost for Part 2 of our in-depth dialogue about the nature of war with Becky Lourey, a fearless advocate for peace and a consummate political insider.
Becky Lourey reflects at a mock coffin on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds on Veterans Day (11/11/05).
By Chante Wolf
The shadow side of war: America as global juggernaut
A Peace Front interview with Becky Lourey, Part 2.
This is Paul Ogren, welcoming you to Part 2 of my absorbing interview with Becky Lourey, one of Minnesota’s most outstanding powerhouse legislators, peace activists, and moms. The mother of 12, she lost one son in the Iraq war. She also took part in Cindy Sheehan’s peace vigil outside former President Bush’s ranch in Texas. Welcome to the Peace Front blog, Becky.
Q: If getting along with those we are closest to is often so hard, what are the secrets to getting along on a global basis?
A: The way to get along with family members is not so very different from getting along on a global basis---different in scale, of course. Ultimately we have mutual interests in our relationships, no matter what the scale.
Q: But is it reasonable to expect a higher standard of behavior from our governments and elected officials than we expect of ourselves personally?
A: We should expect a high standard of behavior from ourselves, and from our governments. This will require understanding. It will take examination of what causes negative behavior—and then will require work to correct these causes.
Q: When is armed intervention morally allowable—if ever?
A: Given the military-industrial complex we have created, it is very difficult for the United States to turn away from war.
Q: What kind of strategy or mental reappraisal needs to take place in order for this to happen, Becky?
A: A different method of making such decisions. That’s essential. I referred earlier to an important book: Andrew Bacevich’s Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. Another book I turn to on this subject is Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book, Urgent Message from Mother. In it, she describes how one nation did it. She talks about the Iroquois Confederacy, and describes them as “the people who are still called the Seneca Nations and who still maintain their sovereignty in the northeast United States. Their elected Council of Clan Mothers were grandmothers, women whose own children were grown and who were beyond their child-bearing years. They determined the priorities for the confederacy, including whether to go to war.”
In essence, when young men in their eagerness, or old men out of habit wanted to go to war, they needed approval from the grandmothers. It was these women’s responsibility to decide if such action was necessary to protect their people. If the war motive was to grab someone else’s land or property, their answer would be no. If it was to extract revenge, their answer would also be no. I think they would have decided that intervening in World War II had become necessary. Why? Because nations, working together, with well-researched facts, must develop a humanitarian response to genocide. On the other hand, I’m certain the clan grandmothers would have said “NO!” to our unilateral action against Iraq.
Q: Can you elaborate further on this point?
A: After my son’s battlefield death in 2005, I delivered a speech on February 1, 2006, based on my belief that our Commander-in-Chief was neither honest nor responsible when he pushed so hard for us to go to war. Some of the things I said are more relevant than ever. For instance, the shadowy group called The Project for the New American Century, a conservative Washington think-tank set up in 1997.
This is an excerpt from my speech. “Vice President Dick Cheney, at the time Chairman of Halliburton, was a founding member, along with now Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, now the president of the World Bank, was the ideological father of the group, which also included T. Lewis Libby, Richard Armitage, William Bennett, and Bruce Jackson, who served as a Pentagon official for Ronald Reagan and is now with the weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin. William Kristol, conservative writer for Ruppert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard is its chairman, and Jeb Bush the President’s brother and current Governor of Florida is also among the founding members. Soon after its founding, (the group) produced a White Paper entitled "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century."
Q: Becky, what bombshells did that White Paper reveal?
A: First of all, it was published in September of 2000, three months before George Bush became President! Secondly, the paper outlines what is required of America to create the global empire they envision. According to Project for the New American Century, America must:
* Reposition permanently based forces to Southern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East;
* Modernize U.S. forces, including enhancing our fighter aircraft, submarine and surface fleet capabilities;
* Develop and deploy a global missile defense system, and develop a strategic dominance of space;
* Control the "International Commons" of cyberspace;
* Increase defense spending to a minimum of 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, up from the 3 percent currently spent (in 2000).
Q: That is quite a laundry list for world domination. But there was more, wasn’t there?
A: Yes. That White Paper expressed the conviction that, and I quote, "while the unresolved conflict in Iraq provides the immediate justification [for US military presence], the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." It goes on to say: "Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region."
Becky, this is a staggering document, full of Dr. Strangelove-style rhetoric. Why did the gameplan of this White Paper not become more widely known? And why has it been so completely forgotten in the intervening years? In Part 3 of my startling interview with former legislator Becky Lourey, we will learn the rest of the story—and its shocking ties to 9/11. Please join us for more revelations. Thank you, Becky.
Becky Lourey joins the Peace Rally with Cindy Sheehan at the Minnesota State Capitol on September 3, 2005.
By James Robins
How the Bush administration co-opted 9/11 to invade Iraq
A Peace Front interview with Becky Lourey, Part 3.
In this, the final segment of my riveting interview with gold-star mother and former legislator Becky Lourey, we come full circle, back to the Iraq conflict that took the life of Becky’s son Matt. At the time of his death in 2005, Lourey was the highest-ranking elected official in the U.S. to lose a child in combat—a grim irony, given her track record as a lifelong peace activist.
Q: Becky, we’ve been discussing a little-known conservative think-tank group called The Project for the New American Century, established in 1997. It published a White Paper three months before George W. Bush took office. In this position paper, the group observed that it would be difficult to get the American public to go along with necessary military actions in the Middle East, “in the absence of a galvanizing event such as Pearl Harbor.” That’s a direct quote from the paper. What is your take-away on that statement?
A: On September 11, 2001, they clearly got their “galvanizing event.” In fact, much of what President Bush laid out as the "National Security Strategy of the United States of America" on September 20th, just nine days after 9/11, parallels or directly borrows from the White Paper written by the Project for the New American Century.
Q: So you are saying that these plans were outlined well before the Bush administration took command?
A: Yes. And these plans have, coincidentally or not, come to be implemented. As we know from Paul O’Neill, the first Secretary of the Treasury in the new Bush administration, one of the first items for discussion in the very first meeting of the new Bush cabinet in January of 2001 was a plan for the invasion of Iraq.
As events have shown, none of the so-called ‘good’ reasons given for the invasion of Iraq were accurate. The accusations of possession of weapons of mass destruction, imminent threat to neighboring countries, nuclear weapons program, yellowcake from Niger, harboring terrorists—none have turned out to be true.
Q: Why then did we invade?
A: I will leave it to you to decide if you think there are real reasons, and if so, what they might be. As for me, I believe that the war in Iraq is not unlike those that have defined much of human history. My son Matt, on his second tour of duty in Iraq, used to write me emails from there. In them, my son made it clear the war was connected to a resource called oil. And for that commodity, he paid with his life—as have thousands of other fine young servicemen and women.
Q: What about the legal aspect of our actions?
A: I firmly believe there is no legal basis for this war, either. It
is, in fact, in violation of every generally agreed-upon tenet of International law. Under the current international law agreements defined by the United Nations Charter, to which we are a signatory, the use of preventive international force is restricted to the Security Council alone. Individual nation states are permitted to use international force only in self-defense. There is no possibility that a war for resource acquisition could be seen to be in self-defense or in any way preventive.
I direct you to an article written by David Allen Larson, Professor of Law and Senior Fellow at Hamline University School of Law, published in the Journal of International and Comparative Law, where he examines United Kingdom Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith’s March 7, 2005, memorandum to Prime Minister Tony Blair in which Lord Goldsmith asserts that no right to use force preemptively exists in international law.
Q: Are there other ways in which we have “lost” this conflict?
A: Yes. By going into Iraq illegally, our nation has lost the trust of other nations. The concept of trust is so difficult--and yet so necessary for peaceful relationships. We had the sympathy of the entire world after 9/11; that has been totally squandered. Losing the trust of others compromises partnerships. The United States may still be the most militarily powerful nation on earth, but that power does not necessarily translate into an ability to control events.
Q: A final question. What is your perspective on a professional standing army versus a military draft that would subject all of our nation’s young men (and perhaps women) to potential participation in American wars?
A: It breaks my heart that our soldiers are sent to war by those who have never fought themselves, by those whose own children are rarely subject to serving in our armed forces. Those who make the decisions today to go to war rarely experience the reality of their own offspring having to face the life-and-death jeopardy of the battlefield. Their own children can also afford to attend college. For these reasons, I believe we should either reinstitute the draft or implement a mandatory two years of service for all of our youth which would include Peace Corps and National Service options. One positive result of this action would be that our children would have a greater understanding of the world in which they live.
Our deepest thanks for your thoughts and courageous actions on behalf of our nation, Becky. And for your insights and untiring efforts to set the record straight.