Members of the Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents of War (KNOW) held their usual Sunday peace vigil in front of the Federal Building in downtown Kalamazoo as they have been doing since September 1, 2002. And, it doesn't look as though they are going away despite President Obama's declaration of the end of the war in Iraq.
"Officially the war is over, the military has left, but our overall attempt to dominate the region is still there," said today's convener Ron Kramer.
Kramer pointed out that U.S. foreign policy of regional dominance will continue with the presence of State Department officials and independent contractors in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, drone attacks in Pakistan, the militarization of America and our huge military budget ($642 billion was recently approved for FY 2016).
"So there's still plenty for us to do," said Kramer amid the honking car horns of approval on this cold but sunny day in downtown Kalamazoo.
There were only 20 people present at the vigil although the numbers averaged in the hundreds before and during the early months of the war. KNOW attracted over 700 people, its highest attendance, for an evening candlelight vigil on March 20, 2003, the day after the war began.
"War is destructive. War doesn't build nations. It doesn't build peace. It doesn't build prosperity," said Walter Ogston, who has been demonstrating over the past nine years. "It destroys things. It destroys lives and it destroys livelihoods, and it destroys culture, and it destroys respect. We need to respect people in the other parts of the world, in other nations, not try to manipulate and destroy them."
"We should be using other means than military, [like] peaceful means, to solve conflicts," said Tobi Hanna-Davies, who organized bus trips to Washington, D.C. and New York for peace demonstrations in 2002 and 2003 intended to prevent the war.
"We've just used military force as our first resort," said Hanna-Davies. "It should be the very last resort. We need a Department of Peace that's funded where people really get educated in how to solve conflict. We shouldn't be acting like we're in the Middle Ages still."
"If I'm not demonstrating, it's because I'm sleeping," said long-time activist Jean Gump, 85, whose demonstrations for peace go back to the Civil Rights Movement in 1965. She with her husband, Joe, were standing on public street corners protesting sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein in the 1990s following the first Persian Gulf War. Gump is also a member of the Kalamazoo Women in Black who "mourn for all victims of war and violence," as their placards say.
Last year Gump served time in federal prison for trespassing at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. on July 5, 2010,during a 30th commemorative demonstration for nuclear resistance. She was one of 13 activists from Plowshares arrested and sentenced. Plowshares is a group that works to rid the United States of its nuclear weapons through acts of civil disobedience.
Gump previously went to federal prison for breaking into a Minuteman II missile silo near Holden, Missouri in 1986, as did her husband in 1987 when he went to the K-9 missile site in Butler, Missouri.
Kramer, a criminologist at Western Michigan University who specializes in international law and state crime, has written extensively on the war in Iraq including a book titled Crimes of Empire: The Bush Administration's Illegal War On Iraq. (See video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRhjcHw9oLQ&feature=youtu.be)
"The U.S. invasion of Iraq was a blatant and gross violation of international law," said Kramer. "It was a war of aggression. The Nuremberg Charter called a war of aggression the 'supreme international crime'."
"During the phase of the occupation and the course of the war, the United States committed a number of war crimes," continued Kramer who listed as evidence the use of depleted uranium, torture at Abu Ghraib prison, the devastation of the country, the creation of a population of refugees and internally displaced people, and huge civilian death tolls, which go largely unreported.
Kramer said that the war has resulted in huge consequences for the United States as well. The official count of Americans dead is 4,484 with 33,186 wounded.
The cost of conducting war in both Iraq and Afghanistan has reached $1.2 trillion although Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, believes the cost of the Iraq War alone will more likely be over $3 trillion. His book, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (2008) discusses the extent to which these costs will be imposed for many years to come, including the enormous expenditures that will be required to care for very large numbers of wounded veterans.
Kramer also said that the war has created more anger against the United States throughout the Middle East, generating more recruits to terrorism and allowing Iran to emerge as a major force in the region now that Saddam Hussein is gone.
"The Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq was the worst foreign policy blunder in American history and the 'supreme international crime,' he said. "What bothers me is that no one in that administration is ever going to be held to account for the crimes they committed."
Kramer said that under international law the Obama Administration has responsibility to prosecute those who committed these crimes but that it has done nothing and is, in fact, following some of the same policies.
KNOW will continue with its weekly Sunday peace vigils as well as its monthly meetings, retreats and peace events.
KNOW's peace efforts have been chronicled in a book by this reporter titled Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq