FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

“There is No Such Thing as a Just War”

Several days a week, Laurie Hasbrook arrives at the Voices office here in Chicago. She often takes off her bicycle helmet, unpins her pant leg, settles into an office chair and then leans back to give us an update on family and neighborhood news. Laurie’s two youngest sons are teenagers, and because they are black teenagers in Chicago they are at risk of being assaulted and killed simply for being young black men. Laurie has deep empathy for families trapped in war zones. She also firmly believes in silencing all guns.

Lately, we’ve been learning about the extraordinary determination shown by Ben Salmon, a conscientious objector during World War I who went to prison rather than enlist in the U.S. military. Salmon is buried in an unmarked grave in Mount Carmel Cemetery, on the outskirts of Chicago.

In June, 2017, a small group organized by  “Friends of Franz and Ben” gathered at Salmon’s gravesite to commemorate his life.

Mark Scibilla Carver and Jack Gilroy had driven to Chicago from Upstate NY, carrying with them a life size icon bearing an image of

Ben Salmon, Patron of Conscientious Objectors, Courtesy of Father William Hart McNichols.

Salmon, standing alone in what appeared to be desert sands, wearing a prison-issue uniform that bore his official prison number. Next to the icon was a tall, bare, wooden cross. Rev. Bernie Survil, who organized the vigil at Salmon’s grave, implanted a vigil candle in the ground next to the icon. Salmon’s grand-niece had come from Moab, Utah, to represent the Salmon family. Facing our group, she said that her family deeply admired Salmon’s refusal to cooperate with war. She acknowledged that he had been imprisoned, threatened with execution, sent for a psychiatric evaluation, sentenced to 25 years in prison, a sentence which was eventually commuted, and unable to return to his home in Denver for fear of being killed by antagonists. Charlotte Mates expressed her own determination to try and follow in his footsteps, believing we all have a personal responsibility not to cooperate with wars.

Bernie Survil invited anyone in the circle to step forward with a reflection. Mike Bremer, a carpenter who has spent three months in prison for conscientious objection to nuclear weapons, pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and stepped forward to read from an article by Rev. John Dear, written several years ago, in which Dear notes that Ben Salmon made his brave stance before the world had ever heard of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, or Mohandas Gandhi. There was no Catholic Worker, no Pax Christi, and no War Resisters League to support him. He acted alone, and yet he remains connected to a vast network of people who recognize his courage and will continue telling his story to future generations.

Had his wisdom and that of numerous war resisters in the U.S. prevailed, the U.S. would not have entered W.W. I. The author of War Against War, Michael Kazin, conjectures about how W.W. I would have ended if the U.S. had not intervened. “The carnage might have continued for another year or two,” Kazin writes, “until citizens in the warring nations, who were already protesting the endless sacrifices required, forced their leaders to reach a settlement. If the Allies, led by France and Britain, had not won a total victory, there would have been no punitive peace treaty like that completed at Versailles, no stab-in-the back allegations by resentful Germans, and thus no rise, much less triumph, of Hitler and the Nazis. The next world war, with its 50 million deaths, would probably not have occurred.”

But the U.S. did enter WWI, and since that time each U.S. war has caused a rise in taxpayer contributions to maintain the MIC, the Military-Industrial complex, with its vise-like grip on educating the U.S. public and marketing U.S. wars. Spending for militarism trumps social spending. Here in Chicago, where the number of people killed by gun violence is the highest in the nation, the U.S. military runs ROTC classes enrolling 9,000 youngsters in Chicago public schools. Imagine if equivalent energies were devoted to promoting means and methods of nonviolence, along with ways to end the war against the environment and creation of “green” jobs among Chicago’s youngest generations.

If we could share Laurie’s revulsion in the face of weapons and inequality, imagine the possible results. We would never tolerate U.S. shipment of weapons to opulent Saudi royals who use their newly purchased laser guided munitions and Patriot missiles to devastate the infrastructure and civilians of Yemen. On the brink of famine and afflicted by an alarming spread of cholera, Yemenis also endure Saudi airstrikes that have wrecked roadways, hospitals and crucial sewage and sanitation infrastructure. 20 million people (in regions long plagued by U.S. gamesmanship), would not be expected to die this year from conflict-driven famine, in near-total media silence. Just four countries, Somaliland, Southern Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen are set to lose fully one third as many people as died in the entirety of the Second World War. None of that would be a normal occurrence in our world. Instead, perhaps religious leaders would vigorously remind us about Ben Salmon’s sacrifice; rather than attend the annual Air and Water show, (a theatrical display of U.S. military might which turns out a million “fans”), Chicagoans would make pilgrimages to the cemetery where Ben is buried.

At this point, Mount Carmel cemetery is known for being the burial place of Al Capone.

The small group at the gravesite included a woman from Code Pink, a newly ordained Jesuit priest, several Catholic Workers, several couples who were formerly Catholic religious and have never stopped ministering to others and advocating for social justice, five people who’ve served many months in prison for their conscientious objection to war, and three Chicago area business professionals. We look forward to gatherings, in Chicago and elsewhere, of people who will take up the organizing call of those who celebrated, on July 7th, when representatives of 122 countries negotiated and passed a U.N. ban on nuclear weapons. This event happened while warlords wielding hideous weapons dominated the G20 gathering in Hamburg, Germany.

Laurie envisions building creative, peaceful connections between Chicago youngsters and their counterparts in Afghanistan, Yemen, Gaza, Iraq, and other lands. Ben Salmon guides our endeavors. We hope to again visit Salmon’s gravesite on Armistice Day, November 11, when our friends plan to set up a small marker bearing this inscription:

“There is no such thing as a just war.”
Ben J. Salmon
Oct. 15, 1888 – Feb. 15, 1932
Thou Shalt Not Kill

More articles by:

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org 

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail