Kabul — Before coming to Afghanistan, I spent a week with students and teachers from a Colorado College nonviolence class who invited me to join them for their retreat near Crestone, Colorado, in an area of the Rocky Mountains described as one of the ten most peaceful places on earth. Coyotes, woodpeckers, and songbirds were easily audible. We reveled in the quiet beauty of an area that is home to 23 spiritual groups, all of whom prize the valley they share as a sacred space.
The area is also home to Canon Air Force Base, Fort Carson and several other military installations. Before leaving Colorado, I visited the U.S. Air Force Academy’s chapel, one of the state’s largest tourist attractions. Pasted on the back of every hymnal in the pews of the Protestant chapel is a prayer that reads, in part, "Make me a channel of your peace that I may defend the skies which canopy free nations." Ironically, some Coloradans are petitioning the state government to stop the Air Force military flights over their peaceful valleys, and ranchers are likewise insisting that their land shouldn’t be used for combat training. The U.S. military greatly disturbs the fragile ecosystems that are important for ranchers and spiritualists alike.
Peace activists with a long history of opposing war preparations, in Colorado Springs, are protesting a USAF plan to acquire a new Combat Aviation Brigade, consisting of 120 helicopter gunships. Of all the airborne vehicles in the U.S. military’s arsenals, the attack helicopters create the most harm to the environment, guzzling fuel and spewing out contaminants. To accommodate training operations, 16 landing pads have already been carved out in the mountains surrounding Colorado Springs and Crestone, CO. Two thousand Joint Special Operation Forces (JSOF) are also in these mountains, training for work in rugged winter conditions. Their activities include organizing and carrying out night raids, assassinations and death squads.
The 120 attack helicopters are requisitioned for use in Afghanistan. It seems likely that the JSO forces are also training for deployment to Afghanistan.
The Washington Post recently reported that 75% of the U.S. public supports a drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. On March 12th, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, extending condolences to families of nine children gunned down by a U.S. attack helicopter, expressly asked that the U.S. end operations in Afghanistan. The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers have carefully documented NGOs in Afghanistan with a long history of humanitarian work who have rebuked the U.S. and NATO forces for human rights abuses and for killing civilians.
The most recent attack against Afghan children happened on March 15th, when two children helping their parents clean out irrigations systems were killed by an aerial attack. On the day following the March 1, 2011, attack that killed nine children who were collecting wood on a mountain side, General Petraeus apologized to the families. But the U.S. has yet to acknowledge the deaths and injuries inflicted on civilians in February, 2011, when, according to President Hamid Karzai’s official report, at least 65 civilians were killed by a U.S. assault. Instead, General Petraeus utterly shocked people in President Hamid Karzai’s presidential palace, on February 19th, 2011, when he suggested that injured children might have been burned by their own parents as a measure of discipline. A month earlier, on January 19th, General Petraeus had remarked that "we have our teeth in the jugular," referring to Afghanistan, and the U.S. isn’t going to quit now.
Testifying before the U.S. Congress, in mid-March, General Petraeus spoke of the fragile and reversible gains the U.S. has made in Afghanistan. He asks the U.S. people not to undermine the "progress" the U.S. war is achieving. We’re urged to treat the military with kid gloves, to handle with care their fragile progress, and not to dwell, unpatriotically, on the war crimes that massacre children.
Twenty-seven international peace activists, most of them from the United States, have come to Kabul to hear youngsters whom they’ve begun to regard as brothers and sisters speak about their experiences living in a country ravaged by warfare for the past three decades.
Last evening, they showed us photos of an unusual walk they’d held in the streets of downtown Kabul that morning. Dressed in white, with the young women wearing sky blue veils and the young men in the same color neck scarves, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers carried sky blue and white banners proclaiming that Peace is a Pre-Requisite for Progress. They are seeking an end to wars in their country. "Why did you choose sky blue?" I asked. "Because it shows that there is just one sky over all of us," Chahara replied. Although they came from different ethnicities and various provinces, they walked shoulder to shoulder, 40 of them, on a bright, warm day.
I’m guessing that many people in Colorado’s Air Force Academy chapel feel calmed and pleasantly righteous when they read the prayer posted on the back of the hymnal. "Make me a channel of your peace," the prayer begins. The line comes from the St. Francis Peace Prayer which prays for the ability to sow love rather than hatred. The Air Force prayer seeks, instead, to be involved in "defending skies that canopy free lands."
Rather than invoke the false image of separated skies that distinguish between those who have a right to live and those who live in lands where they can’t escape our terrifying helicopter gunships, drones, night raids, and death squads, we do well to hear Pete Seeger crooning "One blue sky above us, one ocean lapping at our shores, …"
And take a look at youngsters in Kabul, wearing sky blue, who even believe in love of enemy.
On March 19th, in Kabul, Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers will hold a candlelight commemoration, remembering the children recently killed in Afghanistan. Following this ceremony they will plant saplings as a symbol of their dedication to a nonviolent future. Their compassion extends beyond Afghanistan to young people in other lands, some of whom they will connect with through a "Global Day of Listening," a 24-hour Skype communication which they’ll host on the first day of spring, Afghanistan’s "Nau Roz" (New Year’s Day) holiday. Colorado College students, on their spring break, plan to participate.