Peace & Justice

Tuesday afternoon at Modesto Peace/Life Center

Tuesdays, the Peace/Life Center is usually open from 12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m. Bring brown bag lunch. Come by for some coffee or tea or to chat or to see a film or browse through various books and magazines. Beverages will be provided.

2007 Peace Essay Contest

Download the Peace Essay Flyer here

ANSWERING THE CALL: You can opt out


On August 14, 2006, the front page of The Modesto Bee was splashed with attractive pictures of young people responding to military recruiters. The news that recruitment rates are three times higher in the Central Valley is no surprise. We also have the highest poverty rate in the state; military service is especially attractive to young people who have low expectations for future job security. The last sentence buried on the last page of the article says, “The No Child Left Behind law only requires schools to share contact information and academic records with military recruiters unless parents request otherwise.”

The Modesto Peace Life Center reminds all its constituents that there is another alternative to joining up.

But it isn’t easy. An “Opt out” form which parents and students can use to let the schools know they do not wish to have their personnel information shared with the military is here--just click and print. The Center also has a form that can be mailed to you. Although we do not yet have a military draft, implicit in recruitment is the “join up now while you still have a choice of the service your prefer.”

Parents need to know that military recruiters have free access in all the high schools including the lunch room, although the “No Child Left Behind” act does cover young people who do not wish to be recruited (see above).

IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU TAKE ACTION THROUGH THE SCHOOL SYSTEM. Recruiters have access to your children all over the campus, and can call on them at home. Home addresses are available to recruiters through school records.

If you think this is an unwarranted intrusion into your privacy, take action. Your children need not give their home addresses to the recruiters nor must they listen to their spiel.

ACTION: Go to the school system NOW and request an “Opt Out” status for your child. As the school year progresses, it will become more and more difficult to implement this action.

Another exciting Peace Camp


On the last weekend in June, 73 peace-seeking people gathered at Camp Peaceful Pines in the Sierra Nevada for the 24th Annual Peace Camp: 42 from the Modesto area, 23 from the Sonora area, and the rest from various Northern California locales; 23 campers were 18 or younger.

One of the big highlights of the weekend was Saturday morning’s stimulating and thought-provoking session with Tim Nonn, founder of Dear Sudan, which is now part of the larger Save Darfur Coalition. Tim challenged us to connect our visions for a peaceful world with our deepest values, and act with compassion to the horrific genocide in Darfur. Tim’s question “What should be done to stop the atrocities?” called forth a discussion which revealed deep differences in viewpoints, and we struggled with tough issues such as pacifism vs. limited use of a peacekeeping force to protect civilians, and how best to get humanitarian aid to those who are suffering the most. Three hundred dollars was donated to Dear Sudan from this Peace Camp.

Though it was not easy to face our differences, Tim reassured us that similar disagreements are evident in the larger coalition as it grapples with the tough issues raised by the situation in Darfur

The rest of the Peace Camp experience reflected our joy in what unites us instead of the differences of opinion that sometime divide us: great food, lively conversation during camp chores, singing and s’mores around the campfire, star walks, games of Pooh-sticks, cards and ping-pong, hikes through the beauty of nature, youthful chases through the darkening woods, skits and stunts and stories and silliness and stilt-walking at the Talent Show, old friendships renewed and new friendships a-blossoming.

Cheers and thanks to all who contributed time, energy, and a variety of skills to create a peaceful way to build relationships and re-charge our batteries.

Plans are already afoot for a bigger/better/bolder Peace Camp in 2007 to mark our 25th Anniversary. Be part of the planning group!

ACTION: Contact Ken Schroeder for details, 526-2303,

America’s Hammer Habit


The best line I heard in the period leading up to the war in Iraq was, "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." It was quoted by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, when we were on a panel together in England about the best response to terrorism.

The premise of the panel was that the threat of terrorism is real, that there are real dangers prowling about in our world, and that the problem of evil is a very serious one. The question we were addressing was what the best response to real threats should be.

I now call this the American hammer habit. If we don't know how to solve a problem, we just fight. Diplomacy has become a weak word to those who run our foreign policy and, in the House debate on Iraq in June, Republicans made numerous references to those who are "afraid to fight." Right on cue, Fox News Sunday's Brit Hume accused Democrats of being a party that just doesn't like to fight. And according to the neo-conservatives masquerading as journalists, such as Hume and William Kristol, continuous fighting is the only foreign policy that makes any sense.

Even more frightening is how much their friends such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have the same strong preference for fighting over talking. If they had their way, we would have fought or would still be fighting several wars by now - all at the same time - in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Iran at least, and probably against North Korea, too, if they thought we could win the war. They act as if talking and negotiating with potential adversaries is just a waste of time. It is truly astonishing and even shocking how people who simply question the efficacy and morality of the continuing American occupation in Iraq - including long-time military supporters such as Rep. John Murtha - are so quickly and viciously accused of "cutting and running" or not having the "courage" to fight.

This spring, the hostile rhetoric toward our adversaries that we heard before the war against Iraq turned toward Iran. I was in Australia during the war of words in March between Washington and Tehran, and I was interviewed on one of Australia's top political shows. I was asked whether a stand-off between the "two fundamentalists" (meaning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and U.S. President George Bush), with nuclear weapons in the balance, should concern the world. I said yes.

Again, there was a real threat: The possibility of the Iranian regime obtaining usable nuclear weapons is a very reasonable concern for the region and for the whole world. Yet again, the question becomes what the most appropriate and effective response should be.

Cheney and others quickly raised the prospect of military action - even nuclear attack - against Iran, threatening "meaningful consequences" and saying that "the United States is keeping all options on the table." (In April, The Washington Post reported that "Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices.") A bipartisan list of retired generals and other military experts pointed out that mere air strikes would be relatively ineffective in removing Iran's nuclear threat, and that only a full scale war, invasion, and occupation could guarantee an end to Iran's nuclear program - a solution almost nobody thinks is realistic or prudent. At the same time, the potential disastrous consequences for the region and the world of a U.S. or Israeli military strike against Iran were reiterated by both military and foreign policy elites outside the Bush administration.

Since the early spring saber-rattling, a more reasonable course has emerged, backed by the Europeans, the Russians, and others who are concerned about Iran's nuclear threat but who are also opposed to a military response. And to its credit, the Bush administration is, at least for the moment, supporting this approach which combines incentives with the threat of sanctions. That is good news indeed.

I hope this is a sincere effort, and not one intended to simply expose the "unreasonableness" of the Iranians and then use that to justify a military response, or even to manipulate a national security issue in hopes of discrediting Democrats and helping Republicans avoid a devastating mid-term election defeat. It would not be the first time such things were done in U.S. politics.

Three groups of Americans are now making strong statements against military action in Iran and lifting up instead the better alternatives of incentives, pressures, and sanctions. They are religious leaders, former military leaders, and former foreign policy and national security officials.

If America can resist its hammer habit with Iran, the world may be spared a nuclearized Iran and the disastrous consequences of another misguided military confrontation. The clear witness of America's religious community and our wisest military and foreign policy leaders may be essential to prevent those twin disasters.

From Sojourners, 07.12.2006,

Ed., note: This was written just before the current conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

Spanish courts issue arrest warrants for the Butchers of Guatemala: seeking justice abroad


U.S. Coordinator for the Guatemala Accompaniment Project for NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala.

While the abuses at Guantanamo Bay and other setbacks for human rights are often in today's headlines, one of the most important international victories for the respect of human rights in recent years is going largely unreported. On July 7, a Spanish judge issued arrest warrants for eight former Guatemalan military leaders, including three ex-presidents, who are responsible for some of the worst crimes against humanity committed in the hemisphere in the last century. Controlling the government at the height of Guatemala's 36 year-long internal armed conflict, these men orchestrated a scorched earth campaign that included the torture, murder and forced disappearances of over 200,000 people. More than two decades later, they are finally facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Remarkably, the arrest warrants are not the culmination of some Spanish official's judicial activism, but rather stem from the perseverance of Guatemalan survivors of genocide fighting for justice. In 1999, under the leadership of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú, a group of plaintiffs filed the case in the Spanish legal system. Survivors have also continued to pursue similar cases in the domestic legal system and the Inter-American system in hopes of finding that justice delayed does not have to mean justice denied.

In a significant move towards strengthening the application of international human rights law, Spanish National Court judge Santiago Pedraz heeded both Guatemalan and Spanish calls for justice by issuing international warrants for the arrest of former military rulers Efraín Rios Montt and Oscar Humberto Mejía Victores, in addition to six others. Pedraz also ordered that the defendants' assets be frozen both in Spain and internationally, lodging the warrants with Interpol to alert countries across the world.

The Spanish-issued warrants are a major setback to Guatemala's efforts to reform its international image. The current administration of President Óscar Berger, a former businessman and wealthy landowner, has pleased Western countries by deregulating the economy and liberalizing trade, at the same time promoting an international image that his government is concerned with human rights issues. But while the Berger administration strongly enforces its economic agenda, most noticeably by enacting the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), it has only paid lip service to respecting human rights, maintaining impunity for past and current abuses by the country's security forces and allied criminal groups.

President Berger has incorporated prominent human rights figures into his administration, including Eduardo Stein (Vice President), Frank LaRue (head of the Presidential Human Rights Commission), Rosalina Tuyuc (coordinator of the National Reparations Program), and Rigoberta Menchú, for whom he even created the special post of Goodwill Ambassador to the Peace Accords. In its actions, however, his administration has prioritized the wealth of few over the well-being of many, increased land evictions against poor farmers, allowed an increase in threats and attacks against human rights defenders, and failed to seriously address an alarming rise in murders of women and girls.

Guatemala has sought to compensate for its domestic human rights shortcomings by bolstering its image in international forums. As of May, Guatemala holds one of the 47 seats on the United Nations' new Human Rights Council, the highest international human rights body. Guatemala has also recently sent peacekeepers to Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, claiming that "10 years after the signing of the Peace Accords, we're exporting peace!" Ironic for a country that reported 5,338 cases of homicide in 2005 (a 60% increase from 2001) to serve as a model of peace and justice for others. After a May visit to Guatemala, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour was blunt in expressing dismay "that not only reforms are progressing slowly, but that more and more people are becoming increasingly frustrated with the State's inability to deliver the promised security, equality and justice."

Despite this recent censure from the U.N., Guatemala is now also vying for a seat on the Security Council. Guatemala's bid for the rotating two-year seat comes mainly from the Bush administration, which has launched a diplomatic offensive to ensure that Guatemala — and not the first declared candidate, Venezuela — takes over the seat. The U.S. is conveniently overlooking the myriad problems and challenges that the Guatemalan government has failed to address, claiming Guatemala is a "viable candidate" solely to thwart Venezuela's bid.

Concerns about Guatemala have dominated the Inter-American human rights system for several years. Nonetheless, as part of the Berger administration's efforts to boost its international image, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission has been invited to hold a special session in Guatemala this summer. The hosting country, however, has chosen to only comply with certain elements of verdicts handed down by the Inter-American Court for Human Rights (IACHR). In July 2005, Vice President Stein accepted state responsibility for a 1982 massacre in the community of Plan de Sánchez and issued a tearful apology to the survivors there, as mandated by an IACHR verdict. But those responsible for the massacre, as well as the hundreds of other massacres of Maya people, have yet to be held accountable by a court of law, as this same IACHR verdict demands. Berger may have incorporated Frank LaRue into his administration, who headed the human rights organization CALDH when it began pursuing genocide cases against Ríos Montt and others in the domestic legal system, but the genocide cases continue to languish in the preliminary investigative phase six years after their filing.

If the Berger administration was concerned with actively combating impunity and ensuring the proper functioning of the justice system, Guatemalan human rights defenders could depend on their own courts instead of resorting to cumbersome and expensive international systems to enforce the law. As things stand now, if the arrest warrants for Ríos Montt, Mejía Víctores and others work their way through the Spanish and Guatemalan diplomatic channels and arrests are made as they should be, the extradition agreements will mandate that the accused either be tried domestically or extradited to Spain to stand trial.

The Berger administration now has two options to finally back up its rhetoric with action. First, Berger could make the domestic cases against the former dictators and their military high commands a true priority by ensuring that the investigative phase draws to a close and the cases go to trial. Or alternately, the administration can acknowledge the shortcomings of Guatemala's legal system and extradite the accused to Spain for trial. In either scenario, the government has a responsibility to ensure the security of the witnesses and human rights defenders involved in the case, many of whom are subject to threats and intimidation.

Rather than lobbying for Guatemala's entrance to the Security Council, the U.S. has the opportunity to better serve the people of Guatemala, as well as the ideals of democracy and justice it purports to hold so dear, by complying with Judge Pedraz's arrest and asset freezing orders for those accused of genocide. If any of the accused enters the U.S., arrests must be made, and if the defendants hold financial assets in the U.S., as many wealthy Central American officials tend to, the accounts should be frozen immediately.

Edited from Counterpunch, Weekend Edition, August 5-6; Reprinted with permission of the author.

ACTION: Accompaniers for GAP are risking their lives to be with Guatemalans seeking justice. One accompanier is supported locally in Modesto through a loose network of people and churches. Please help support this important effort. Contact coordinator Jim Costello,, or call 209-537-7818.

The Third Way

Two ways
That we choose
One side
Or the other

Two ways
That the truth
And God
Are on
Their side

Two ways
The other
Of being

Two ways
Are willing
To kill
Each other’s

Two ways
All of us
To feel anger
And become

All beliefs
At the highest
They aspire to

The goal
Of all our striving
And all our struggling
Is a place of fulfillment
And peace

We all
Can join together
To clear a space
For all sides to see
Another way

A third way
Reminds us
That we
Are all
Of one flesh
And one spirit

A third way
Speaks to
A place inside
The Creative Principle

A third way
Offers us
A way out
From the dilemma
That is placed
In our path

Whatever we believe
We can choose
To take
The highest ground
That is the apex
Of our belief

Whatever side
We find ourselves on
We can choose
Not to take sides
But to take
the other path

We have the power
To end the war
And change the world
But we must decide
To take
The third way

— Jim Bush