Rabbi Arthur Waskow : Drop Gas Masks, Not Bombs

Think out of the box. Digital art by Neho / deviantART.

Act out of the box:
Drop gas masks, not bombs

Use the power of the U.S. in nonviolent, non-military, nonlethal ways to counter Assad’s (or the rebels’) possible use of chemical weapons.

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow | The Rag Blog | September 4, 2013

If moving to the right is violently destructive and moving to the left is disgustingly immoral, then something is wrong with the box we are in.

Think out of the box, act out of the box.

That’s where the U.S. is in regard to Syria: All the “official” choices — from Do Nothing to One Strike to Overthrow the Regime — are destructive to us, to the Syrian people, to the U.S. Constitution, and/or to international law.

So — think fresh.

Drop gas masks, not bombs.

That’s a metaphor.

Translate: use the power of the U.S. in nonviolent, non-military, nonlethal ways to counter Assad’s (or the rebels’) possible use of chemical weapons.

  • If gas masks would not meet the need, drop antidotes to the nerve gas Sarin, sending instructions in Arabic by radio and social media.
  • Test out what would happen if the U.S. invited physicians to be parachuted into Syria, as brave as the soldiers that some U.S. politicians want to send.
  • Drop leaflets and broadcast radio and social-media messages denouncing the use of chemical weaponry and offering amnesty and monetary rewards to anyone in the military who comes forward with information on their use.
  • Bollix the Syrian military’s computer system just as the U.S. bollixed the Iranian nuclear-research system without killing anyone.
  • Ask the government of Iran to intervene with its ally Syria to demand a total end to any use of chem-war, and offer Iran relaxation of U.S. sanctions against it if it does so.
  • (In Iran there is fierce opposition to chem-war because Saddam used it in Iraq’s war against Iran, killing tens of thousands. The U.S., by the way, uttered not a peep of criticism of Sadaam’s use of chem-war, because the U.S. government saw Iran as an enemy. Indeed, the U.S. may have assisted Saddam in using chem-war.)
  • Go to the UN Security Council as well as Congress for approval of such nonlethal, nonviolent interventions.
  • And so on. Get it?

What is wrong with the box we are in?

What Obama was publicly proposing, “One Strike” to “punish” and “deter” chem-war, had a very risky flaw: It was essentially assuming “one-man chess.” Either the OneStrike would accomplish nothing real — a useless act — or if it did hurt, it might well push Assad into retaliating. If there were a response, a retaliatory attack on U.S. forces or assets or on Israel, etc., would the U.S. then shrug and do nothing — or would the U.S. then re-retaliate? And then?

Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that in fact, under pressure from hawkish Senators, Obama is now actually planning much more than One Strike — rather, an attack to “degrade,’ not only “deter,” Assad’s military, with the intention of regime change.

And there are other reports that the actual text of the resolution that Obama is asking Congress to approve is considerably broader than the One Strike he has said he wants.

So we may after all be standing on our tiptoes at the very edge of the precipice of still another immoral, illegal, unwinnable, self-destructive war.

If our own government pushes us over the edge of that precipice, the real losers will be the American and Syrian peoples. There, even greater devastation. Here, another wave of failure to meet the real and increasingly urgent civilian needs for schools, bridges, solar and wind energy, firefghters, and much more.

More deaths and disasters from forest fires, floods, droughts. Another wave of justifying, in the name of anti-terrorism, intrusive unconstitutional surveillance of practically everyone; police infiltration of peaceful mosques and political activists; and vigilante attacks on Muslims.

What to do? Call 202/224-3121 (the U.S. Capitol) and ask for your Senators and House member, one at a time. When you get each office, leave a message vigorously opposing any resolution authorizing military force against Syria, and pointing to nonviolent, nonlethal alternatuve ways of intervening.

Write a similar letter to your local newspaper.

Forward this message to your friends and to listserves you are on.

Try to start a viral message: Drop gas-masks, not bombs.

One of the metaphors of Rosh Hashanah is that we plead with God — which means also with ourselves — to move from the throne of Punitive Justice to the throne of Compassionate Repair.

If not now, when?

[Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center. His newest book, co-authored with R. Phyllis Berman, is Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness across Millennia (Jewish Lights), available from Shouk Shalom our on-line bookstore. Read more articles by Rabbi Arthur Waskow on The Rag Blog.]

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