Monday, June 20, 2011

Letter to President Obama: End the Afghanistan War now

June 20, 2011

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to you as one of your 2008 national convention delegates, but more importantly as a fellow father, to urge you to bring a rapid end to the war in Afghanistan.

Far too many young children and their families have already been killed in this war. Every child killed by misguided bombs, drone strikes or night raids is a heart-breaking tragedy. Afghani parents, after all, love their children just as I love my daughter, just as you love your daughters. Every child killed creates untold suffering, generates thousands of new enemies, fuels the cycle of violence and undermines the stated purposes of this war.

I was on a phone call yesterday, Father’s Day, with several Afghan teenagers who are part of an organization called the “Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.” They have lived with the terror of this war most of their lives, and have all been personally affected. One boy lost his only brother to the war. His lost his parents when he was younger, so the killing of his brother left him with no immediate family. More than anything, all the Afghan youth said they are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by this war, and they want it to end now.

I circulated to other parents a petition asking you to end this war and to order an immediate end to the bombing campaign that regularly results in children and other innocent people being killed. One father, Jon Kurtz of MA, added these comments to the petition:

“I have worked with humanitarian organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I can personally attest to the negative impacts of the military strategy on the lives of ordinary Afghan children and families. What they seek and need is more stability. Unfortunately, the current US military strategy is undermining, rather than improving stability.”

Another father, James Seligman of California, has this to say:

“Killing children with missiles, drones, helicopters and bombs is terrorism. How many more were injured and crippled for life? It is now time to stop the murdering and start rebuilding and healing. It is the only humane thing to do and we are already long overdue.”

I worked hard for your election in 2008. My volunteer efforts contributed to my being elected as one of your national convention delegates. I was inspired by your opposition to the Iraq War, and by statements you made about peace on the campaign trail, including this pledge in a fall, 2007 foreign policy speech:

“I'm running for the presidency of the United States of America so that together we can do the hard work to seek a new dawn of peace and prosperity for our children, and for the children of the world.”

I used that line in an op-ed piece I wrote in favor of your candidacy, which was published just before the Iowa caucus in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. In my letter I said that your opposition to the Iraq War, and sentiments like the one quoted above “give this father hope and inspiration. Imagine the message you and other Iowans can send to the world on January 3rd by caucusing for a man of peace to replace the men of war, at last.”

Now, 2 ½ years into your Presidency, as I read story after story of the unending carnage and suffering inflicted upon the people of Afghanistan (and Pakistan, etc.) under your Administration, I am disheartened. I’m not the only one.

It’s clear that the people of our country, just like the people of Afghanistan, no longer support the war in Afghanistan. In addition to the enormous human toll, the cost of this war robs resources from needs at home at a time when we can least afford it. That is why the US Conference of Mayors today passed a resolution urging Congress to bring war dollars home to “meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy.” This is the first time such a resolution has been adopted by the Mayors since the Vietnam War.

Mr. President, we can’t afford the war in Afghanistan anymore, morally or financially. Please do everything in your power as President, Commander in Chief and as a Father to end the war and bring the troops home. That would be change we could truly believe in.


John Friedrich

South Lake Tahoe, CA

Monday, January 17, 2011

Living up to ALL children's expectations

Upon hearing the news that Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords had been shot, Speaker of the House John Boehner commented that “an attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place on our society.” By extension, the shooting rampage in Tucson was an attack on all of our grandmothers, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children. Replace "public officials" with "people" in Boehner's statement, and imagine the implications for how we respond to gun policy, domestic violence or war.

The killing of 9 year old Christina Taylor Green was particularly tragic and heartbreaking. As a father of a 4 year old daughter, I can conceive of the depth of sorrow felt by Christina's parents and all who knew and loved her. Another father of daughters, President Barack Obama, was visibly moved by Christina's memory during his Tucson memorial service address. He spoke for the hearts of mothers, fathers, and grandparents when he said,

" In Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic, so full of magic. So deserving of our love. And so deserving of our good example......I want America to be as good as she imagined it. We should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations."

So what do our children expect and deserve? They certainly don't expect to be shot on Saturday morning at the mall, or to be a victim of violence in any other form. When we reflect on President Obama's statement on children's expectations, which children do we envision as "our children"? Our own, those in our extended families, our communities, our state, our country? What if we included in our considerations and circle of concern every child on the planet as equally deserving of love, care and protection?

On the same day that Christina was killed in Tucson, a child in Afghanistan was killed in a bombing raid. In the last decade, thousands upon thousands of children have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan by bombs and bullets paid for by you and me. Each of these children was also deserving of our love, and our good example. All of their parents and grandparents grieved as deeply as did Christina Taylor Greene's parents are grieving, as deeply as we would grieve if our own child were killed in an act of violence.

Imagine for a moment attending the memorial service for any one of the children killed in war, and hearing of that child's interests, hopes and dreams. Imagine trying to explain to the grieving family and friends that the child's death, while unfortunate, is in a way justified by the larger war effort. Unless we could accept the killing of our own children as "collateral damage" -- whether at the hands of a deranged gunman, terrorist or act of war -- then we couldn't possibly justify killing anyone else's child in the pursuit of other objectives. Yet this is exactly what we do when we turn a blind eye to the violence perpetrated in our names against children in war day after day, week after week. Dropping bombs that kill innocent people sends a very strong message that violence is an officially accepted -- often glorified -- means of resolving conflicts

In his Tucson speech, President Obama spoke of the process of reflection following the tragedy, of "making sure we align our values with our actions –- that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires"

What would be required of actions taken in our names if we chose to value the lives of all children as much as we do our own? Speaking against the Vietnam War one year to the day before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. said:

"A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men.....We can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals who pursued this self-defeating path of hate.....We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

The day after Christina Taylor Green was killed in Tucson, her mother was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "I think there is a lot of hatred going on, and it has to stop." Hate pulled the trigger in Tucson, and hate is felt by children and their families caught in the crossfire of war. Let one lesson of Tucson be that it is absolutely unacceptable for any child anywhere to be "collateral damage" caused by private or official, democratically sanctioned acts of hatred and violence.

The day we truly commit to creating a future worthy of ALL children on Earth, is the day that our actions will truly be aligned with our deepest values, the day everything changes.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Our Lorax Moment

I became a father four years ago on the eve of Father’s Day. I’ll never forget the first gaze into my daughter’s eyes, with her look of recognition at this man who had sung to her for months in momma’s belly. The feeling that filled my being in those first moments of her existence was the power of love on full throttle.

In those first days, I quickly came to understand that these feelings are universal, shared in equal measure by parents for countless generations in every corner of the globe and in every circumstance. I felt kinship with fellow fathers and mothers in Iraq, Israel, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Spain. Whatever our differences, I understood that the depth of love for our children is a stronger unifying force than all that divides us.

Our daughter Rosie was born at a time when stories of families anguished by the effects of wars, torture and depravity supported by our tax dollars filled newscasts on a daily basis. The notion of creating a more peaceful, humane and healthy world for our children became imperative, urgent. If only we the parents (and grandparents, aunts and uncles) could link up, in honor of the love we have for our children, to insist on a world where no child is bombed or left to suffer, a world where every child is honored and treated with care and compassion, a world where the natural life support systems that sustain all children are restored.

By the time Rosie turned one, we started listening to a candidate for President who was saying things like this: “Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.”

Campaign rallies were populated with new parents and our children, all of us feeling I sensed that “hope” and “change” were not glib slogans but connected to our deepest yearnings. I made “Babies for Barack” buttons and got elected delegate to the national convention in Denver, where I organized a “Families for Obama” rally. Moms and Dads spoke from their hearts about what was at stake for them in the election. This feeling crested in the hopeful tide of humanity that descended in record numbers in Washington, DC to participate as we the people in the inauguration of President Obama.

Now, 18 months later, hope has given way in many instances to anxiety, despair or cynicism. We’ve seen bombs continue to explode in wedding parties in Afghanistan, Wall St. bailed out to reward greed and avarice, and another hottest year on record, with action to confront climate change not keeping up with the speed of melting glaciers.

Then the Deepwater Horizon exploded, putting the effects of our collective addiction to oil on full gory display in the Gulf of Mexico. The stakes for life as we know it have just been raised. Water is life, polluted water is death. We are fouling our nest. We’ve reached a crossroads where we either respond to this catastrophe by transforming the way we live on the planet, or we leave a ravaged world to our children.

The poet Drew Dellinger put it this way, “My great great grandchildren won’t let me sleep: what did you do while the earth was unraveling?” We’re having a “Lorax” moment – Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

The forces of violence and greed are formidable, but they can be overcome by a much more powerful force -- the combined power of love for our children. At the moment we choose to act on that love, everything changes.

The change we believe in and need is not going to be done for us by President Obama. It’s not going to be done for us by anyone else. Your knight in shining armor is looking at you in the mirror, begging for action.

Can we the fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, summon the commitment and courage to do what is necessary for the well-being of our children, and all those children yet to be born? Yes we still can, and yes we must.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Father's Day for Peace

For too long we men have used violence and war to settle our scores, leading to more violence and war.  We look away while bombs dropped in our names kill the children of fellow fathers and mothers in far away places, increasing the odds that our own children will one day be the victim of revenge attacks.

Imagine just for a moment how you would feel and what you would do if your own children were the “collateral damage.”  After all, the mothers and fathers of the world love our children and grieve their deaths in equal proportion.  We may shield our eyes, but if you listen you can hear the anguished cries.

In the wake of the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe called on the women of the world to unite against war, saying in her 1870 Mother’s Day Proclamation: “We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

But the men didn’t listen. Instead, our gender has led the charge in a parade of brutal wars, killing millions upon millions of beloved sons and daughters in every corner of the planet. Just last month, 65 children were killed in one strike in Afghanistan by U.S. bombs, according to a report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Children in Pakistan live in constant fear of being the next victim of an unmanned U.S. drone.

Enough. It’s time to put an end to war for the sake of our children, for the sake of all children.  The Mothers of the world have been ready to move beyond war as a means of resolving conflict for a long time.  It’s time for Fathers to hear the call and to do our part.

The term warrior has two definitions. The first is "a person engaged or experienced in warfare." The second is "a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage..”

It’s time for Fathers to stand up with courage and vigor to the war-makers and demand that no more children are bombed in our name in Afghanistan or anyplace else.  Let us vow to do unto the children of other fathers and mothers as we would have done unto ours. Let’s drop books and bread instead of bombs, and use the money saved to restore the planet that is the common inheritance of our children while we’re at it.

Jimi Hendrix once said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the people shall know peace.”  We have that power, Dads, in the love we collectively feel for our children.  Let’s make Father’s Day a day to begin realizing the full power of that love. Our children are counting on us.  

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Peace Day

More than 40 years before Anna Jarvis established Mother’s Day to honor individual mothers (before later campaigning against the commercialization of the Holiday), Julia Ward Howe organized Mothers’ Peace Days around the country in the wake of the Civil War. Howe, best know as author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, urged women throughout the world to join together to oppose war in her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870:

“Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say Firmly: Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

As bombs and bullets continue to kill and maim sons and daughters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Gaza and beyond, Howe’s plea is as relevant as it was 139 years ago. Just this week, U.S. bombs allegedly killed more than 100 civilians in one strike in Afghanistan, including scores of women and children who had sought shelter in houses and orchards.

Howe’s insight was that which unites us is stronger than that which divides us. After all, the mothers and fathers of the world love their children in equal proportion. A mother whose son or daughter is killed by a bomb in a small Afghanistan village grieves as deeply as a mother in the U.S. would if circumstances were reversed.

Precious few mother or fathers can imagine a justification for their own child being killed in the pursuit of a supposed political or military objective. Yet we too often turn a blind eye at reports of our tax-funded high tech weapons killing the children of others or rationalize it as an unfortunate consequence of “keeping us safe.” As if our children being bombed would not increase the likelihood of revenge attacks, making the attackers (and their children) less safe.

Following the recent Afghanistan bombardment, a throng of angry protesters chanted "Death to America". What would they have been chanting if instead of bombs, we had dropped books and bread?

So when, as Pete Seeger has asked in song for decades, will we ever learn? Another musician, Jimi Hendrix, had an answer: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the people shall know peace.”

If there exists love powerful enough to overcome the love of power with its violent implications, it is contained in the collective love of all the world’s mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. The potential to realize the full power of this love lies in connecting the feelings and concern we have for our own children to the feelings and concerns of every other parent and grandparent. We can take a step in this direction by insisting that no more mothers and children are bombed in our name in Afghanistan or anyplace else.

Were we to join in common cause, doing to the children of others as we’d have done unto ours – and demanding that our governments do the same -- the world would necessarily shift from war and violence toward peace and compassion. May this Mothers’ Day be fresh inspiration to renew this journey.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dreams for Our Children

Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in 1968, 40 years ago this coming year. As many have said, his dreams did not die in Memphis. I have a recurring dream of my own, that all children around the world will grow up to know each others as friends to meet, not enemies to fear. My dream is that all the money currently spent sending our sons and daughters off to fight the sons and daughters of other parents will instead be used to heal the planet and all of its inhabitants. When we come to see each other as one human family with a shared fate on our fragile, imperiled Earth, this will be the obvious choice. Until then, we've got some work to do!!

What are your dreams for your child, or for all children?

Dear President

Michael Franti asked fans to submit "Dear President" letters, to be read at his February, 2007 Presidents Day shows in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. 3 letters were chosen to be read at each of 3 shows. Mine was selected, so I read the letter below to a couple of thousand people at the Tahoe show.

Dear President Bush,

I just sang my precious Rosie to sleep. Hush little baby. Somewhere in Baghdad, a daddy is sobbing in the street, holding his heart in his hand. She was walking into school when the car exploded.

How many deaths will it take til you know that too many children have died?

I heard you on the radio the other day talking about creating a culture of life. Without a hint of irony. If Iraq is a culture of life in action, I’d hate to see what you mean by a culture of death.

When you were running for President you said your favorite philosopher was Jesus. Did you read where he said love your enemies? I don’t recall love being amended with bomb and torture.

Love is what we need, Mr. President.

How many enemies would we have if instead of spending $650 billion more on weapons and war, we spent that much to provide healthy food, clean water, medicine and health care to every member of the human family who is sick, suffering or in need?

How many enemies would we have then?

What if we really were promoting a culture of life as a superpower for the good of all, a superpower for peace, love and healing on the planet?

How many enemies would we have then? Would we need to study war anymore?

Love is what we need, Mr. President. Not invasions and occupations masquerading as liberation. Not new military bases in the sand and inflated defense contracts. Not fear stoked by phony code orange proclamations. Not wars against fictitious weapons of mass destruction masked by weapons of mass deception. Love is what we need.

Mr. President, as I lay my baby down to sleep, I prayed her soul be hers to keep, that no children should die from violence before they wake. I prayed that when this nightmare ends, she will see children in every country not as enemies but as friends.

Hush little babies, don’t say a word. Your families are going to leave you a better world.

And hush Mr. President, you’ve tipped the world over, but time is short for you and Karl Rover.

Do the right thing!