Kathy Kelly

U.S. Politics Expert
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Kathy Kelly, co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence, (www.vcnv.org) a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare.

During each of several recent trips to Afghanistan, Kathy Kelly, as an invited guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, has lived alongside ordinary Afghan people in a working class neighborhood in Kabul. She and her companions in Voices for Creative Nonviolence believe that “where you stand determines what you see.”

They are resolved not to let war sever the bonds of friendship between them and Afghan people whom they’ve grown to know through successive delegations. Kelly and her companions insist that the U.S. is not waging a “humanitarian war” in Afghanistan.

Kelly has also joined with activists in various regions of the country to protest drone warfare by holding demonstrations outside of U.S. military bases in Nevada, upstate New York, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

During late June and early July of 2011, Kelly was a passenger on the “Audacity to Hope” as part of the US Boat to Gaza project. She also attempted to reach Gaza by flying from Athens to Tel Aviv, as part of the Welcome to Palestine effort, but the Israeli government deported her back to Greece.

In 2009, she lived in Gaza during the final days of the Operation Cast Lead bombing; later that year, Voices formed another small delegation to visit Pakistan, aiming to learn more about the effects of U.S. drone warfare on the civilian population and to better understand consequences of U.S. foreign policy in Pakistan. She returned again to Gaza in November 2012 to meet with the survivors of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense and to hear their stories.

From 1996 – 2003, Voices activists formed 70 delegations that openly defied economic sanctions by bringing medicines to children and families in Iraq. Kathy and her companions lived in Baghdad throughout the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing.

She was sentenced to one year in federal prison for planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites (1988-89) and spent three months in prison, in 2004, for crossing the line at Fort Benning’s military training school. As a war tax refuser, she has refused payment of all forms of federal income tax since 1980.

She and her companions at the Voices home/office in Chicago believe that non-violence necessarily involves simplicity, service, sharing of resources and non-violent direct action in resistance to war and oppression.

Other Lands Have Dreams: from Baghdad to Pekin Prison (2005) by Kathy Kelly is available through Counterpunch (www.counterpunch.org) or Voices for Creative Nonviolence, 1249 West Argyle, Chicago, IL 60640 773-878-3815

“In a Time of Siege,” a Peace Productions DVD about Voices in the Wilderness, narrated by Studs Terkel, is available from the Voices for Creative Nonviolence office, 1249 West Argyle, Chicago, IL 60640 773-878-3815.


• B.A. Loyola University at Chicago 1974
• Masters in Religious Education, Chicago Theological Seminary; part of a consortium of schools which included the Jesuit School of Theology at Chicago where Kelly took courses each quarter


Other Lands Have Dreams: from Baghdad to Pekin Prison Counterpunch Press spring 2005

Editor and contributor:

War and Peace in the Gulf Cornerstone Press April 2001


Iraq Under Siege Edited by Anthony Arnove 2000

Live from Palestine Edited by Nancy Stohlman and Laurieann Aladin 2003

Articles, essays and interviews printed in:

The Sun, The Chicago Tribune Magazine, America, The Progressive, The National Catholic Reporter, Columbia Journal of International Affairs, The Link, Fellowship of Reconciliation Magazine, Lapis Magazine, The Jordan Times, The Washington Report on the Middle East, The Capitol Times, MERIP Magazine, Satya Magazine, Hope Magazine, Peace News,Common Dreams website, Counterpunch website, Electroniciraq.net website, Voices In The Wilderness website, Voices for Creative Nonviolence website, and Antiwar.Com website


• Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Award, 1998
• Newberry Library Free Speech Award, 1998
• Detroit City Council Testimonial Resolution commending humanitarian efforts, February 1999
• Robert O. Cooper Fellowship in Peace and Justice Award, Southern Methodist University March 1999
• University of the Incarnate Word Distinguished Speaker Award March 1999
• California State Assembly Certificate of Recognition for Founding of Voices in the Wilderness November 1999
• Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award, 1999
• Consortium on Peace Research and Development Social Courage Award, 1999
• Dan Berrigan Award, DePaul University 1999
• Office of the Americas Peace and Justice Award November 1999
• International Fellowship of Reconciliation Pfeiffer Peace Award, February 2000
• Nobel Peace Prize Nominee with Denis Halliday 2000
• Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee Humanitarian Award June 2000
• Nobel Peace Prize Nominee 2001
• Chaldean Iraqi American Association of Michigan Appreciation Award for Dedication in Lifting Sanctions Against Iraq July 2001
• Newberry Library “1st place” orator – Bughouse Square Debates August 2001
• Life for Relief and Development Humanitarian Services Award September 2001
• Global Exchange International Women’s Rights Awardee May 2003
• Archbishop Oscar Romero Award, Mercyhurst College March 2003
• Nobel Peace prize Nominee, with Voices in the Wilderness 2003
• Call to Action Leadership Award, with Voices in the Wilderness 2003
• Thomas Merton Center Award, Pittsburgh, PA 2003
• Adela Dwyer St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award, Villanova University, Voices in the Wilderness 2003
• William Scarlett Award from The Witness, Voices in the Wilderness 2003
• Association of Chicago Priests, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Common Ground Award with Voices in the Wilderness 2004
• First Annual Award for Justice on behalf of the Religious Orders Partnership given to Kathy Kelly and Voices in the Wilderness • Cranbrook Peace Foundation Annual Peace Award 2004
• Houston Peace and Justice Center National Peacemaker Award
• Peace Seeker of the Year 2005, Montana Peace Seekers Network
• Doctor of Theology honoris causa from Chicago Theological Seminary awarded May 14, 2005
• Honorary degree awarded from Lewis University, May 15, 2005
• Elliott Black Award for 2006 awarded by the American Ethical Union
• De Paul Center for Church/State Studies 2007 John Courtney Murray Award April 2007
• Bradford-O’Neill Medallion for Social Justice Recipient, Dominican University September 2007
• The Oscar Romero Award presented by Pax Christi Maine October 2007
• The Washington Peace Center Lifetime Achievement Award October 2009
• War Resisters Peace Award 2010
• American Friends Service Committee “Speak Truth to Power Award” June 2011
• Justice Scholars Association “The Chomsky Award” June 2011
• The Clare Award from the Clinton Franciscans, June 2012
• Evanston Friends Monthly Meeting Peace Award, January 2013
• Community church of Boston Sacco & Vanzetti Award for Social Justice, May 2015
• Pax Christi Southern California Ambassador of Peace Award, June 2015
• Gandhi Peace Award, Promoting Enduring Peace, October 2015
• 2015 U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation Peace Prize [46]
• 2017 Veterans For Peace Gandhian Non-Violence Award – co-recipent with the late, and dearly-missed John Heuer

Kathy Kelly, USA 01/25/2018 0

41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo

In Washington, D.C., about thirty people have gathered this week as part of Witness Against Torture, for a weeklong fast aimed at closing Guantanamo and abolishing torture forever. Four days ago, Matt Daloisio arrived from New York City in a van packed with posters and banners, plus sleeping bags, winter clothing, and other essentials for the week.

Matt spent an hour organizing the equipment in the large church hall housing us. “He curates it,” said one organizer.

In 2007, there were 430 prisoners in Guantanamo. Today, forty-one men are imprisoned there, including thirty-one who have endured more than a decade of imprisonment without charge.None of the forty-one prisoners now in Guantanamo was captured by the U.S. military on a battlefield. Afghan militias and the Pakistani military were paid cash bounties for selling most of these prisoners into U.S. custody. Imagine the “green light” this gave for other countries to engage in the buying and selling of human beings.

Aisha Manar of the London Campaign to Close Guantanamo points out that “the rights-violating practices surrounding Guantanamo are now a model for the detention and incarceration policies of the U.S. and other states.”

This chilling reality is reflected in Associated Press reports revealing that the United Arab Emirates operates a network of secret prisons in Southern Yemen, where prisoners are subjected to extreme torture. This has included being trussed to a rotating machine called “the grill” and exposed to a roasting fire.

“Nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons,” the AP reports, “a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.”

One of the main detention complexes is at Riyan Airport in Yemen’s southern city of Mukalla. Former detainees, speaking on condition of anonymity, told of “being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the “grill,” and sexually assaulted.”

A member of the Yemeni security force set up by the United Arab Emirates told AP that American forces were at times only yards away.

“It would be a stretch to believe the U.S. did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s director of research in the Middle East, said in a June 2017 statement.

On January 9, 2018, Witness Against Torture members tried to deliver a letter to United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yusuf Al Otaiba, seeking his response to these reports. Security guards took our pictures but said they were unable to accept our letter.

Today, joining numerous other groups for a rally in front of the White House, we’ll carry one banner that says, “It would take a genius to close Guantanamo.” Another says, “We are still here because you are still there.” Clad in orange jumpsuits and black hoods we’ll also carry placards bearing the number “41.”

Forty-one hearts still beat in Guantanamo prison cells. That’s forty-one too many.

A version of this article was first published on The Progressive website.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Kathy Kelly, USA 11/28/2017 0

On the Quality of Mercy

During the spring of 1999, as part of Voices in the Wilderness’s campaign to end indiscriminately lethal U.S./U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq, the Fellowship of Reconciliation arranged for two Nobel Peace laureates, Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire, to visit the country. Before their travel, Voices activists helped organize meetings for them with a range of ordinary Iraqis affected by an economic warfare targeting the most vulnerable: the elderly, the sick, and most tragically of all, the children. Perez Esquivel studied the itinerary. His voice and face showed clear disappointment. “Yes,” he said, shaking his head, “but when do we meet with the teenagers?” He advised to always learn from a region’s young people, and seek clear, inquisitive views not yet hardened by propaganda. We quickly arranged for Maguire and Perez Esquivel to meet with young women at Baghdad’s Dijla Secondary School for Girls.

It was the spring of 1999. After eight years of deadly economic sanctions, the 2003 U.S. invasion was still the haziest of looming future threats.  I was there with them at the school, and I remember Layla standing up and raising her voice. “You come and you say, you will do, you will do. But nothing changes. Me, I am sixteen. Can you tell me, what is the difference between me, I am sixteen, and someone who is sixteen in your country? I’ll tell you. Our emotions are frozen. We cannot feel.” But then she sat down and cried.

Other Iraqi students wondered what their country had done to deserve this treatment. What would happen to them if the UN said Iraq’s foreign policy directly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children, in another country, under age five?  “Who are the criminals?” they asked.

In 1999, young Layla’s voice was both pleading and accusing when she said, “Nothing changes.” A change did occur in 2003. The 13-year economic war turned into a fierce bombing and invasion called “Shock and Awe.” U.S.-led foreign troops battered the nation. With its cities and reservoirs wrecked, its power lines downed, and its police and economy abolished, chaos broke out. Occupying troops watched the country convulse into escalating violence, replicable anywhere. The long smother of the sanctions was lifted from the crushed windpipe of a nation struggling even harder to breathe, its desperate flailing summoning ever more violent responses. The young people’s question, then, should persist: “Who are the criminals?”

As they do each month, my young friends in Kabul, Afghanistan, hosted a three-hour international internet call on November 21st, 2017, focused on ways to survive the psychological traumas inflicted on people living in a war zone. They spoke about how war causes mistrust, fear and a constant anxiety because there is no safe space. They said what they most need are relationships. Trauma destroys connections, makes people feel alone and isolated. Healing involves connection.

Through self-education, they’ve learned to connect and care deeply about people in Yemen where seven million people, according to CBS’s 60 Minutes, face famine. Meanwhile, a Saudi-led coalition, backed and joined by the U.S., continues blockading and bombing civilians. Despite their own destitution, the Afghan Peace Volunteers collected what they could for relief efforts in Yemen, raising about $48.00.

“The quality of mercy is strained in the Middle East,” reads a New York Times op-ed from mid-November, 2017, turning to literature to point out the unspeakably brutal throttling of Yemen where, according to the NYT op-ed,  “Saudi Arabia closed off the highways, sea routes and airports in war-torn Yemen, forbidding humanitarian groups from even shipping chlorine tablets for the Yemenis suffering from a cholera epidemic…The International Red Cross expects about a million people to be infected by cholera in Yemen by December.” The op-ed clearly links the epidemic to U.S. policy and emphasizes the Saudi-led campaign’s dependence on military assistance from the U.S.

Mark Weisbrot, an analyst with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, urges ordinary U.S. people to speak up about Yemen, “because this is the world’s best chance of ending what UN aid chief Mark Lowcock called ‘the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims.'” Last week, 120,000 people watched a brief video of Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin risking arrest to protest U.S. participation in Saudi war crimes. Now, as local groups in the U.S. and other countries plan vigils, legislative action, civil disobedience and education campaigns, we have a chance to end the nightmare fears of Yemenis facing starvation, disease, and war.

As I watched in 1999, Layla stood before her class to ask two renowned peacemakers what difference there was between her and a sixteen-year-old living in a more secure part of the world. The answer, in terms of her basic human rights and her irreplaceable human value, should be manifestly clear: there is no difference whatsoever. And yet, while U.S. warlords and military contractors collude with their counterparts in other lands, they earn former president Dwight Eisenhower’s blistering evaluation. This world in arms “is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children.” Among the most vulnerable children sacrificed are those forced into poverty by military blockade and military occupation, who steel themselves as the bombs tear through their towns and their neighborhoods and their neighbors, through their traumatized memories, and through their prospective futures when they dare to hope for one.

The comfortable nations often authorize the worst atrocities overseas through fear for their own safety, imagining themselves the victims to be protected from crime at all costs. Such attitudes entitle people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen to look in our direction when they ask, “Who are the criminals?” They will be looking at us when they ask that, until we at last exert our historically unprecedented economic and political ability to turn our imperial nations away from ruinous war, and earn our talk of mercy.

Kathy Kelly, USA 11/14/2017 0

Let’s Celebrate Peace

Wilfred Owen, an English poet who was killed in action exactly one week before the Armistice that finally ended World War I was signed, wrote about the horrors of living in trenches and enduring gas warfare.

In “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young,” he revises the Biblical narrative about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Believing God willed the slaughter, Abraham prepared to bind Isaac and slay him. Owen transforms Abraham into the European powers who were willing to slaughter youthful generations in the trenches of World War I.

Only in this telling, Abraham refuses to heed the angel who urges that the son be spared. The old man “slew the son, and half the seed of Europe, one by one.”

Thirty million soldiers were killed or wounded and another seven million taken captive during World War I. Some 50 to 100 million perished from a flu epidemic created by the war. “Never before,” writes author and activist David Swanson, “had people witnessed such industrialized slaughter, with tens of thousands falling in a day to machine guns and poison gas.”

A stunned and exhausted West greeted November 11, 1918, the day the war came to an end, as its delivery from horror.

In 1938, Congress declared Armistice Day a legal holiday dedicated to the cause of world peace. In 1954, the holiday was renamed Veterans Day and morphed into an occasion for flag waving and military parades.

Now, members of the group Veterans for Peace are working across the U.S. to recover the original purpose of Armistice Day. They are using it to call for adequate psychological and material support for veterans, to help them cope with the terrors they have been forced to endure. Above all, they work to abolish wars.

This year on November 11, at 11 a.m., Veterans for Peace chapters across the United States will ring bells, recalling that minute in 1918 when, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another.”

“This event is more than just a historical remembrance,” says Ed Flaherty, a member of the Iowa City Chapter of Veterans for Peace. “It is about today, about our pressing need to reverse the war-momentum and to take up the sweet burden of creating lasting peace.”

Writing on behalf of the group’s Tom Paine chapter in Albany, New York, John Amidon explains that the veterans will be “purposefully walking” in the local Veterans day parade because “we ain’t marching anymore.”

The tragically stubborn “old man” in Owen’s poem rejected the angel’s intervention urging him to choose life over death. We do not have to keep making that same mistake.

Armistice Day gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the brutal futility of armed conflict, the wastefulness of our military spending, and the responsibility we share to abolish all wars.

Top photo: Thousands massed on all sides of the replica of the Statue of Liberty on Broad Street in Philadelphia, cheered unceasingly, upon the announcement of the armistice on November 11, 1918. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

Kathy Kelly, USA 11/06/2017 0

Afghan Women Raise Key Question: What on Earth Has This War Accomplished?

Masoumah, who co-coordinates the Center’s “Street Kids School” project, had invited the mothers to a parents meeting. Burka-clad women who wore the veil over their faces looked identical to me, but Masoumah called each mother by name, inviting the mothers, one by one, to speak about difficulties they faced. From inside the netted opening of a burka, we heard soft voices and, sometimes, sheer despair. Others who weren’t wearing burkas also spoke gravely. Their eyes expressed pain and misery, and some quietly wept. Often a woman’s voice would break, and she would have to pause before she could continue:

“I have debts that I cannot pay,” whispered the first woman.

“My children and I are always moving from place to place. I don’t know what will happen.”

“I am afraid we will die in an explosion.”

“My husband is paralyzed and cannot work. We have no money for food, for fuel.”

“My husband is old and sick. We have no medicine.”

“I cannot feed my children.”

“How will we live through the winter?”

“I have pains throughout my whole body.”

“I feel hopeless.”

“I feel depressed, and I am always worried.”

“I feel that I’m losing my mind.”

The mothers’ travails echo across Afghanistan, where “one-third of the population lives below the poverty line (earning less than $2 a day) and a further 50 percent are barely above this.” Much of the suffering voiced was common: most of the women had to support their families as they moved from house to house, not being able to come up with the rent for a more permanent space, and many women experienced severe body pains, often a result of chronic stress.

Last week, our friend Turpekai visited the Borderfree Center and spoke with dismay about her family’s well having gone dry. Later that morning, Inaam, one of the students in the “Street Kids School,” said that his family faces the same problem. Formerly, wells dug to depths of 20 to 30 meters were sufficient to reach the water table. But now, with the water table dropping an average of one meter a year, new wells must be dug to depths of 80 meters or more. Inflowing refugees create increased demands on the water table in times of drought and so do the extravagant water needs of an occupying military, and the world’s largest fortified embassy, that can dig as deep for water as it wants. Families living on less than $2 a day have little wherewithal to dig deep wells or begin paying for water. The water has been lost to war.

Sarah Ball, a nurse from Chicago, arrived in Kabul one week ago. Together we visited the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, feeling acutely grateful for an opportunity to donate blood and hear an update from one of their logistical coordinators about new circumstances they encounter in Kabul.

In past visits to Kabul, staff at the Emergency Hospital would point happily to their volleyball court, the place where they could find diversion and release from tensions inherent in their life saving work. Now, as an average of two “mass casualties” happen each week, often involving many dozens of patients severely injured by war, a triage unit has replaced the volleyball court. Kabul, formerly one of the safest places in Afghanistan, has now become one of the most dangerous.

The Taliban and other armed groups have vowed to continue fighting as long as the U.S. continues to occupy Afghan land, to wage attacks on Afghans and supply weapons to the various fighting factions. The United States maintains nine major bases in Afghanistan and many smaller forward operating bases.

Following President Trump’s announcement of an increase in U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported that “Direct U.S. spending on the war in Afghanistan will rise to approximately $840.7 billion if the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget is approved.”

What on earth have they accomplished?

Masoumah asked each mother a second question: What are you thankful for? The atmosphere became a little less grim as many of the mothers said they were grateful for their children. Beholding the lively, bright and beautiful youngsters who fill the Borderfree Center each Friday, I could well understand their gratitude. The following day, we joined two dozen young girls living in a squalid refugee camp. Crowded into a small makeshift classroom with a mud floor, our friend Nematullah taught a two-hour class focused on forming peace circles. The little girls were radiant, exuberant and eager for better futures. Nematullah later told us that all their families are internally displaced, many because of war.

I feel deeply moved by the commitment my young friends have made to reject wars and dominance, preferring instead to live simply, share resources, and help protect the environment. Zarghuna works full-time to coordinate projects at the Border Free Center. She and Masoumah feel passionately committed to social change which they believe will be organized “from the ground up.” I showed Zarghuna a Voices accounting sheet tallying donations entrusted to us for the Street Kids School and The Duvet Project. I wanted to assure her of grass roots support from people giving what they can. “Big amounts of money coming from the U.S. military destroys us,” Zarghuna said. “But small amounts that are given to the people can help change lives and make them a little better.”

Top photo: Courtesy of the author

By Smirkingchimp

Kathy Kelly, USA 10/13/2017 0

Violence Spreads the Famine, and the Famine Will Spread Violence

The Sisters have embraced numerous projects to protect the environment, welcome refugees and nonviolently resist wars. I felt grateful to reconnect with people who so vigorously opposed any Irish support for U.S. military wars in Iraq. They had also campaigned to end the economic sanctions against Iraq, knowing that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children suffered and died for lack of food, medicine and clean water. This year, the Sisters asked me to first meet with local teenagers who would commemorate another time of starvation imposed by an imperial power.

Joe Murray, who heads Action from Ireland (Afri), arranged for a class from Dublin’s Beneavin De La Salle College to join an Irish historian in a field adjacent to the Dunshaughlin work house on the outskirts of Dublin.

Such workhouses dot the landscape of Ireland and England. In the mid-19th century, during the famine years, they were dreaded places. People who went there knew they were near the brink of death due to hunger, disease, and dire poverty. Ominously, behind the workhouse lay the graveyard.

The young men couldn’t help poking a bit of fun, at first; what in the world were they doing out in a field next to an imposing building, their feet already soaked in the wet grass as a light rain fell? They soon became quite attentive.

We learned that the Dunshaughlin workhouse had opened in May of 1841. It could accommodate 400 inmates. During the famine years, many hundreds of people were crowded in the stone building in dreadful conditions. An estimated one million people died during a famine that began because of blighted potato crops but became an “artificial famine” because Ireland’s British occupiers lacked the political will to justly distribute resources and food. Approximately one million Irish people who could no longer feed themselves and subsist on the land emigrated to places like the U.S.

But seeking refuge wasn’t an option for those who couldn’t afford the passage. Evicted by landowners, desperate people arrived at workhouses like the one we were visiting. Our guide read us the names of people from the surrounding area who had been buried in a mass grave behind the workhouse, their bodies unidentified. They were victims of what the Irish call “Greta Mor”—”The Great Hunger.”

It was recently, as I tried to better understand the migration of desperate and starving people now crossing from East Africa into Yemen, that I began to realize how great the hunger was. During that same period, in the latter half of the 19th century, there were 30 million people, possibly 50 million, dying of famine in northern China, India, Brazil and the Maghreb. The terrible suffering of these unknown people, whose plight never made it into the history books, was a sharp reminder to me of Western exceptionalism.

As researched and described in Mike Davis’s book, “The Late Victorian Holocaust,” El Nino and La Nina climate changes caused massive crop failures. What food could be harvested was often sent abroad. Railroad infrastructure could have been used to send food to people dying of hunger, but wealthier people chose to ignore the plight of the starving. The Great Hunger, fueled by bigotry and greed, had been greater than any of its victims knew. And now, few in the prosperous West are aware of the terror faced by people in South Sudan, Somalia, northeast Nigeria, northern Kenya and Yemen. Millions of people cannot feed themselves or find potable water.

Countries in Africa which the U.S. has helped destabilize, such as Somalia, are convulsed in fighting which exacerbates effects of drought and drives helpless civilians toward points of hoped for refuge. Many have chosen a path of escape through the famine-torn country of Yemen. The U.S. has been helping a Saudi-led coalition to blockade and bomb Yemen since March of 2015. Sudanese fighters aligned with Saudi Arabia have been taking over cities along the Yemeni coast, heading northward. People trying to escape famine find themselves trapped amid vicious air and ground attacks.

In March 2017, Stephen O’Brien, head of the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, traveled to Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Northern Kenya. Since that trip, he has repeatedly begged the U.N. Security Council to help end the fighting and prevent conflict-driven famine conditions. Regarding Yemen, he wrote in a July 12, 2017 statement to the U.N. Security Council, “Seven million people, including 2.3 million malnourished (500,000 severely malnourished) children under the age of five, are on the cusp of famine, vulnerable to disease and ultimately at risk of a slow and painful death. Nearly 16 million people do not have access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene, and more than 320,000 suspected cholera cases have been reported in all of the country’s governorates bar one.” This number has since risen to 850,000.

Ben Ehrenreich describes famine conditions along what the Israeli theorist Eyal Weizman calls the ‘conflict shoreline,’ an expanding band of climate change-induced desertification that stretches through the Sahel and across the African continent before leaping the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. He notes that this vast territory, once the site of fierce resistance to colonial incursions, is now paying the heaviest price, in disastrous climate conditions, for the wealth of the industrialized north. As the deserts spread south, ever more dire conflicts can be expected to erupt, causing more people to flee.

Of a drought-stricken area of Somaliland, Ehrenreich writes: “People were calling this drought sima, ‘the leveller,’ because it affected all of the clans stretching across Somaliland and into Ethiopia to the west and Kenya to the south.”

“The women’s stories were almost all the same,” writes Ehrenreich, “differing only in the age and number of children sick, the number of animals they had lost and the number that survived. Hodan Ismail had lost everything. She left her husband’s village to bring her children here, where her mother lived, ‘to save them,’ she said. ‘When I got there, I saw that she had nothing either.’ The river and streams, their usual source of drinking water, had gone dry and they had no option but to drink from a shallow well at the edge of town. The water was making all the children sick.”

In 1993, at the Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit,” delegates conveying the views of then-President George Bush Sr. voiced a refrain of the statement, “the American lifestyle is not up for negotiation.” U.S. demands of the summit incalculably restricted the changes to which it might have led. Representing President Bill Clinton six years later, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defended planned bombardment of Iraq, saying, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”

There is danger that must be recognized. The danger is real and the danger is spreading. Violence spreads the famine, and the famine will spread violence.

I find myself repulsed by assertions voicing U.S. exceptionalism, yet my own study and focus often omits histories and present realities which simply must be understood if we are to recognize the traumas our world faces. In relation to conflict-driven famines, it becomes even more imperative to resist the U.S. government’s allocation of $700 billion to the Department of Defense. In the U.S., our violence, and our delusions of being indispensable stem from accepting a belief that our “way of life” is non-negotiable.

Growing inequality, protected by menacing arsenals, paves a path to the graveyard: It is not a “way of life.” We still could acquire a great hunger: a transforming hunger to share justice with our planetary neighbors. We could shed familiar privileges and search for communal tools to preserve us from indifferent wealth and voracious imperial power. We could embrace the theme of the Irish sisters at their Feile Bride gathering: “Allow the Voice of the Suffering to Speak” and then choose action-based initiatives to share our abundance and lay aside, forever, the futility of war.

By Smirkingchimp