The Launch Ceremony for Women Against War’s Ground the Drones Project: October 20, 2014
Opening Statement by Maureen Baillargeon Aumand
We stand here once again, members of Women Against War, this time surrounded by names.
A person’s name: a fragile vessel of letters and sounds, charged with carrying the precious, unique and mysterious reality which is each individual human who comes to dwell upon this singular, vulnerable planet.
An individual human being wherever born: in life, warm, breathing pulsing: hoping, dreaming, seeking after love, giving love and embrace, resplendent in uniqueness and promise, laughter and tears, joy and pain, always and everywhere precious, irreplaceable, full of possibility.
Each name, surrounding us today, sounding a sister or brother to each of us in our own precious, singular coming to be at this moment in time, in place, in our common humanity.
….Said,…. Mohammod, …Mullah,…. Naveed, ….Nawab,…. Malik, ….Saira, ….Mamana Bibi…
But the names which surround us today in each square of each quilt: are the names of women, children, grandmothers, elders, farmers, teachers…our sisters and brothers in life…whose own life force was snuffed out in an instant from on high….leaving only a name and tears and memory in the wake of burned, charred, dismembered flesh, no longer warm with the mystery of pulsing life, left cold, dead forever to embrace.
For they were, each and all ,victims of recent drone strikes, unmanned aerial vehicle strikes , sanctioned and conducted ( though most often un acknowledged) by our own government and thus in our name.
And for this reason, we must stand.
It is incumbent upon us who pay for these terror inducing unmanned weaponized aerial vehicles and their operation, flown over the blue skies of other people’s lands, other people’s homes, but piloted by fellow citizens from nearby Hancock Air Base in Syracuse as well as other bases around the US , it is imperative to ask:
Why did all of these innocents whose names surround us , who by all evidence were not” bad guys”, ” terrorists” or in the psyche defending awful, parlance of some drone pilots” bug splat” come to find themselves trapped in the sites of a drone which they could not see ….which they, in rightful terror though could perhaps hear, hear for days hovering, menacing, as they went about their ordinary lives, but which they could not flee…why did they die?
We must ask: why are we continuing to invest billions of dollars , fortunes , now unavailable for health care, education, infrastructure development, invest in technologies of death and destruction which signal a commitment to endless war rather than a commitment to seek peace and work towards global coexistence and sustainability.
Who and what drives these choices? Is it mere coincidence that the ” unmanned Aerial Vehicle” Congressional caucus which feeds the information and thus decisions of policy makers, is led by some of the biggest recipients of drone makers largesse? Did the victims who surround us die so that a few could remain in positions of power and a few could continue to amass great profit?
Did the argument which these very names give lie to, that drones make for sterile, antiseptic, precise targeting, and most of all save American lives while eliminating only the ” enemy”, did this misperception lead to their deaths? Did these innocents die at the hands of the political calculation, behind a technology developed so that American citizens will continue to turn a blind eye to our nation’s waging of an endless war because after all our children aren’t dying?
We must also ask how we as a nation, whose very bedrock is the ” rule of law”, laud, employ, continue to defend, develop and expand the weaponized drone program which is premised on the perverse and inherently immoral, illegal and dangerous principles of preemptive war, extrajudicial execution, signature (that is murder by profiling) strikes, and non respect of basic human rights including territoriality?
Did those whose memory surrounds us die, because we as a nation have lost our moral compass in our now more than a decade long embrace of a politic of fear, become in our blind pursuit of ” national security” a nation who is married above all to the principle that ” might makes right” and thus to a blind corner and a dead end?
Why would we employ a technology which objective researchers, policy and military analysts, scholars who look carefully tell us creates greater insecurity and which achieves the opposite effect than what we purport to be seeking: the elimination of “global terror”?
Let me sound the list of these reports.
Human Rights Watch: The Civilian Costs Of US Drone Strikes in Yemen”
The UN Special Rapporteur Report on Counter-terrorism and Drones
Amnesty International’s: Will I Be Next?
The exhaustive Stanford University/NYU Law School Report: “Living Under Drones”
And most recently….
The Stimson Center’s Task Force on Drones ( led by former NATO commander , ret. General John P. Abizaid )
All of these reports speak to the issues of the moral and legal implications of the US use of drones and all conclude that this policy choice is making the world a much more dangerous place, feeding rage and thus paving the way for a cycle of endless terror, endless war, endless ISIS rebirths.
Did those who these quilts remember, lose their lives because strangers, a world away , allowed their government to endanger all out of a fed, inculcated, managed fear induced, terrorism inducing, blindness?
The history of the first use of unmanned aerial weaponry contains a cautionary tale:
In 1849, the Austrian Empire was trying to subdue the rebellious city state of Venice. A young officer came up with what was perceived as a brilliant tactic for striking mayhem and terror into the heart of the Viennese rebels: bomb and shrapnel laden balloons floated and then detonated over the homes of the enemy.
Unfortunately, for the Austrians who were launching these perfidious weapons, the winds blew the weaponized balloons back over the besiegers lines…and the mayhem and death came home to roost.
As drones become internationally ubiquitous, are these names foreshadowing our own, our children’s future?
So, we stand once again in solidarity: Women Against War and longing for Peace.
As citizens we have an obligation to stand here and raise these questions for our now voiceless sisters and brothers named around us….in solidarity we are impelled by the following imperative sounded so powerfully decades ago by the great voice for peace Doctor ML King who reminded us in speaking about an earlier US will to war that :
“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co annihilation. ….We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”
I invite us all to reflect on these questions as we embrace the memory of those whose names surround.
The Women Against War “Ground the Drones” project which the quilts you see here today are part of, involves bringing these quilts designed and created by folks from around the country for a National Veterans for Peace initiative to the Capital District. They will be exhibited and form the backdrop for discussion here at the LOB and the Concourse for the next week, at the Chapel and Cultural Center at Rensselaer to follow next week and finally at the Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary at the College of St. Rose. Specific dates and information about these venues is contained in the project brochure.
Additionally, Women Against War is serving as the producer of a play which is being directed by Leigh Strimbeck from the Theater Institute at Russell Sage College in Troy. The play GROUNDED by American award winning playwright George Brant has been mounted internationally to rave reviews. It follows the emotional trajectory of a woman fighter pilot who becomes a drone pilot. Details about the five public performances of GROUNDED are also in the project brochure.
We encourage you to take a look at that and thank you for coming.
We are happy to respond to questions as best we can.