Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Pacifism

Pacifism
by Ted Miller
(originally published February 2020 in Tumbleweird)
I have always wanted to live in peace. Not just an absence of war in my own country, but peace among all people throughout the world.
I don’t like war; most people I know don’t. But war has been a part of human history since we first picked up a club and used violence as a way to resolve differences and maintain the power of one group over another. 
Throughout history, man has developed ever more powerful and efficient means to kill one another, often in bloody conquests to steal land and resources from those who couldn’t defend themselves; at other times to violently overthrow oppressive governments, or to stop the advancement of despots and autocratic regimes. 
There is evil in the world, and sometimes the violence of war is necessary, if not inevitable. Some wars are justified, aren’t they?
As the son of a military family, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, and a thirty-year veteran, I have always thought that a strong military was essential to ensuring peace. The ability and willingness to go to war when necessary was the price for our national security. That’s what I have always believed.
Until I met Chuck.
Chuck and I had become friends through a shared belief in the transformative power of music. We had worked together with a non-profit in outreach to our community and, as our friendship grew, we discovered we shared a common set of values. We were comfortable enough with each other to talk about anything. 
A few years ago, after reading one of my columns, Chuck asked to meet with me. Something I had written was bothering him and he wanted to talk about it. That conversation led to ongoing discussions on a wide range of topics, including my experience in the military. 
I learned early on that Chuck was a lifelong pacifist. As a teenager in high school, he had read an essay written in 1955 called “Speak Truth to Power, A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence.” Although he wasn’t raised as a Quaker, the powerful argument against violence presented in that paper changed his life. When his draft number came up for military service, Chuck declared himself to be a conscientious objector and entered Alternative Service, serving a poor Black community instead of going to war in the military.
“I was willing to die for my country,” he said, “but I wasn’t willing to kill for it.”
I can’t imagine that level of conviction as a teenager. I greatly admire Chuck’s unshakable commitment to pacifism and nonviolence. He has challenged me to question my assumptions about war and about peace. If I ever had more than a passing opinion about pacifists, it was that pacifism was overly idealistic and impractical. Pure pacifism couldn’t possibly be effective in every case, could it? Wasn’t violence the only practical response to a violent attack? Isn’t military might the only way to deter military aggression?
I wanted to better understand what had convinced Chuck so strongly, so I read “Speak Truth to Power” which you can find at quaker.org/legacy/sttp.html. To prepare to write this column, I also read papers by Veterans for Peace, searched for other articles about pacifism online, and discovered a blogger named Jonathan Wallace who posts at spectacle.org. In his essay “Violence is Never Justified,” Wallace makes the case that perhaps violence is sometimes necessary, but it is never justified (spectacle.org/1196/just.html).
In my very limited research, one of the points that I have come away with is this: If violence is sometimes justified, what criteria do we use to provide that justification? Where is the line between violence that is just and violence that is evil? Can we know in advance when violence is necessary, or can we only decide that violence was necessary after the fact when the results of that violent act can be evaluated? Who decides, the victor or the victim? Is the cost ever worth it?
Consider the costs of the so-called war on terror. The United States has been continuously at war in the Middle East for over 18 years. According to the Watson Institute at Brown University (watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/):
·      Over 801,000 people have died due to direct war violence, and several times as many indirectly
·      Over 335,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting
·      There are over 21 million war refugees and displaced persons
·      The US federal price tag for the post-9/11 wars is over $6.4 trillion dollars
·      Over 6,900 American service members have died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan
·      Hundreds of thousands more service members have been wounded or died indirectly, each with families directly affected
I’m not minimizing or ignoring the attack we experienced on September 11, 2001. That day will be forever etched in my memory. But is this continual war our only option? Are we safer today than we were before 9/11? Is the Middle East any more stable?
The pacifist reminds us there are other options.
Today, I re-read the speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave on December 11, 1964 after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, titled “The Quest for Peace and Justice.” He said:
I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.
In that speech Dr. King also said:
There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminated even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good. If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war.
Fifty-five years later, those words still ring true.
We can’t put an end to wars overnight, but I think we are much too quick to go to war in the first place. Most Americans agree that the war in Viet Nam was a mistake. The invasion of Iraq was justified with false information. We have yet to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan.  And the current administration is perilously close to war with Iran.
There are alternatives to war: diplomacy, negotiation, the rule of law, investments in peaceful initiatives to combat poverty, hunger, and corruption in other parts of the world. 
Dr. King said we have the capacity to eliminate poverty and hunger, to make war obsolete, and to live in world peace. He and Ghandi are some of the most notable pacifists who showed us by word and example that change can be achieved without violence. 
In our most recent conversation about pacifism, Chuck asked me a hypothetical question. 
“If you saw your grandmother being beaten, would that be a justification for violence?”
“Of course,” I said. “What choice would I have?”
“And why do you think that would be your only option?” he said.
I didn’t have an answer.

We should listen to the pacifists.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Philanthropy is a Terrible Way to Fight Poverty

Philanthropy is a Terrible Way to Fight Poverty
by Ted Miller
(originally published January 2020 in Tumbleweird)

The word philanthropy comes from combining the Greek philo, meaning love, and anthropo, meaning mankind or humanity. The dictionary says philanthropy is an “altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement.” But is it really our love for all humanity that motivates philanthropic giving?
Americans are notably generous. In 2018, we gave $427 billion to charity (source: nptrust.org). Charity is so much a part of our core values that we even incentivize charitable giving through federal tax deductions.
And a lot of good is done with that charity. Food banks, medical research, homeless shelters, animal welfare, the arts, religion—the list of charities is long and varied. In fact, there are over one and a half million charitable organizations in the United States.
Everyone has a favorite charity. Just scroll through your Facebook feed to see friends asking you to donate to some worthy organization for their birthday.
Most would say all of that philanthropic good should be celebrated, but I recently read an opinion piece that argued against philanthropy. 
Why would anyone be against charitable giving?
Philanthropy relies on the generosity of the wealthy who have the power to decide who is deserving of their charity, and who is not. As the rich amass wealth, they return a small portion to the less fortunate subject to their whim, not determined by the needs of others. Rich donors are celebrated for their largesse while actually doing very little to end poverty.
In spite of America’s generous giving, philanthropy does not feed the hungry, heal the sick, or house the homeless. Twelve percent of Americans live below the poverty line, and 18.5 million of them are in deep poverty with a household income of less than half the poverty threshold (source census.gov). Thirty million people still lack health insurance. One in eight Americans are food insecure. Half a million are homeless.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the wealthiest individual on the planet, recently was praised for donating $98.5 million to his own charity to help combat homelessness. That donation is less than one tenth of one percent of his net worth of $110 billion, a percentage that is insignificant to his wealth. And that donation will have very little impact on the rate of homelessness in America.
A few years ago, I was discussing the importance of the government social safety net with a friend who felt that the government isn’t the best way to provide welfare. 
“Too inefficient,” he said, “and I don’t trust the government deciding who gets my money.”
In my friend’s view, the church should take care of the poor, free from government interference. I asked him which church would be able to administer such a program. Who decides who gets what? In the Christian faith alone, there are hundreds of denominations, each with their own value system and interpretation of scripture. Churches can’t even agree on theology, let alone come together to administer a common program that would take care of the needy regardless of their faith or any other factor. How could any charity possibly be efficient in meeting the needs of the poor if it has to coordinate with a million other organizations, each with its own rules, priorities, and administrative overhead?
Government bureaucracy may get in the way of efficiency, but a government of the people is the best system we have to fairly reach every American. We already have programs in place that work. Social Security and Medicare were enacted specifically to ensure that every senior has a minimum pension and affordable access to medical care. Poverty among the elderly would be devastating without those programs.
Can we really afford to eliminate poverty altogether? 
In his article “How Much Money Would It Take to Eliminate Poverty in America?” Matt Bruenig estimated we could do so with less than $200 billion a year. That’s less than one percent of GDP (source: prospect.org).
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 will cost the federal government over $2 trillion in revenue over the next ten years, with the majority of benefits arguably going to corporations and the wealthy. We could have eliminated poverty in America with that amount.
Eliminating poverty actually would be something that reflected a love for humanity.
I’m not saying you should stop giving to charity. I’ll continue to donate to my favorite charities and try to make a difference in the things I care about. But I know that no matter how much I give, I can’t make a dent in the rate of poverty. To make a difference requires an effort on a national scale.
We produce enough food to feed the world. We have the means to take care of the sick. We have the ability to end poverty. 
If taking care of each other is truly an American value, we can afford to eliminate poverty with a tiny change in our spending priorities.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

We Don't Need a Superhero to Feed Our Kids

We Don't Need a Superhero to Feed Our Kids

by Ted Miller
(originally published December 2019 in Tumbleweird)

No child should go hungry. And yet in the wealthiest nation in the world, six million children don’t know where their next meal will come from (source: usda.gov). 

Childhood hunger is a perennial problem. The National School Lunch Act of 1946 and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 were enacted to help those in need, but 1 in 5 children today still go hungry.

Poverty and homelessness are a problem right here in our community. An unofficial survey recently noted that there are over 600 homeless children in the Tri-Cities. Many more live in poverty. Too many spend too many nights with empty stomachs.

We as a nation believe equal access to education is a fundamental American value, so public education is provided to all regardless of an ability to pay. We believe that an educated society is a better society, that education helps lift people up, that educated citizens make a better democracy. But when a child in school is hungry, they don’t really have an equal ability to learn. 

Last month, Kennewick City Council member and business owner Steve Lee paid off all student lunch debt for Kennewick and Columbia School Districts. Following a Facebook post and local media coverage, Richland City Council member Phil Lemley made a donation toward the lunch debt in the Richland School District. That inspired a group of Richland friends to band together to eliminate the debt for those most in need. Richland School Board candidate Jay Clough recently donated the balance of his campaign funds toward student lunch debt. The generosity is commendable and well appreciated.

In following this story locally, I discovered how much misinformation there is about student nutrition programs. I suppose I thought all kids in need qualified for free or reduced meals and that no child in our town ever had to go hungry, but I really didn’t know much about this issue at all.

I sat down with Richland School District Nutrition Services Director Dawn Trumbull and staff member Julie Soderquist to find out more. Here are a few things I learned:

-       The school nutrition program is funded separately from operating levies and other funds for education services
-       Federal and state funds provide some assistance through the free and reduced meal programs, other students have to pay for the meals they eat 
-       Of the 14,000 students in the Richland School District, 40% of them are in the free or reduced program
-       Six schools provide breakfast and lunch to all students because of the high percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches; at other schools, students must qualify on an individual basis
-       There are still many students who are unable to pay for reasons over which they have no control
-       No student is turned away because of a lack of ability to pay, but their account goes into debt
-       Washington State has a “no lunch shaming” policy, meaning students who can’t pay or whose accounts are in debt are not identified and receive the same meal as all other students
-       There is an ongoing total student lunch debt that is thousands of dollars 

So, what happens when a child’s account is in arrears and they need a lunch? 

Sometimes a teacher or principal will pay out of their own pocket. In Richland, we also have a community supported Superhero Lunch Fund to help out. 

Several years ago, local restaurant Hop Jacks (now Hops and Drops) wanted to donate a portion of their kid’s meals to school lunch programs. Combining that with other donations that periodically came in, the district created the Superhero Lunch Fund. Staff members are able to use Superhero funds to ensure every child receives a meal when they ask for it. In cases where the district determines the family is having difficulty and is unable to pay, the Superhero fund can be used to ease or eliminate that debt.

The recent donations inspired by Steve Lee and Phil Lemley were added to the Superhero fund. In addition to community members who have stepped up to help, other local businesses are pitching in. Tumbleweeds restaurant in Richland donates half of the sale of their new “cafeteria burrito” to the Superhero fund. Tommy’s Tap House and Bistro is now considering a program to help.

It is wonderful to see the community step up. But asking the community to fill in the need is only a temporary solution. 

I believe that every student should start and end the school day without being hungry. The federal school lunch programs enacted in 1946 and expanded in 1966 should again be expanded to cover all students. Meals should be part of the cost of education just like books, computers, classrooms, and qualified teachers. 

Last month, the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2019 was introduced in Congress (H. R. 4684 and S.2609). Critics say the cost is too expensive. But what is the cost to our children and our future when too many children attend school on an empty stomach?


We don’t need a superhero to solve the problem of childhood hunger, we just need to care enough to feed our children.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Veterans Day Speech 2019 - Richland High School


Veterans Day Speech 2019

Ted Miller – given to Richland High School students November 8, 2019

Ted Miller - Veteran Bio


Captain Ted Miller is a retired Navy veteran.  After attending high school in Florida, he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, earning a bachelor of science degree in physics along with his military studies.  He served for thirty years as a naval submarine officer, both on active duty and in the reserves.  He grew up in a Navy family and has traveled with the military around the world.  He lives with his family in Richland. 

= = = = = = = = =

Thank you Mr. Fryhling and Ms. Schoepflin for inviting me here today. It is an honor and a privilege to speak to you.

Monday is Veterans Day.  What does that mean to you?  A day off from school?  A chance to sleep in?  Hanging out with your friends?  Spend time with your family?  Catch up on your homework?

Why do we even have this holiday? 

A veteran is someone who has served in the military. 

How many of you have family members in the military?  A brother, sister, mother or father?  Please raise your hand. 

Remember to thank them.

Many veterans are this nation’s unsung heroes.  Their families and friends may have been the only ones who knew their names, who knew the sacrifices they made to serve our country.  Our veterans have missed the births of their children, wedding anniversaries and graduations.  They have spent holidays in soggy rice paddies in Vietnam, amid the stinging sands of the Iraqi desert, and in the cold and rugged mountains of Eastern Europe. 

And after they return home, too many of our veterans suffer from homelessness, physical disabilities, PTSD, and just getting their life back after serving in the military.

Abraham Lincoln made a promise to veterans in his second inaugural address in 1865 when he said that America would “…care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan.”  Today we must continue to take care of our veterans.

We celebrate Veterans Day on November 11th because that was the day, one-hundred-one years ago, that the cease fire took effect to end what was called the Great War.  At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918.  Nine million civilians and eleven million combatants died in that war, one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.  It was thought to be the war that ended all wars.  November 11th was called Armistice Day because the word “armistice” means a truce, a mutual agreement to stop fighting. Many people thought we were entering an era of enduring peace.

But today we call that war World War One because it was NOT the last war.  Just two decades later we were engaged in another global conflict, World War II.  And the United States has been involved in at least ten conflicts since then, including the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Iraq War, and the current war in Afghanistan.  Do you know that we have been at war in Afghanistan since before any of you now in high school were born?

Why do we go to war?  It isn’t because we don’t want peace.  Every veteran, every member of the military would rather serve in a time of peace than a time of war.  I served for thirty years in the military, and I long for the day when the world is at peace.  I believe that we should always work hardest resolve our differences through diplomacy, negotiation, and international agreements. But sometimes those who want to do us harm leave us with no options other than military force. Sometimes, to defend this great country of ours, we must send our soldiers and sailors in to battle.  Even when we are not in a time of war, our military men and women are on the job, 24/7, maintaining their readiness, ever vigilant, at sea and in countries around the world, ensuring you and your families will continue to have the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.

Some of our veterans have been injured or killed defending our freedom.  Let me give you a few examples of what that is like.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy for an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. It is not given lightly.  In fact there are only 70 living recipients, from the few remaining who served in World War 2 to the few awarded for the war in Afghanistan.  Let me tell you about two of them.

Navy corpsman Donald Ballard was serving with the 3rd Marine Division in Viet Nam.  As a corpsman, his job was to take care of the marines in his unit.  He was their medical guy. In 1968, he was rendering aid to several wounded marines under heavy enemy fire.  As he prepared to have the men medically evacuated, a grenade struck his helmet, bounced off, and landed beside him.

Without hesitation, Mr. Ballard bravely jumped on top of the grenade to shield his fellow Marines from the impending blast.

The grenade, however, did not explode.

Unharmed, Mr. Ballard threw the grenade back into the jungle, where it detonated.  After a moment of what must have been shock and disbelief, he continued his work treating the wounded, saving the lives of his buddies as their “doc”.

You may call it lucky that the grenade didn’t explode, but Mr. Ballard wasn’t thinking about that at the time.  His only thought was to save his fellow soldiers, a selfless act that likely could have cost him his life.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1970, and in the humility often expressed by Medal of Honor recipients, he said, “It’s harder to wear the medal than to earn it.”  What he means by that is that he didn’t do it for the medal or the recognition.  He doesn’t gloat or bask in the glory of his medal.  He did it to save others.  To protect them.  To protect us.

The youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor is Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter, USMC.  He just turned 30 last month.  And he was just a few years older than you are now when he was serving in Afghanistan.

On November 21, 2010, he and a fellow marine were manning a rooftop security position in a small village in Helmand Province, Afghanistan when the Taliban enemy initiated a daylight attack with hand grenades, one of which landed inside their sandbagged position.  Without hesitation, and with complete disregard for his own safety, Lance Corporal Carpenter moved toward the grenade in an attempt to shield his fellow marine from the deadly white-hot blast.  When the grenade detonated, his body absorbed the brunt of the blast, severely wounding him and saving the life of his fellow marine.

He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in June 2014.

Lance Corporal Carpenter’s injuries left him badly scarred, blind in one eye, and required over thirty surgeries.  But his can-do attitude and positive spirit have been an example for others.  After he left the military, he went back to school and graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2017.

What do these two stories have in common?  Well, they are both about a guy using his body to protect their fellow marine from a grenade blast.

In that split second decision, each one of them was prepared to give their life for their fellow soldier.  Not only that, they were prepared to give their lives as part of something bigger than themselves.  As part of their duty to defend their country.  They weren’t thinking about politics, or why they were at war.  They were only in the moment doing their duty, reacting to the situation, prepared to give everything.

Most veterans aren’t faced with such a life threatening decision, but they all have prepared themselves to do so. It is those little moments of sacrifice that our veterans give without thinking that make them so important to us as a nation.

Have you ever thought about what it means to be in the military?  We often think of all the military hardware.  The fast jets, the ships, submarines, tanks, helicopters, missiles and guns. But the hardware is just the tool. It’s the people who make the military. People who care for their country.

Every person in the military takes an oath.  On the day I was commissioned, I raised my right and said “I solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

I swore allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.  Loyalty to an idea that embodies the ideals of individual freedom and democracy.  We don’t swear allegiance to a person, to a political party, or to a government individual.  No, every veteran swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. A document that is the foundation of our government. A government that is, as Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address, “of the people, by the people, and for the people” of the United States.  I am proud and honored to have served in defense of that constitution.

Less than ten percent of our population are veterans, and only about one percent are currently serving in the military.  In today’s military, they are all volunteers.  We owe those volunteers for the sacrifices they make day in and day out to ensure we can go to school and get an education, that we can openly and freely discuss and debate ideas and the best policies for our future, that we can feel protected and safe in our communities, that our government and our economy will be stable, no matter who is elected as our congressman, our senators, even our president.  Because our government is embodied in law and in the Constitution.

You hear the phrase “it’s a free country” thrown around casually.  But if you’ve traveled the world as I have, you know that that freedom isn’t free.  Father Denis O’Brien, who was a chaplain in the Marine Corps, said:

“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.  It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.  It is the soldier, not the organizer, who gave us the freedom to demonstrate.  It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.”

Those are your first amendment rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, and guaranteed by the veteran.

You know, for me, the Navy has always been a part of my life.  My mother and father were both in the Navy.  I was born in a Navy hospital, moved all over the world as I was growing up, went to the U.S. Naval Academy right out of high school, and then spent 14 years going to sea on submarines and 16 more years as a Navy reserve officer.  But I wanted to be a part of the Navy for something more.  A sense of patriotism.  I wanted to serve my country and help to make the world a better place.

Our country isn’t perfect, our leaders often make mistakes and I don’t always agree with the policies of those in power.  But I believe in what this country stands for and I believe that we are still the best hope for this world in which we live.  I believe that I have been able to play some small role in defending this country, doing my best to be prepared to defend it at all costs.  And I believe every minute has been worth it for my children and their children, and for all of my fellow citizens.  And so that every American will have a choice to make a difference in the way they see best.  And that YOU can make a choice to make a difference.  

That’s what’s so great about this country.  If you disagree or have a better idea, nothing is stopping you from making a difference.  Thank a veteran for being willing to lay down his or her life to protect that freedom for you.  Take your role as a citizen seriously.  And when you turn 18, register to vote and exercise that vote.  In the election last week less than a third of registered voters bothered to cast their ballots.  Less than a third!  How can you thank a veteran?  Use your voice to make this country a better place for all.  Get involved.  Keep this democracy alive and moving forward.  Make the world a better place, work towards world peace.  Work towards the time we won’t have to send our men and women to war.  But until that day, be thankful that those before you have sacrificed so much for you. 

I’ve often felt at a loss for how to respond when someone says “Thank you for your service” after learning that I’m a veteran.  I don’t feel special for doing what I thought was right. I don’t feel any more important that the firefighter or police officer who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. But I recently learned something from General Jim Mattis, a veteran from right here in Richland who recently served as the Secretary of Defense. When someone thanks him for his service, he says “You are worth it.”

 

So let me say to each and every one of you, on behalf of all veterans, you are worth it.

I hope I have given you a few things to think about.  It has truly been an honor for me to be called a veteran and to share with you what that means to me. Thank you.