Decry the Merchants of Death: Peace Activists Take on the Pentagon and its “Corporate Outposts.”

By Kathy Kelly, World BEYOND War, December 31, 2022

Days after a U.S. warplane bombed a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing forty-two people, twenty-four of them patients, the international president of MSF, Dr. Joanne Liu walked through the wreckage and prepared to deliver condolences to family members of those who had been killed. A brief video, taped in October, 2015, captures her nearly unutterable sadness as she speaks about a family who, the day before the bombing, had been prepared to bring their daughter home. Doctors had helped the young girl recover, but because war was raging outside the hospital, administrators recommended that the family come the next day. “She’s safer here,” they said.

The child was among those killed by the U.S. attacks, which recurred at fifteen minute intervals, for an hour and a half, even though MSF had already issued desperate pleas begging the United States and NATO forces to stop bombing the hospital.

Dr. Liu’s sad observations seemed to echo in the words of Pope Francis lamenting war’s afflictions. “We live with this diabolic pattern of killing one another out of the desire for power, the desire for security, the desire for many things. But I think of the hidden wars, those no one sees, that are far away from us,” he said. “People speak about peace. The United Nations has done everything possible, but they have not succeeded.” The tireless struggles of numerous world leaders, like Pope Francis and Dr. Joanne Liu, to stop the patterns of war were embraced vigorously by Phil Berrigan, a prophet of our time.

“Meet me at the Pentagon!” Phil Berrigan used to say as he urged his companions to protest Pentagon spending on weapons and wars. “Oppose any and all wars,” Phil urged. “There has never been a just war.”

“Don’t get tired!” he added, and then quoted a Buddhist proverb, “I will not kill, but I will prevent others from killing.”

In stark contrast to Berrigan’s determination to prevent killing, the U.S. Congress recently passed a bill which will commit more than half of the U.S. budget to military expenditures. As Norman Stockwell notes, “The bill contains nearly $1.7 trillion of funding for FY2023, but of that money, $858 billion is earmarked for the military (“defense spending”) and an additional $45 billion in “emergency assistance to Ukraine and our NATO allies.” This means that more than half ($900 billion out of $1.7 trillion) is not being used for “non-defense discretionary programs”—and even that lesser portion includes $118.7 billion for funding of the Veterans Administration, another military-related expense.”

By depleting funds desperately needed to meet human needs, the U.S. “defense” budget doesn’t defend people from pandemics, ecological collapse, and infrastructure decay. Instead it continues a deranged investment in militarism.  Phil Berrigan’s prophetic intransigency, resisting all wars and weapon manufacturing, is needed now more than ever.

Drawing on Phil Berrigan’s steadfastness, activists worldwide are planning the Merchants of Death War Crimes Tribunal. The Tribunal, to be held November 10 – 13, 2023, intends to present evidence about crimes against humanity committed by those who develop, store, sell and use weapons used to afflict people trapped in war zones. Testimony is being sought from the survivors of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, and Somalia, to name but a few of the places where U.S. weapons have terrified people who’ve meant us no harm.

On November 10, 2022, organizers of the Merchants of Death War Crimes Tribunal and their supporters served a “Subpoena” to the corporate offices and corporate directors of weapons manufacturers Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and General Atomics. The subpoena, which will expire on February 10, 2023, compels them to provide to the Tribunal all documents revealing their complicity in aiding and abetting the United States government to commit War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, Bribery, and Theft.

Organizers of the campaign will continue monthly pre-Tribunal actions exposing allegations of war crimes committed by weapon manufacturers. Campaigners are guided by the ringing testimony of Dr. Cornel West:. “We render you, corporations obsessed with war profiteering, accountable,” he declared, “answerable!”  

In his lifetime, Phil Berrigan evolved from soldier to scholar to prophetic anti-nuclear activist. He astutely linked racial oppression to the suffering caused by militarism. Likening racial injustice to a terrible hydra that contrives a new face for every area of the world, Phil wrote that the dispassionate decision of U.S. people to practice racial discrimination made it “not only easy but logical to enlarge our oppressions in  the form of international nuclear threats.” (No More Strangers, 1965)

People menaced by the hydra’s new faces of war often have nowhere to flee, nowhere to hide. Thousands upon thousands of the victims are children.

Mindful of the children who’ve been maimed, traumatized, displaced, orphaned and killed by wars raging in our lifetimes, we must hold ourselves accountable as well. Phil Berrigan’s challenge must become ours:  “Meet me at the Pentagon!” Or its corporate outposts.

Humanity literally cannot live in complicity with the patterns that lead to bombing hospitals and slaughtering children.

Kathy Kelly is President of World BEYOND War.

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