The following is a transcript of a speech given at an anti-war rally by Nicholas Neal, a student at SIU Carbondale and a leader in the Students Against Unjust War student organization on campus.
Greetings fellow activists! My name Is Nicholas R. Neal. I am the president of Students Against Unjust War. I’m here at this great gathering because the drone issue is very critical for the cause of peace. I happen to be twenty-two, and were I to unfortunately be killed by a drone in say some far off country, I would be labeled an “enemy combatant” regardless of whatever previous activity I was engaged in. This has been the practice of the Obama administration: to label any military-age male killed by a drone as an enemy combatant. If you add this to the shocking amount of civilian deaths—including children—the picture of our activity overseas looks rather grim.
Now there are some strategic disadvantages to this type of warfare, namely, the issue of blowback. Imagine if your child or sibling was found dead tomorrow. Imagine if your loved one had suffered a horrible death by explosives. Imagine if it had been carried out by, say, the Chinese, and imagine if there was a group of people offering you the chance to exact justice or vengeance—whatever you want to think of it as—on the country that killed your brother or your son. That is what motivates terrorism. Blowback is not merely some cynical thought-experiment cooked up by the “unpatriotic.” It is an theory established by the CIA and was offered as one of the key explanations for the September 11th attacks. Make no mistake: our actions overseas have dangerous consequences.
In addition to the strategic reason, there’s also a moral reason. I am not merely talking about the issue of citizen assassination, though that certainly is troubling. I am talking about an unstated assumption in the national dialogue on foreign policy: the assumption that our vague national interests outweigh the lives of foreigners. Such an assumption can be deduced from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s infamous statement that the half a million children starved to death in Iraq due to our sanctions, was “worth it.” Indeed the writing-off of the deaths of children by our use of drones reveals that same attitude that foreigners’ lives are expendable when they inconvenience our national interests.
That attitude needs to be rejected! Human life is sacred, regardless of the color of one’s skin or the borders one lives between. We understand that it is morally unacceptable for individuals to commit mass murder. The incident in Sandy Hook affirmed that. But the State is not above this moral law. Mass murder does not become legitimate when it’s called “foreign policy.” “National interests,” real or imaginary, are not enough to justify killing the innocent, whether accidental or purposeful, and the victims having different sounding names doesn’t mitigate the crime committed against them.
For those in the halls of power in Washington, I encourage them to rethink and reject this jingoistic attitude of foreign inferiority. I ask that they then substantiate that moral change with action, by drawing back our drone use across the world and traveling the path of diplomacy toward the ultimate goal of peace.
For those of us gathered here, I applaud you for taking the time to raise your voice against this injustice, and I encourage you rethink and reject other forms of societal violence that do not respect the sanctity of human life such as the homicide of those on death row, the homicide of children in the womb, the homicide of the elderly, and, of course, the homicide of foreigners. All these issues make up what Catholic Peace Activist Eileen Eagan called a “seamless garment” that should clothe our moral vision.
For a just world through a just peace. Thanks to all of you.