War is Not the Answer

Circleville Record Herald, October 30, 2008


Sitting in a moment of Quaker silence on the banks the Washita River this past January, I imagine the sounds of rifle fire, men, women , children screaming as they are killed efficiently by George Armstrong Custers’ 7th U.S. Cavalry at dawn on 27 November, 1868. Black Kettle’s band of Cheyenne, winter camped on land promised them by the Medicine Lodge treaty, was annihilated; their tepees, food, ponies were shot, destroyed, burned in a brutal total warfare strategy promulgated by General Phillip Sheridan. It is General Sheridan who allegedly said, “ The only good Indian I’ve ever seen was a dead Indian.”

A few lucky Cheyenne clung to reeds, hid under ice and snow in the freezing waters of the Washita; they lived to bear witness in accounts that survive today. A film rendition of the massacre is best known to the American public in the 1969 film “Little Big Man”.

In 1868 it was horses and rifles. In 1968 Vietnam it was Huey helicopters, napalm, B-52 carpet bombing and Agent Orange. In 2003’s “Shock and Awe” on Iraq it was the ironically named Tomahawk missiles, tanks, U.S. troops on pre-dawn raids on family homes, taking all men of military age into custody. An estimated 20,000 Iraqis remain imprisoned by U.S. forces, many guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, many tortured, many tortured to death. An estimated 100,000 to a million Iraqis are dead, millions more are refugees. Our government now demands the Iraqi government grant full immunity from prosecution for all U.S. troops stationed on permanent bases in Iraq

I asked the U.S. Park Service at the Washita visitor center why the site is still called the “Battle of the Washita” since history’s verdict is now clear, it was an unjustifiable massacre, planned by the violent and arrogant Sheridan and Custer. A “heroic” statue of General Sheridan in fact, stands an hour’s drive from Circleville, northeast on Route 22 in the center of Somerset, Ohio, the General’s birthplace. The Washita Visitor center staff must have agreed with me, they tell me they have asked that the site be renamed as the Washita Massacre, but Oklahoma state and U.S. politics have been unable to admit this truth, even 140 years later.

Pope John Paul II counseled our leaders very strongly against our pre-emptive invasion of Iraq: “It is a defeat for reason and for the Gospel… Man cannot march into war and assume God will be on his side.” Pope John Paul II further counseled: “When war, as in these days in Iraq threatens the fate of humanity it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society. Violence and war can never solve the problems of man.”

We were deaf to Pope John Paul’s pleadings, having lost our reason to fear and stirring self-righteous revenge after 9/11. This election season we can regain our reason. We need to recognize that the Vietnam and Iraq Wars were not noble or “winnable” adventures, but that peace and security flow from international co-operation, social and economic justice that will actually work to make the world, and us, safer. War is Not the Answer. Vote peace this November. However this will only be the start: work for peace and push whoever is elected in November to work for peace.

Brad Cotton

Circleville Friends Worship Group (Quakers)