In early December, internationally known peace activist Medea Benjamin visited Fresno State on her book tour to deliver an informative and timely talk focused on peace titled “Ukraine War and the Nuclear Threat.”
“I wish I didn’t have to be here today to speak on this subject,” she solemnly greeted the crowd of students, staff and community members at the Grosse Industrial Tech Building.
Looking across the room filled with anti-war posters, she declared: “It’s about time we end all the damn wars we have around the world.
“When I see your signs, ‘No to Nukes,’ it’s a reminder that, basically, people around the world have said ‘no’ to nukes—that’s why we have a treaty at the United Nations that bans nuclear weapons—and the only thing missing from that treaty is the nuclear weapons states to agree to it.”
She asked the group why that’s so and quickly responded, “It’s a huge business—a huge business.”
Benjamin’s assertion was poignant and timely as the U.S. military had just that morning unveiled its newest aircraft, the B-21 Raider, a nuclear bomber with the hefty price tag of $700 million—each. Benjamin reminded everyone that the aircraft was paid for by us, the taxpayers.
“For those of you who are students here in this room, we’re robbing your future when we allow our government to be doing things like this.”
Discussing the greedy financial incentives of war in Ukraine, its related enormous energy consumption and huge carbon output, and, of course, the horrible carnage and mass casualties, she said, “We understand that some people may disagree with the analysis of this conflict, but hopefully we can all agree that we must do whatever we can to bring this war to an end.”
Benjamin called on the media to promote the voice of peacemakers and encouraged faith leaders to stand up and be vocal for peace.
“We must act now to say ‘stop the bloodshed,’ ‘stop the bombing,’ ‘stop the madness,’” she urged. “We must work together to demand a ceasefire and negotiations, not world war.”
Who could disagree with such a passionate plea for peace? Surprisingly, one in the crowd did.
A woman in the back interrupted Benjamin, shouting “Propaganda!” and trying to drown out Benjamin’s voice. The woman got on stage, momentarily taking over the program. She directly addressed the audience with a lot of back-and-forth yelling from the crowd until she went silent and abruptly left.
Nevertheless, Benjamin was graceful and kind and even allowed the heckler to speak—demonstrating Benjamin’s authentic commitment to peace and dialogue. Without maligning the heckler, Benjamin told her that she was glad she was there and looked forward to a discussion after the talk.
“We have different points of view, and we have to respect these points of view,” Benjamin said.
A peaceworker but not a pushover, Benjamin made clear her disdain for NATO. “I have been opposed to NATO since way before this war began.
“I have been part of a group called No to NATO that has European allies in it that say, ‘We don’t want to spend our money on militarization…we want to live in peace and cooperation with all the world, including Russia, including China…we want to find ways to negotiate and solve problems—we know that war is not the answer.’”
Benjamin underscored her point: “NATO is a dangerous militarist organization that has put its sights on weakening Russia because it really wants to go after China.” Benjamin sees the threat of NATO as a contributing factor to Russia’s current aggression in Ukraine.
She didn’t mince words about the United States and its allies.
“We in the U.S. are the biggest purveyor of violence in the world,” she said, echoing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “And what we have to do is stop the militarization of our country and Western military alliances that cause conflicts around the world.”
The threat of a nuclear war is real, Benjamin noted. And it must be avoided at all costs. She repeated what JFK said after the 1962 missile crisis: “When you’re in a war with a nuclear power, never put your adversary in a position where they either face a humiliating retreat or the use of a nuclear weapon.”
“That’s where we are at this point,” she soberly told the crowd.
“We need to find a way to end the wars because it is ‘hurting our people’—that’s what the world is saying. For the majority of people in the world, what they’re saying is this war is hurting all of us,” Benjamin explained.
“End the damn war! Get to the negotiating table, find a solution,” she pleaded.
“Put the line in the Donbas wherever it’s going to be, and then let’s send in peacekeepers to keep the peace.”
Benjamin’s appearance was sponsored by Peace Fresno, which is dedicated to peace across the globe; Dr. Matthew Jendian, director of the Humanics Program at Fresno State; and several departments at Fresno State.
Coordinating the event was Dan Yaseen, a longtime Peace Fresno member, an anti-war and anti-empire activist, and host of Speaking Truth to Power on KFCF 88.1 FM. Yaseen had interviewed Benjamin on his October show and discussed her new book, War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict.
Jendian concluded the event with hopeful words: “We need each other to see ourselves. No one of us can look from the outside onto ourselves. It’s through dialogue and discussion we’ll come to the end of the war in Ukraine.”
Get involved locally with the international peace movement through Peace Fresno. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.