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Chances are you’ve never heard of Waziristan or know that U.S. drones operate there.
But Daniel and Marie Riehl, an electric-car-driving, 80-something couple from Lititz are on a mission to change that.
On one level, they personify the modern day liberal parents from the 1980s TV show Family Ties who raised a Reagan-era, conservative teen played by Michael J. Fox.
On any given day you might find this retired physician and nurse duo protesting the U.S. government’s use of drones while their three children work professional jobs in Washington and New York City.
“Though they’re very supportive, I think (my children) think I may have gone overboard,” Daniel said with a laugh after plugging in his 2013 Nissan Leaf.
The couple’s other car, a 2006 Prius replete with bumper sticker shout-outs of perceived government abuse, is used to transport a 1:5 scale model of a Reaper drone.
“It’s a model of a remote-controlled drone used by the Air Force and CIA to launch missile strikes,” he said.
To draw attention to the drone strikes, the Riehls have brought the model Reaper drone to Lancaster six times.
It’s visited LancasterMennoniteHigh School, Manheim Township Library, and local churches including theirs at Pilgrims Mennonite and Akron Mennonite churches.
The model barley fits in the Prius, Daniel said. The front end points at the windshield while the fuselage bulges between the front seats.
“It took a bit of trial and error,” he said. “I had it the wrong way the first time we transported it and had trouble seeing over the top.”
While the Riehl’s demeanor is genuinely friendly, warm and easy going, their criticism of the U.S. government is earnest and undisguised.
The model – which is typically stored at the Delaware chapter of Pacem in Terris – represents “drones that have committed criminal acts in Waziristan, Yemen and Somalia,” Daniel said.
He suggests drones are much less precise than what people are led to believe.
The Riehls focus strongly on the region of Waziristan in northern Pakistan which Daniel said has been bombed for nine years by drones.
“We have killed many, many innocent children and civilians there,” he said.
He also questioned the effectiveness of drone strikes.
“I believe the amount of high-figure targets that we actually kill are less than two percent of all the people we kill. Some 4,000 Pakistanis have been killed in the last decade by drone attacks,” Daniel said.
Transforming from medical professional to activist was easy for the couple who met in the 1950s while attending EasternMennoniteUniversity in Virginia.
They were deeply moved by a documentary called the “Wounds of Waziristan” and a lecture by Bill Quigley, a law professor from LoyolaUniversity in New Orleans who challenges the legality of drone strikes.
“Often there’s a second drone that comes after the first (attack) which kills rescue workers, which is definitely a war crime,” said Daniel, who worked with the state public health department and later as a medical consultant for DuPont.
The Riehls admit they ignored politics and global events until retirement. Though Marie is reserved and hushed compared to her husband, she was the compelling force behind their “new-found” commitment to peace activism.
“I suggested he take a course offered free to retirees at West ChesterUniversity,” said Marie, who grew up in Little Britain Township.
Daniel, originally from Smoketown, said that suggestion “changed my life.”
Studying Latin American cultures, he focused on injustice and spoke of the CIA’s activities in Chile, U.S. support for brutal dictators decades ago, and broad human rights violations.
He was especially moved by Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero whom many consider a modern-day saint.
Romero, killed this week 34 years ago (March 24, 1980) while celebrating Mass, was a fervent voice against violence and publicly denounced the unfair economic conditions for the poor of El Salvador.
“There was a civil war going on at the time and Father Romero broadcast Mass on the radio,” Daniel said. “Soldiers who were listening to him say ‘Please put down your guns and stop killing your countryman’ shot him the following week at church.”
Romero’s devotion inspired the Riehls unwavering commitment to peace activism and nonviolence.
“If people get information, they might do something about stopping war,’ Daniel said.
The couple is seeking supporters to join members of the Akron and Pilgrims Mennonite churches to protest in Horsham this weekend.
Church members began protesting after the U.S. Air Force announced last March that the PA Air Guard’s 111th Fighter Wing – based at the Horsham Air Guard Station – would establish a remote-control drone war command center for MQ-9 Reaper drone strikes.
The group typically protests there with the Brandywine Peace Committee and other groups at the Horsham base on the last Saturday of the month.
Sue Glick has joined the Riehls, along with Carl Landis, David Harnish, Tina Mast, and Oliver and Maggie Harnish.
Glick said Daniel’s call to action for justice inspires her “to get involved and strengthen the voice that calls for peace and life-giving activities, instead of destruction.”
“He makes it more real by sharing names of those who have died in drone attacks,” Glick said.
The group will meet Saturday morning in the AkronMennoniteChurch parking lot by 10 a.m.
“We won’t be bringing the model drone in the Prius, it will already be there,” Daniel said. “So we’ll have extra room for passengers.”
For more information, contact Daniel at 519 2674, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; or H.A. Penner at email@example.com, or 859-3529.
Patrick Burns is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 721-4455.
Data varies wildly on drone strikes, especially among peace advocacy groups and government statistics.
For instance, Pakistan has reported that 67 civilians were among 2,227 people killed in 317 drone strikes since 2008.
Peace and Justice News, a newsletter published by Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite conferences, reported more than 4,700 “men, women and children have been killed by drones in countries (the U.S.) is not at war with.”
Daniel noted that a United Nations report released this month urged the U.S. to investigate drone strikes “in which there is a plausible indication that civilians were killed or sustained life-threatening injuries, or in which civilian lives were put at immediate risk.”