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Peace in the Pentagon

10:22 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Peace Baby!!!

Peace

I’m a huge fan of peace studies as an academic discipline that should be spread into every corner of what we call, with sometimes unclear justification, our education system.  But often peace studies, like other disciplines, manages to study only those far from home, and to study them with a certain bias.

I recently read a book promoting the sophisticated skills of trained negotiators and suggesting that if such people, conversant in the ways of emotional understanding, would take over the Palestine “peace process” from the aging politicians, then … well, basically, then Palestinians would agree to surrender their land and rights without so much fuss.  Great truths about negotiation skills only go so far if the goal of the negotiation is injustice based on misunderstanding of the facts on the ground.

I recently read another book discussing nonviolent resistance to injustice and brutality. It focused on a handful of stories of how peace was brought to various poor tribes and nations, usually through careful, respectful, and personal approaches, that appeased some tyrant’s ego while moving him toward empathy.  These books are valuable, and it is good that they are proliferating.  But they always leave me wondering whether the biggest war-maker on earth is left out because war isn’t war when Westerners do it, or is it, rather, because the military industrial complex requires a different approach.  How many decades has it been since a U.S. president sat down and listened to opponents of militarism?  Does the impossibility of such a thing remove it from our professors’ consideration?

Here in Virginia’s Fifth District, a bunch of us met with our then-Congressman Tom Perriello a few years back and sought respectfully and persuasively to bring him to oppose and stop funding the war on Afghanistan.  Perriello was and is, in some quarters, considered some sort of “progressive” hero. I’ve never understood why.  He did not listen.  Why?  We had majority opinion with us.  Was it because we lacked the skills?  Was it because of his sincere belief in so-called humanitarian wars?  Or was it something else?  The New York Times on Friday reported on the corruption of the organization where Perriello was hired immediately upon his electoral defeat.  The Center for American Progress takes funding from weapons companies and supports greater public funding of weapons companies.  The Democratic National Committee gave Perriello’s reelection campaign a bunch of money just after one of his votes for a bill containing war money and a bank bailout (he seemed to oppose the latter).  White House officials and cabinet secretaries did public events with Perriello in his district just after his vote.

I know another member of Congress who wants to end wars and cut military spending, but when I ask this member’s staff to stop talking about social safety net cuts as if they only hurt veterans rather than all people I can’t even make my concern — that of glorifying veterans as more valuable — understood.  It’s like talking to a brick military base.

My friend David Hartsough was one, among others, who spoke with President John Kennedy when he was President, urged him toward peace and believed he listened.  That didn’t work out well for President Kennedy, or for peace.  When Gorbachev was ready to move the Soviet Union toward peace, President Ronald Reagan wasn’t.  Was that because of sincere, well-meaning, if misguided notions of security?  Or was it senility, stupidity, and stubbornness?  Or was it something else?  Was it a system that wouldn’t allow it?  Was something more than personal persuasion on the substance of the matter needed?  Was a new way of funding elections and communicating campaign slogans required first?  Would peace studies have to revise its approach if it noticed the existence of the Pentagon?

Of course, I think the answer is some of each.  I think reducing military spending a little will allow us to be heard a little more clearly, which will allow us to reduce military spending a little further, and so on.  And part of the reason why I think it’s both and not purely “structural” is the opposition to war that brews up within the U.S. military — as it did on missile strikes for Syria this past summer.  Sometimes members of the military oppose, protest, or even resist wars.
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How to Criticize the Israeli Government

10:40 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

The other day I tweeted an article that reported on a rather horrible story.  It seems that the Israeli government gives African women drugs that keep them from reproducing.

Cover of Our Hash Logic

Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies from the Occupied Territories 2000-2010

I think if this story had been about Canada, Korea, France, or Brazil people would have read it.  The conversation would not have immediately shifted to my alleged hatred of all Canadians.

Since it was about Israel, some people chose to announce that I hated Jews.  Such a response is not only baseless and nonsensical, but it shifts attention to me and away from the story, which in the end isn’t seen.

Now, I don’t know any more about that story than what I’ve read at that website (the website of a Jewish organization, as it happens).  The report may be accurate or not.  Israeli newspapers seem to report it as fully established, neither doubted nor challenged.  The story at least seems to merit investigation.  The point is that nobody told me it was inaccurate (news that would have delighted me).  Instead, they told me that I was anti-Semitic.

This happens with the United States too, of course.  If I criticize the U.S. government a few thousand times, and if the president is a Republican, I’ll hear from some disturbed individual who wants to recommend that I leave the country since I hate it so much.  Why one would try so hard to reform the government of a country he hated is never really explained.

With Israel, such nonsense is triggered much more swiftly.  I haven’t made a career of trying to reform Israel’s government.  All I had to do was tweet a link to an article.  Those who have gone to greater lengths to criticize the crimes of the government of Israel have, in some cases, seen themselves censored, vilified, and their careers derailed.  Many persevere despite this climate.

There is, however, a way to speak openly and honestly about Israel.  Not everyone can do it.  The trick is to be a veteran of the Israeli military.  This approach helps people whose “service” was years ago.  And it helps those whose memories of what they did “for their country” are very fresh.  Not only does such status shield one from a great deal of criticism, but it provides a substantive advantage in being able to report first-hand on what the Israeli military has been doing.  Just as Veterans For Peace are able to speak with some legitimate authority in the United States against the use of war (see Winter Soldier now if you haven’t), members of the Israeli military, and those who recently were Israeli soldiers, command attention.

A new book called Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the Occupied Territories 2000-2010, collects the accounts of numerous Israeli soldiers, although withholding their names.  Videos of some of the soldiers telling their stories can be seen online.  The online database sorts the stories into categories: › AbuseAssassinationsBriberyCheckpointsConfirmation of killingCurfews/closuresDeathsDestruction of propertyHuman shieldsHumiliationLootingLoss of livelihoodRoutineRules of engagementSettlementsSettler violence.

“Supporting the troops” is usually understood to exclude listening to the troops.  But these troops should be listened to.  Their experiences are very similar to those of the U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq.  But their war has lasted much, much longer, and with no end in sight.  Their testimonies make clear that their tactics do not serve the supposed purpose of reducing violence, and are in fact not intended to do any such thing.  The bizarre ordeals imposed on the soldiers outdo Kafka and pale in comparison to the nightmares imposed on Palestinians.  The driving forces are quite clearly racism, sadism, imperialism, and excessive obedience.

A very few of the many samples I was tempted to provide:

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Veterans to Stand Firm as Afghan War Enters Year 12

1:00 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Day 12 Occupy Wall Street September 28 2011 Shankbone 32

(Photo: David Shankbone/flickr)

Dedicated and disciplined nonviolent activists, and in particular military veterans, are being openly invited to join members of Veterans For Peace in a peaceful vigil in New York City that will as likely as not result in their wrongful arrest and prosecution.

The time will be 6 p.m. on October 7, 2012, as the United States and NATO complete the eleventh year of the current occupation of Afghanistan and launch the twelfth.  The crowd at the Republican National Convention cheered for complete immediate withdrawal, but the nominee’s plans don’t include it.  The crowds at rallies for President Obama’s reelection cheer for both the continuation of the war and its supposed status as “ending,” even though the timetable for that “ending” is longer than most past wars, and a massive occupation is supposed to remain after the occupation “ends.”  Veterans For Peace, an organization dedicated to the abolition of war, is hoping to inject a discordant note into this happy discourse — something that the ongoing reports of deaths just don’t seem to manage.

The place will be Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza, 55 Water Street, New York City.  It was there that some of the same veterans gathering this October were arrested last May First.  The memorial is normally open around the clock, but on that day the New York Police Department decided to close it at 10 p.m. in order to evict the Occupy Movement’s nonviolent general assembly.  Eight members of the Veterans Peace Team and two members of Occupy Faith were arrested for refusing to leave.  Since that day, a small metal sign has been posted at the park stating that it closes at 10 p.m.  This October 7th, the veterans have a permit for sound equipment lasting until 10 p.m., but they intend to remain overnight.

Vietnam vet Paul Appell says, “War veterans, loved ones of the fallen, and certainly those living in war zones do not have the option of closing down their memories at 10 p.m. There is a good reason why suicide is an attractive option for many. It is truly the only sure way of ending the memories. For a memorial to shut down at some convenient time for the city is an insult to all those who do not have the luxury of shutting down their war memories at a specific time. I know that many want us war vets to go out of sight and not bother them, except when we are needed for some parade. Some of us are not going away at 10 p.m. or any other time. If they do not like it, maybe they should have thought of that before they sent us to war.

Tarak Kauff, U.S. Army, 1959-1962, and one of the organizers of VFP’s Veterans Peace Team, says, “We will be there standing together and getting arrested again if necessary for our right to remember the fallen, to oppose and ‘abolish war as an instrument of national policy’ and to affirm our right to do so in a public place of remembrance that has great meaning for all veterans.”

The plan is not for a mass demonstration.  In fact, many are explicitly not invited.  Non-veterans are enthusiastically welcome, including associate members of Veterans For Peace and anyone else dedicated to ending violence in the world.  But “diversity of tactics” is unapologetically rejected.  Anyone inclined toward violence, provocation, or threats, including violence to inanimate objects, is kindly asked on this day, to respect the Memorial, the veterans, and the commitment to nonviolence.  This event will involve hundreds of activists who intend to peacefully vigil all night, and who will not respond to police violence with any violence of their own.

Speakers at the vigil will oppose a single additional day of U.S. warmaking in Afghanistan.  Speakers will include Leah Bolger, Margaret Flowers, Glen Ford, Mike Hastie, Chris Hedges, George Packard, Donna Schaper, Kevin Zeese, and Michael Zweig. Dr. Cornel West has also been invited.  At 9:30 p.m. participants will lay flowers for the fallen.

The purpose of this action, which will succeed whether the police interfere or not, is well expressed by several vets planning to take part.  Mike Ferner, Navy Corpsman 1969-1973, and past president of Veterans For Peace, says, “I’m coming to NYC October 7th because I need to do more for myself and the world than just get angry at the misery and suffering.  Being with my comrades again and standing up for peace uplifts my spirit.”
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About Face, Bloody Hell

12:12 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War, is a book that should be stacked up on a table in every high school cafeteria, next to the vultures.  Sorry, I mean the war pushers. Sorry, I mean the good recruiters for the services of the profiteers of death. Sorry, you know the people I mean.  That is, unless useful books can make it into classrooms, which would be even better.

About Face cover

About Face edited by Whitman-Bradley & Lazara

Most G.I. resistance in Vietnam, this book points out, came from those who had willingly signed up, not from draftees.  It is often those who believe the hype, who are trying to benefit the world by going to war, who find the will try to benefit the world when their blinders have been removed and they’ve seen what war is and what war is used for.

About Face collects stories of recent resistance within the “volunteer” U.S. military.  These are young people with few job options who choose military “service” but discover it isn’t a service.  They all have stories, many of them highlighting particular moments of conversion.  The reality is usually more complex and gradual, but the stories make the point.

Benji Lewis was a Marine in Iraq.  After two “tours” he gave some thought to things that had happened on his first tour, including this:

“They were shooting at this lady who was walking up to our posts waving her arms and asking for help in Arabic.  So I came up close and talked to her, and her face looked like death itself.  She had salt crusted all over her face.  It was obvious that she had been crying for quite a bit.  I kind of got the story that she had a family.  We were like, ‘Go back home, go to your family.’  And then it came out that she was asking for help.  Three days ago, her entire family, her children, had been pretty much buried in the rubble of their house, and she was asking for help.  I asked my staff sergeant, ‘Can we help her?’  He said to tell her to walk to the Red Cross aid station, which was a few miles away.  We couldn’t leave our posts to help her, so we gave her a couple of bottles of water and wished her luck, you know.  It downed on me later on that me being the adjusting gunner for the mortar section, there was a good probability that I was the one that put those rounds on her house.”

Lewis refused orders for his Individual Ready Reserve recall and was discharged with no penalties.  While some resisters are punished, that does not seem to be the norm.  Often the resistance takes the form of going AWOL, and in some cases later turning oneself in.  Andre Shepherd sought refugee status in Germany:

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When a Child Is Abused By a War Veteran

12:09 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

(photo: bulthuisp/flickr)

(photo: bulthuisp/flickr)

I’m torn between the pleasure of having just read a brilliant and moving first-person stream-of-consciousness account of a true story of one woman’s childhood, and the deep sadness that comes from learning about the absolutely horrific hell that this woman is extremely lucky to have survived — a hell that many others have known and will know, despite the ease with which it might be prevented.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “These novels will give way, by and by, to diaries or autobiographies — captivating books, if only a man knew how to choose among what he calls his experiences that which is really his experience, and how to record truth truly.” Set aside the old-fashioned metaphysical vocabulary and the sexism. Factor in the world-changing force now developing called self-publishing. Emerson is being proved right, and there is no better example than “This Girl’s Life: Being the Child of a War Veteran,” by Michelle Brown.

Brown begins her masterpiece thus:

“I lived a rough life with my dad. He abused us physically all the time. There were four of us who lived in our home, my brothers and sisters, along with my mom and dad. My older sister had already left home. She’d had enough. My dad took a lot of my life from me, and I still have nightmares about the things that went on in that home. We were afraid to tell anyone, afraid of what would happen to us. My dad was a war veteran and we really did not know how to treat someone like that.”

The treatment that Brown received as a girl, by her account, rivals in my estimation that meted out to prisoners of the CIA. She was starved, sleep-deprived, forced to stand endlessly, denied access to a bathroom, and beaten almost daily with all manner of objects. She was terrorized, physically damaged, cut, bruised, sight-impaired, brain injured, and of course denied medical care or pain killers. This girl grasped at every shred of possible explanation why, and the evidence pointed strongly in one direction: war.

“My dad would tell us all the time that he beat us because he thought we were the enemy. Well, if that was the case, why didn’t he beat up people outside the family?”

Brown’s primary response toward her father was and is hatred. “I hated my father — and hate is such a strong word, but I did. I really wanted to love him, but the Vietnam War ruined him and his family. … I was so afraid of my dad. I was even afraid to get the story out, thinking he would get mad at me and haunt me, even though he was dead.”

Where did such a frightening father come from? Read the rest of this entry →