Hold It All


Category: Iraq

Hearts and Minds, Revisited by Mark Chmiel and Andrew Wimmer

This article was first published at Counterpunch, January 12, 2005.


The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds
of the people who actually live out there.

–Lyndon Johnson, on Vietnam

There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war ­ as least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.

–Daniel Berrigan, on the peace movement

In the months before the election, there was a lot of talk about the Vietnam War, some concerning where George W. Bush had been during that time, some dealing with what John Kerry had done, both in Vietnam and back at home. At the Democratic Convention, John Kerry declared himself proud to have served in Vietnam-consigning to Orwell’s memory hole his post-war activism against the war. In a campaign where he had to be seen as strong to rival Bush’s macho (yet fumbling) discourse, Kerry conveniently let that conscientious part of his own past slip away. (That “forgetting” is at least congruent with his support of the current war in Iraq and his enthusiasm not to withdraw but to stay and win.) And, of course, Kerry uttered the infamous non sequitor that even if he had known there were no WMD beforehand, he would still have gone into Iraq had he been President.

Gore Vidal’s apt subtitle for his latest book is “Reflections on the United States of Amnesia.” John Kerry wanted to be the Commander in Chief of this land of Amnesiacs, and he certainly offered himself as role model for abject forgetting.

Much nonsense was spewed forth at both ends of the political spectrum with each trying to trump the other when it came to proving militarist bona fides. The press can never resist a good martial tune, and so we all pretended, for what we told ourselves would be just a moment, that an illegal invasion and immoral occupation could be set right by a few more troops and better armor on the Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The price we will pay for this collective amnesia will be enormous, though we have only begun to see the faint outline of its contours.

A stirring antidote to such amnesia is the 1974 Oscar-winning documentary by director Peter Davis, Hearts and Minds. Each semester in his Social Justice theology course at Saint Louis University Mark shows his students this film, which has been recently reissued in the Criterion series on DVD. Some students, in their early twenties, share observations of how hard it is for their relatives ­ fathers and uncles, mostly ­ to speak about their experience in Vietnam. Some have testified that these men, now in their fifties and sixties, are still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. For them, and their families, the Vietnam War is not yet over, there is not yet healing. The war lives on, enfleshed yet mostly mute, and still dreadful, with a new generation.

And yet hardly a week goes by that we don’t come across-in newscasts, on the Internet, in newspapers-a pious invocation of our efforts to win Iraqi “hearts and minds,” harking back to Vietnam, and willfully forgetting that our military efforts there (where we learned to “destroy the village in order to save it”) killed 3.5 million Vietnamese before they came to an end.

Read the rest of this entry »


Up All Night, November 12, 2007 (Henry Nagler’s Journal)

Who is going to say the unsayable?
Who is going to press for the prosecution of George W. Bush and Company for murder?
Who is going to stand for law and order?
Who is going to dignify the truth by acting on it?
Who is going to pay practical tribute to Lady Justice?
Who is going to remember what we’ve done in Iraq?
Who is going to patiently recite the facts?
Who is going to tell the tales from the Iraq inferno?
Who is going to repeat these tales to their children?
Who is going to meditate on the photographs?
Who is going to keep alive the shame?
Who is going to bring up issues from Morality 101? Legality 101?
Who is going to count the tears?
Who is going to groan lamentations in the streets?
Who is going to hurl imprecations up at the stately buildings?
Who is going to imagine for even 30 seconds a day George Bush eating chow in a maximum security prison?
Who is going to resist the temptation of silence?
Who is going to risk a little derision, a few guffaws, some insults?
Who is going to haunt the criminals?
Who is going to monitor their comings and goings?
Who is going to envision a ten-year strategy?
Who is going to develop the contingency plans?
Who is going to remove one brick amid the billions of bricks that keep the system together?
Who is going to train citizens in going out of their way to make trouble?
Who is going to insist on follow-up?
Who is going to spend even one minute a day imagining one simple step to take?
Who is going to cultivate optimism of the will?
Who is going to be the courage they wish to see in the world?
Who is going to abandon the sidelines?
Who is going to disturb the cozy peace?
Who is going to stop waiting for someone else to say something first?
Who is going to do something inconsequential about it today and then tomorrow?
Who is going to talk to the guys at the firehouse?
Who is going to bring it up at the neighborhood bar?
Who is going to query the hair stylist?
Who is going to take inspiration from the little mosquito?
Who is going to dare make a scene, raise a ruckus?
Who is going to perform an act greater than Camilo Mejía?
Who is going to remove every single thread from the Emperor’s trembling limbs?

For Laura Lapinski

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, “Poem Written on a Book of Mathew Brady Photographs”

Perhaps there’s something waiting in the moonlight
to show its face

I’m writing on an oversized book of Mathew Brady photographs
pictures of Lincoln and Walt Whitman
pictures of young men and boys bloated with
arms flung back and fat legs flung forward in
death forever once in the mud and millions of
times later as people riffle the pages of books of
Civil War photographs and wonder as I do how it could have
happened and only about a hundred and forty years ago
bodies in black and white casting shadows on battlefields that are
just rolling green fields now over local hills or down
grassy valleys but then there were

guns focused out of trees on anything that moved and
yells of pain and astonishment when anyone would get
shot no doubt rebel or union yells cut short in midair
heard again now from farther away as bombs and
shrapnel cut flesh and split open organs like fruit
on streets and sidewalks empty lots and blasted buildings
in Iraq

Drop the MIC!

Dear Friends,

Join me in supporting the Drop the MIC project of Iraq Veterans against the War.

Every little bit helps to reach the goal by Veteran’s Day.

IVAW image

Our Gifts to the World (A Very Partial List)

Please remember Victor Jara,
In the Santiago Stadium,
Es verdad – those Washington Bullets again
—The Clash


Washington Bullets
(We’re still making the world safe for democracy)

Washington Little Boy and Fat Man
(We stand for what is right … and God blesses us, too)

Washington Napalm
(Aren’t we’re the most generous nation on earth)

Washington CBUs
(Who can compare with us)

Washington Smart Missiles
(Consider the awesome nobility of our intentions)

Washington Depleted Uranium
(See how much we love freedom)

Washington Daisy Cutter
(Remember all the places we’ve touched)

Washington White Phosphorous
(Count all the beneficial changes we’ve initiated)

Washington Drones
(Imagine all the people affected by what we’ve done)

Washington M-16s
(When you stop and think about it…)

Washington Apache helicopter gunships
(…We’re pretty amazing)

Washington Tiger Cages
(Aren’t we)

War Stories

War is a lot of things I suppose, but it is not pure. And if there are issues of morality to be contended with, I think that the veterans’ stories are likely the key. They are our only source of unexpurgated truth, which makes them pretty valuable. Ignoring the trespasses against humanity won’t heal any wounds. Forgetting the horrors or stuffing them down really doesn’t clear the conscience; it just quietly contaminates the soul. I think the only way that our country can achieve any measure of reconciliation in the wake of wars (even the “just” wars), is to deal with those violent moments honestly and to embrace the notion that whether or not one believes the cause of war is good, the violence will always be bad for the soul. To do that, war stories must be available and heard—all the war stories, not just the glorious ones.

—Tyler Boudreau, Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine

Why Did They Shoot Him? Questions from Iraq

[Another man approached me with the two children of his brother, killed by U.S. gunfire, by his side.] “This little boy and girl, their father was shot by the Americans. Who will take care of this family? Who will watch over these children? Who will feed them now? Who? Why did they kill my brother? What is the reason? Nobody told me. He was a truck driver. What is his crime? Why did they shoot him? They shot him with 150 bullets! Did they kill him just because they wanted to shoot a man? That’s it? This is the reason? Why didn’t anyone talk to me and tell me why they have killed my brother? Is killing people a normal thing now, happening every day? This is our future? This is the future that the United States promised Iraq?”

— Dahr Jamail, Beyond the Green Zone: 
Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007)

Beyond the Support the Troops Syndrome

I recently read  a collection of essays in Brenda M. Boyle’s The Vietnam War: Topics in Contemporary North American Literature.   Academics explored authors like Bao Ninh (The Sorrow of War), Michael Herr (Dispatches), Duong Thu Huong (Novel without a Name  and Paradise of the Blind), Bobbie Ann Mason (In Country), Karl Marlantes (Matterhorn),  le thi diem thuy (The Gangster We Are All Looking For), and Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried). Boyle argues that what most Americans know  about the Vietnam War comes through “fiction”—prose and films. The various authors skillfully  contribute to Boyle’s goal of encouraging readers  to do “this hard work of imagination, interpretation, and remembrance.”  This is necessary, especially as the U.S. government continues its official remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam (which the government claims began in 1962, which is a massive lie). Read the rest of this entry »

Resistance in the United States of Amnesia

I noticed this post by veteran and medical student Juan Miguel Spinnato:  “I always need to remind myself that most of the American public still isn’t able to see Bush’s war in Iraq as a war of aggression and a war crime that destroyed millions of lives, and all this talk of some good policies he may have had doesn’t negate the fact that he is a war criminal. But then I have to remind myself that our country is full of war criminals both currently and historically and this makes it difficult to adjust the morality radar.”

Fifteen Iraqi Poets

So we need poets to challenge received notions, tell us what we don’t know, ask the questions we can’t answer, and wake us up to both doom and Utopia.

— Translator and essayist Eliot Weinberger


Over the decades, the United States has caused extreme damage in Vietnam, Nicaragua, and Iraq. In each of these nations, the populace esteems poetry in a way that U.S. citizens  could scarcely imagine.  While in a Chinese prison, Ho Chi Minh wrote poetry, while Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal and his associate Daisy Zamora sponsored poetry workshops all over the country after the revolutionary triumph.

Dunya Mikhail, author of The War Works Hard, has edited a short and powerful collection of poems, Fifteen Iraqi Poets, published by New Directions, famous for its promotion of international modernism.  The collection proceeds chronologically from Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (born in 1926) to Siham Jabbar (born in 1963). Mikhail acknowledged, “It was a nearly impossible task trying to pick only fifteen grains of sand from a shimmering desert.” Read the rest of this entry »