Hold It All

Category: Iraq

Paying Attention

A year ago, I was recommending that friends read a short, invigorating book by Rebecca Solnit, entitled, Hope in the Dark. This year, I will recommend an amazing tour de force of paying attention, in two parts: first, Eliot Weinberger’s “What I Heard about Iraq” and second, Weinberger’s update, What I Heard about Iraq in 2005.”   These two works are, among other things, a breath-taking catalogue of deception, an unflinching account of unnecessary misery, and dossier of the cavalier, smug, macho, and delusional bravado of the Bush Administration.  In the spirit of Charles Reznikoff’s documentary works, Weinberger tenaciously compiles a litany with each paragraph beginning with the line, “I heard …”

Here are few paragraphs from his first installment:

I heard an old man say, after eleven members of his family- children and grandchildren-were killed when a tank blew up their minivan: “Our home is an empty place. We who are left are like wild animals. All we can do is cry out.” [paragraph 75]

I heard Captain Todd Brown say: “You have to understand the Arab mind. The only thing they understand is force-force, pride, and saving face.” [99]

I heard the Marine colonel say: “We napalmed those bridges. Unfortunately, there were people there. It’s no great way to die.” [105]

I heard the President’s mother say: “Why should we hear about body bags, and deaths? Why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?” [117]

I heard Captain Donald Reese, a prison warden, say: “It was not uncommon to see people without clothing. I was told the ‘whole nudity thing’ was an interrogation procedure used by military intelligence, and never thought much about it.” [131]

I heard the President say: “Today, because the world acted with courage and moral clarity, Iraqi athletes are competing in the Olympic Games.” Iraq had sent teams to the previous Olympics. And when the President ran a campaign advertisement with the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan and the words “At this Olympics there will be two more free nations-and two fewer terrorist regimes,” I heard the Iraqi coach say: “Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign. He can find another way to advertise himself.” I heard their star midfielder say that if he weren’t playing soccer he’d be fighting for the resistance in Fallujah: “Bush has committed so many crimes. How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?” [148] Read the rest of this entry »

Composed after Listening to NPR

I was just listening to an NPR story about 15th anniversary of the U.S. bringing down Saddam Hussein’s regime. An  Iraqi Kurdish journalist was interviewed.  He said he was happy to see the US troops come to end Saddam’s reign of terror. Later on, when he saw so much bloodshed, he felt sad.

Small point: The reason given throughout  the many months of relentless propaganda  was Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat to the U.S.

Afterward, I went back to a work I read many years ago, with the not so subtle title, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder by famed  attorney, Vincent Bugliosi.  His book is a jeremiad, a classic prophetic slash and burn of the villain, the king, here, the president, whom he finds “monstrous,” and “despicable” and “this punk who hid out during the Vietnam War” and “How dare this wimpish punk invite the enemy to kill American soldiers” and “this morally small and characterless man” and “the arrogant son of  privilege.”

Bugliosi  adorns the inside covers with the photos and names of some of the murdered innocents under Bush’s reign of deceit, treachery, and dishonor. He writes about how happy Bush was during his presidency, and how much fun he was having, and how often he was working out, and how long he was hanging out in Crawford, Texas, while apocalypse now was unfolding in Iraq. Here’s an understatement:  “It is obvious that Bush’s knowledge of information and events is shockingly low.” [58]

He goes on at length about how Bush was blithe and bonny, so totally incommensurate with the horrors he unleashed.  Thus: “When we add to this the fact that not only was this not a righteous war, but that Bush took this nation to it under false pretenses, and over 100,000 people died directly because of it, for him to be happy and have plans to have ‘a perfect day’ goes so far beyond acceptable human conduct that no moral telescope can discern its shape, form, and nature.” [79]

Jesuit Dan Berrigan and  gadfly Gore Vidal used to refer to our nation as “the United States of Amnesia.”  If he lives long enough, Ken Burns may be able to do another documentary, this one about how it was a tragic mistake for the U.S. to go into Iraq.

Unpronounceable Words

George McGovern and William R. Polk, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now

March 2007

Dear Andrew,

I have finished McGovern and Polk’s primer on the catastrophe in Iraq and how to get out of it. It does remind me in form of Carter’s book on Palestine: short, succinct, easy to read, intended for a huge audience. Certainly, a huge audience in America could and should be enlightened by this book. Early on, the authors ask, “How can a person distinguish between propaganda and fact?” And they respond in a way that is a challenge to us, CTSA, and our students: “The short answer is diligence and time, plus a healthy dose of skepticism.” [14] “The challenge is to devote the time. On the Iraq war the American public and Congress clearly did not.” [15]

The early chapter on what is Iraq and who are the Iraqis would be welcome, I think, for so many of our students, given their (our?) poor sense of history and geography. I am reminded of a remark a young Palestinian woman made to me in Ramallah, “We know everything about America, and Americans know nothing about us.” Her remarks generalize beyond Palestine, of course. The authors show how embedded journalism does us no real service: “Few reporters went to Iraq knowing the local language, and so they could not hope to get the opinions and observations of most Iraqis. We tend to accept this fact as a given, because Arabic is a difficult language known to few Americans, but we should ask ourselves how we would rate reports on American political affairs written by a Chinese journalist who could not speak or read English.” [10] Read the rest of this entry »

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)