Hold It All


Category: Middle East

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.

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Bourdieu on Algeria

The somewhat exalted libido sciendi that drove me, rooted in a kind of passion for everything about this country, its people and its landscapes, and also in the dull but constant sensation of guilt and revolt in the face of so much suffering and injustice, knew neither rest nor bounds.

Sketch toward a Self-Analysis


Dear Randa

6 September 2009

Dear Randa,

Given how busy you must be, I can’t imagine that you would have brought along with you Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. I regret that we didn’t have nearly enough time to discuss this book while you were here in St. Louis, so I thought I would send you an occasional “rereading” of that heart-breaking, illuminating, and disturbing tome. Perhaps next summer we can resume such discussions in cafes around St. Louis.

Since his youth, Fisk had long aspired to be a foreign correspondent, and he mentions that when he was 29, he received a letter from one of the higher-ups at The Times, in which he was told: “Paul Martin has requested to be moved from the Middle East. His wife has had more than enough, and I don’t blame her. I am offering him the number two job in Paris, Richard Wigg Lisbon—and to you I offer the Middle East. Let me know if you want it… It would be a splendid opportunity for you, with good stories, lots of travel and sunshine…” [xix]

In Fisk’s preface, he quotes Israeli journalist Amira Hass as saying that the journalist’s role is to “to monitor the centers of power,” the power that invades other countries, the power that sends people to be tortured, the power that conceives of genocide and implements it, the power that draws borders of the lands of others in its interests, the power that is drunk with its own dizzying rhetoric of rectitude, the power that predictably invites “blowback,” the power that acts as if it is above the law, with a quasi-divine right to disturb the lives and worlds of others. Read the rest of this entry »


Dear Yehudit

So, this month, in addition to reading Dorothee Sölle (superb!)
I am also reading a lot of Nawal El-Saadawi

Egyptian novelist, physician
Thorn in the side of patriarchy

She reminds me of you
You both remind me

of the Quakers’ enumeration
of three states of being

worth cultivating:
boundless happiness

absolute fearlessness
and constant difficulty

Here’s Nawal…
“You cannot be creative in a system that is very unjust, like the system we live in, unless you are a dissident. Because when you are creative you are for justice, for freedom, for love. It’s by nature like that. You feel that you want to do something. You cannot accept injustice. You become angry, if this injustice is happening to you or to others. If you are walking in the street and you see children who are begging, beggars, who are starving, they are dying of hunger, what do you do? You become furious. You want to change the system that created this hunger. You discover it’s not national only, it’s international.”



–from novel-in-construction, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

Summer Reading, 2009

I recently found this in an old file…



Annping Chin, The Authentic Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics
David Hinton, Selected Poems of Wang Wei
D.C. Lau, trans. Mencius
Andrew Plaks, trans., Chung Yung
Ivan Morris, Madly Singing in the Mountains: An Appreciation and Anthology of Arthur Waley
Stephen Ruppenthal, The Path of Direct Awakening
Simon Winchester, The Man Who Loved China
Mao Zedong, Little Red Book


Noam Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins
Noam Chomsky, What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World–Interviews with David Barsamian
Donaldo Macedo, ed., Chomsky on Mis-Education
Peter Mitchell and John Schoeffel, eds., Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky
Assaf Khoury, ed. Inside Lebanon: Journey to a Shattered Land with Noam and Carol Chomsky Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth with Jason Makansi: Writing the Journey to the Center: Ethnic Delinquency, Young Adult Activism, Professional and Fiction Writing, and the Lifelong Struggle to Get What’s on the Inside to the Outside

It’s a great time to be half-Greek and half-Syrian! Never has my heritage been so aligned with the headlines. One country is the poster child for global economic failure, the other for geopolitical failure. Every day, I can’t wait to “read all about it!”

In truth, I don’t consider myself very ethnically conscious. But writing has been the focal point of my personal and professional life, and when I started writing fiction (seriously) almost two decades ago, my ethnic sub-conscious would not be silenced. It took no time to get ethnicity from the outside but a lifetime to get it from the inside to the outside. Read the rest of this entry »

The Way It Looked in 1996

The main intellectual task is to confront the Israeli conscience with the serious human and political claims of the Palestinians:  these require moral, intellectual, cultural attention of the most profound kind, and cannot easily be deflected by the common tactic of putting Israeli security on the same plane.  On the other hand I do think it is a mistake simply to rule out the whole history of anti-Semitism (the Holocaust included) as irrelevant.  As Palestinians and Arabs we have not even tried to study this enormous subject, nor in any serious way have we tried to see how it impinges on the Jewish, and indeed Western, conscience as something all too real. Thus we need a discourse that is intellectually honest and complex enough to deal both with the Palestinian as well as the Jewish experience, recognizing where the claims of one stop and where the other begin.

–Edward Said, The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After

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)

What You Understand Depends on Where You Stand/2

Overcoming Speechlessness is  a short book on poet and novelist Alice Walker’s travels to Rwanda, Congo, and Palestine where she bears witness and attends to heartbreaking tales of atrocity, devastation, and cruelty. Yet, she is able to find a way to overcome speechlessness and pass on what was shared with her by the women of these lands.  These encounters were facilitated by Code Pink and Women for Women International.

She  is inspired by the strength of Generose from Congo: “She understood the importance of speech, speech about the unspeakable …. A proud woman who reminded me of a young Toni Morrison, she did not once stammer in the telling of her tale, though those of us around her felt a quaking in the heart.”

Walker embraces the Palestinian cause and is able to connect the  the struggle for justice  there and “our experience of America’s apartheid years, when white people owned and controlled all the resources and the land, in addition to the political, legal, and military apparatus, and used their power to intimidate black people in the most barbaric and merciless ways.”

There’s observing and then wondering what she could say to Palestinian mothers “whose children are, at this moment, playing in the white phosphorous-laden rubble that, after twenty-two days of bombing, is everywhere in Gaza? White phosphorous, once on the skin, never stops burning. There is really nothing to say.”

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Sara Roy Challenges Elie Wiesel

This is a must-read prophetic address by researcher Sara Roy to Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel on the latter’s contribution to Israel’s destruction of Gaza.