Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: The War-making State

What Can You Tell the School Kids?

Svetlana Alexievich, Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War, introduction by Larry Heinemann

 

Afgantsi (singular Afganets): Soviet veterans of the war

Even as Ken Burns’ new documentary on the Vietnam War airs, U.S. military forces have been in Afghanistan for almost sixteen years.  While Burns will likely have some focus on the antiwar movement in the U.S during the 1960s, it’s sobering that there has been nothing like an antiwar movement for this war.

Svetlana Alexievich wanted to hear the bitter truths, so she went around asking listening, recording, and creating Zinky Boys, first published in the Soviet Union in 1990. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015, Alexievich produced this work on the USSR’s Afghanistan War that even today can serve as  a mirror to U.S. citizens or, in Kafka’s apt phrase,” an axe for the sea frozen inside us.”

What follows is a very small sample of the testimonies she evoked.

_________________________

The author: I ask myself, and  others too, this single question: how has the courage in each of us been extinguished? How have ‘they’ managed to turn our ordinary boys into killers, and do whatever they  want with the rest of us? But I’m not here to judge what I’ve seen and heard. My aim is simply to reflect the world as it really is. Getting to grips with this war today means facing much wider issues, issues of life and death of humanity. Man has finally achieved the ambition of being able to kill us all at a stroke.  10

A Private: One time, our column was going through a kishlak when the leading vehicle broke down. The driver got out and lifted the bonnet—and a boy, about ten years old, rushed out and stabbed him in the back, just where the heart is. The soldier fell over the motor. We turned that boy into a sieve. If we’d been ordered to, we’d have turned the whole village to dust. 16-17

A Soldier: They killed my friend. Later I saw some of them laughing and having a good time. Whenever I see a lot of them together, now, I start shooting. I shot up an Afghan wedding, I got the happy couple, the bride and groom. I’m not sorry for them—I’ve lost my friend.  6

A Private, Gunlayer:  We didn’t want to know anything about anything. We were soldiers in a war. We were completely cut off from Afghan life—the locals weren’t allowed to set foot in our army compound. All we knew about them was that they wanted to kill or injure us, and we were keen to stay alive. 118 Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Imagining Dubya Writing Barack

I came across the following when browsing Ralph Nader’s book, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015.  Ralph is not holding his breath that Obama’s successor will be any different.

 

After nearly two years out, I can imagine George W. Bush writing his successor the following letter:

Dear President Obama:

As you know I’ve been peddling my book Decision Points and while doing interviews, people ask me what I think of the job you’re doing. My answer is the same: He deserves to make decisions without criticism from me. It’s a tough enough job as it is.

But their inquiries did prompt me to write you to privately express my continual admiration for the job you are doing. Amazing! I say “privately” because making my sentiments public would not do either of us any good, if you know what I mean.

First, I can scarcely believe my good fortune as to how your foreign and military policies—”continuity” was the word used recently by my good friend, Joe Lieberman—has protected my legacy. More than protected, you’ve proven yourself just as able—and I may say sometimes even more so—to “kick ass” as my Daddy used to say.

My pleasant surprise is darn near limitless. Your Justice Department has not pursued any actions against my people—not to mention Dick Cheney and I—that the civil liberties and human rights crowd keep baying for you to do. Read the rest of this entry »

1967

Today’s Email:  “Thank you for signing up for the [New York Times]  Vietnam ’67 newsletter. Over the course of the next year, we’ll examine the participation of the United States in the long war in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam ’67 newsletter will arrive in your inbox weekly.”

“Participation”
“Long War”

Journalist Bernard Fall writing in 1967: “It is Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity which is threatened with extinction. While its lovely land has been battered into a moonscape by the massive engine of modern war,  its cultural identity has been assaulted by a combination of Communism in the North and superficial Americanization in the South.”

“Extinction”
“Moonscape”

The Usefulness of Human Rights

Reading the odd, short book Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, I was reminded of the gripping 1979 study by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky on “the political economy of human rights.” The date of publication is significant. The Carter administration had been in power over two years. It was Carter’s task, after the U.S. generated bloodbaths in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in the 1960s and 70s, to restore faith in the American Way, by assuring the world that “human rights” was the heart and soul of American policy. You could see how true this was by considering the close, cozy relations between the Carter presidency and dictators like Somoza, Duvalier, Suharto, the South American generals, and the Shah of Iran.

Actor John Cusack invited writer Arundhati Roy to rendezvous with whistle blower Edward Snowden and Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Dan Ellsberg. Things That Can and Cannot Be Said has short essays and conversations about issues pertaining to state power and surveillance. Most interesting for me, though, are Roy’s remarks on human rights scattered over a few pages: Read the rest of this entry »

“I Denounce the US Government’s Threats of War against North Korea” by Andrew Wimmer

Andrew shared this early this morning, and I  want to share it with others…

Dear Friends,

Our first obligation in the face of US war threats is to speak a word of truth, wherever we go and to whomever we meet.

With regard to North Korea, I denounce the threats of war coming from the US government.  They are not a tough stance in the face of an intractable situation.  They are just the opposite.  They are the latest and most egregious in a series of unilateral moves by the US government to reject and move away from a diplomatic solution.

Donald Trump and the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, have both made overt threats of military action against North Korea within the past two days.  I denounce them both.  Haley’s appearance at the UN yesterday was not only a study in mendacity but a reckless and immoral affront to humanity.  “We will not repeat the inadequate approaches of the past that have brought us to this dark day,” she said while attempting to rally the world to further economic sanctions against North Korea while making overt threats of war.

The media has begun its “measured analysis” that excludes diplomacy and focuses on the known disastrous consequences of the various military options.  This piece from the Guardian is a prime example.   Read the rest of this entry »

Mistake

Liberal filmmaker  Michael Moore infuriated some Vietnam veterans with his early May tweet that the U.S. should have national holiday on the date of the fall of Saigon, which should lead to  “a commitment to never make same mistake again.”

“Mistake” is a common shorthand used by liberals to refer to the U.S. destruction in Indochina—Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  Even veteran and antiwar critic John Kerry at the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit asked this question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Was the My Lai massacre a mistake? Was Operation Speedy Express likewise?

Was U.S. torture of the Viet Cong  (a broad category) a miscalculation?

Were the 20 million bomb craters just one mistake after another? Read the rest of this entry »

Where Antiwar Efforts Begin and End by Andrew Wimmer

I received the following reflection from my friend Andrew this morning…

Here is Boeing’s latest press release about fighter jet training capabilities coming to St. Louis.  And Lacy Clay’s (MO 1-D) elation:

“I’m proud that Boeing has trust in the highly skilled workforce in my district, and I look forward to the economic opportunity these jobs will bring for our community and the Missouri supply chain,” added U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, who represents Missouri’s first district that includes Boeing’s St. Louis facility. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News of Resistance, 4.22.2017

1.

A while back, I was sitting outside at RISE with a young Irish-Jewish American friend who asked me, when I showed her a particular chapter in Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, “Who is Abbie Hoffman?”  It was a pleasure to send her such excerpts from his autobiography:

“Later, when I, as well as others, marched on Washington or Chicago, we carried with us the lessons that the local power structures had fought us tooth and nail—that racism was ingrained in the system. We also realized that the lessons came in spite of our formal education. (My critique of democracy begins and ends with this point. Kids must be educated to disrespect authority or else democracy is a farce.)”

“There are lots of secret rules by which power maintains itself. Only when you challenge it, force the crisis, do you discover the true nature of society. And only at the time it chooses to teach you. Occasionally you can use your intellect to guess at the plan, but in general the secrets of power are taught in darkened police cells, back alleys, and on the street. I learned them there.”

“By 1970, my ‘plan’ to stop the war was to disrupt life on the home front. I did not see going to jail as the best use of my time.”

2.

Clara  Bingham has done a riveting oral history of many of Abbie Hoffman’s peers  from the Sixties, focusing in particular on the year 1969-1970 in Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year  America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul.  Here’s her thesis: “Whether rebelling against the draft, the atrocities of the war, police and FBI repression, the conformity of the 1950s, the sexist, racist establishment, or all of the above, the movement in the final years of the sixties threatened the entire power structure of American society and transformed the country.”  Bingham’s book will remind baby boomers and instruct their grandchildren as to how people’s experiences then may still speak to the wars being waged in our name today. Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth with Colin McLaughlin: The Life of Eugene Debs

Eugene V. Debs was a free speech advocate, a presidential candidate, a trade unionist, and a man who dedicated his life to economic justice for the working class and antiwar efforts surrounding World War One, “The War To End All Wars.” (This nation entered that conflict 100 years ago this month.) We will discuss how these causes have been furthered since the time of Debs, and how some of the issues have stayed the same, or worsened. We can also ask ourselves if anyone in our current political arena emulates the life of Eugene Debs.

Colin McLaughlin has been working on a research project/theatrical production about Eugene Debs presidential run from prison, after he was convicted for opposing the first world war (and encouraging draft dodgers). Come discuss the saga of Eugene Debs, the play being written about him and his plight for social justice, the deep relevance of what he fought for, and how it relates to our current social/political landscape.

Join us
Sunday 23 April
Potluck begins at 6:00 p.m.
Colin begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Andrew Wimmer
5712 Arendes Dr.
South City Saint Louis
63116

Ninety Years Alive on Earth

On Thich Nhat Hanh, At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life.  Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2016.

Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is a survivor.  Narrowly missing death in South Vietnam  on more than one occasion during the 1960s, he had many students killed in the bloodshed during the American War. He and other Tiep Hien Buddhists could not return to their country for fear of persecution, or worse. Uprooted, he ended up living in France,  where he and friends slowly began to rebuild their  lives.

At Home in the World, published in 2016, offers snapshots of nine full decades of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life.  It bears keeping in mind that his country  was living under a French colonial occupation regime, followed by U.S. intervention and invasion.  He and his friends knew what it was like to live under the U.S. bombs.

Nhat Hanh admits that in his youth he was a “revolutionary monk.”  He and his brothers  wanted to rejuvenate Vietnamese Buddhism, and they had to reckon with a conservative religious  establishment. Their motivation was simple: “Taking action against injustice is not enough. We believed action must embody mindfulness. If there is no awareness, action will only cause more harm. Our group believed it must be possible to combine meditation and action to create mindful action.” [41] Read the rest of this entry »