Hold It All

Category: The War-making State

Where the Tortured and the Torturer Shook Hands

How many of our most famous novelists, for instance, have bothered to take the two-and-a-half hour flight from Miami and see for themselves what’s going on here?
—Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 

I first read Seven Days in Nicaragua Libre in the mid-eighties; Ferlinghetti and I had both visited Nicaragua in 1984 (I on a Kentucky Witness for Peace delegation). I looked at the book again ten years ago, when Becca Gorley and I were reading from the City Lights Pocket Poets series. At that time, I was, still, trying to write something about our times in the West Bank and Gaza, and Ferlinghetti’s account was one of several books I read for provocation and inspiration. Many things, you can’t force; Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine was self-published in summer 2015.

A man of the Left, Ferlinghetti saw Nicaraguan history this way: “What has happened here, rather, is the overthrow of a tyrant (Somoza) supported by the U.S., and the attempt to overthrow the economic tyrant of colonialism in which Latin America has been for centuries the cheap labor market for North American and multinational business.” Many U.S. citizens may suffer amnesia about this appalling history but Latin Americans have a long memory. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

War Crimes Are What Our Enemies Do, Right?

People in Afghanistan would beg to differ.

“You Wanna Forget It So Somebody Else Can Go Do It Somewhere Else–Hell No”

I recently have been re-watching Peter Davis’s 1974 documentary on Vietnam, Hearts and Minds.  I keyed into Vietnam vet William Marshall’s scenes; you can watch here and here.

I was curious what happened to him after the film came out and found his obituary here.

Andrew Wimmer and I included his testimony in a 2005 piece about Iraq.

 

 

“Just Mow ‘Em Down”

Next month will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the very few well-known atrocities committed by U.S. forces in Vietnam. Compare mainstream coverage of this anniversary with the following …

Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim, Four Hours in My Lai  (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).
Seymour Hersh, My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath (New York: Random House, 1970).

On March 16, 1968, over a hundred men of the Army’s Charlie Company of the Americal Division entered the village of Mỹ Lai and murdered over five hundred people, overwhelmingly women, children, and old men.  A military cover-up of the mass murder ensued. Lieutenant William “Rusty” Calley was the only member of the company or of the higher command who received any punishment, initially, a sentence of life imprisonment with hard labor, which became three and a half years under house arrest, after which he was released. Some in the Army were relieved as the Mỹ Lai massacre was eventually termed a “tragedy,” later to be viewed as an “incident.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Doing the Opposite of What Dr. King Suggested

Reagan Patrick is taking her third course with me, Comparative Religion and Culture. She recently spent some time with Dr. Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967 speech on Vietnam and wrote the following reflection.

After listening to this speech, I found it strange how this is my very first-time hearing anything about Dr. King giving this speech. Being from Memphis I’ve learned about Dr. King from kindergarten to the day I graduated high school; but this speech has never had the spotlight. We all know Dr. King for being the one to start the Civil Rights Movement, and to be a huge public figure. He’s someone who didn’t hold back on how he felt, so this speech is something that I’m not surprised about.

I think the whole point of the speech was to get the people to see that the country was choosing to put the people last. It didn’t matter the race or the gender of the people, it was just the fact that the country chose to take away the poverty program to put money towards guns, and its military. He didn’t see that as something that was right. Read the rest of this entry »

Writing for the Future

In winter-spring of 2015 I read every book I could find in English translation of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.  She’s another writer who would be at home in the world of Kafka’s Axe (“But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”)

The following passages from 2001’s A Dirty War: A Russia Reporter in Chechnya deal with the Russian government’s war-making, its victims, the citizenry, the military,, the impunity of the powerful, and the profits for the greedy.  Come to think of it, Politkovskaya’s work may spark recognition in the alert U.S. reader about matters close to home…

These direct and unsophisticated  villagers are infinitely wiser and more principled than all of our Moscow politicians put together, no matter how many advisers crowd round them.  30  The present catastrophe in Daghestan has once again shown that ordinary people are a hundred times better and purer than our authorities. 33

The regime stresses that it has taken a decision to begin the war, but accepts no responsibility for the consequences. They owe us nothing, we owe them everything. 47

I thought how senseless everything happening here was. If you look at it from the State’s point of view, why scatter a vast number of mines around the city and receive in return an astronomic growth in the number of disabled people, who require tons of medicine, artificial limbs, and so on? … the reality is that the inhabitants of Grozny have been sentenced to this fate. Evidently, the ultimate aim is to ensure that as many people in the city as possible are either left without legs—or dead. Perhaps this is a new stage in the “anti-terrorist operation”, an unhurried punitive mission directed against one ethnic community, which now requires hardly any more ammunition, just the patience to wait for the inevitable outcome. 218-291 Read the rest of this entry »

Trying To Stop the War

Shawn Francis Peters, The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era

Johanna Hamilton, 1971: On the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI

Shawn Francis Peters’ 2012 book is an account of the Catholic activists in May 1968 who burned draft files in Catonsville, Maryland. Johanna Hamilton’s 2014 film examines some of the men and women who stole FBI files from an office in Media, Pennsylvania, and shared them with newspapers, including the Washington Post even before Daniel Ellsberg leaked the “Pentagon Papers” to Katherine Graham’s paper. Hoping to play a role in stopping a hideous war against Vietnam, both groups of citizens felt compelled to act, even if it meant arrest, trial, and long prison sentences.

Read the rest of this entry »

As Broad and Powerful as Possible

Mark Rudd, Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen (William Morrow, 2010)

If a white person wants to help our cause, ask him what he thinks of John Brown. Do you know what Brown did? He went to war.

Malcolm X

 

Underground is an often engaging book, thanks to Mark Rudd’s honesty, maturity, and sense of humor. He was a privileged middle-class Jewish baby-boomer who went to Columbia University, got radicalized, became committed to ending the U.S. war on Indochina, and escalated his commitment, so he thought, to the faction of the movement that resorted to armed violence. What if, in 1970, Dan Berrigan had been able to sit down (when he was underground) and had a heart to heart with Rudd? Read the rest of this entry »