Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: The War-making State

“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 »

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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 »

The World according to Chomsky: Winter Reading Group 2018

In recent years, I’ve known many people who ask themselves, “What can I do, given the state of the world?”   In the past year, this question has been especially urgent, given the toxicity of the US political scene.  It’s easy to be continually distracted by the latest outrage; yet, it’s imperative that we understand more of the big picture involving the institutions that have  long had significant impact on both U.S. citizens and the rest of the word.

I invite you to spend several weeks with me reading, thinking about, and discussing a few essays by Noam Chomsky, long-time MIT professor and prolific political writer.   In so doing, we may encounter fresh critical perspectives, analyses, and questions, which we can bring to our  own civic priorities.

Back in 1979, a New York Times reviewer said of Chomsky, “Judged  in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today.”    Some important themes of Chomsky’s work include liberal criticism and the limits of thinkable thought;  the how and why of propaganda;  the responsibility of the writer and intellectual; ; the political economy of human rights;  the power of activism; and the elite fear of democratic participation.  He became known to the American public in the later 1960s because of his opposition to the Vietnam War.  He has  since been involved in issues of justice and peace regarding Israel/Palestine, East Timor, Central America, Afghanistan, Iraq, among many others. Read the rest of this entry »

Finkelstein’s Gaza

I just received  Norman  Finkelstein’s latest book, Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom.  I noticed this blurb by Alice Walker:

“This is the voice I listen for, when I want to learn the deepest reality about Jews, Zionists, Israelis, and Palestinians. Norman Finkelstein is surely one of the forty honest humans the Scripture alludes to who can save ‘Sodom’ (our Earth) by pointing out, again and again, the sometimes soul-shriveling but unavoidable Truth. There is no one like him today, but in my bones I know this incredible warrior for Humanity and Justice is an archetype that has always been. And will always be. Small comfort in these dark times, perhaps, but a comfort I am deeply grateful for.”

 

Don’t Expect Applause

Tom Hayden was a major player in the antiwar movement of the 1960s as well as a familiar liberal and progressive  activist, commentator, and researcher since.  His last book is entitled,  Hell No:  The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement.  Here’s his basic point: “What we should honor and strive for today is an inclusive demonstration of the power of the peace movement.”    Hayden wanted the mainstream to acknowledge all that the peace movement had done.   (He highlights the leading role in resistance to U.S. power  by the Vietnamese themselves, U.S. communities of color, and veterans.) Even at this late date, Hayden yearned for recognition and validation from the powerful as to the history the movement “made.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »