The current President and Congress are destroying our Constitutional rights, our planet's climate, and the vestiges of a social safety net, and you are obsessing over a freak show of self-hating homosexuals and anti-intellectual intellectuals jumping through hoops in a corporate media circus with Ringmaster Donald Trump. Is this a good use of your time?
The "Bush tax cuts" are still called that, while Bush has been gone for years. The corporate trade agreements are rolling through at a pace Bush couldn’t have managed. While Social Security was protected by anti-Bush agitation, it now has its neck on a chopping block and the progressive position is that the taxes that pay for it should be cut — rather than expanded to apply equally to large incomes. President Obama has repeatedly blocked serious global efforts to address climate change. And you're concerned about which Republican buffoon doesn't know the difference between Iraq and Iran, or which other one thinks the United States has an embassy in Iran. Are you kidding me?
President Obama, the United States Congress, and the Federal Reserve are united in their generosity toward Wall Street and the war machine — both financial generosity and the equally generous provision of immunity from legal prosecution. In the Bush era we were locked in free-speech cages, and we raised hell about it. Now we're locked in jails, beaten, tear gassed, pepper sprayed, and otherwise brutally assaulted, and . . . wait! Look over there! Is that a presidential candidate who wants to publicly declare his desire to secretly murder Iranians? How outrageous!
For the love of everything decent, the current president is right now murdering Iranians, and it's not very secret. What in the hell is the matter with you people?
Illegality is over, says Harold Koh ("the good John Yoo"). This is the same guy who claims massive slaughter by bombing of foreign nations is neither war nor an act of hostility as long as no significant number of U.S. citizens die immediately in the process.
How can illegality be over, when the crimes have not been prosecuted and have in fact been legalized? The current Department of Justice, at the direction of President Obama, has radically expanded claims of state secrets and made greater use of the Espionage Act to punish whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. The current president has formalized, legalized, systematized, and normalized warrantless spying, lawless imprisonment (Bagram is booming!), prisoner abuse, assassination (including of members of the 5% of humanity we're supposed to care about), war making in direct violation of the will of Congress (Cf. Libya), and the radically expanded use of drones to do much of this dirty work. And you want me to care that some house-broken elephant who's been trained to parrot platitudes is in favor of child labor? Really?
It is not pleasant to face, but our children are done for if we proceed down either of the paths you are obsessing over the choice between. Behind curtain A is increased plutocratic militarization. Behind curtain B is the same damn thing. It's an evil choice. Choose which of your children should be shot. This one. No, wait. This one. It is not a choice we have time to dignify with our attention. It is not something we should waste 10 months of inaction and misdirected resources on.
We must do what has finally, finally, finally been begun. We must occupy public space. We must move the entire culture. We must reshape this society. We must drag both political parties and everybody in them and the majority of the population which has long since grown sick up to the eye balls of both of them, we must drag everyone kicking and screaming to a better place, to a place where we do not choose between putting 65% or 62% of discretionary federal spending into war preparation without an enemy in sight. What kind of a range of options is that?
This government will halt the foreclosures only after we have halted the forclosures. This government will forgive student debt only after we have blocked its payment. This government will regulate Wall Street only after we have divested from it. And this government will stop dumping our hard-earned pay into wars we don't want and cannot survive only when we have made that path (that running of the gauntlet of K Street's opposition) easier for every type of misrepresentative than continuing on the current trajectory.
Self-government is not a spectator sport. Elections are not reality shows. There is much more at stake than a soap opera. The first step, and it is a more difficult step than sleeping in a tent in the ice cold rain, is to cease giving a damn what some individual who is stripping away your rights and the fruits of your labors really feels in his heart of hearts. Stop it. We do not have the time. Politicians who make speeches opposing everything they do must be pushed to match action to words, not treated as if words speak more loudly than actions. That attitude is what leads us to focus on what a gaggle of misfits with no power and less wisdom have to say about each other, just because they're on the teevee screen.
Get serious. Get independent. Get principled. And stay nonviolent toward everything in the world except your television.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's fervent hope for years was that Japan would attack the United States. This would permit the United States (not legally, but politically) to fully enter World War II in Europe, as its president wanted to do, as opposed to merely providing weaponry and assisting in targeting of submarines as it had been doing. Of course, Germany's declaration of war, which followed Pearl Harbor and the immediate U.S. declaration of war on Japan, helped as well, but it was Pearl Harbor that radically converted the American people from opposition to support for war.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kerny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been innocently attacked. Roosevelt also lied that he had in his possession a secret Nazi map planning the conquest of South America, as well as a secret Nazi plan for replacing all religions with Nazism. And yet, the people of the United States didn't buy the idea of going into another war until Pearl Harbor, by which point Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and — just 11 days before the "unexpected" attack — he had secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.
On April 28, 1941, Churchill wrote a secret directive to his war cabinet:
"It may be taken as almost certain that the entry of Japan into the war would be followed by the immediate entry of the United States on our side."
On May 11, 1941, Robert Menzies, the prime minister of Australia, met with Roosevelt and found him "a little jealous" of Churchill's place in the center of the war. While Roosevelt's cabinet all wanted the United States to enter the war, Menzies found that Roosevelt,
On August 18, 1941, Churchill met with his cabinet at 10 Downing Street. The meeting had some similarity to the July 23, 2002, meeting at the same address, the minutes of which became known as the Downing Street Minutes. Both meetings revealed secret U.S. intentions to go to war. In the 1941 meeting, Churchill told his cabinet, according to the minutes: "The President had said he would wage war but not declare it." In addition, "Everything was to be done to force an incident."
Japan was certainly not averse to attacking others and had been busy creating an Asian empire. And the United States and Japan were certainly not living in harmonious friendship. But what could bring the Japanese to attack?
When President Franklin Roosevelt visited Pearl Harbor on July 28, 1934, seven years before the Japanese attack, the Japanese military expressed apprehension. General Kunishiga Tanaka wrote in the Japan Advertiser, objecting to the build-up of the American fleet and the creation of additional bases in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands:
Whether it was actually regretted or not is a separate question from whether this was a typical and predictable response to military expansionism, even when done in the name of "defense." The great unembedded (as we would today call him) journalist George Seldes was suspicious as well. In October 1934 he wrote in Harper's Magazine: "It is an axiom that nations do not arm for war but for a war." Seldes asked an official at the Navy League:
In 1935 the most decorated U.S. Marine in history at the time, Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, published to enormous success a short book called War Is a Racket. He saw perfectly well what was coming and warned the nation:
In March 1935, Roosevelt bestowed Wake Island on the U.S. Navy and gave Pan Am Airways a permit to build runways on Wake Island, Midway Island, and Guam. Japanese military commanders announced that they were disturbed and viewed these runways as a threat. So did peace activists in the United States. By the next month, Roosevelt had planned war games and maneuvers near the Aleutian Islands and Midway Island. By the following month, peace activists were marching in New York advocating friendship with Japan. Norman Thomas wrote in 1935:
The U.S. Navy spent the next few years working up plans for war with Japan, the March 8, 1939, version of which described "an offensive war of long duration" that would destroy the military and disrupt the economic life of Japan. In January 1941, eleven months before the attack, the Japan Advertiser expressed its outrage over Pearl Harbor in an editorial, and the U.S. ambassador to Japan wrote in his diary:
On February 5, 1941, Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner wrote to Secretary of War Henry Stimson to warn of the possibility of a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.
As early as 1932 the United States had been talking with China about providing airplanes, pilots, and training for its war with Japan. In November 1940, Roosevelt loaned China one hundred million dollars for war with Japan, and after consulting with the British, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau made plans to send the Chinese bombers with U.S. crews to use in bombing Tokyo and other Japanese cities. On December 21, 1940, two weeks shy of a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, China's Minister of Finance T.V. Soong and Colonel Claire Chennault, a retired U.S. Army flier who was working for the Chinese and had been urging them to use American pilots to bomb Tokyo since at least 1937, met in Henry Morgenthau's dining room to plan the firebombing of Japan. Morgenthau said he could get men released from duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps if the Chinese could pay them $1,000 per month. Soong agreed.
On May 24, 1941, the New York Times reported on U.S. training of the Chinese air force, and the provision of "numerous fighting and bombing planes" to China by the United States. "Bombing of Japanese Cities is Expected" read the subheadline. By July, the Joint Army-Navy Board had approved a plan called JB 355 to firebomb Japan. A front corporation would buy American planes to be flown by American volunteers trained by Chennault and paid by another front group. Roosevelt approved, and his China expert Lauchlin Currie, in the words of Nicholson Baker, "wired Madame Chaing Kai-Shek and Claire Chennault a letter that fairly begged for interception by Japanese spies." Whether or not that was the entire point, this was the letter:
Our ambassador had said "in case of a break with the United States" the Japanese would bomb Pearl Harbor. I wonder if this qualified!
The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force, also known as the Flying Tigers, moved ahead with recruitment and training immediately, were provided to China prior to Pearl Harbor, and first saw combat on December 20, 1941, twelve days (local time) after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
On May 31, 1941, at the Keep America Out of War Congress, William Henry Chamberlin gave a dire warning: "A total economic boycott of Japan, the stoppage of oil shipments for instance, would push Japan into the arms of the Axis. Economic war would be a prelude to naval and military war." The worst thing about peace advocates is how many times they turn out to be right.
On July 24, 1941, President Roosevelt remarked, "If we cut the oil off ,
Reporters noticed that Roosevelt said "was" rather than "is." The next day, Roosevelt issued an executive order freezing Japanese assets. The United States and Britain cut off oil and scrap metal to Japan. Radhabinod Pal, an Indian jurist who served on the war crimes tribunal after the war, called the embargoes a "clear and potent threat to Japan's very existence," and concluded the United States had provoked Japan.
On August 7th four months before the attack the Japan Times Advertiser wrote: "First there was the creation of a superbase at Singapore, heavily reinforced by British and Empire troops. From this hub a great wheel was built up and linked with American bases to form a great ring sweeping in a great area southwards and westwards from the Philippines through Malaya and Burma, with the link broken only in the Thailand peninsula. Now it is proposed to include the narrows in the encirclement, which proceeds to Rangoon."
By September the Japanese press was outraged that the United States had begun shipping oil right past Japan to reach Russia. Japan, its newspapers said, was dying a slow death from "economic war."
What might the United States have been hoping to gain by shipping oil past a nation in desperate need of it?
In late October, U.S. spy Edgar Mower was doing work for Colonel William Donovan who spied for Roosevelt. Mower spoke with a man in Manila named Ernest Johnson, a member of the Maritime Commission, who said he expected "The Japs will take Manila before I can get out." When Mower expressed surprise, Johnson replied "Didn't you know the Jap fleet has moved eastward, presumably to attack our fleet at Pearl Harbor?"
On November 3, 1941, our ambassador tried again to get something through his government's thick skull, sending a lengthy telegram to the State Department warning that the economic sanctions might force Japan to commit "national hara-kiri." He wrote: "An armed conflict with the United States may come with dangerous and dramatic suddenness."
Why do I keep recalling the headline of the memo given to President George W. Bush prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks? "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S."
Apparently nobody in Washington wanted to hear it in 1941 either. On November 15th, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall briefed the media on something we do not remember as "the Marshall Plan." In fact we don't remember it at all. "We are preparing an offensive war against Japan," Marshall said, asking the journalists to keep it a secret, which as far as I know they dutifully did.
Ten days later Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote in his diary that he'd met in the Oval Office with Marshall, President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Admiral Harold Stark, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Roosevelt had told them the Japanese were likely to attack soon, possibly next Monday. It has been well documented that the United States had broken the Japanese' codes and that Roosevelt had access to them. It was through intercept of a so-called Purple code message that Roosevelt had discovered Germany's plans to invade Russia. It was Hull who leaked a Japanese intercept to the press, resulting in the November 30, 1941, headline "Japanese May Strike Over Weekend."
That next Monday would have been December 1st, six days before the attack actually came. "The question," Stimson wrote, "was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. It was a difficult proposition." Was it? One obvious answer was to keep the fleet in Pearl Harbor and keep the sailors stationed there in the dark while fretting about them from comfortable offices in Washington, D.C. In fact, that was the solution our suit-and-tied heroes went with.
The day after the attack, Congress voted for war. Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (R., Mont.), the first woman ever elected to Congress, and who had voted against World War I, stood alone in opposing World War II (just as Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Rankin found that the Economic Defense Board had gotten economic sanctions under way less than a week after the Atlantic Conference. On December 2, 1941, the New York Times had reported, in fact, that Japan had been "cut off from about 75 percent of her normal trade by the Allied blockade." Rankin also cited the statement of Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson, U.S.N., in the Saturday Evening Post of October 10, 1942, that on November 28, 1941, nine days before the attack, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., (he of the catchy slogan "Kill Japs! Kill Japs!" ) had given instructions to him and others to "shoot down anything we saw in the sky and to bomb anything we saw on the sea."
General George Marshall admitted as much to Congress in 1945: that the codes had been broken, that the United States had initiated Anglo-Dutch-American agreements for unified action against Japan and put them into effect before Pearl Harbor, and that the United States had provided officers of its military to China for combat duty before Pearl Harbor. It is hardly a secret that it takes two war powers to wage a war (unlike when one war power attacks an unarmed state) or that this case was no exception to that rule. An October 1940 memorandum by Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum was acted on by President Roosevelt and his chief subordinates. It called for eight actions that McCollum predicted would lead the Japanese to attack, including arranging for the use of British bases in Singapore and for the use of Dutch bases in what is now Indonesia, aiding the Chinese government, sending a division of long-range heavy cruisers to the Philippines or Singapore, sending two divisions of submarines to "the Orient," keeping the main strength of the fleet in Hawaii, insisting that the Dutch refuse the Japanese oil, and embargoing all trade with Japan in collaboration with the British Empire.
The day after McCollum's memo, the State Department told Americans to evacuate far eastern nations, and Roosevelt ordered the fleet kept in Hawaii over the strenuous objection of Admiral James O. Richardson who quoted the President as saying "Sooner or later the Japanese would commit an overt act against the United States and the nation would be willing to enter the war." The message that Admiral Harold Stark sent to Admiral Husband Kimmel on November 28, 1941, read, "IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT REPEAT CANNOT BE AVOIDED THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT." Joseph Rochefort, cofounder of the Navy's communication intelligence section, who was instrumental in failing to communicate to Pearl Harbor what was coming, would later comment: "It was a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country."
The night after the attack, President Roosevelt had CBS News's Edward R. Murrow and Roosevelt's Coordinator of Information William Donovan over for dinner at the White House, and all the President wanted to know was whether the American people would now accept war. Donovan and Murrow assured him the people would indeed accept war now. Donovan later told his assistant that Roosevelt's surprise was not that of others around him, and that he, Roosevelt, welcomed the attack. Murrow was unable to sleep that night and was plagued for the rest of his life by what he called "the biggest story of my life" which he never told, but which he did not need to. The next day, the President spoke of a day of infamy, the United States Congress declared the last Constitutional war in the history of the republic, and the President of the Federal Council of Churches, Dr. George A. Buttrick, became a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation committing to resist the war.
Why does it matter? Because the legend of Pearl Harbor, re-used on 9-11, is responsible not for the destructive pro-war policies of the 1920s and the 1930s that brought World War II into being, but responsible for the permanent war mentality of the past 70 years, as well as for how World War II was escalated, prolonged, and completed.
"Disturbed in 1942," wrote Lawrence S. Wittner, "by rumors of Nazi extermination plans, Jessie Wallace Hughan worried that such a policy, which appeared 'natural, from their pathological point of view,' might be carried out if World War II continued. 'It seems that the only way to save thousands and perhaps millions of European Jews from destruction,' she wrote, 'would be for our government to broadcast the promise' of an 'armistice on condition that the European minorities are not molested any further. . . . It would be very terrible if six months from now we should find that this threat has literally come to pass without our making even a gesture to prevent it.' When her predictions were fulfilled only too well by 1943, she wrote to the State Department and the New York Times, decrying the fact that 'two million
Hitler killed millions of Germans, but the allies killed as many or more, Germans ordered into battle by Hitler or Germans in the wrong place when allied bombs fell. And, as Hughan pointed out at the time, the war drove the genocide, just as the vengeful settlement of the previous war a quarter century before had fueled the hostility, the scapegoating, and the rise of Hitlerism. Out of the resistance to war by U.S. conscientious objectors would come, finally, the development of civil resistance to racial segregation in U.S. prisons that later spread to the nation outside the prisons as activists sought to duplicate their victories on a larger scale. But also out of that very worst thing our species has ever done to itself, World War II, would come the permanent military industrial complex. We would extend the power to vote to more and more Americans while, in the cruelest of jokes, transforming voting into an ever more meaningless enterprise. We would paint a fresh coat of glossy pretense on our democracy while hollowing it out from the inside, replacing it with a war machine the likes of which the planet had never seen and may not be able to survive.
The funny thing about the bill that the Senate just passed that lets presidents and the military lock you up without a charge or a trial — well, not funny ha ha but funny unusual — is that the basic bill to which that little monstrosity was attached is even worse. It's a bill to dump over $650 billion into wars and aggressive weaponry, continue the slaughter in Afghanistan, ramp up the creation and use of drones, and expand U.S. military bases around the globe.
When these bills move through the Congress, they are so enormous and yet so routine that almost all attention is drawn to one or more peculiarly putrid or pretentiously benevolent little attachments. Either the bill simply must be passed because it contains hurricane relief or veterans aid or unemployment insurance or because it finally allows GLBT Americans to join in our crusades of mass murder. Or, alternatively, the bill desperately needs amending because it sanctions torture or lawless imprisonment or expands an especially hated war or an especially transparent investment in unwanted weaponry manufactured by some campaign donor. But the underlying insanity of the bill itself never makes it into the corporate conversation.
In the case of this latest National Defense Authorization Act, there has been a toothless rhetorical amendment passed asking the president to end his warmaking in Afghanistan in something less than three years if it's not too much trouble. But that positive measure has been absolutely overwhelmed in what little discussion of the bill exists by a section of the bill giving presidents and the military the power to lock you away without any of the process guaranteed you by the U.S. Constitution. Now, President Obama may veto the bill because he would prefer that section to be even worse than it is. He has expressed concern that it limits, rather than expands, his options. He should veto it because it rips out the heart of our Bill of Rights and grinds it into the dirt.
But a bill like this should not be passed simply because the latest erosion of our civil liberties is removed and the even worse un-codified understanding and practice is left to continue. A bill like this one should be rejected in its entirety. This bill kills human beings in large numbers, endangers us all through encouragement of foreign hostility, contributes to the development and proliferation of genocidal weaponry, creates massive environmental destruction, advances a foreign policy built around an unsurvivable energy policy, funds both sides of an unending Afghan occupation, funds prisons where we already hold many hundreds of men behind bars without charge or trial, and gives presidents de facto power to ignore our rights for the duration of a global war that has no end. And this bill destroys our economy through unfathomable wasteful spending in the midst of a manufactured deficit crisis and an actual humanitarian crisis at home and abroad.
Military spending is worse for job creation and retention than any other kind of spending or even tax cuts. Jobs is not the silver lining in militarism. There is a choice that confronts us between militarism or jobs, militarism or human services, militarism or a safety net for the ill and the elderly and the impoverished. We're dumping over a trillion dollars a year into "security" spending in "defense" and other bills combined, well over half of discretionary spending. The deficit "crisis" is not the creation of sick people getting old and multiplying without having had the decency to bribe their way into major government contracts or bailouts from the Federal Reserve. Single-payer health coverage, not cuts to Medicare, is the solution there. The deficit is not purely the result of the Obama tax cuts (sorry, Bush is gone now) or of the bad economy. There is a way to improve the actual economy by spending existing public dollars in different ways.
In 1963, Senator George McGovern and House members F. Bradford Morse and William Fitts Ryan introduced a bill that gained significant support and hearings and would have begun a process of economic conversion from a war economy to a peace economy, retraining and re-employing anyone thrown out of work in the process. Meanwhile, the military was secretly beginning a war in Vietnam, and certain elements were plotting to blow President Kennedy's brains out of the back of his head. We took a turn for the worse, and economic conversion has never seriously begun. Yet, for decades members of Congress had the decency to at least propose it.
Here's a bill introduced 20 years ago, in 1991. Do some of the names on the bill look familiar? Waters, Pelosi, Schumer, Slaughter, McDermott, Markey, Panetta (yes, Panetta), Lewis, Pallone, Towns, Berman, Payne, Waxman, Boxer, Wyden, etc. Here's a solution backed by these people 20 years ago, more desperately needed now, and not under consideration. That's not their fault. They are cogs in a money-marinated machine. It's our fault.
In the absence of an overall conversion-to-sanity-and-sustainability bill, there is a related bill that has been introduced in the current Congress: "The Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act of 2011" introduced by Eleanor Holmes Norton. This bill is a concise thing of beauty which says:
If you're going to begin conversion with one sector, why not start with the worst? The answer does not ultimately lie in backing a particular bill so much as in educating, mobilizing, changing the public discourse, and applying nonviolent pressure. But there are bills that exist or could easily be made to exist that merit our unqualified support.
Either we will move the money from where it destroys to where is sustains life, or our civilization will meet the fate Kennedy met in Dallas.
Has the First Amendment expired in your public square? Has your local park prioritized empty vistas over the right to petition your government for a redress of grievances, thereby adding one more grievance to the list?
Here's a proposal. Pack up all of your grievances in a bag and bring them to where the government responsible is located. Move your protest and yourself and as much of your Occupy community as you can bring with you to Freedom Plaza — http://occupywashingtondc.org — or McPherson Square — http://occupydc.org — in Washington, D.C. You need not bring anything else. Together we can keep the DC occupations sheltered and fed and supplied with resources.
A national movement with local encampments has begun to change the culture. That should not end. Local encampments have begun to build community, to model democratic decision making, to aid the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless, and to develop a culture of resistance in quiescent corners of the land. All of that should continue.
But while we're helping a handful of homeless people, while we're offering assistance to a dozen veterans, while we're antagonizing city councils that didn't create this mess, our senators and misrepresentatives in Washington, D.C., are dumping another $682.5 billion into wars and weapons, with presidential power to imprison anyone without charge or trial forever and ever thrown on top of the Defense Authorization Act like a cherry on a sunday.
While we're educating our neighbors on the need for affordable housing, the Federal Reserve is pulling seven trillion — with a t — dollars out of its posterior and giving it to the banks responsible for the housing crisis. While we're making sacrifices to advance a national movement to place people ahead of profits, the United States Congress is preparing massive cuts to Medicare, children's nutrition, crumbling bridges, and national parks, plus "security" cuts that will largely avoid even scratching a military budget five times larger than that of the next most militarized nation on earth, even as the U.S. military works overtime to antagonize Pakistan, China, Iran, and much of the world.
I know Washington, D.C., is far away. But I saw New Yorkers arrive there last week by foot. And there are trains, planes, and automobiles available for the less ambitious. And I guarantee you that your local activists will raise a fund to send you to the heart of our darkness. Here's why.
Violating our First Amendment rights, beating us with sticks, pepper spraying us, tear-gassing us, and arresting us, and thereby intimidating many more of us in other cities that have only had to resort to mild suggestions and threats: these are criminal acts. These would be the outrage constantly on the lips of every president, senator, and cabinet secretary if they were taking place in Iran. These crimes are taking place in our own country, and this trend will increase if it is not effectively resisted and challenged. The place to bring that challenge — or one key place, anyway — is the U.S. Justice Department and the government it serves in Washington.
Don't talk to me about the "question" of whether there has "really" been federal coordination of these assaults. There has been federal U.S. provision of the weaponry to our cities as to the enemies of our brothers and sisters in Egypt. There has been federal training in the militarization of the police in our towns and on our university campuses. There has been federal toleration of outrages that shame our nation in the eyes of the world.
There is another threat to the Occupy movement, however. Beyond the cold weather, beyond the police assaults, beyond the challenges of caring for people in need who are attracted to encampments of those who care, there is the threat of co-option, of normalization, of de-radicalizing something radical. The power of the Occupy movement lies in the fact that it is not speaking for half of a corrupt plutocracy against the other half. Bringing people's demands to the government must continue to be just that, an effort of independent people to challenge the government as a whole, along with the society as a whole, to change. The two political parties move together, and far more important than squinting hard enough to detect differences between them is the fundamental work of pushing both of them in a better direction. You can still cherish your hopes that one of them will move a bit more in the direction of decency than the other, but none of us can sit out this drive to put basic fairness and equality on the agenda in a way that has already been shown to be more effective than partisanship.
By taking our demands to Washington, we must not neglect our local work, much less the efforts targeted at Wall Street in New York. But when you protest the empowerment of corporations, the concentration of wealth, and the advancement of the war economy at the expense of our environment and security, it is important to ask whether the chief levers for changing our public policy are in your town or on the shores of the Potomac in the Pentagon, in the K Street lobby firms, in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in the White House, and on Capitol Hill. Every type of work in this movement is appreciated, from your local street corner, from your house, or from wherever you can contribute it. But you should know that there is an open invitation and a camp site awaiting you in the imperial capital.
I leave you with a parable:
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers." And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they appeared on every network lamenting his lack of clear demands or legislation and his failure to join forces with the Democratic Party.
Photo by Scott Galindez
In a hastily thrown together press conference Sunday afternoon, several months in the planning, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said his efforts to spread freedom beyond New York City had included the deployment of 1,000 NYPD officers to Schenectady, where they have just apprehended a young man inspired by Al Qaeda and Occupy Wall Street propaganda provided to him by the NYPD on a regular basis since September.
The arrest could not await an opportunity to persuade the FBI of the seriousness or sanity of the matter, Bloomberg said, as the evildoer had apparently packed a marijuana bong with Christmas lights and was prepared to attempt unspeakable acts imminently. Although the materials were intentionally defective, having been provided to the terrorist on Saturday by the NYPD, a careful analysis identified a greater than one percent likelihood of an attack on a local Home Depot store with which the terrorist had previously quarreled over malfunctioning plumbing materials and staff he accused of "not knowing their elbow pipes from their assigned aisles."
Bloomberg revealed a plot that included packing Christmas Bombs with nails in hopes of nailing returning U.S. troops to crosses. The Mayor said he would be making public the records of attempted communications between the bomber and Muslim cleric Lex Luther, who may or may not have ever reciprocated the attempted communications. Asked what motivated the terrorist to act in this moment, Bloomberg indicated that a video may have been the catalyst. In what the Mayor referred to as a "super fast moving investigation" it was apparently not yet clear what this video consisted of. The District Attorney has subpoenaed Netflix records from October and all but promised an "October surprise".
Bloomberg responded to a series of questions on the significance of the Lex Luther connection, explaining repeatedly that no fewer than 36 blogs have tied Luther to funding from George Soros, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and a plan to publicly ask His Royal Highness Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Sa’ud of Saudi Arabia his views on beheading hippies and Socialists. Furthermore, Bloomberg explained, one of the top Mercedes diesel mechanics in Tribeca, an expert who has also blown up automobiles for NYPD film productions in preparation for hastily thrown together press conferences, has agreed to testify that Iran could develop nuclear weapons if left no clear alternative for actual survival.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly interrupted the flow of the press conference on Sunday to switch on a live video of a hypersonic flying bomb cruising on its way to a predetermined target. Kelly said he believed the target was Diana L. Taylor, a close acquaintance of Mayor Bloomberg. Kelly announced that New York would immediately be declaring war on Iran, which -- he pointed out -- hates us all for our freedoms.
Bloomberg interjected that, "Without me you would all be dead by now."
Kelly followed up with, "If I can't save you, nobody can."
The press conference was repeated in every detail in Pig Latin with Bloomberg donning a Guantanamo prisoner's orange outfit out of what he said was "solidarity with my left-leaning constituents."
I'm thankful that a growing number of us reject the idea of a mysterious being to which we should be thankful, and for the concomitant growing assumption of responsibility for our own fate.
I'm thankful that there are so many people doing so many things for which I am thankful.
I'm thankful for the best family I can imagine. Scratch that. I'm thankful for a better family than I could merely imagine.
I'm thankful too for better employers than I could merely imagine.
I'm thankful that so many other people have families and friends and allies and bosses and colleagues that facilitate work that benefits us all.
I'm thankful to those who are alone and find the strength to push on productively.
I'm thankful that when friends and allies disagree they can reconcile.
I'm thankful that when activists burn out they can revive.
I'm thankful that there is finally a movement alive in the United States -- in much of the world this is not new -- a movement that uses all the tools of nonviolence; a movement that refuses to be subsumed by a political party, an elected official, a candidate, or any organization that itself obeys any of those things; a movement that does not separate domestic from foreign issues; a movement that does not self-censor, pre-compromise, condescend, appeal to the lowest common denominator, insult our intelligence, or avoid morality or intellectualism; a movement that has -- contrary to a common misunderstanding present even within the movement -- made such clear and popular demands that hostile media coverage has thus far failed to demonize it; a movement that continually surprises us all with its collective brilliance, innovation, integrity, courage, nonviolence, and -- that rarest of characteristics -- belief in democracy, belief even in something better than the ordinary understanding of democracy.
I'm thankful to the corporate television networks, without which nothing. They have given us a movement despite themselves. Soon may they perish.
I'm thankful to Officer Anthony Bologna, and to Mayor Bloomberg and all the tin pot robber barons exposing so colorfully the violence through which wealth and power are concentrated.
I'm thankful that what does not kill us makes us stronger, and that our mayors and chiefs of police do not know this.
I'm thankful to the climate destroyers for the grotesquely warm weather that is making resistance to the destroyers of our climate a little easier so far.
I'm thankful to those producing the new art and music of this moment and this movement.
I'm thankful for the impending failure of the Superconjob and the likely-as-not bumping of further attacks on our retirement and health security until after another election which will also mean bumping it off until after the fine weather of the spring and a massive national occupation of Washington.
I'm thankful to the mic-checking birddoggers of war criminals and pirates and booktouring banksters who have led to a trend of canceled speaking events.
I'm thankful to everyone who voted the right way in lots of referenda around the country this month.
I'm thankful to states pulling out of mortgage fraud settlement fraud.
I'm thankful to Obama for at least pretending to turn against the tar sands pipeline. I'm thankful to those unsatisfied who are wisely striving to increase rather than withdraw pressure.
I'm thankful to those supporting the Occupy Movement in every way.
Most of all, I'm thankful to those occupying public space, many at serious sacrifice to themselves, their lives, their relationships, their well-being, their wealth, and their liberty.
I'm thankful to those who have worked for this moment for many years without relenting who are now a part of it.
I'm thankful to those who are for the first time joining in.
I'm thankful to the homeless turned activist.
I'm thankful to the activists turned allies and assistants of the homeless.
I'm thankful to those police officers who have begun to refuse illegal orders.
I'm thankful to those journalists who refuse unconscionable scripts and restrictions.
I'm thankful to veterans who campaign against war.
I'm thankful to the propagandists for war on Iran for being so stunningly incompetent.
I'm thankful to the Congress for having put initial minor cuts to the military on the agenda despite its every effort.
I'm thankful to those managing to deal lovingly this holiday season with those closest to them, without retreating into the false comfort of private life but, on the contrary, working collectively -- and also here, lovingly -- for the salvation of our society and our natural environment.
Only we can save ourselves, and only together do we have a chance of pulling it off.
Charlottesville Event with David Swanson's New Book: "When the World Outlawed War"
WHAT: David Swanson with his new book "When the World Outlawed War" and thoughts on activism past and present
WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m., November 16, 2011
WHERE: Random Row Books
315 West Main Street
Charlottesville, VA 22902
THIS EVENT IS A DICK CHENEY FREE ZONE
NO ALUMINUM TUBES OR YELLOW CAKE ALLOWED
Occupy City Council
At 5 p.m. on Monday rally at Lee Park.
March at 6 p.m. to City Hall.
At 6:30 everyone sign up for 3 minutes of speaking time at the 7 p.m. City Council meeting.
The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." But Congress has abridged freedom of the press by giving our air waves to international mega-conglomerates and granting them monopolistic control over what an overworked undereducated populace learns. Our local governments have abridged the right to peacably assemble by forbidding gatherings in public places without special limited permits. How are we to petition our government in Washington for a redress of grievances? Mail, faxes, telephones, and emails don't seem to be working. The government is radically opposing super-majority opinion on taxing the wealthy, taxing corporations, ending wars, cutting military spending, protecting the environment, enforcing laws against the powerful, criminalizing bribery and otherwise reforming the election system. Not everyone can move to Washington, D.C., to exercise their First Amendment rights. And if they did, how would their particular mis-Representative and Senators pick them out in the crowd? Local Occupy camps are a means of petitioning the national government and identifying the petitioners.
Occupy Cville is located across the street from Wells Fargo, to which the occupiers have brought their message. Wells Fargo is arguably a branch of the U.S. federal government. Wells Fargo is one of the largest institutions in the nation. It pays negative taxes. That is, it is richer after taxes than before. It receives funding from our tax dollars. To be specific, Wells Fargo has been given $18 billion in tax breaks during the past three years, resulting in its negative tax rate despite its massive profits. Our federal government is also committed to bailing out Wells Fargo when it runs into trouble and has given it tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Unlike human beings, schools, the economy, the natural environment, our health system, our grandparents, our children, the ill, the hungry, or the unclothed, Wells Fargo is guaranteed protection and assistance whenever it is in need. Wells Fargo pays for our elections, funnelling millions of our tax dollars back into the campaigns of its preferred candidates. In return, Wells Fargo is free to ruin families and neighborhoods through predatory lending, housing cost inflation, insider trading and speculation without any risk of criminal prosecution.
It is in the interests of the City of Charlottesville not to interfere with the First Amendment rights of flesh and blood human beings in assembling and petitioning our corporate-congressional complex for a redress of a great many grievances. —D.S.
Not yet 30, Evan Knappenberger has already lived several lives. His story destroys the U.S. government's case against whistleblower Bradley Manning, exposes the toxic mix of fraud and incompetence that creates U.S. war policies, and highlights the damage so often done to soldiers who come home without visible injuries.
Knappenberger, seen in this video, was trained as an "intelligence analyst" at the U.S. Army's Intelligence Training Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in 2003 and 2004, the same school attended by Bradley Manning. In April of this year, the PBS show Frontline, responding to an article Knappenberger had published, flew him to Los Angeles on a private jet, and interviewed him for four hours.
Knappenberger told Frontline that he, like Manning, had had access to the U.S. government's SIPRNet database when he had been in Iraq. Knappenberger told Frontline that 1,400 U.S. government agencies put their information on SIPRNet, and that 2 million employees were given access to it. SIPRNet has secret blogs, secret discussions, and its own secret Google search engine. At one point, the Pentagon encouraged gambling on SIPRNet on the likelihood of future terrorist attacks. Knappenberger also pointed out that the United States had given the Iraqi Army access to the database, knowing full well that many members of the Iraqi Army were also on the U.S. target list as enemies fighting U.S. troops.
Knappenberger was in Iraq in 2006, but said he believes the practice of sharing SIPRNet with the Iraqi Army began in 2005. The U.S. Army ran cables to laptops in Iraqi command posts, and gave each post a CPOF (command post of the future) super computer. Each Iraqi command post had access to everything Bradley Manning allegedly leaked to Wikileaks. At some point in 2006, the U.S. Army decided to get serious about security by assigning two U.S. soldiers with security clearances to guard each site. Each soldier was on guard for 12 hours and off for 12. Another step taken to boost security was the creation of passwords to access SIPRNet, but because no one could remember the passwords they were written on sticky notes and stuck to the backs of the computers. Knappenberger says he had the password on the back of his computer and has read that every computer in Manning's unit had it too.
So, Knappenberger related this kind of information to Frontline for four hours and says that for three or four months afterwards he expected to go to prison for violating nondisclosure aggreements. He popped a lot of PTSD pills and gained a huge amount of weight as a result of nervousness, he says. Then, the day before he expected the Frontline story to air, he says, the show told him it would not be airing. Frontline was afraid of being held liable for inducing Knappenberger to violate his nondisclosure aggreements.
Knappenberger has made the same information public without any charges being brought against him. Frontline would simply have made it more public. Like Bradley Manning, Frontline would not have provided enemies of the United States with tools to be used against us. Rather, like Bradley Manning, Frontline would have informed more of us what our government was doing in our name. And some of what it has been doing is extremely hard to look at without turning away.
This past January, Knappenberger says he testified on the record, via telephone, to the office of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner on the topic of torture. Knappenberger was not qualified to "interrogate" people, but Donald Rumsfeld's reorganization of the Army found ways to put non-combat troops into combat roles. Used to test this model was Knappenberger's First Special Troops Battalion. These cooks, military police, signals and chemical specialists, clerks, and analysts were called on to fight terror and spread freedom. Knappenberger says his platoon sergeant was a payroll specialist who "got his legs blown off in combat he was never trained for," while a first sergeant "got his head blown off, and he was an intel geek." Knappenberger says his roommate was a specialist in fixing radios who lost his hearing and suffered traumatic brain injury on an IED squad.
Knappenberger says that recruiters had told him he'd do desk work. But he also says that when he joined up he was ready to kill people. He ended up doing double duty. There would be 10 or 12 hours at your normal job, he says, followed by 8 hours on a combat job. Knappenberger's combat job was not a shooting one. It was his duty to tell others where to shoot, what to blow up, whom to kill. Knappenberger at age 20 was one of three "intel" people in his unit at Camp Taji north of Baghdad, the other two being women aged 25 and 26. None of the three had experience, but they took over for eight well-trained veterans who had been there for two years, and some of whom even spoke Arabic. The 26-year-old woman in charge was a drone pilot now placed in charge of a combat area with 100,000 people around Camp Taji. Many FREs (former regime elements) lived right outside the base.
As the only male, Knappenberger says he was assigned to do the questioning of suspects brought in. Lacking any census, the only database of individuals Knappenberger possessed came from the oil-for-food program. A friend had found the information in Baghdad and typed it in. When someone was pulled over, soldiers would radio to Knappenberger who would search for them in the database. Usually they'd be released. If someone was caught "with a bloody knife or a tube of mortars" Knappenberger says, "they'd be brought in." But without really good evidence they could not be booked for lack of space. So, good evidence had to be obtained within 24 hours. The method of choice was coerced confession.
Knappenberger told me they used sensory deprivation on these suspects. They blindfolded them, put bags on their heads, handcuffed them, sat them on the cold ground in their underwear, etc. In one case that he described to me, they drove a man in circles around the base blindfolded in a truck, put him on the ground, and gave him a cigarette. The man "freaked out because he thought he'd been driven to the middle of nowhere to be executed. But we never told him that, so it was legal." The more common approach, Knappenberger said, was to tell someone you would drop him off in the middle of the market and give him $100. This would amount to framing someone with turning in others, and the penalty would likely be death . . . for the individual and for his family. "We'd show them pictures of dead bodies and say 'This is what's going to happen to you,' and we'd talk about their wives and girlfriends." Knappenberger says he did not engage in physical abuse, but that others did while he literally turned his back. Iraqi interpreters, wearing masks, hit, slapped, grabbed hair, etc. Turning your back was understood by the U.S. Army as making you a non-witness, Knappenberger says.
This went on from January to March, 2006, until "I finally got into trouble." Afraid that a prisoner would file a complaint after being booked, Knappenberger's boss promoted him from the tactical to the operational command staff. Knappenberger's new job, too, provides a window into the madness of war.
Knappenberger came up with an analysis of likely weapons caches. Some were in junk yards and other random sites. But the largest was in a munitions depot supposedly guarded by the Iraqi Army. The further one moved away from this depot, Knappenberger found, the fewer weapons caches were found. Similarly, Knappenberger identified likely locations of ethnic killings as Iraqi Army checkpoints.
The Oil Protection Force, a special unit of the Iraqi Army, was headquartered in one of the hottest spots for IEDs in all of Iraq, Knappenberger says. "We were paying them and they were stealing oil out of the pipeline they were supposedly guarding." When Knappenberger's unit arrested the head of the Oil Protection Force for leading a Sunni militia against U.S. troops, within an hour, he says, a DIA helicopter arrived and "the guys in suits took him and put him back out on the streets." Shortly afterwards the pipeline blew up and burned for 30 days.
Another Iraqi whom Knappenberger had an interesting encounter with is Ali Latif Ibrahim Hamad el Falahi. "I spent eight months trying to find that guy," he says. Knappenberger met Falahi at a civil affairs dinner at a sheik's house his first week in Iraq and spoke with him for about an hour. Three days later, Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll was kidnapped. Knappenberger says Falahi was "the suspect" and was "our number two target for a year and a half" as he engaged in ethnic cleansing, decapitation, and ambushing Shiite units in the Iraqi Army. "I spent 8 months trying to have him killed. We killed dozens of people trying to find him. We had a gunship fly around his orchard because of heat signals there. Thirteen people died there, none him." Falahi was reportedly later killed in the same sheik's house after failing to set off a suicide vest beside a U.S. soldier.
"I think about that guy every day," says Knappenberger. "We raided his house. I had his diary translated. I had a whole file on this guy." Remarkably, Knappenberger recognizes humanity in Falahi, saying "I don't think he was a bad person because I didn't get that vibe from him when I talked to him." Knappenberger uses the example of Hitler to suggest that there is good in the worst of people. Of Falahi he says, "He did very bad things. He killed a lot of people. There were even allegations that he was raping women. But before the Americans came he was just a hardworking farmer taking care of his aunt." Falahi had gone to his Imam and argued over how to get Americans to leave without violence, says Knappenberger. "Falahi and his nephews went through Camp Taji and took a bunch of weapons the day Saddam disappeared. And it was supposed to be for protection. They set up a militia to guard the village. They had check points on the road in and out." Then the United States armed the Shiites as the new Iraqi Army, and Paul Bremer cut out the Baath Party and banned possession of over 30 rounds of ammunition per family. "That's when he got radicalized."
Evan Knappenberger says he began as an Ayn Rand fan, an atheist and a Republican (and you thought Karl Rove was the only atheist Republican!). Knappenberger has since turned against Ayn Rand and rightwing politics including war, and gone religious.
Evan says that he found the Army to be "a pretty socialist institution," in which people are encouraged to protect their friends as a way to motivate them to kill. But, he says, "I was willing to kill without that." Why? As revenge for 9-11, he says, and as an expression of hatred that Evan says he harbored even before 9-11. He remembers reading Readers Digest as a kid and learning about "terrorists who want to kill us." In the end, Evan says he did not shoot anyone. But he prepared packets of information on targets, including maps to their homes, photos of them, the reasons they were targets, and what was to be done to them (kill/capture, exploit, source, etc.) Artillery officers, who Evan says are "notoriously stupid," became a targeting cell, and whatever he told them ("This guy is bad. This is where he lives.") they would work from to plan bombings and raids.
My impression from speaking with Evan Knappenberger is that what turned him against war and militarism, even more than the SNAFU experience in Iraq, even more than the gradual exposure of the lies that launched the war, and more than the "socialism" within the military, was coming into contact with radical inequality of wealth and power within the Army, mirroring our society at large.
On a two-week leave, completely exhausted, in the middle of his year in Iraq, Evan flew back to Charlottesville, Virginia. On the last leg from Atlanta, he was one of two people in uniform on the plane. The other was a JAG general with a gold watch and a leather briefcase but no combat patch. Evan, in contrast, hadn't had a shower in a week, and it showed. Apparently the two of them regarded each other with mutual contempt. While on leave, Evan attended a jobs fair in Crystal City for people with security clearances like his. At lunch time, he says, lots of officers came over from the Pentagon looking for high-paying jobs. "I was the lowest ranking person in the room. And the thing that really shocked the hell out of me: You go six months in Iraq and the highest ranking person you see is a colonel. And I'm in a room full of generals and sergeant majors of the army and chief warrant officer fives, and not one of them had a combat job in the whole big ball room -- not one of those m----- f------ had been in a combat zone for 30 days to get a combat patch -- or if they did they weren't proud of it. And these were the people making the decisions and making my life hell -- and that had a lot to do with turning me against the war."
Another factor was the unfairness of the policy of stop-loss. The Army had messed up Evan's paperwork when he had shipped out, delaying him, and as a result his date for completing his contract just barely made it into the group the Army chose to hold over for additional "service." To avoid being stop-lossed, Evan cut a deal with his commanders that would allow him to be honorably discharged for minor misbehavior. However, a brand new division commander gave Evan a general discharge, eliminating his GI Bill and other benefits. Evan says it took him three years to get any disability coverage from the V.A.
Evan still has PTSD, as well as a skin problem he attributes to toxic chemicals and garbage burned in open pits in Iraq by the U.S. Army. On tower guard duty adjacent to such a pit, Evan says he lost his sense of smell and coughed up a black substance. "That whole year was like a nightmare," he says. "Getting mortared every night. Rockets coming in. The first couple of times I got shot at on guard duty I had no idea what was going on. . . . I thought it was bats. . . . I got so used to getting mortared. I was at the airport getting ready to leave and was in the portapotty when a siren went off. Then there were booms and after the last boom dirt clods falling on the portapotty. I walked out, doing up my belt, and there was a major and a sergeant major under a truck face down in the mud. And the guy screams at me: 'Get to the bunker!'" Evan's response was a casual "Whatever. It's over now."
In April of 2007, Evan Knappenberger came back to Charlottesville. He says he'd been dating long distance and had a bad break up on the phone while driving. He just kept driving for three months, living out of his car and spending his Army money. He ended up in Bellingham, Washington, where he met a woman at a peace vigil and married her in October. The marriage has "almost been ruined a few times by PTSD."
Evan has done a lot of antiwar activism in Bellingham, including helping AWOL soldiers make it to Canada. He built and did guard duty on a tower in Bellingham and then in Washington, D.C., to protest the stop loss policy. I organized a press conference for his mother in Charlottesville.
Evan was nothing if not outspoken. This included informing an Ohio couple that their son was dead, despite a government coverup and propaganda campaign. In 2004 Iraqis produced a video of a U.S. soldier, Matt Maupin, held hostage, and then another of him being killed. According to Knappenberger, the DIA used facial pattern recognition and a study of the blotches on his uniform and was 100% certain that Maupin had been executed. But the military told the media to suppress the video, and the U.S. media complied. Maupin's parents campaigned for Bush's "reelection" in the swing state of Ohio in '04 because "John Kerry wants to leave Matt behind," even though Knappenberger says the government knew that Matt was dead. As part of the public relations push, Maupin was repeatedly promoted in rank, and his pay was placed in an account for when he was found.
Evan saw the video in 2006. In 2007 he told a Washington Post reporter who filed a FOIA and was told the information was classified. So, in September 2007, Evan says he told Maupin's parents, who were reluctant to believe him. An hour later, an Army intelligence officer called Evan and threatened him with jail. According to Knappenberger, he replied, "If you tell the parents I won't have to. If you don't I will." Meanwhile, says Knappenberger, "the poor dad was putting together a team to go find Matt." Maupin's dad, Evan says, told him "I've got Andrew Card's number. I'm calling him right now." Two weeks later he was allowed to watch the video at the Pentagon.
One's heart breaks for those parents and so many others like them, and for the vastly greater number of Iraqis whose loved ones have been killed by U.S. loved ones. One's heart breaks for Evan Knappenberger as well. He says he is committed to nonviolence, but it is a process he is working at. He grew up in a violent culture and was trained to use and value violence. Since getting out of the Army, he has repeatedly been accused of threatening violence. He recounted to me an incident in which he threatened President Bush with violence. He has threatened rightwing war supporters with violence in blog posts. Evan's been hospitalized twice for PTSD. He's had an on-again off-again relationship with antiwar groups like IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War).
During what Evan describes as a "really bad breakdown" in January 2009, he showed up at the V.A. hospital in Seattle. It was full, and he was told to come back Monday. He called a senator, and had an appointment within an hour. Within another hour, he says, he was loaded up with antidepressants and on the street. Four weeks of antidepressants later, he had a worse breakdown that landed him in jail following an attempted suicide and what he says was an unfounded charge of "unlawful imprisonment" of his wife, which he pled to a misdemeanor.
Despite everything our society places in the way of it, Evan Knappenberger has obtained an associate's degree and is working on a bachelor's. After a troubled but useful contribution to Occupy Charlottesville (he says he quit, others say they evicted him), Evan is headed back to Bellingham to work on his marriage and his mortgage payments. I wish him well and thank him for speaking out.
Believe it or not, November 11th was not made a holiday in order to celebrate war, support troops, or cheer the 11th year of occupying Afghanistan. This day was made a holiday in order to celebrate an armistice that ended what was up until that point, in 1918, one of the worst things our species had thus far done to itself, namely World War I.
World War I, then known simply as the world war or the great war, had been marketed as a war to end war. Celebrating its end was also understood as celebrating the end of all wars. A ten-year campaign was launched in 1918 that in 1928 created the Kellogg-Briand Pact, legally banning all wars. That treaty is still on the books, which is why war making is a criminal act and how Nazis came to be prosecuted for it.
According to U.S. Socialist Victor Berger, all the United States had gained from participation in World War I was the flu and prohibition. It was not an uncommon view. Millions of Americans who had supported World War I came, during the years following its completion on November 11, 1918, to reject the idea that anything could ever be gained through warfare.
Sherwood Eddy, who coauthored "The Abolition of War" in 1924, wrote that he had been an early and enthusiastic supporter of U.S. entry into World War I and had abhorred pacifism. He had viewed the war as a religious crusade and had been reassured by the fact that the United States entered the war on a Good Friday. At the war front, as the battles raged, Eddy writes, "we told the soldiers that if they would win we would give them a new world."
Eddy seems, in a typical manner, to have come to believe his own propaganda and to have resolved to make good on the promise. "But I can remember," he writes, "that even during the war I began to be troubled by grave doubts and misgivings of conscience." It took him 10 years to arrive at the position of complete Outlawry, that is to say, of wanting to legally outlaw all war. By 1924 Eddy believed that the campaign for Outlawry amounted, for him, to a noble and glorious cause worthy of sacrifice, or what U.S. philosopher William James had called "the moral equivalent of war." Eddy now argued that war was "unchristian." Many came to share that view who a decade earlier had believed Christianity required war. A major factor in this shift was direct experience with the hell of modern warfare, an experience captured for us by the British poet Wilfred Owen in these famous lines:
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
The propaganda machinery invented by President Woodrow Wilson and his Committee on Public Information had drawn Americans into the war with exaggerated and fictional tales of German atrocities in Belgium, posters depicting Jesus Christ in khaki sighting down a gun barrel, and promises of selfless devotion to making the world safe for democracy. The extent of the casualties was hidden from the public as much as possible during the course of the war, but by the time it was over many had learned something of war's reality. And many had come to resent the manipulation of noble emotions that had pulled an independent nation into overseas barbarity.
However, the propaganda that motivated the fighting was not immediately erased from people's minds. A war to end wars and make the world safe for democracy cannot end without some lingering demand for peace and justice, or at least for something more valuable than the flu and prohibition. Even those rejecting the idea that the war could in any way help advance the cause of peace aligned with all those wanting to avoid all future wars -- a group that probably encompassed most of the U.S. population.
As Wilson had talked up peace as the official reason for going to war, countless souls had taken him extremely seriously. "It is no exaggeration to say that where there had been relatively few peace schemes before the World War," writes Robert Ferrell, "there now were hundreds and even thousands" in Europe and the United States. The decade following the war was a decade of searching for peace: "Peace echoed through so many sermons, speeches, and state papers that it drove itself into the consciousness of everyone. Never in world history was peace so great a desideratum, so much talked about, looked toward, and planned for, as in the decade after the 1918 Armistice."
Let us try to revive some memory of that foreign world on the occasion of the latest "veterans day" this Friday in this brave new era of searching for more war.
David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War" from which this is adapted: http://davidswanson.org/outlawry
A Forgotten Law We Need
In January 1929 the U.S. Senate ratified by a vote of 85 to 1 a treaty that is still on the books, still upheld by most of the world, still listed on the U.S. State Department's website -- a treaty that under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is the "supreme law of the land."
Buy the iPad/iPhone version at the iBookstore.
What people are saying:
"David Swanson is a truth-teller and witness-bearer whose voice and action warrant our attention." — Cornel West.
“David Swanson has written a fascinating account of how peace once became the law of the land, through the Kellogg-Briand Pact. It is particularly pertinent in the era of the Endless War, by giving encouragement and suggestions of a path forward to those who want to give peace a chance.” — Liz Holtzman, former member of the U.S. Congress.
"David Swanson has done it again with this new book – unearthing history they don't tell you about in mainstream media." — Jeff Cohen, founder of FAIR and author of Cable News Confidential.
"David Swanson brings his laser focus, brilliant writing, and incredible intelligence to bear in this book, where he makes the case that the Kellogg-Briand Pact was a major step -- as yet unrecognized -- on the path towards eliminating war. He tells a wonderful story, shines light on the unknown peace activists who refused to be deterred by what was considered possible or reasonable, and makes a compelling analogy with slavery -- like war, a worldwide activity deemed unstoppable -- and like war, an immoral crime that must be ended. I have been active in the antiwar movement from Vietnam through Iraq. I have done political work for some of the most antiwar candidates of the modern era -- McGovern, Jackson, Nader, Kucinich. I have marched and petitioned, organized and strategized, and played a part in peace demonstrations from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to London and New York. And I am a history buff. But until I read David Swanson's book, I had never heard this story before -- and certainly never understood why it was important." — Steve Cobble, former political director of the National Rainbow Coalition, advisor to Jackson, Nader, and Kucinich presidential campaigns
“Swanson has done it again. This is a masterful account of how Americans and people around the world worked to abolish war as a legitimate act of state policy and won. Swanson’s account of the successful work of those who came before us to insist that war be outlawed compels us today to rethink the cost and morality of cynical or weary inaction in the face of our repeated resort to military threats and warfare to achieve policy goals.” — Jeff Clements, Author of Corporations Are Not People.
"David Swanson's fascinating new history of the development of the much neglected campaign in the 1920s to outlaw war has many lessons for anti-war activists today. An essential read." — Andrew Burgin, Stop the War Coalition.
"David Swanson predicates his belief that nonviolence can change the world on careful research and historical analysis. This compelling and wonderfully readable narrative examines pacifist developments in the U.S., dating back to the 1920s. Swanson then examines contemporary anti-war efforts. He writes from a particularly advantageous perspective because he is firmly rooted in plans and actions designed to put an end to war. Drawing from historical examples of success and failure, he help readers imagine achieving the U.N.’s eloquent mandate: 'to eliminate the scourge of war.'" — Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
“From Daybreak to War Is A Lie to When the World Outlawed War to a prodigious number of essays (and that’s just since the ’08 election) David Swanson combines the timeliest scholarship and logical elegance in a call to action: ‘to learn how to enjoy working for the moral good for its own sake.’” — John Heuer, Veterans for Peace.
“One of the best ways to radicalize someone’s thinking is to force the person to look at a cherished ideal in a fundamentally new way. David Swanson does that with War, an ideal cherished by too many Americans. Can the United States ever be weaned from its love affair with war — Endless War? This book provides the background for dealing with that question.” — William Blum, author of Killing Hope, and of Freeing the World to Death.
“How many Americans know that an American peace movement in the 1920s mobilized millions of people, and eventually the U.S. government, to get the world’s major powers to formally renounce war? Or that the Kellogg-Briand Pact is still on the books making our current leaders guilty of the same crime that we hung people for at Nuremberg? It’s time for a little education! David Swanson has written a wonderfully well-documented history of a time when Americans discovered their own power to organize and impact their government on the most vital issue facing the world, then and now: the abolition of war.” — Nicolas Davies, author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.
“Polls show a large majority of U.S. citizens oppose current U.S. wars, but many Americans’ reluctance to engage in antiwar activism is in part due to their sense of impotence at having any impact on their own government. This book tells the story of how the highly energized Peace Movement in the 1920s, supported by an overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens from every level of society, was able to push politicians into something quite remarkable — the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy. The 1920s War Outlawry movement was so popular that most politicians could not afford to oppose it. If any one piece of American history can re-energize the American people to again push their politicians, then this book can do it.” — Bruce E. Levine, author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite.
“‘Ahhh, peace, that would be so nice,’ an Afghan grandmother whispered after recounting how 30 years of war had devastated her family. The world community has failed her miserably, as it has failed so many millions from the Congo to Iraq to Sri Lanka. But David Swanson’s book gives us a glimpse of another possible reality, a world that says no to war. By recounting the heroic efforts of a generation in the 1920s that actually did pass a treaty banning war, Swanson invites us to dream, to scheme and most important, to take action.” — Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK.
“David Swanson is on a mission to end war. In his latest book he brings to life an important story about a time when a national peace movement raged across our nation. The media covered this movement, and members of Congress were active participants. Through this movement a treaty was signed that outlawed war. Sadly today few know about this significant moment in our history, but Swanson’s book will help change that.” — Bruce K. Gagnon, Coordinator, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.
Nov. 23, 2011, 6:30-8:00 p.m. https://www.google.com/calendar/render?eid... ">Busboys and Poets, 14th & V Streets, Washington, D.C.
Jan. 7, 2012, 5:00-7:00 p.m. ET chat at FireDogLake book salon.
April 3, 2012, McNally Jackson Books in New York, NY.
July 14, 2012, Peacestock 2012 in Wisconsin.
CATCH THESE INTERVIEWS:
Nov. 7, 2011, The Alyona Show
Nov. 9, 2011, The Nicole Sandler Show
Can occupations survive a winter of global weirding, escalated police brutality, and the corporate media's venom? Should they?
In some parts of the country there will be no cold weather. In others, police abuses will result in larger occupations, not smaller. And it's certainly possible that for the first time in recent years an independent progressive populist campaign will survive the enmity of the corporate media.
In other cases, the cold, the communications assaults, fatigue, and the difficulties encountered by activist camps that also become homes for the homeless and the mentally ill may begin to erode the usefulness of encampments.
What to do?
Here's one activist's recommendations:
Above all: stay! Continue to hold public space! Grow, and rotate people. No single person need stay forever. But the 99% of the 99% that cheers from the sidelines needs to get into the squares and parks. We don't need emails or phone calls or checks or pizzas so much as we need live bodies!
In particular, return wherever police have sought to deprive us of our First Amendment rights. Those abuses cannot be tolerated or our rights will come under greater assault everywhere else. We must occupy precisely where we are told we cannot. The way to do this while keeping the conversation focused on what motivated us in the first place (the need to obey majority demands, to tax the rich, to prosecute the biggest criminals, to end the wars, to move the spending from the military to human needs) is this. We demand the right to petition our governments for a redress of grievances.
That is the First Amendment right that is under assault.
The strength of the Declaration of Independence was the great number of grievances against King George. We have a great number of grievances as well, and if CNN doesn't have time for them, well, it can lengthen its sound bytes. Our demands are not going to shrink except by being satisfied.
Encampments can, with some difficulty, serve as bases for nonviolent action and as community gathering places and providers of community services. If done right, aiding the homeless, the hungry, and those in need of medical care can strengthen occupations that may very well turn out to be permanent.
But the dominant focus should be on nonviolent resistance. Let's not just do theater or spectacle. Let's not just get in the way of commuters and others in the 99%. Let's get out of the streets and into the suites. Let's shut down offices.
And, while the focus on the government's funders, handlers, and lobbyists is very useful, I'd like to see more focus on government. I do not mean working with or through government. I mean resisting it, interfering with it, preventing its operations, shutting it down. The 1% is represented, and the rest of us are not. Let's put a halt to those operations and insist on representative ones.
If occupations end anywhere, they should not be ended by police or the media but by a transition to other tactics that appear more useful in that time and place, and those other tools should be up and running first before any occupation is phased out.
Here are some ideas that are being tried or could be:
Start a weekly event, ideally on a weekday, that includes a march or demonstration, a nonviolent resistance action, and a community gathering in a public space. Make this weekly action huge before considering whether to end the permanent occupation. Consider targeting warm buildings for nonviolent resistance.
Occupy empty buildings as bases for the winter. Find a building owner who wants construction work done in exchange for occupation. Or just squat in buildings that are empty. Or find one of those many people who support us but will not join us who can donate the use of a building or a house, or who can cover the rent. We need to continue building community. Our strength comes from it.
Plan bus tours from city to city, rolling occupations with big events at every stop.
Plan people's conventions, regionally and nationally and internationally. This will involve something else that's critical at the level of the local Occupy event: choosing representatives. We must figure out, as many are figuring out, how to delegate responsibilities without losing democratic control.
Plan huge events for the spring, including the start of an International Spring of Occupations.
Make plans for OccupyTampa and OccupyCharlotte for the times of the two national conventions of the two political parties of the 1%.
Do not go electoral. Do not go lobbyist. Do not divert money or time into campaigns. Do not spend your days drafting legislation or emailing congress members. Plenty of other people will do that stuff no matter what, and they will do it better if you're doing the more fundamental work of cultural change. Instead, put your skills into communications, education, outreach, inspiration, and organizing.
The best way to improve the elections is to improve the society. The best way to destroy the society is to focus too heavily on elections. The rational choice between two bums who are both worse than the two who were offered up in the previous election cannot possibly be rational.
We have larger work to do. It may take a long time. That should not affect our level of dedication. But when there is a moment of growing momentum, we must seize that moment to press forward with everything we've got.
Weaponized UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), also known as drones, have their own caucus in Congress, and the Pentagon's plan is to give them their own state as well.
Under this plan, 7 million acres (or 11,000 square miles) of land in the southeast corner of Colorado, and 60 million acres of air space (or 94,000 square miles) over Colorado and New Mexico would be given over to special forces testing and training in the use of remote-controlled flying murder machines. The full state of Colorado is itself 104,000 square miles. Rhode Island is 1,000 square miles. Virginia, where I live, is 43,000 square miles.
The U.S. military (including Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines) is proceeding with this plan in violation of the public will, new state legislation on private property rights, an exceptionally strong federal court order, and a funding ban passed by the United States Congress, and in the absence of any approved Environmental Impact Statement. Public pressure has successfully put the law on the right side of this issue, and the military is disregarding the law.
I spoke with Jean Aguerre, whose organization "Not 1 More Acre" ( http://not1moreacre.net ) is leading the pushback against this madness. Jean told me she grew up, during the 1960s, on the vast grasslands of southeast Colorado, where the Comanche National Grasslands makes up part of a system of grasslands put in place to help the prairie recover from the dust bowl. The dust bowl, Aguerre says, was the worst environmental disaster in the United States until BP filled the Gulf of Mexico with oil. The dust bowl had been brought on by the government's policy of requiring homesteaders to plow the prairie. The recovery programs created large tracts of land, of 100,000 acres and more, owned by "generational ranchers," that is families that would hand the ranches off to their children.
Aguerre said she grew up on a ranch of incredible beauty and natural wealth, with a 165-million-year-old dinosaur track way and petroglyphs from 12,000 years back. Grasslands are the most threatened ecosystems in the world because they are so accessible, Aguerre says, and the only intact short grassland left in this country is the one being targeted for the "51st state."
Round One began in the 1980s. Fort Carson, an Army base in Colorado Springs, had been kept open after World War II and now began looking for more land. The people of the area were opposed. The U.S. Congressman representing the area agreed to oppose any landgrab. But Senator Gary Hart took the opposite position. As a result, during the early 1980s, the Army Corps of Engineers started telling ranchers to sell out or risk seeing their land condemned and taken from them.
The ranch next to Aguerre's is called Wine Glass Rourke. It was sold to a shill, as Aguerre describes the buyer. He ran the place into the ground with too many cattle, she says, and then sold it to the military, "And they were off and running!" With condemnations the military put together 250 thousand acres. Ranchers, along with their cattle, were moved off their own land by federal marshals. "We didn't know when we'd be next," Aguerre says of her own family.
Luckily for the people of Colorado and New Mexico, and all of us, Aguerre got involved in politics. She became a political director for Congressman Tim Werth who later became a U.S. senator. Aguerre took him to see the Wine Glass Rourke ranch and told him "Let's take it back." Werth dedicated his staff to the effort for three years, resulting in the transfer to the Forest Service of 17,000 key acres.
The Army used its new land less than twice a year for maneuvers, but caused horrible environmental damage whenever it did. That was the case for about 30 years, until the activity of recent years made everything that came before look sensitive and sustainable.
In the meantime, people like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were theorizing the transformation of the U.S. military into a force for robotic warfare. Aguerre believes it was in 1996 that a decision was made that the military would need a robotic warfare center. Around 1999 the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement was created. This precedes the more specific Site Environmental Impact Statements. The U.S. public, just like the public of any foreign nation where new U.S. bases are being planned, was told nothing.
In 2006, Aguerre was working in Oregon when friends started asking her to come home and help because something big was happening. An Army land expansion map had been leaked that showed plans for taking over 6.9 million acres, the whole southeast corner of the state. Aguerre thought she would come home for two weeks but has never left. An Environmental Impact Statement for the site was about to be released, and Aguerre knew that meant the project was pretty far along. She formed organizations and found a lawyer in Colorado Springs named Steve Harris to help. The two of them, she says, were absolutely dedicated to NEPA and FOIA. NEPA is the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. FOIA is the Freedom of Information Act of 1966. "NEPA is intended to prevent our government taking our world apart piece by piece without our knowing it," explains Aguerre.
Aguerre and others persuaded the area's county commissioners to vote against the military's plans in 2006, and the state legislature to pass a private property rights bill in January 2007 -- a bill that required approval of such plans by the state legislature.
Ken Salazar was the military's hired servant. He had been Attorney General of Colorado from 1999 to 2005. He was a U.S. Senator from 2005 to 2009. President Barack Obama has made him Secretary of the Interior. Around 2007, Jean Aguerre recounts, Salazar held a public meeting in Pueblo, Col., with about 300 ranchers packing the room. He turned his palms up to the ceiling and announced: "I will lift the golden curtain that falls at the end of El Paso county so that prosperity can flow onto the eastern plains." This meant that military spending was economically beneficial. Military expansion, people were being told, was good for them -- even if it stole their families' land, and regardless of what momentum it created for the launching and continuing of wars.
"Instead of putting together frameworks for nonproliferation," says Aguerre, "Ken Salazar worked to destroy the last intact short grass prairie because the money was too good."
Senators Wayne Allard, who would join the military lobbyist company the Livingston Group within weeks of leaving the Senate, and Ken Salazar passed an authorization for taking land as part of the 2007 John Warner Defense Authorization Act. "None of the ranchers knew they were in line to be condemned for the second damn time," says Aguerre.
John Salazar, Ken's brother, at this time represented Colorado's third congressional district, while Republican Marilyn Musgrave represented the fourth. Musgrave was persuaded by ranchers that there was no need for the government to take their land. Aguerre worked with Musgrave's staff to draft a one-sentence funding ban. Aguerre and her allies then organized massive public pressure to recruit John Salazar as a Democratic co-sponsor. Ken Salazar failed in his effort to block this measure in the Senate. The ban passed both houses and became law, but it must be renewed every year.
In 2009, Aguerre and her allies won a federal court ruling throwing out the military's Environmental Impact Statement with harsh and unequivocal language -- "one of the strongest court orders under NEPA," says Aguerre. By 2008, the military had begun using its land a lot more, and the court ruling did not stop them.
The funding ban, too, is not stopping increased activity. This past year, the funding ban was missing from a committee chairman's markup in which it had appeared in previous years. Not 1 More Acre and its allies pressured Third-District Congressman Scott Tipton. People from all over the country phoned his office. They were told that as non-constituents their views did not matter. Aguerre advised people to reply: "When you pick my pocket you don't ask what district I'm from." Tipton was won over, and the funding ban, for what it's worth, remains for now.
Nonetheless, says Aguerre, the military is proceeding with and increasing trainings and environmental destruction daily .
Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado and Tom Udall of New Mexico don't receive high marks from Jean Aguerre. "Mark Udall on Armed Services and Michael Bennet on Agriculture sit with their thumbs in their pie. Udall has never once come to southeastern Colorado and looked young ranchers in the eye and said 'this is why we need this military takeover of your lands.'"
Aguerre continues: "And Tom Udall puts out this pap the other day, mumbo jumbo about the Air Force. It's not Air Force; it's Special Operations. Aguerre said that her group and others are preparing a comment letter seeking legal standing to challenge the Air Force, and potentially to pry loose more information from the iron grip of our "transparent" government. Aguerre points out that the Air Force Special Operations Command Environmental Assessment was written by SAIC, a global military contractor that also makes voting machines.
"We found out that the state national guard is completely involved in UAV warfare," says Aguerre. "So when your house floods and you don't have the national guard there, they may be remotely piloting something somewhere else."
Aguerre says that in 2006 she knew of four countries that were manufacturing armed UAVs, and that now she knows of 56. So, the argument that drones keep "people" out of harm's way (with people redefined to mean U.S. citizens) doesn't hold up very solidly. We have also already had a suicide bomb attack on a drone piloting location and had drone pilots commit suicide, not to mention the risks of long-term blowback, the damage being done to the rule of law, and all the human beings killed and injured from among the non-U.S. 95% of humanity.
Aguerre asks scientists who love unarmed UAVs to consider the full effect of supporting such technology. I would ask environmentalists to consider the full effect of not resisting the destruction of what Not 1 More Acre describes as:
• unique bioregions of canyonlands, forested mesas, grasslands and riparian systems providing habitat for diverse flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth and the largest block of native prairie remaining on the High Plains;
• restored Dust Bowl lands – Comanche, Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands — offering robust safe haven to threatened and endangered species of plants and animals, including rare insects and reptiles yet to be named;
• wild rivers and complex wetlands vital to native fish, migrating birds, unique wildlife and environmental health.
I would ask opponents of drone warfare to consider the likely impact of setting aside 60 million acres of air space for testing drones.
"We cannot allow the sacrifice of our democracy to politicians who are bought by military contractors," says Aguerre. "If they are able to get this 51st state for robotic warfare, I think the economy will be irretrievably lost. These are unbelievably beautiful and pristine lands. Our rural areas are where the genetically modified seeds are being planted, where the lands and mountains are being mined, and where the military is going to destroy an area the size of a state, because the rural people are so few. Gary Hart was able to attack the last short grass prairie without political cost."
Why is there no political cost? Because "we can't get the word out."
Let's help get the word out by sharing this link: http://not1moreacre.org
One of the most valuable benefits of putting political action into the form of nonviolent encampments is that we learn each other's stories as we occupy our public parks and squares. Here's a story from the October2011 occupation in Freedom Plaza, Washington, D.C. There are many more, and we'd like to hear yours when you join us.
Aristine Maharry is 29 years old and now lives in Freedom Plaza. She grew up in a very military family, with members of her family having participated in every major U.S. war going back to the war for independence, and with members of every generation having joined the military.
Maharry's family did not encourage her to aspire to a military career, but -- as in many such stories I've heard -- actions spoke more loudly than words. Maharry was proud of her father's military experience. She hoped from a very young age to join the U.S. Army. She grew up playing at army with her half-brothers. They would flip the couch on its side and toss pretend grenades. She loved the board game Risk. The biggest holiday in Aristine's family was the Fourth of July. She doesn't say she bled red white and blue. She says she bled green, Army green. She wanted to serve her country and other people. She was willing to die for her country. She was proud of her country.
Aristine was a good student and a good athlete. At age 7 she tested with an IQ of 185. She was placed in gifted and talented classes in all of the many public schools she attended. She got good grades, ran track, and was president of the Future Business Leaders of America at West Potomac High School in Northern Virginia, where at 16 she dual enrolled at George Mason University. She graduated from high school at 18 in the year 2000, was married the next January and pregnant in February.
Aristine knew that the military would be reluctant to enlist a mother of a child under 1 year of age. She hoped to take part in the Green to Gold program, enlisting and eventually becoming an officer. Her own father had dropped out of college to enlist and fight in Vietnam. She admired that history. However, when her first son was nine months old, Aristine became pregnant again. She headed to the recruiter's office when her second son turned one in May 2004. She had a family and a good job in management training new personnel in the pharmacy department of Liberty Medical Supply in Florida. But recruiters' job is to recruit, and Maharry didn't require any persuading.
She arranged to train at the same camp her father had trained at, Fort Leonardwood in Missouri. She headed there in December 2004, leaving behind a husband and two little boys for the holidays. Aristine says it was a very sad time for her, very difficult, and also very cold in Missouri. But, she thought to herself: "All the other soldiers have families too. They do it. I'm not different. I can serve too. I want to do my part as an American." She signed up to become a combat medic, hoping to care for injured soldiers.
The first few weeks of training in January were extremely hard, she says: lots of pushups, not a lot of sleep, but a great deal of hostility from drill sergeants conditioning recruits to face hostility in battle, struggling with their own post-traumatic stress, or simply acting out their sadism. Aristine characterized it as "ten times worse than in the movies." She was in Charlie Company, Third Battalion, 10th Unit, 4th Platoon. Her platoon had four drill sergeants, three of them male named Davis, Harris, and something like Fontana (she doesn't remember this name clearly), and one female drill sergeant named Gilliard.
The woman sergeant was not what you would call gentle and loving. Aristine witnessed Gilliard yank a male soldier across a desk and injure him. His offense had been to request a pen. Fontana (or whatever his exact name was) made Gilliard look sweet and delicate by comparison. He was shorter and meaner than the others, according to Maharry. She saw him slam a female private named Barr up against a wall.
Aristine is amazingly understanding of this abuse. The sergeants, she says, had just done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The training was their rest period between tours of combat. They were all, she believes, dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Aristine's understanding this is even more amazing considering what happened next.
Aristine was doing pushups along with the other privates. It was dark. Fontana came up behind her and kicked her hard repeatedly in the pelvis. The next morning, with her 50-pound rucksack, Aristine was not able to keep up on the run in her usual way. One of the drill sergeants, Harris, told her she would have to report to "sick call."
That night, Private Barr came and got Maharry. The two of them went to the military police (MP) and told their stories of abuse. The MPs sent them right back without indicating that they would do anything at all. The reports that the MPs took down may or may not still exist among their records.
The next morning Aristine reported to sick call. Before she did, Gilliard whispered in her ear that she needed to say she had slipped on ice, which was a complete fabrication. An X-ray showed a fractured pelvis. Aristine was put in the Army hospital on the base from January 8, 2005 to February 1st or 2nd, immobilized in bed with a morphine drug for pain. She was then sent on 30-day convalescent leave with heavy pain killers. If she did not return after the 30 days, she was told, the Army would come and find her. Through the course of her initial processing and training, she had already been advised repeatedly that going AWOL (absent without official leave) was punishable by anything up to death.
Aristine says she was "terrified" and "scared to death." She didn't tell her husband what had happened, as she was afraid that if he raised the issue she would be punished when she returned to the Army. When she did return, she pleaded with a physical therapist not to send her back to the same unit. It turned out that it was standard practice not to do that. Aristine worked hard, she says, to recover fast in the Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Program (PTRP) because those who did not, the "hold-overs," would be kept in separate rooms in barracks with their units' drill sergeants and would often be raped. Aristine did not use the word "rape" but indicated sex that was unwanted. "Rape" or "command rape" is an accurate term.
Unfortunately, the First Sergeant for the same Company she had been in before came and requested that Aristine return to the same unit. She passed a test and was returned. Once back, she was kept in a separate room, but resisted the drill sergeants' attempts at sex, she says. A couple of female holdovers, she says, were also kept in private rooms. They would be taken out at night, and would cry endlessly when they were returned.
Aristine was now in the fourth week of training, with the same company, platoon, and drill sergeants (except for Fontana who was no longer there), but all new privates, her original group having long since graduated. Aristine was miserable, terrified, and "crying, crying, crying." "How," she asked herself, "could they send me back here?" The First Sergeant told her: "You'd better not open your mouth about what happened last time." Maharry was still on lots of pain medicine and suffering mental pain as well.
Privates are all assigned "battle buddies," and Aristine's was a man named Principe. Privates objected that she couldn't have a male battle buddy. The sergeants said that she could and that it happens in war. Luckily, Principe was a decent person, or -- perhaps more to the point -- a person who had not been in combat and was not placed in a command position. But Principe left early, during the eighth week. There was one more week to go.
During these later weeks of training, the drill sergeants were not as hard on the privates, and focused more on building camaraderie within the unit. They also brought the privates into the way the Army thinks. Drill Sergeant Davis said to whole platoon, as Aristine recalls: "It does not matter what happens in a room as long as two or more of you have the same story. That's the party line."
Aristine, like every private, slept with her weapon, knew its parts and how to assemble it, and gave it a name. Her gun was called "Blue." Among the chants used in training were "We are Charlie Company and we like to party: drink blood drink blood all night long," and another that began "Sharpen our machetes!"
Aristine was treated to particular abuse through these weeks. She was frequently awakened during the night and deprived of sleep. For weeks, she resisted the advances of the First Sergeant, Drill Sergeant Davis, and Drill Sergeant Kitchen. Aristine learned to sleep sitting straight up in the daytime.
During the final week, the First Sergeant called for her at night and said "We know what you did with your battle buddy" and "We know you're selling pain killers." He claimed that Principe had accused her of selling her pain killers. She knew that Principe would not have said that. She had no use for money in basic training, she desperately needed the pain killers, and the accusation named no party she'd sold to or any other details. There were no witnesses, and the accusation was false. There was never any trial or finding, just an accusation. The Army threatened to bring Aristine up on charges under Article 15 of the Universal Code of Military Justice. She refused to sign their forms, and they dropped the matter.
Aristine says that frequently she would cry as her Army superiors threatened her, repeatedly, for weeks. They would point out that she never received any letters in the mail. They claimed that nobody would know if they "took care of her." Remarks included "We know how to make people shut up" and "We can make you be quiet forever." Aristine says she took these as clear threats to kill her or imprison her, and that these threats were offered on multiple occasions.
Aristine injured her arm, and a doctor agreed not to treat her so that she could ship out, which was what she wanted: to escape Missouri.
Aristine's birth mother showed up out of the blue. She had been an Army Captain. She had also been a model for ROTC posters and "Babes of the Military" calendars. Aristine was reluctant to tell her mother the true story, terrified that the Army would find out she'd talked and kill her or lock her away in prison. So Aristine told her mother the things she'd seen done to other female privates. She told her mother the Army was trumping up charges to keep her quiet. Aristine's mother said she knew how it worked, and she kept quiet.
When I spoke with Aristine this week she said that she was still scared to be speaking about it. This is even more understandable considering the rest of the story.
After graduating, and being denied permission to walk in the graduation ceremony as punishment for the baseless accusation of selling drugs, Aristine shipped out to Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas. She was treated for her arm injury. She could not be sent on convalescent leave again so soon. Instead, she was sent to wait for a review by a medical board. Many she spoke with had been waiting two or more years for the medical board to review them. They could not leave for holidays or visit families. Aristine sank into depression. She felt unable to sit and do nothing, not to mention being constantly made fun of for not going to war.
She tried to switch from combat medic to a paperwork job that she could handle. She was told she was not fit for any duty until the medical board reviewed her case.
She tried to quit the Army with no benefits. They told her, she recounts: "Because we broke you, we have to fix you."
I asked "Like Iraq?"
Aristine: "Yeah, like Iraq."
A chaplain declined to help.
A physical therapist declined to help.
A woman, possibly named Rodriguez, told Aristine that if she "pulled the same s--- here as in basic" she would "personally hunt you down and take care of you."
Aristine went to a psychiatric clinic and said she was considering suicide. She really was. The clinic made her sign a statement that she would not kill herself. Then they sent her right back to hurry up and wait for the medical board.
Aristine left most of her possessions behind and went AWOL.
She was afraid to return to her family. She still does not want to face her father. She is deeply ashamed of having failed to succeed in the military. People had warned her she would fail. And she failed, or at least viewed it that way, even knowing that what was done to her was not her fault. She wished she'd listened to her colleagues at work who had told her "You're too pretty," and "Girls like you shouldn't join the military." She had taken those comments as insults to her pride. She now says they were right but didn't go far enough. "It's no place for anybody," she now concludes.
Before joining up, Aristine had contacted both of her parents. Her father had never spoken about Vietnam. He now said "I saw things in the Army that no one should ever be exposed to." He told her not to do it. She took that as fatherly protection and thought to herself "I'm stronger than he thinks." He had received medals in Vietnam, she points out, but he'd also returned with "shell shock" or PTSD. Loud sounds would cause him to throw something or hit someone. He suffered tunnel vision in crowded places, and Aristine says she had the same symptom for a while.
Aristine went AWOL on July 5th ("my independence day"). She went to Florida and picked up three jobs, and then a job in New York. But in New York in November 2006, she had a checkbook stolen and reported it to the police. She did not face prosecution for going AWOL. But she was required to report to Fort Knox in Kentucky and sign out, along with many others in her same position -- many women and men too, all suffering injuries, many from training and some from combat. They were made to put on Army uniforms and ordered about. She had to write out her story for a judge. She was told she could not speak with a judge. She was not told she could hire a lawyer. The Army may still have the report she wrote out. She was given a less than honorable discharge.
Aristine tried to reconcile with her husband. They tried counseling. She did not believe she could become pregnant anymore. But she did, and the pregnancy was very hard on her, her third son being born a month early. Doctors told her insurance would not cover problems related to military injuries. So Aristine went to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) and asked to change her discharge to honorable and to obtain health coverage. She again had to write down her whole story, and this time she left a copy with her birth mother. She was now advised that she could have had a lawyer at Fort Knox.
Aristine is now on her own, but has joined together with a growing crowd of activists opposing the entire direction in which our war economy is dragging our nation and the world. Many people are finding the strength to tell their stories, and finding power in joining them together with others'.
Aristine Maharry thinks the military should release injured people to their families and treat them through the VA. She's seen a woman forced to stay in a hotel, forbidden to see her family, while her family lived an hour and a half away. For what purpose?
Aristine thinks the Army should allow stretching during training to avoid countless shin injuries in women and men.
She thinks her story is similar to a great many others. She's found the strength to talk after six years and in the midst of a nonviolent occupation. "The Army is keeping people quiet," she says, "many, many people. Victims are sent to their attackers to ask for help."
In school, Aristine says, she learned that America is always the hero, there to fix things and to help the rest of the world. "If it weren't for us, the world would be lost!" But, she adds, you don't learn the effects that wars have on people.
Yesterday, NPR's PR flack was haranguing me on the phone about how NPR had nothing to do with getting Lisa Simeone fired from an independent program called Soundprint. This was despite NPR having gone public with its concerns over Simeone's "unethical" participation in democracy, and Soundprint's referencing of NPR's "ethics" rules in firing Simeone. It was also despite NPR's clear intention to get Simeone removed from our airwaves.
I have no evidence that NPR contacted Soundprint, but "World of Opera" is a different story. Today I read that ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/21/n... ) NPR has dropped distribution of "World of Opera," a program produced by WDAV which contracts with Simeone to host it. NPR's original frantic email and blog post had read:
"We're in conversations with WDAV about how they intend to handle this. We of course take this issue very seriously." (The issue of participating in a democratic society and not backing a corporate agenda like bigshot NPR hosts who opinionate on Fox, in op-eds, and at big business speaking events for big bucks.)
Lisa was told to be on a phone call with NPR and WDAV Thursday morning, but NPR canceled the call without telling her, as she waited by the phone. NPR's Anna Christopher Bross tells me that NPR spoke with WDAV about how to handle Simeone. She says they went through many possible scenarios, and that NPR has been completely transparent. I asked her what any of the scenarios were, and she refused to say. I asked if one of them was the only one anyone has discussed, namely firing Simeone, and she wouldn't say. But the announcement by WDAV was "Ms. Simeone remains the host of World of Opera." The decision was not to fire her. NPR announced "Classical public radio station WDAV says Lisa Simeone will continue to host World of Opera." The decision was not to discontinue her.
Now, unable to get Simeone fired, a decision which NPR would have carefully blamed entirely on WDAV, our public radio thugs have taken the only approach left to them if people who condescend to supporting the political efforts of the poor are to be kept out of public sight: NPR has dropped the program.
Clearly Soundprint deserves its full share of condemnation in all of this, and WDAV merits strong support. WDAV will be distributing "World of Opera" on its own and should have our backing. But NPR has lowered itself to the bottom rung of our communications system. Mara Liaason can opinionate on Fox News while providing an objective god's-eye view on NPR. Scott Simon can publish opinion columns in corporate newspapers while reporting the facts. Cokie Roberts can take corporate speaking fees that could cover most people's mortgages without being perceived as in any way tarnished. But Lisa Simeone cannot introduce operas while having taken the unforgivable step of supporting a nonviolent movement on behalf of the lower 99% of us. Despicable.
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Member since Mon Mar 22nd 2004
Charlottesville, VA, USA
David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org
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