Category Archives: LGBTQ

Unstuck in time again, in a good way

It’s been forever, I know. I should have at least updated my other shop’s cheers as Sotomayor became a Justice, especially the soulful essay about how she, a wise Latina herself, felt during that confirmation ceremony. But given the demands of that other shop (go look! Make comments!) and that I’ve been writing the last two chapters of my book simultaneously, I’d made a conscious decision not to blog until I was done. Well, not completely conscious, or else I’d have put up one of those “Gone Fishin”signs.

But last week I finally went to this convention, which I’ve described to friends as “like going to a party where fully half your characters are there to answer the questions you never asked.” Veterans for Peace, founded in the wake of the collapse of the Nuclear Freeze movement, and containing many of the folks I’ve now been writing about for years.It began with a rousing statement from Rep. Donna Edwards (above), who like me isn’t a veteran, but who may as well be: her father was career military, and she remembers when her father was stationed in the Philippines and “if we wanted ice cream, we had to go all the way to  Quezon City” because in military facilities, including the huge Clark Air Force Base,  “all the hangars and freezers were filled” — she choked up — “with the caskets of young men and women who had died in Vietnam.” That told her, she said, “When we ask our young people to sacrifice, it’s our responsibility to get it right.”

I remember when Edwards was “just” the director of the National Network Against Domestic Violence, and we were working together on military issues: that one, like many of the issues jostling in  my brain and this book, was challenge and enriched by the information streaming everywhere last week.

coxMuch was  super-informal, with benefits: e.g. I warned Paul Cox (right), who I’ve known nearly 15 years now, that he was a star of my Vietnam chapter, and as a bonus he let me see and upload some 1969 photos he’d just got hold of.  (They proved what I’d always guessed: he was even more of a babe at age 19 than now.)

ellen_barfieldWRLAfter dropping by the Women’s Caucus — where I also got to check in at the long-pervasive issue of military sexual abuse and homophobia— I got to interview Ellen Barfield (U.S. Army 1977-1981, now on the board of War Resisters League.) Barfield told me about being stationed in 1980 at Camp Humphreys, in South Korea, when her unit and many others were suddenly put on lockdown during the Kwangju Massacre.

barfieldportraitWe were put on high alert; the combat troops were given orders, and up in our unit we started getting riot training.” she told me.  Asked by fellow officers if women should participate, she and other women said hell yeah, we’re soldiers too — but matters never got that far. “That’s as close as I ever came to combat,” Barfield reflects now. “But – it wouldnt have been combat, it would have been killing civilians!” Already a Nation reader who’d been struck by the grinding poverty she saw in Korea, she set about upon leaving the Army to learn more about U.S. involvement in backing up Sung’s repressive government. “People are kept for so long from knowig their history,” she told me.  She learned a lot from members of the then-newborn VFP such as former CIA Asia specialist aideChalmers Johnson and Brian Willson, who’d lost his legs protesting U.S. aid to repressive governments.

plow8bBarfield was soon drawn in by the nuclear-freeze movement, just as Philip Berrigan and the rest of the Plowshares movement were getting arrested  at nuclear plants all over the country: Barfield was soon doing the same at the PANTEX plant near her hometown of Amarillo, Texas, and has been a “soldier for peace” ever since. I learned some of the latter story from a panel on nuclear-weapons issues, where a hikabusha (survivor of Hiroshima) asked through a translator what the  U.S. was doing to teach its children about nuclear weapons.

At panels on The GI Rights Hotline and on active-duty resistance, I learned more about the still-ongoing cases of current resisters such as Agustin Aguayo (above), and of those in exile fighting for asylum, like Andre Shepherd (below), whose German support network includes a woman who’s been doing this work on and off since the Vietnam years.I didn’t think then — but do now as I write this – that if I had stayed at CCCO a mere year longer, I might never have felt able to leave.

Despite the friendliness of the members of Iraq Veterans Against War, though, I was perhaps too shy about the IVAW workshops, fearing they were tired of me already — something I regret and don’t, now.

johnjudgeBecause on my way out of town, I touched base with John Judge — who  has been doing this work literally since I was two years old, including with the G.I. Project of  VFP’s vibrant predecessor. John described for me what he witnessed when  Vietnam Veterans Against the War was  neutralized  by the Red Squad in 1974,  “destroy[ing] the single most visionary and effective peace group in history.”   (I’d already written about these events here, drawn from documentary evidence).

wintersoldier_bannerWhen the RU moved into VVAW’s Chicago headquarters (note the North Vietnamese star at the center of the logo), so did posters and newspapers with appropriately “militant” headlines, such as: VVAW BATTLES V.A. THUGS. A civilian volunteer named John Judge, who watched the transition, was astounded. “Were they really advocating physical violence against medical personnel?”

The transition did, Judge added, have its comic elements: “They came in with these handlebar mustaches and sideburns, like Stalin, and these flannel workshirts.” Romo and his RU peers also told Judge to stop reading a pop history book in his bag, because We only read Marx and Engels here. “I told them, Those books are 150 years old now.” But the new regime also purged any members they deemed not “correct,” which included many who had been working triple time to help the new veterans get what they needed.

The January 1975 issue of THE VETERAN, whose “Vets Fight V.A” article was just before the “Victory to the Indochinese,” was also its last until 1996. The closer RU got to its goals, the more complete the damage to an organization once powerful enough to scare Nixon.

road_from_ar_ramadi_coverThat conversation with John stayed mostly comic/elegiac.  We did touch on the question I’ve since been trying, separately, to sort out: if the same has already begun to happen to IVAW, perhaps under the influence of it outgoing board president Camilo Mejia, the brilliant young scion of Nicaragua’s revolution? I mention the latter fact in full respect; Mejia (with whom I share a literary agent!)  grew up in the fullness of a poet’s revolution, and his father, Carlos, wrote the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s national anthem. His speech last Thursday was compelling, as when he noted that the U.S.’  unfortunate Asian land war had left room for all the democracy movements south of the border.

But my concern was rooted in more than Camilo’s charisma: rumor has it that while I was worrying about ANSWER (Workers’ World Party) and World Can’t Wait (RCP) leeching off the younger group, I was too distracted by their sideshow to see the steady recruitment tactics of this group, only a few years younger than RCP and hipper/younger/jazzier in its presentation.

It’s not a meaningless question: dissenting soldiers are already being marginalized every minute. I hope those rumors are incorrect, but I’m not that optimistic.But my job now is to find out what actually happened, and to tell that story as honestly as I can.

(p.s. Thanks so much to Gerry Condon, whose comment below helped me correct some errors born of hurry and 50 percent humidity. That’s part of what this blog is for.)

Advertisements

Matthis Chiroux gets to the hard stuff

I promised an update to the Hempstead 15, though the first update is that I’ve been spelling Matthis Chiroux’s name wrong all this time and none of my so-called colleagues have bothered to correct me. Mea culpa, sir, and bravo for your fortitude in following in the footsteps of that Fort Hood Three (see my “two photos” post above) and telling the disciplinary panel at Fort Leavenworth what they could do with their deployment order:

I thought of those brave G.I.’s in Vietnam who stood against the system, who worked to prevent the victimization of their brothers and sisters by resisting the continued genocide. Many went to jail. One was shot and killed while trying to escape.

I thought of my brothers and sisters in IVAW. Those who realize the humanity in us all deserves to be respected beyond what the military trained us to think. We are sacred; we are beautiful. We are not killers, we are women and men of dignity and justice.

The ‘government’ tried to rattle me by asking if I’d have objected to simply taking photos, and I told him any act to support an illegal war, from the front lines to a state-side base, was a violation of the Oath of Enlistment.

I took my leave of the witness chair feeling satisfied that everything I had come to say and do had been done, and then Marjorie Cohn walked in!

Prof. Cohn gave the most thorough, detailed, understandable and spot-on breakdown of the illegalities of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan I’ve ever heard. She focused on the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremburg Tribunals, U.S. Federal and Constitutional law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

She spoke with elegance and grace about some very hard subjects, and when the ‘government’ asked if she thought every Soldier in the Army who had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or supported the occupations from the states were a party to war crimes, she answered honestly.

Marjorie will always be a hero to me, as well Kathleen Gilberd of the NLG, who has provided me priceless council (sic)  and support since the earliest stages of my resistance.

I had to include that call-out to Kathy Gilberd, one of the quiet muses of my book (and has written one, with Marjorie Cohn, that will end up being invaluable, even though I’ve been following it all).

The video above is of an act I hold above even the courtroom confrontation: Matthis  giving testimony, at Winter Soldier St. Louis, about having used services of sex slaves while in the military, and now realizing that not all war crimes are the kind that leave blood on your hands.

I’d promised this as an update/wrapup to the Hempstead 15 story. Tomorrow I’ll finish up, with some thoughts on the context to their story, and some overtones of the past in current events that have me worried and a bit wearied.

hearting Keith Olbermann one more time

Before it gets too old:  Paul Schindler at Gay City News (one of the hardest-working and most brilliant journos I know) sends this report from the weekend’s Human Rights Campaign dinner, where Keith Olbermann (above) schooled the lawmakers in the room:

In an evening when the governor of New Jersey made his most forceful statement to date in support of marriage equality, the new Senate majority leader in New York State pledged to make gay marriage a reality here, and New York City’s mayor once again promised to lobby the Legislature in Albany to help get that done, the crowd’s heart at the February 7 Human Rights Campaign gala in Manhattan’s Hilton Hotel, it seemed, belonged to a cable television political commentator.

In honoring Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s nightly “Countdown,” with its Ally for Equality Award, HRC took particular note of a “Special Comment” he made about California’s Proposition 8 six days after the election. As Olbermann was poised to take the stage Saturday evening, a clip from that “Special Comment” was replayed to a hearty standing ovation.

The rest of the piece is a must-read: Schindler explains the complexities of gay and progressive  politics with his usual elegance. He also includes video of Majority Leader Malcolm Smith wading into those complexities.

By the way, for those who tweet

tweety1I can’t decide whether Twitter is an exercise in mass haiku, an ADD enabler, a time sink or all of the above. I’m therefore not doing a widget with this. But if you tweet, consider following Chris411 and I’ll reciprocate. (Though if I know you, you’re too busy following Brent Spiner or Rachel Maddow.)

Update: Apparently, via this site you can also follow Lincoln’s and other tweets-throughout-history. I’m sort of terrified to look there for James Joyce or Joan of Arc.

If you’re mad about Rick Warren, get out tomorrow and light up the night.

I was going to try to write about  Rick Warren being  asked to give the inaugural invocation, which yesterday pulled me from my bookwriting stupor back into that November 5, no we can’t! fury. And as you see above, I wasn’t alone:

As Michelle Goldberg puts it so pleasantly in The Guardian: He is a man who compares legal abortion to the Holocaust and gay marriage to incest and paedophilia. He believes that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other non-Christians are going to spend eternity burning in hell. He doesn’t believe in evolution. He recently the social gospelthe late 19th- and early 20th-century Protestant movement that led a religious crusade against poverty and inequalityas “Marxism in Christian clothing.

Or as Linda Hirshman noted on the WAM listserv (I’m posting this with her permission):

Rick Warren’s site for educating preachers, Pastor.com, has a long essay on why women should submit to their husbands. Here’s the money line: “The Greek word for ‘submit’ is hupotassoHupo means “under” and tasso means “to place in order.” The compound word hupotasso means “to place under or in an orderly fashion.” Paul didn’t dislike women, he liked order! He advocated order in the church, order in government, order in business, and, yes, order in the home.

Then I remembered what gave me hope after that, and decided I was better off pushing this event for tomorrow.

It’s not just a vigil and food drive: it’s us giving notice that Obama better mean what he said yesterday, that they’ll push for a quick repeal of DOMA and eliminatinn of DADT.  And we’ll press that case in Washington on January 10th, just before the inaugural. Just in case.

Diversity begins at home.

You’d think that someone who started out her interest in military-GI issues advocating for women in the military, working hand in hand with  the likes of Linda Grant de Pauw, Rep. Patricia Schroeder and  Captain Barb, who therefore knew about women in every war fought by the U.S, would have women as characters easily laced throughout the history I’m writing.

You’d think that a dyke who loved being able to give  Walt Whitman’s boyfriend voice in my Civil War chapter would be on the alert for the gays described by Allen Berube, who dissented in their very presence in World War II — and not have to had thown at me the compelling example of Guadalcanal vet Paul Moore, a running buddy of William Sloane Coffin. (Below is a clip of his daughter Honor, who wrote a book about his double life.)

And you might even think that a girl who is obsessed with Bayard Rustin and led her earlier chapters with dissenters of color —William Apess, Lewis Douglass, W.E.B. duBois— wouldn’t draft a chapter with a nearly all-white cast, with the exception of Medgar Evers. That a girl who squinted at and photocopied stuff from A. Philip Randolph’s Committee Against Jim Crow in the Armed Services would have naturally devoted a few lines to the NAACP’s 1942 “Conscientious Objectors Against Jim Crow.” That she’d at least have included 73-yr-old du Bois sighing that ‘ We fight for democracy not only for white folk but for yellow, brown, and black…We fight not in joy but in sorrow with no feeling of uplift.”

Nope: as currently drafted my World War II chapter, like the war itself, features an  all-male, nearly all-white cast. I slapped myself upside the head last night when I realized it. Better now than later, when Cynthia Enloe and Linda Bird Francke would do it more publicly on reading the final product.

To use the kind of language we used in the 1980s: I know I’m twisted by white privilege, but when did the frigging patriarchy decide to colonize my thinking?

and we wonder why we’re invisible

When the frigging  New York Times “Public Editor” is that clueless:

I said incorrectly last week that Matthew Shepard had been murdered in Colorado. He died in a hospital there. Thank you to readers who pointed out that the fatal beating took place near Laramie, Wyo.

It was all over the news, sir. Before you went to press, you could have double-checked, using The Google. Or even Youtube: