One of the things that makes me personally sad about Zinn leaving us when he did is that I’d hoped, when Ain’t Marchin’ was published, to introduce him to Garett Reppenhagen (left), president of Veterans Green Jobs and former president of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The latter had told me, when I interviewed him two years ago, that Zinn’s People’s History had been a catalyst for him. “I walked into this cool bookstore in Colorado Springs,” Reppenhagen told me, “and I said I’m a high school dropout and probably going to Iraq. What do I need to know?” In addition to recommending John Perkin’s Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (also an excellent choice), the bookstore clerk insisted he buy the Zinn. A sniper who was at that moment stationed in Bosnia, it took some time, he said: but afterwards felt changed forever.
Now it turns out that Zinn wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that, since another young vet from the previous Iraq war, Jeff Paterson, also credits him. Jeff, the tireless and inhumanly tall coordinator of Courage to Resist, tells about discovering Zinn in Asia in 1989:
At the time, I was a 20-year-old Marine artillery controller becoming disillusioned with what I was seeing stationed in Okinawa, the Philippines, and Korea. Reading “People’s History” was certainly an unknowing step I took towards later refusing to fight in Iraq in August 1990. It enabled me to see my individual actions as a part of something much larger—yes, even larger than the Marine Corps.Within a matter of weeks in late 1990 and early 1991, nearly a hundred Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors pledged to refuse to fight—most eventually did time in stockades and brigs. Twice as many service members publicly spoke out against the Gulf War at anti-war protests and rallies—sometimes to dozens, sometimes to 200,000 people. However, unless you were there, or have read a recent edition of “People’s History”, you wouldn’t know any of that ever happened.
Maybe the book will make a small contribution toward lifting that national amnesia, at least a little. Meanwhile, see Jeff below with Michael Wong, a former Army medic who deserted after he learned about My Lai, spent years in Canada and then worked in exactly my job in San Francisco. Watching them interact makes me feel a little unstuck in time.
Back when I was writing for Chelsea Now and trying, at the height of the bubble, to figure out how it all worked (and wondering whether I needed an MBA), my colleague Albert Amateau told me a story. I was getting headaches trying to sort out how it could all be legal that the air above your building, the years until you die, were all being “monetized” at such a rapid pace. A few years ago, said Al, he’d been offered a chance at a job writing for a newsletter entirely about derivatives, those malleable catalysts of much market hysteria. It didn’t work out, said Al, one of the best craftsmen in the business, but it told him that people like he and I had wasted our talents studying literature and poetry. It was people on Wall Street that had learned how to really make money with fiction.
If you squint hard enough, you can see that the derivative-driven economy of the past decade has always, in a way, been about counterfeiting. At their most basic level, innovations like the ones that triggered the global collapse — credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations — were employed for the primary purpose of synthesizing out of thin air those revenue flows that our dying industrial economy was no longer pumping into the financial bloodstream. The basic concept in almost every case was the same: replacing hard assets with complex formulas that, once unwound, would prove to be backed by promises and IOUs instead of real stuff. Credit-default swaps enabled banks to lend more money without having the cash to cover potential defaults; one type of CDO let Wall Street issue mortgage-backed bonds that were backed not by actual monthly mortgage payments made by real human beings, but by the wild promises of other irresponsible lenders. They even called the thing a synthetic CDO — a derivative contract filled with derivative contracts — and nobody laughed. The whole economy was a fake.
Oliver Stone got it right the first time, though many took his movie as a spur to enter the casino: I can’t wait to see what the new movie says.
Writing about war, frankly, is far more straightforward, with bodies you can see even though the good and bad guys are sometimes far more blurred.
The next stage of Google’s book strategy became clearer on Thursday when the company announced that it would begin offering electronic books to any device with a Web browser through a new online store, beginning in the first half of 2010.
Of course, I was dreaming about something for which I have no contract, but which has tantalized me ever since I started with Ain’t Marchin’s Facebook page. A bunch of perhaps hopeless what-ifs, considering all the triple copyright issues involved; I used Google’s Bloomsday image, above, both to honor the great artificer (who invented the mashup in some ways) and acknowledge the anti-creative efforts of his grandson.
None of which prevents me from engaging in series of what-ifs. For example, what if:
each tight chapter offered an e-link to more extended documentation, and even longer scenes?
readers curious about, say, John Huston’s “Let There Be Light” got an actual clip of the film, and another click to find where they can secure the whole thing?
similarly, documentaries by Judith Ehrlich and Dave Zeiger cd be glimpsed and co-marketed?
ditto hundreds of pages of now-declassified FBI files on Medgar Evers or the Berrigans, or Ethan Allen Hitchcock’s mad alchemist works?
I know the book needs to stand alone, and provide a full picture and satisfying story. But it seems silly not to make use of this place in the information undertow, once quaintly named a simple highway.
I’ll write more this weekend about the situation at Fort Lewis, which should concern us all and has already got the attention of Amnesty International. But looking at GI Voice, the newsletter of the Fort Lewis GI coffeehouse Coffee Strong, I was gobsmacked by the following cri de coeur from a young Marine.
The writer, Allen Huck, knows exactly what’s going on. His note speaks to everything we’ve come to understand about soldiers, and these wars. I reprinted in full in case someone who reads this can help. (Feel free to contact Allen directly via Coffee Strong.)
It was “Marine Corps Policy”, I guess. Before leaving Kuwait, we were handed out forms to fill out. Awful things…Did you see a dead body? Did you kill anyone? Did you participate in any sort of war crimes? Ridiculous questions. Especially, since we were never really informed of what exactly war crimes were. Maybe I did. Those thoughts continue to haunt my daily life, and my dreams.
On our return to Kuwait, we were given strict instructions on how we were to fill out these forms.
“Did you see a dead body?” – The guided answer was no. ”Did you kill anyone?” – The answer was also no. ”Do you feel you need immediate help and/or counseling?” – Absolutely not.
The questions went on. And of course, the answers were almost always “no.”
Perhaps this is the reason that PTSD is so rampant as a result of this conflict. Had we been given the help we so sorely needed, perhaps the homeless rates, drug use, domestic violence, and completely shattered lives would not be so rampant. Maybe not, but it sure couldn’t have done additional harm.
When I returned from Iraq, I was forced to fill out one of these questionnaires. I told the truth, and as a result, it disappeared. When I returned home, I went to my commend, and asked for mental health counseling. But in the Marine Corps, requests for mental health were simply not asked for. And so it was denied. As a result of that, I was separated from the Marine Corps indefinitely. I was ostracized by nearly everyone in my unit as “crazy”, which was the most horrible stigma one could be given. I was immediately kicked off base, my ID card was confiscated, along with my base vehicle stickers.
Essentially, I was banned from the Marines for requesting help.
Later on, I received phone calls stating that I was UA (the Marine Corps’ AWOL), and MP’s came to my house to take me into custody. Just about three or four months ago, I received a call that said I was reactivated, and was on the roster to be re-deployed.
My unit was 4th LSB H&S Co. Located at Ft. Lewis. Their Address is: Fort Lewis H&S Co(-)4th LSB Bldg 9690, Box 339500 Fort Lewis, WA 98433
Their Phone is: 253-967-2477
Any help would be greatly appreciated, as they have now refused to take my phone calls, and will not return my letters. My name is: Allen Huck.
To anyone who is willing to help in calling, writing, or anything of the sort, I would appreciate it. This is happening to other good soldiers, and we cannot allow this behavior to continue.
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.
Much 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.)
After 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.
“We 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.
Barfield 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.
Because 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).
When 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.
That 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.)
Joseph McCarthy, that is. As I was helpfully reminded by the Times’ “On This Day” feature, June 9th 1954 was the day U.S. Army counsel Joseph Welch asked that fateful question of the chair of the Un-American Activities Committee: “Sir, have you no sense of decency?”
All of which was wonderfully chronicled by Murray Kempton, one of my favorite World War II vets — who went on to cover the beginnings of the civil rights movement and was a signatory to the ad placed by the American Veterans Committee in December 1965, as the Vietnam War was revving up. I just wish he’d asked that question of LBJ.
I first met Knox Martin two years ago. For one of my first Chelsea Now stories, I wrote about his “Venus” mural on 19th Street and the West Side Highway, since obscured by Jean Nouvel’s 100 Eleventh Avenue condominium complex. When I learned Martin, still fighting for his new anti-war mural “Killing the Whales,” was a veteran of Omaha Beach, I knew I had to talk to him for the book; we sat in his Washington Heights apartment, where he showed me the clipping at left – which was the only way his mother knew, in 1945, that her younger son was alive.
Below are some highlights of what he told me, which my paper published that August for the 60th anniversary of the war’s end.
You mirror your dad, pioneer aviator William Knox Martin, in that you’ve embraced both art and science.
Yes. My father’s uncle was putting him through art school at the University of Maryland, when he walked out of his house one day and saw this thing flying through the air. Very primitive—the airplane had just been invented in 1906. And he said, “This is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
I was going to be a scientist, too. I went to DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, a school known for graduating scientists. I was doing a lot of drawing while at school and was drawing for a WPA project. I was also an avid reader. I was so advanced, I dropped out of the school because I thought, I’m not learning anything here I don’t already know. My father then died, and my uncle asked me to come to Virginia.
You were 19 when Pearl Harbor was hit. Did you know right away that you were going to war?
I knew it was coming: I was an early reader. I read the paper and thought, How can this be, about Hitler? We were at a wealthy family’s house in Scarsdale, N.Y., where the owner was for Hitler. When everyone was out on the lawn, I took every piece of furniture and wrote “Death to Hitler” on the bottom of each one. Then when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, It felt like a deep wound.
I didn’t go in right away. After my father died in 1941, I went to work for the Northwest Railroad, traveled through Virginia and Ohio. In the morning, you’d see for miles upon miles telephone wires glistening with spider webs. And the people were unbelievable! Living in pre–Civil War lives! But then I got into a fight with a supervisor and came home to New York. And everyone was in the service.
Why the Coast Guard?
My stepfather was a commercial fisherman, so we grew up around boats. He’d been in the reserves for years, so they made him head of this boat pool at Ellis Island.
We did boot training at Manhattan Beach, marching, gas masks, everything. Then we put in for a sub chaser and were sent to Mystic, Conn., to one of the most beautiful ships in the world: the 83-500. It was dark like a submarine, would submerge and turn itself upside down, depth charges underneath and rockets on the bow. We did this “bombing run” practice in Florida. They said there were German submarines in South America, but fortunately we never met one.
Normandy—it was an armada, you said.
We’re crossing the Atlantic and as far as you could see: cruisers, battleships, every kind of craft. The water was just full of ships. And the sky was blackened by planes going over, wave after wave after wave.
The Germans had a fantastic machine gun, and guys were dying everywhere all over the place—the water was littered with bodies. The invasion was threatened by a storm, so they made a harbor by sinking ships—a breakwater, 40-some-odd liberty ships. None of us slept for two nights; we were frazzled and hysterical and crazy. Then came that morning on the beachhead, lit up like the Fourth of July. There was this feeling, of being one organism with one goal, to get up on that coast and crush this thing: tyranny.
I do have to say, one of the greatest things was the atom bomb on Hiroshima. They had this little island—I saw it—where the Japanese fought to the last man. They would have done it; millions would have died. And before the bomb was dropped, the Russians were coming from the North, ready to invade. You would have had a Berlin wall of Tokyo.
You were discovered as an artist in a veterans’ hospital!
The first day when I came back, my mother greeted me—the tears. She was happy to see me but then said, “Your brother Morris, he’s gone. He was killed flying over Japanese waters.” How could this smart, great guy be gone? It wasn’t that I was divorced from reality, but the meaning of things changed, and I began to draw again. A guy came by the hospital on a project to work with “wounded veterans.” His name was Victor Kandel. I showed him what I was doing, and he said, “Hey, you’re a real artist. I would advise you to take private lessons.” So, I went to the Art Students League on the GI Bill.
In those days, everyone there was a Communist. It was my opinion that we were next going to fight the Russians. My uncle was in military intelligence: I knew what Stalin had done—how many mass graves. They would ask me, “Knox, why don’t you join the Party?” I said, “Ask me again, and I’ll see you in a rifle sight.”
Your mural, the one you’re still fighting to get made, was started as a statement about the Vietnam War.
Here’s what happened. The war starts; we’re after the Commies. It was great! Hit the Communists! Then, all of a sudden, on Sunday afternoon, what do you get on the TV? The war. It’s not an abstraction. A girl, a civilian, running from napalm. One guy, another civilian, sitting at a table, a soldier shoots him in the head. We all burst into tears. That’s why there was protest at all.
The young Knox Martin at the Art Students League
After my so-called success with the 19th Street piece [“Venus”] in 1972, I did the first maquette for this [current] mural. I tried to get it done everywhere. I figured I’d done the other one, Geraldo Rivera on the scaffold, and it would be a slam dunk! But—nothing.
You thought you had it this time, after Community Board 2 said yes and Cape Advisers [the developer of Jean Nouvel’s project] agreed to pay for it.
Two years of work, hundreds of people involved, and this one person—Michelle Cohen [of Art in the Schools] said, “This can’t be built now, or in the future.” She said, “It is not the content, not your credits.” What is it, then? Silence.
When I first talked to her, the first words out of her mouth were: “We have no funds.” I came up with the funds, and she said, the building can’t be touched for four years. I said, “The contractors working on the school say now’s the time to do it, not when the park is finished.” She said, “It’s dangerous for students.” I said that it’s on the back wall, away from the students. She said, “You can’t hang from the scaffolding; it’s too dangerous.” I said, “I’ll get a very slim cherry-picker, not me the fat guy.” She said, “Not on DOE property!” I don’t know her real objections, but it’s not over.
Any last words? Overall connections between the artist and the veteran?
After 9/11, maybe we’ll see the world waking up from 5,000 years of religious wars.
This is the infancy of Planet Earth. You don’t join a group, an army. Just be kind, look around you, and you straighten yourself out! You become a light unto yourself.
Like the guy in the show above, I can’t believe it: I’m finally out of 1973. Unlike LBJ, I got out of Vietnam, sort of. (I ended up with a 60,000-word chapter, in a book that’s only supposed to be 110.000 words total!) I can almost say that I’m in the home stretch on this book, and am starting to frame its end – including scenes I witnessed personally (such as Ron Kovic confronting Colin Powell in 1995, when many thought the latter should be President). Meanwhile, the very lateness of the hour means I’m seeing another phase of the story take shape, as the Afghan war becomes the topic of the hour.The voices of vets like James Gilligan, who tunneled through Afghanistan before going to Iraq, suddenly seem more urgent to hear.
But first, a little rant, about something that’s none of my business.
The months sunk into the “Vietnam years” made me feel more strongly than ever about trends I’m seeing in some of these newer veterans’ groups — stuff I keep TRYING, in good journalistic fashion, to shut my mouth about so that I can just watch it happen in real time. It’s about the perpetual dance between dissenting veterans and groups of the sectarian left, for whom the latter are sort of a dream date.
When one young vet blithely proclaimed I could interview him at an event sponsored by World Can’t Wait, I instinctively refused, having grown up avoiding WCW’s sponsor at demonstrations in NY and Washington. I wrote a piece about WCW’s Maoist doppelganger, equally “militant” and equally cloaked in multiple spinoff organizations. Both pour a lot of money and support toward whatever young veterans they can find, support that has likely felt essential and important when the wider world is trying to ignore the wars. But the effect, throughout history, has not always been…. productive.
I don’t want to go after those two groups in particular; and I can’t claim to be against military-civilian alliances or the need to look deeply at the power structures that sustain these wars. But witness the collapse of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1975, as narrated by the late Steve Hassna. I met Drill Sgt, Hassna in the 1990s, and I trust his description of what he called “The Split”:
A debate started in the organization in mid `72 about the future and what to do when the war was over. By this time everyone knew that, in fact, the war was going to end soon, just not sure when. One train of thought was we “struggle”, (that’s a leftist term, for “fight the good fight”) to see the war end. Then decide what we were all about. The other was, “We need to build an organization for the revolution, be the vangaurd, and all that other crap. Continue the fight against the capitalistic power structure and embrace a Marxist- Leninist analysis for a people’s revolution, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!!
This sort of thinking really gave most of the members in VVAW a headache, and many left in disgust. This type of thought train was coming from VVAW members and non-veterans working in the organization who had adopted that Marxist analysis. The one thing to remember is that these people were coming into VVAW to push their special agenda. They were not there to stop the war, they were there to advance their political thought. Everything from the R.U.(Revolutionary Union),R.S.B (Revolutionary Student Brigade),Venceremos, October League, S.W.P.(Sociallist Workers’ Party), CPUSA (Communist Party United States of America) and last but not least, the one, the only,the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party). Though small in numbers, they were able to get into positions of power that would let them set VVAW policy….
The ANSWER prototype was no better, at that point still working on defending Stalin and weeding out “revisionists.” Of course, back then the FBI was watching all this – having installed an impressive set of informants by then. And the FBI was also tracking the WCW precursor the Revolutionary Union, as the latter instructed its Midwest “cadre” that ““veterans are potential revolutionary force” and advised its cadre “to link up with veterans” in the “fights . . . against the Veterans Administration for benefits” because they could use any Washington demonstrations to “begin to realize our goal of linking the veterans’ struggle with the overall anti-imperialist movement.” Not to actually secure any veterans benefits, mind you; not to heal the hole in vets’ hearts or figure out why so many were sick. It was all about the “movement.” Finally, Hassna continues:
In 1973 VVAW got a new name, and a whole new set of headaches. Now it was VVAW/WSO, VietNam Veterans Against the War/ Winter Soldier Organization. The addition of WSO meant that non veterans could join and be in positions to set policy. The left played on the guilt and pain that members had from the war. We (members) had to embrace Marx and bare our souls to our crimes against humanity. Meetings turned into political education classes, with criticism/ self-criticism periods thrown in to help us move forward for the revolution. Do I need to say how much of a royal pain in the ass all this was? On top of all this, there were people who took this crap seriously.
As you see above, they even changed the banner on the group’s newsletter, to strongly resemble the Chinese flag.
I’ve read more scholarly accounts of this entire evolution from less folksy sources; check out tthe three major histories of the VVAW to a 1975 dissertation on the G.I. movement by a rather conservative Chicagoan who points out that the sectarian left had “different priorities.” More crucially, he added, the emphasis on “hating the brass” prevented them from making common cause with the officers who agreed with them.
No way to know whether the future for today’s rapidly-morphing soldier-dissent will play out similarly. But nothing I’ve learned in the past year has made me feel, personally, any different from when I first saw Garett Reppenhagen, a man I respect hugely, first appearing at a podium with ANSWER streamed at the front.
I shouldn’t care about this, as a writer. There’s a lot of Yeatsian circle-the-gyre energy to all this. But as someone who sees the need for clear opposition to war and values the role of the soldier/vet, I do care. As the need to counter Obama-as-LBJ grows stronger, the fastest way to bury that voice in the margins is to dress it in such ridiculous clothing. Luckily, there are whole swaths that are already steering clear; I’ll watch as quietly as I can, to see what happens to the rest.
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.