Repercussions & Reflections

A Journal of the Intersection of ideas and actions on Global Conflict and Local Initiatives published by the William Joiner Center

February 23, 2012
by pothanchand.yarr001
16 Comments

WHY ICONS MIGHT NO LONGER RULE

I waited for the afternoon newspaper to arrive,

The St. Louis Star-Times, flung like a grenade

onto our porch. I opened it to see photos of

starving P.O.W.s liberated from a prison camp

somewhere far away, on an island far away,

far away from our little house in the Heartland.

That newspaper is no longer with us, gone

like childhood, grandma, and even her Bible.

Entranced with newspapers, harbingers

of visual and verbal stimuli, I loved to look

at the photos and studied the Fronts– broken

lines and arrows in maps of the Pacific Theater.

Such a neat phrase: the Pacific Theater,

where ships and sharks jostled for attention,

and pictures of handsome young guys in

khaki uniforms caught my eye. A newspaper,

radio, and LIFE Magazine contained what

I wanted. Yet, photos die, as does a theater.

–Mary Kennan Herbert

The author’s poems have appeared in many literary and professional journals 
around the world. She was the invited poet at the 60th Anniversary 
World War II Conference at Siena College, in 1998.

November 7, 2011
by pothanchand.yarr001
11 Comments

The New York Times, the CIA and Opium, and the Vast Silence


Submitted to the Boston Globe Op-Ed page

Paul L. Atwood

University of Massachusetts-Boston

Monday, November 7th, 2011.

I wrote a version of this op-ed piece and submitted it to the Boston Globe shortly after the Times article appeared. The Globe op-ed editor replied to me that “we’ll steer clear of this.” Walid Karzai has since been assassinated, reputedly by one of his own henchmen.

On October 28, 2009 the New York Times published a bombshell story depicting the intimate relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency and Ahmed Walid Karzai, arguably the world’s kingpin drug lord, and also the brother of Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai. The fact that the same story could have been published years ago is another troubling matter. Nevertheless the article raised profound issues about what the United States is really attempting to do in central Asia.

Since numerous reports have shown that the Taliban, ostensibly one of America’s greatest enemies, profits greatly from the sale of opium and uses the proceeds to buy weapons to kill American troops, and since other abundant reports declare that Ahmed Karzai is by far the biggest purveyor of opium in the region, there is most obviously a mutual relationship between Karzai and the Taliban and the Central Intelligence Agency. The fact that Hamid Karzai has done nothing to curb the opium trade or the cozy relationship between his brother (and now his replacements) and Islamic insurgents is but one element in the rampant corruption of his regime, and without question the worst.

Why so?  According to President Obama defeating the Taliban and thereby preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for al Qaeda again is a vital necessity to protect American lives and maintain national security. Yet far many more American lives have been extinguished by opium and its derivative, heroin, than anything al Qaeda has thus far matched. Aside from the threat posed by HIV, or some other pathogen, nothing menaces national security more than the drug epidemic that has plagued this country since the late 1960s when a tsunami of heroin surged across the nation from its sources in Laos and Vietnam. A mountain of evidence, some of it ferreted out by a U.S. Senate Special Committee on Narcotics chaired by Senator John Kerry, documents the CIA’s long standing association with the world’s leading drug traffickers. During the “secret war” in Laos, pilots for the CIA’s contract airline, Air America, jokingly referred to themselves as “Air Opium.” Proceeds from opium sales were used to fund the top secret war waged in Laos since the U.S. Congress had appropriated only a marginal sum for the venture. So much of the substance was produced that criminal enterprises in neighboring Vietnam transformed the stuff into heroin and fed profits directly to top officials in Saigon’s government, America’s allies. Among other victims, it soon addicted many American soldiers. When the warehouses in Southeast Asia began to burst heroin “mysteriously” found its way into America’s cities and towns. (See the PBS Frontline documentary Guns, Drugs and the CIA, if you can find a copy).

In the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam many in the U.S. government rankled at the humiliation. Blaming the Soviet Union for the rout (after all how else could little “yellow dwarves ,” as LBJ put it, have vanquished the American superpower?) Officials like Zbigniew Brzezinski contrived to draw the Soviets into Afghanistan and thus the “opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.” The CIA then recruited tens of thousands of Islamic jihadists known as the mujahideen from across the Muslim world to fight the Soviets. Since this was the largest covert operation ever conducted by the U.S., and Congress surreptitiously gave only a small portion of its cost, much of this war was also funded by the opium trade, just as in Southeast Asia. The official CIA explanation is that the war against the Soviets trumped any effort to choke off the drug traffic. Meanwhile the trade flourished and many thousands of Americans and others died from overdoses. Michael Levine, a decorated agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency, has written a number of books in which he states categorically that the CIA deliberately stifled his and the agency’s efforts to halt the flow of opium and “got into bed with the biggest drug lords on the planet.” (See the Australian documentary, Dealing With the Demon, Vol. 2; also, Michael Levine, The Big White Lie: The Deep Cover Operation That Exposed the CIA Sabotage of the Drug War: An Undercover Odyssey)

Ironically the Taliban, when it first came to power, suppressed the trade, causing near panic around the world since hundreds of billions of dollars were now not flowing into various arms bazaars, or being laundered by banks and stock exchanges. The current war on the Taliban has resuscitated opium production. Today Afghanistan produces about 92 percent of global opium but much of it is managed by warlords who are associated with the Karzai regime, many of whom were agents of the CIA during the Afghan-Soviet War. Again, there is an intimate relationship between these growers and the Taliban though they are purported to be enemies.

The Times story dropped like a stone to the bottom of the sea, not surprisingly since a conspiracy of silence has for decades surrounded this issue. A few apologists have made noises to the effect that Afghanistan is a tough neighborhood and the U.S. has to deal with unsavory characters. Slogans like “if you like sausage you may not want to visit the slaughterhouse” surfaced. One thing is clear. The 1682 American soldiers and marines who have died in that tragic country have given their lives for an utterly putrescent regime that was handpicked by the U.S. in 2002 in order to foster an unstated and highly secret American agenda. Lest we forget, 14,342 American military personnel have also been wounded.

What is the real agenda? It cannot be “freedom and democracy.” Much outrage was expressed in this country over vote fraud in Iran yet American soldiers and marines are propping up a government for which it is alleged that one million fraudulent votes were cast.

Pepe Escobar, who writes for Asia Times, notes the undisputed fact that the names of the countries Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Iran never appear in the establishment media in tandem with the word “pipeline,” while also emphasizing that the map of major American combat bases aligns perfectly with the proposed pipelines for major sources of oil and natural gas throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.

The CIA’s symbiotic relationship with the globe’s drug dealers should have alarmed and engaged many citizens, but the issue has now all but vanished, signifying that Afghanistan is not the only place where something is rotten.

(A more comprehensive, if dismal, perspective on this issue can be found in the following studies. Gary Webb, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion; Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade; Alexander Cockburn, Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press)

November 7, 2011
by pothanchand.yarr001
0 comments

American Empire and the Future


Paul L. Atwood

This is an updated version of a lecture delivered October 21, 2010 at the

Institute For the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI)

University of California-Berkeley

Monday, November 7th, 2011.

The Great Recession is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and, like the aftermath of Katrina, or the BP disaster, or the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, all are man-made disasters. Many signs point to worse tidings. Many of us who live in this the most advanced capitalist country are indoctrinated at an early age to believe our system is by far the most efficient and best ever created, especially if we are affluent and live well. We tend to believe it obeyed the laws of evolution toward ever higher form, more or less as we think of the human species itself. We go to lengths to ignore the fact that our system began as the brainchild of a minority that imposed its will by brute force against others who had good reason to oppose it. It is impossible to separate our republican form of government from our economic system. As former Secretary of State John Hay put matters as far back as the 19th Century: “This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is government of corporations by corporations.”  It has been the case since the American Revolution, and remains the case, that the American government has been owned and operated by the financial and corporate elites and government policies, and most definitely foreign policy, are largely their agendas set out for their interests. Bankers and immense industrial corporations largely run the global show, backed by the Executive, Congress and the Supreme Court, America’s gargantuan military power and the connivance of corporate media.

As a culture we deliberately ignore the brutal genesis of American capitalism, feeding ourselves Disney fantasies about religious freedom etc. The origin of the modern American corporation is to be found in the Plymouth and Virginia companies. These were established as profit-making entities and to make their claim upon the so-called New World these new enterprises required systematic plunder of lands and resources from natives, and their virtual annihilation in the original colonies, ethnic cleansing, cheap white labor in the form of indentured servitude, and ultimately the importation of African slaves. The American capitalist system was therefore premised at its outset by murder and de facto aggression, and human bondage, the very sins for which we condemn others today. Many of our early American heroes were slaveholders and war mongers par excellence.

Some of us are old enough to remember when we condemned the communists for their “slave societies,” believing that our own slavery was somehow an aberration instead of the absolute prerequisite to establish today’s American way of life. Our system’s continued success still requires these critical factors. We still have slaves but now we don’t have to see them. They toil on plantations, mines and factories hidden away in far continents, victims of centuries of western plunder, today camouflaged  as “globalism.” We employ terms like “neo-colonialism” but pretend this term does not apply to us What else was Cuba before Castro but an American satrapy? What else South Vietnam, South Korea, Dominican Republic, Iran before 1979, Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and many others?  Why else has the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan but to try to secure the world’s remaining second largest deposit of oil and to acquire oil and natural gas from Central Asia in the very backyards of our rivals China and Russia? As Edward Said asked, “if the principal product of Iraq were broccoli would the U.S. be in Iraq?”

Victims of our wars are dismissed under the Orwellian rubric of “collateral damage” committed accidently in the “fog of war.” While our government now goes to some lengths to ensure that the worst of such crimes are committed by proxies wherever possible, when all else fails we send in our own armed forces. As reports from Iraq and now Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia and Libya show daily, our pilotless predators wreak a terrible slaughter on civilians. Our Army and Marine Corps do not exist to protect and defend our shores but to enter other nations and force them to our will.

We Americans hide from such uncomfortable facts largely by ignoring them, believing the lies we are told, or by fantasizing that we are a new chosen people, or the redeemers of a benighted world.  We have constructed a mass delusion that our way of life represents the most advanced civilization in human existence despite the fact that its perpetuation has required the deaths quite literally of many millions as it took shape, the wholesale violation of the very values we claim, and the destruction of the very resources and environment that made the “American way of life” possible in the first place.

Any trust in this system is really a kind of fundamentalism; many want to believe that all of this was ordered on high, perhaps encoded in our genes at the very dawn of humanity, its inevitability impressed in the Book of Time.

As in all fundamentalist faiths we have created a set of myths about why we go to war and these myths center on the falsehood that we do so to protect and defend noble values, and principles, and our superior way of life; never for the reasons others wage war, such as lebensraum, or to seize resources, or to prevent others from exercising their ‘right’ to self-determination should that impede our “interests.”

In American public culture enemies have always been presented as aggressors against an intrinsically peace loving people who take up the sword only, ONLY, because our antagonists have left us no alternative. Thus, it is always the other who bears the opprobrium for anything the US has done in the name of national “defense.” Think, say, of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the carpet bombing of South Vietnam, or the more recent destruction of Fallujah where white phosphorus, a chemical  banned under international law, was used on civilians to awful effect and depleted uranium has caused a plague of cancers. All of these were brought on by the iniquities of our enemies, or so we claim…

Yet not a single war in American history has at bottom NOT been one of choice. And we never go to war against any nation capable of wreaking havoc on us. No, we ravage only those who lie helpless before us.  The American way of war has been hailed culturally as “exceptional” and humane and just and necessary for the defense of profound human values and ideals, and thus a model for the rest of humanity…but the truth stands naked in the neo-colonies.

This has been especially true since the US assumed ownership of the Western capitalist system in 1945 and has used armed violence against many nations, either overtly or covertly, to expand it to the entire world, thereby building new roads so to speak, all leading to our New Rome.

In these almost innumerable wars, interventions, covert ops, assassinations etc. since the end of World War II the US has killed millions in places too numerous to list here, all of course in the name of progress and humanity.

The American empire that most Americans are persuaded does NOT exist began as an outpost of British imperialism, and now occupies the dominant position among the nations of our planet. One of the American goals of WWII was to knock Britain from its perch… to play Rome to Britain’s Athens as it were. Today American armed forces are in at least 170 of the 192 nations comprising the United Nations, and American ships, aircraft and satellites are deployed to every corner of the terrasphere, stratosphere, ionosphere, and outer space. The reach of American empire is a quantum leap in power beyond anything ever seen on planet earth.

Empire by definition is one core nation living at the expense of many others. Clearly, in terms of the distribution of wealth and resources, mal-distributed as they are domestically, most roads today lead to the United States.  Yet a “perfect storm” of merging crises is gathering force that has every possibility to undo the American imperial project and, indeed, prove catastrophic for human civilization across the globe.

Empire, and the American neo-empire today, has always relied at bottom on armed force and that in turn has always been dependent on advantages in the technology of war. Since at least the turn of the 19th Century, when the emergence of modern capitalism fostered the Industrial Revolution, military and economic advantage has required access to ever greater quantities of energy. To a significant extent both World Wars were global imperial competitions for the control of oil. Until 1945 the US was self-sufficient in energy but used so much petroleum supplying its war machine and those of the United Kingdom and Soviet Union, that in order to maintain our enormously bloated way of life we became dependent on oil in other nations. Since then the American armed juggernaut has been deployed often, if not primarily, to protect access to petroleum in other people’s countries, to fuel our army, navy and air force, to safeguard the trading routes and shipping lanes to transport the black gold, all for the benefit of American living standards.

Our swollen way life is inconceivable without oil, and other hydrocarbons. Yet, the absolute reliance on the substances is slowly but indisputably poisoning and suffocating the very systems they enabled to arise, and the day draws near when the Age of Oil will end because of declining reserves and increasing costs.

Consider Peak Oil. A concerned geologist at Columbia named Hubbert began to worry about how long oil would last and he predicted that American production would peak about 1973. He was correct. Since 1859 the US has used half of its oil and now the other half will be consumed in the next 50 years, though it will undoubtedly be so expensive well before that many will have to choose between heat and food. He also predicted global oil production to peak about now and most analysts agree that his prediction is correct.

Americans have always relied upon ingenuity and technological fixes to solve problems but in this case the likelihood that hydrogen, biofuels, solar or cold fusion will ever replace petroleum and natural gas is slim. The U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal but reverting to that fuel will entail other collateral damage. Some, like James Lovelock, argue that nuclear power could save the advanced nations from total collapse but opposition to that is widespread especially after the events in Japan last Spring.

Thus, intensifying competition for access to fossil energy reserves is inexorably leading to increasing armed conflict, and, ironically, the armies in conflict will not be capable of combat without the very energy they are fighting to protect, thereby hastening the disappearance of this energy source, and therefore exacerbating the very problems that in truth cannot be resolved by war. A case in point is the fact that American and NATO forces in Afghanistan now consume a million gallons of fuel per day!

The release of carbon and other byproducts of burning coal, oil, and gas has altered the world’s ocean and atmospheric systems, while the industrial processes have also ravaged landscapes, rivers, overturned settled ways of life, and polluted cities. The net result is increasingly catastrophic climate change, just as climate scientists have predicted, leading to intensifying social problems like drought, floods, famine, increased disease, and the mass migration of populations. All of these are sure to lead, in turn, to more armed violence globally, and will unless a massive shift in consciousness takes place with an equal commitment to change.

While there are numerous Cassandra voices prophesying these outcomes the real issue before us is whether we have the will to see and take the necessary action before it is too late.

President Obama was elected primarily on the basis of his promise to end the war in Iraq. Is anyone fooled by his withdrawal that is not a withdrawal? His administration has just announced the total withdrawal of all American forces by December 31, 2011. And what of the uncounted but very numerous cohorts of “contractors,” like Blackwater/Xe, many of whom are highly paid former Special Forces operatives with “trigger time” who will employ their martial skills while remaining in Iraq? These amount to a privatized army at a cost far greater than the pay scale for regular troops. For what other purpose will these mercenaries remain than to ensure that this long coveted, yet incipient neo-colony remains in the American orbit and provides its only natural resource?

One of the first measures undertaken by the Bush Administration was to create a National Energy Policy Development Group headed by the chief spokesman of the oil industry, one Richard Cheney. No access to their records or discussions has ever been allowed but their actions surely indicate that the energy chief executives are mightily aware of Peak Oil. Their policy? Not conservation; no crash program of alternative energy sources, no commitment to work with the international community for peaceful solution. NO! The policy is clearly to invade other countries and seize their energy reserves and/or the means to transport them. For all President Obama’s rhetoric there really is no Plan B.

In the last few weeks the U.S.-NATO induced civil war in Libya has been won by rebels opposed to the ousted and now departed Gaddaffi. The rationale provided by the United Nations and President Obama was that a “no fly zone’ was necessary to prevent the slaughter of Libyan civilians and that would be the limit of American intervention. The 7-month long bombardment of Libya’s cities has resulted in a massive humanitarian catastrophy, the very outcome the intervention was supposed to prevent.

It is clear that even before this  intervention was  announced to the public the U.S already had CIA and Special Forces operatives on the ground in Eastern Libya. The intelligence analysis institute STRATFOR recently published a map of foreign oil concessions in Libya. The vast bulk are in Eastern Libya, now  liberated from Gaddaffi’s grasp and soon to be made more profitably available to Western energy conglomerates. As South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham put it nakedly “Let’s get in on the ground. There is a lot of money to be made in the future in Libya. Lot of oil to be produced. Let’s get on the ground and help the Libyan people establish a democracy and a functioning economy based on free market principles. The “humanitarian” pretext stands naked in its hypocrisy. No such intervention has been deemed necessary in Bahrain or Yemen, or conspicuously, Saudi Arabia where repressive governments have killed numerous civilians demonstrating against those governments for the obvious reasons that these countries’ dictatorships cooperate with the American agenda in the region.

President Obama was elected on the strength of his opposition to the War in Iraq and his promise to end it. Yet in his recent speech declaring the Iraq War at an end he asserted that the original purpose was to disarm terrorists, the false claim made by his predecessor. Thus Obama has adopted the very narrative of the Bush deceptions. Bear in mind that Obama has always been in the camp of that section of the elite who saw the invasion as a blow to a very specific international order that would weaken the American position and overall agenda in the world. Read his speeches made as a senator before his candidacy. He feared the real American agenda to keep consuming the lion’s share of vital global resources was endangered by Bush’s cowboy tactics, and could lead to conflict with people who could do real damage, like Russia and China. His actions as president show he is not morally opposed to bombing and killing barefoot civilians who employ donkeys or camels as their mode of transport. That has continued unabated at his command. He claims to lose sleep over the deaths of American troops. Bob Woodward’s recent book declared that Obama is serious about withdrawing from Afghanistan in July of 2011. Now the date has been moved up to 2014. At best Obama seems the captive of the real government behind the scenes.

If you’ve never heard of Col. Fletcher Prouty that would not be an accident. He testified before the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, otherwise known as the Church Committee during the mid-1970s that revealed, among other things, the CIA’s assassination squads and its secret alliance with the Mafia. He blew minds with his description of the Secret Government behind the scenes. Prouty was a distinguished career military officer who in the last third of his career was deeply involved in the so-called intelligence community. He was go-between for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the CIA, and he reminds us that the CIA emerged directly from Wall Street at its birth in 1947. Prouty was a consummate insider who spilled the beans. At the time his remarkable book The Secret Team was deep-sixed by the very secret team he revealed. It has recently been re-published by a small press and is available.  Read it and learn how our government’s foreign policy is really shaped and by whom and for what. As Prouty shows, this intelligence, military, and “national security” network is really a combine of  those entities known popularly as High Finance, the Military Industrial Complex,  and Big Media.

Prouty emphasizes that this secret government behind the scenes is NOT a tiny cabal comprised of the Illuminati or Tri-lateral Commission or Bilderbergers, or Council on Foreign Relations though they do play roles. Rather, each faction of the Financial-Military-Industrial- Intelligence-Congressional-Media Complex has self-interests, large-scale benefits, and its future existence to protect. No one is initiated into these agencies unless vetted very carefully, and that would be especially true of party nominations for president. While disputes arise between factions and can be intense, on rock bottom interests, like access to energy reserves and control of resources and markets, and on maintaining the dollar as the world reserve currency, each collaborates with the others in symbiotic and synergistic relationships. The clearest example is the war (Iraq and Afghanistan, and Pakistan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Venezuela are essentially the same war!). Virtually all factions of the Secret Government support it, if for somewhat different reasons.

An example is the recent revelation that the Federal Reserve Bank printed 40 billion dollars and sent it to Iraq in 2003 where most of it promptly disappeared. This action clearly indicates that the nation’s chief bankers were part of the broad conspiracy among the behind-the-scene elites to invade Iraq, for conspiracy it was since Iraq had nothing to do with the events of 9-11, as the Bush Administration claimed. Masquerading as a government agency the Fed is really the nerve center of a consortium of the nation’s largest and most important banks. Fed officials acted in secrecy as always Why they acted as they did should be thoroughly analyzed and revealed.

This Secret Team has certainly never served the people, though it claims to do so as our national defense team (against enemies it creates!). For at least the last century its members have come to believe the president is its servant and most definitely not the other way around. As even ultra-conservative spokesman George Will said publically on a Sunday talk show: America has always been ruled by its aristocracy. It has never been about democracy but about which section of the elite will rule at any given time. Or as Noam Chomsky avers: There is only one political party, the Corporate party, with two separate wings.

Of course this Secret Government’s chieftains, no matter their past history, believe themselves to be omniscient and infallible. To take just the current crisis, the CIA itself fostered the rise of Islamic extremism during the Cold War because it believed this force would obstruct communism and prevent Arab and Muslim nationalism from achieving independence of western control, especially over oil. The CIA actually fostered Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran as the strategic answer to Iranian communists; as well as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to thwart Nasserism, or Arab nationalism; and the mujahideen in Afghanistan who morphed into the Taliban and al Qaeda. As the CIA itself said the eruption of Islamic militancy in opposition to the hand that fed it was “Blowback” of the first magnitude. When the Carter Administration national security chief, and current background adviser to Obama, Zbigniew Brzezinski, armed the Mujahideen in 1988 in order precisely to draw in Soviet troops, Brzezinski infamously declared: “That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?… I wrote to President Carter: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War’…What is more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

Stirred up Moslems indeed!

President Obama said clearly during his campaign that he would focus on Afghanistan in order to prevent the return of the Taliban and al Qaeda, thereby enhance American national security, and ensure that another 9-11 could never be planned and orchestrated from that country. We know now of  a serious split between al Qaeda and the Taliban prior to 9-11 because of the latter’s fear of American retaliation. We know, also, that the Taliban have no desire to attack the United States itself, only those Americans on Afghan soil. American actions are clearly destabilizing Pakistan, thereby portending a far greater threat in terms of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. So what is the United States REALLY seeking to accomplish in Afghanistan? Again, the claim of a “humane” intent is preposterous. American actions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially attacks by pilotless drones that kill numerous civilian by-standers, do more for Al Qaeda’s and the Taliban’s recruiting than anything  done by themselves.

If Bob Woodward’s recent book, Obama’s War, is to be believed the president desires to withdraw from Afghanistan but is being thwarted at every turn by the military, the CIA and even Hillary Clinton. I’m sure that Obama, having been cultivated and financed by major financial corporations still wishes to gain American access to the energy reserves of central Asia but the issue is whether that goal will be utterly compromised by policies based on raw force. It appears that the devotees of military solution are winning that argument but it is a doomed prospect and one that is fraught with danger.

When the Red Army finally left Afghanistan in the early 90s that tragic place descended into civil war while the US washed its bloody hands and walked away. Even so, as the Taliban came to dominate and as it committed terrible atrocities like public beheadings, and stonings of women, the CIA, Enron, and Unocal continued to negotiate with these extremists for a pipeline to carry oil and natural gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean. If the Taliban were to regain power over all of Afghanistan and offer a guarantee for the pipeline, I’m quite sure the US would crawl right back into bed with them no matter their brutality  with no shame and excuses aplenty for public consumption, just as was the case in the 1990s. But given the damage wrought by US armed intervention today a deal with the Taliban is probably all but impossible, and the US will never be able to impose its own  puppet able to guarantee the original US goal.

The real issue facing the so-called “advanced” nations and now China, India and the Asian tigers is that cheap oil is running out. Most oil industry experts and executives realize that we have all entered the age of Peak Oil. Extracting oil will become ever more difficult and expensive and at some future point will be so costly that it will cause essentially a collapse of globalism with real depression here in the US. The fact that oil commerce is denominated in dollars while the value of the dollar steadily declines also presages a future in which the dollar may be toppled as the world currency, thus leading to widespread inflation and certain critical shortages of basics.

Widespread suffering will be endemic, unless an alternative source of energy is found able to sustain our way of life. But that is extremely unlikely. Coal and natural gas can compensate to some degree but since our luxurious and wasteful way of life is based on oil and since we see our many profligate luxuries as necessities, the industries that support them will fail, and that will lead to mass unemployment, cold winters indoors and the absence of air-conditioning in summer, not to mention starvation in what we like to think of as the “backward” nations, and hunger here since our supermarket cornucopia requires hydrocarbon for fertilizers and pesticides. Miracle cures like bio-fuels and hydrogen are wishful thinking. Nuclear power could maintain the electrical grid but the recent meltdown in Japan may make that hope insurmountable despite Obama’s continuing support for a nuclear renaissance.  Green technologies are unlikely to fill the void on time to avert the falling economic and political dominoes, if ever.

The US government’s real energy policy up to now has been to support energy corporations to exploit oil as usual and gain control over such reservoirs still existing. Congress is the creature of oil and other hydrocarbon corporations and their financiers…largely to protect their profit margins, and there is no plan for the day when the Age of Oil ends with a crash. Again natural gas and coal can maintain some of the richer nations at a much lower standard of living but this will result in widespread social upheaval leading to more international tension…not to mention an intensification of global warming

American foreign policy is premised today on garnering as much control over shrinking energy resources as possible…and to protect this access strategically. The various military commands are deployed primarily for this reason. Note that a new military command with responsibility for Africa has been created. The opportunity to create new military bases for AFRICOM is one of the prime reasons the U.S. is now in Libya. Note the recent incursion of American “advisors’ into Uganda and Sudan. Nigeria now provides a third of American needs, and Angola and other smaller nations have reservoirs that are targets for U.S. control. Obviously our attempt to gain control of the lion’s share of Middle East oil and especially of oil and natural gas in the Caspian and Central Asian regions will bring us into serious conflict with those nations that see these as their back yard – namely China and Russia and India and Pakistan. Imagine our response if China were to inject 150,000 troops into Mexico, the number two supplier of our domestic needs, or Venezuela, with the clear intention of siphoning these reserves to themselves?

Al Qaeda does not constitute an “existential threat” to the US and most real terrorist threats can be dealt with by police methods as the last decade has shown. It is well known in Washington but not among the public that the Taliban told al Qaeda not to attack the US from Afghanistan before 9-11. The fact that al Qaeda did so created a break between the two groups. The Afghan Taliban itself cannot threaten the US, and has never declared any intention to do so. But when Americans kill Muslims in Muslim lands we do far more to create terrorists than anything al Qaeda could do on its own. Meanwhile, attacks on Pakistan have promoted a separate Pakistani Taliban, and that faction has vowed to wreak vengeance on America, though its capacity to do so remains limited. The Pakistani Taliban, coupled with American air assaults, could destabilize Pakistan, and perhaps foster a takeover by Islamic fundamentalist junior officers. Recall that Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, the public is frightened and off balance and paying through the nose for endless deployments. None of this 4 trillion dollar war (as Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes now estimate) has been paid. Our children, and grandchildren, if they are lucky to have a future worthy of the name, will spend their working lives paying off these debts at jobs that won’t reflect degrees in higher education.  Meanwhile, the various elements of the secret team are currently reaping the benefits of deficit spending and the national debt and they feel sure that eventually the real price will be paid by those who sacrifice their lives and by taxpayers forced ever more into bankruptcy, foreclosure and unemployment.

The current wars will fail to achieve their goals. Premised as they are on lies they are in fact crimes against the peoples of the region, crimes intended to take advantage of their weaknesses and reward American energy and financial corporations and secondarily we citizens of the empire who insist on maintaining a failing way of life. It is the same ancient game of beggar our neighbors to advantage ourselves. In neither Iraq nor Afghanistan will the US achieve control of shrinking energy reserves for essentially the same reason it could not control Vietnam, the very war waged upon their peoples ostensibly to “liberate” them recruits more opponents. Moreover, the attempt to do so will result ever more tensions with the Muslim world and the other nations that need energy too.

In other words, the global climate is heating up in more ways than one. The conditions for another global war are present, and let us not ignore the fact that the last one was waged with toys compared to the present.

President Obama has said that he wants to see a “nuclear free Middle East. That would require the nuclear disarmament of Israel. Yet Obama goes along with the pretense of all his predecessors and refuses to acknowledge that Israel has these Weapons of Mass Destruction. If, indeed Iran is building nuclear weapons why wouldn’t it given the fear of Israel’s, or of America’s in the Persian Gulf, of Russia’s to the north, of Pakistan’s to the east? A world in which some nations declare their entitlement to such horrific weapons is a world in which many others tremble and come to reason that their only protection lies in possessing such themselves. As international tensions rise over shrinking resources, and the ravages of climate change, the more likely a hair trigger mentality will arise. Hiroshima was the handwriting on the wall. As these demonic weapons increase sooner or later they will be used.

That is, unless American policies take a turn toward sanity, and come to focus on what our rhetoric has claimed we stand for all along.

Congressman Barney Frank has stated that the current economic crisis could be resolved by simply reducing the size and mission of the military. To be sure, the U.S. could defend itself against any existential threat with a tenth of our current military budget. Such a redirection of resources could ameliorate economic crisis significantly but only for a time. The issue still remains the energy future, especially depletion and the effects of discharging hydrocarbon effluents into the atmosphere in the first place, and the growing likelihood of spreading violence. By all measures the American government and the public appear intent to hang on to our way of life no matter the consequences. That way of life is inherently profligate and unsustainable. We have altered the climate to the extent that ravaging events like the recent floods in Pakistan, vast forest fires in Russia, Hurricane Katrina, water shortages, and desertification are mere warnings. The worse all such conditions become the more social and political instability with severe danger of armed violence.

Our policies in the future must center on a crash program of conservation of energy, even if this means draconian limits imposed by law such as smaller more fuel efficient vehicles, and heating devices, and restrictions on air-conditioning and banning plastic containers etc. Both the nuclear power and coal industries are ramping up pressure since they know that natural gas, which at present provides most electricity, is also depleting and we need to educate people to be aware of what will happen without secure electricity. Simultaneously we need a Manhattan Project “cubed” and focused on alternative energy. Above all the crying need is for international cooperation in conservation, for cooperation into research into alternative energy sources, and mutual disarmament treaties and agreements to avoid conflict over shrinking resources. The alternative is the worsening probability of a third global war. Yet at present we have only Plan A: Armed intervention.

Alternatives can occur ONLY if the public awakens to the coming storm. We cannot depend on the corporate media to educate us; they are allied with their major clients, not the public, and they are deliberately withholding bad news for fear of stampeding the stock markets into panic. We must get the word out ourselves and make it clear that we will not accept or cooperate with business as usual from Congress or the presidency. That will have to mean more militancy throughout this nation than seen since the 1960s, or really even the 1930s.  Unfortunately I fear this will require even deeper crisis before we begin to awaken to the danger ahead.

Bibliography

 

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq (New Society Publishers, 2003) Following the U.S. declaration of a “war on terror,” Washington hawks were quick to label Iraq part of an “axis of evil.” After a tense build-up, in March 2003 the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, purportedly to protect Western publics from weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But was this the real reason, or simply a convenient pretext to veil a covert agenda? Ahmed shows that economic considerations prompted US-UK to invade Iraq. The US has become vulnerable to energy shocks with domestic production unable to cope with increasing demand. This has led to occasional blackouts in places like California. Prior to Iraq war America’s oil inventories fell to the lowest level since 1975 with the country on the verge of drawing oil from ‘Strategic Petroleum Reserve.’ Iraq under Saddam Hussein was becoming what author says a ‘ swing producer.’ In other words he was turning oil tap on and off whenever Baghdad felt that such a policy was suiting its interests. Hussein even contemplated removing Iraqi oil from the market for extended periods of time which would have sent crude oil prices soaring.

Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (NY, Metropolitan Books, 2006) In an effort to thwart the spread of communism, the U.S. has supported–even organized and funded–Islamic fundamentalist groups, a policy that has come back to haunt post-cold war geopolitics. Drawing on archival sources and interviews with policymakers and foreign-service officials, Dreyfuss traces this ultimately misguided approach from support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s, the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the ultra-orthodox Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, and Hamas and Hezbollah to jihads in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. Fearful of the appeal of communism, the U.S. saw the rise of a religious Right as a counterbalance. Despite the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the declared U.S. war on terrorism in Iraq, Dreyfuss notes continued U.S. support for Iraq’s Islamic Right. He cites parallels between the cultural forces that have promoted the religious Right in the U.S and the Middle East and notes that support from wealthy donors, the emergence of powerful figures, and politically convenient alliances have contributed to Middle Eastern hostilities toward the U.S.

 

William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order (London, Pluto Press, 2004) This book is a gripping account of the murky world of the international oil industry and its role in world politics. Scandals about oil are familiar to most of us. From George W. Bush’s election victory to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US politics and oil enjoy a controversially close relationship. The US economy relies upon the cheap and unlimited supply of this single fuel. William Engdahl takes the reader through a history of the oil industry’s grip on the world economy. His revelations are startling.

Zbigniew Brzezinski The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives (NY, Basic Books, 1998) President Carter’s former National Security Adviser, and now an informal adviser to President Obama, bragged that he had drawn the Soviets into their debacle in Afghanistan: ”What is most important to the history of the world? Some stirred up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” As his title indicates the fate of nations and their peoples are relegated to game theory. If America is to play the game of geo-strategic chess who are the pawns?

 

Richard Heinberg, The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies New Society Publishers, 2005) The world is about to run out of cheap oil and change dramatically. Within the next few years, global production will peak. Thereafter, even if industrial societies begin to switch to alternative energy sources, they will have less net energy each year to do all the work essential to the survival of complex societies. We are entering a new era, as different from the industrial era as the latter was from medieval times… Heinberg places this momentous transition in historical context, showing how industrialism arose from the harnessing of fossil fuels, how competition to control access to oil shaped the geopolitics of the twentieth century and how contention for dwindling energy resources in the twenty-first century will lead to resource wars in the Middle East, Central Asia and South America…he also recommends a “managed collapse” that might make way for a slower-paced, low-energy, sustainable society in the future.

 

Michael Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet (NY, Holt, 2009) Looking at the “new international energy order,” author and journalist Klare (Resource Wars) finds America’s “sole superpower” status falling to the increasing influence of “petro-superpowers” like Russia and “Chindia.” Klare identifies and analyzes the major players as well as the playing field, positing armed conflict and environmental disaster in the balance. Currently in the lead is emerging energy superpower Russia, which has gained “immense geopolitical influence” selling oil and natural gas to Europe and Asia; the rapidly-developing economies of China and India follow. Klare also warns of the danger of a new cold-war environment.

James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency :Surviving the End of Oil  etc. (NY, Grove Press, 2005) It used to be thought that only environmentalists and paranoids warned about the world running out of oil and the future it could bring: crashing economies, resource wars, social breakdown, agony at the pump…Americas dependence on oil is too pervasive to undo quickly…meanwhile we’ll have our hands full dealing with soaring temperatures, rising sea levels and mega-droughts brought on by global climate change. (The Washington Post).

 

James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning (New York, Basic Books, 2010) Presents evidence of a dire future for our planet. The controversial originator of Gaia theory (which views Earth as a self-regulating, evolving system made of organisms, the surface, the ocean and the atmosphere with the goal always to be as favorable for contemporary life as possible) proposes an even more inconvenient truth than Al Gore’s. The eminent 91-year-old British scientist challenges the scientific consensus of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is too late to reverse global warming, he says, and we must accept that Earth is moving inexorably into a long-term “hot state.” Most humans will die off, and we must prepare havens. He points out that sea levels are rising significantly faster than models predicted. Lovelock advocates solar thermal and nuclear power as the best substitutes for burning fossil fuels, and he suggests emergency global geo-engineering projects that might cool the planet. But Lovelock also avows today’s ecological efforts are futile. This is a somber prophecy written with an authority that cannot be dismissed.

L. Fletcher Prouty, The Secret Team: The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World (Skyhorse Publishing 2008) A retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force, served as the chief of special operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy years. He was directly in charge of the global system designed to provide military support for the clandestine activities of the CIA. Prouty’s CIA exposé, was first published in the 1970s, but virtually all copies of the book disappeared upon distribution, purchased en masse by shady “private buyers.” Certainly Prouty’s amazing allegations—that the U-2 Crisis of 1960 was fixed to sabotage Eisenhower-Khrushchev talks, and that President Kennedy was assassinated to keep the U.S., and its defense budget, in Vietnam—cannot have pleased the CIA.

Michael Ruppert, Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009) Ruppert confronts the stark realities of a world of declining oil production, poses vital questions of our complex oil-dependent supply chains and challenges us-people and politician alike-to build a sustainable world with what remains of our resources.–Julian Darley, Author, High Noon for Natural Gas, Founder of Post Carbon Institute

 

Michael J. Sullivan, American Adventurism Abroad: Invasions, Interventions, and Regime Changes Since 1945 (Wiley Blackwell, 2007).

Traces US foreign policy from the late 1940s through the past six years of America’s ‘war on terror,’ and examines the impact of its repeated militaristic meddling into developing nations. Intended as a reference tool for undergraduates the author estimates that at least 7.1 million human beings have died as a direct result of these U.S. operations, most of them civilians.

 

April 7, 2011
by Nexus
6 Comments

A Perspective on the “American Way of War” as filtered Through my Experience in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division

Travis Weiner

Note: The author was currently enrolled as a student at UMass, Boston.

Growing up I became fascinated from an early age with military history and military culture. Certainly, my family was not ‘traditionally’ patriotic-and we were not a military family by any means. The concept of patriotism when I was younger was not something I gave much thought to, but if pressed I would have said that at its pinnacle, it involved military service. I would now say that is part of it, but it is much deeper than that as well-but more on that later. And so I read, watched, and listened to everything and that I could get my hands on regarding the military. I read both fiction and non-fiction books, memorizing various names, places, and battles. Such books as John Keegan’s The First World War, and The Second World War, Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down, Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried’ and If I Die in a Combat Zone’ Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and later on Phillip Caputo’s A Rumor of War’ and Michel Herr’s Dispatches all had a significant effect on me. Movies such as Platoon, The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Presidents, etc., all did as well. Though I did not comprehend it at that time, the juxtaposition of the hard non-fiction history books and movies with the more nuanced and subtle anti-war fiction, non-fiction, and films was an interesting one.  What I perceived as less-than-enthusiastic depictions of war and combat in these works still only served to further mythologize the military and war for me, and to fill in me a longing to be a part of it.

I decided to join the army after I graduated high school in 2004. The reasons were too numerous to mention, suffice to say it was not for (what I discovered to be) the more normal reasons: money for school, to get out of jail,  to get away from a bad household and/or a dead end life, or the motivations of bored, restless, or psychotic individuals. Upon completion of basic and infantry training, I was stationed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). I completed two tours of duty in Iraq, from 2005-2006 in Southwest Baghdad, and from 2007-2008 in Iskandariyah. I finally got out of the army in the beginning of 2009, shortly after my second tour. My current perspective on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can best be described as complex, given my own personal experiences.  There is the (somewhat) logical and detached military mind of my past, which seems to at times be doing battle with the raw emotion and rage at what I perceived back then (and somewhat today) to be a betrayal by those at the highest levels of civilian and military command. It is an ongoing process that I’m trying to work out. But going into it, I think I was ambiguous about the Iraq conflict.

Before the First tour, while I acknowledged that Iraq may not have been invaded for the right reasons, I thought that service to one’s country  did not necessitate that a soldier make a decision about a particular war. Rather, the dictates of service forbade it, with the theory that politicians would take care to  put us in conflicts only when absolutely necessary. Thus, the willingness to fight wherever and whenever was both demanded and depicted as something to be proud of. However, and while I can only speak for myself, I will say that over there the ostensible mission of  killing the bad guys, saving the women and children, and defending freedom was an illusion that was quickly shattered for me. I hesitate to over-simplify my time there and what we did, as I think we did our best and definitely did some good. At the lower (and in some cases mid-levels) of command, most of us were for the most part doing everything we could in the best way we knew how, minus a few inevitable bumps along the way in a year-long deployment.

To say the least, it was often bizarre and surreal. Much time during the 1st tour was spent chasing insurgents on intelligence tips that were too late or bad altogether (resulting in helicopter raids that involved dealing with-for the most part-crying women and children), in addition to looking for-and getting blown up by-IED’s and Mortars that the insurgents we were trying to catch were emplacing/firing constantly, along with occasionally taking/returning small arms fire. We would spend vast amounts of time on ‘route security,’ living in HUMMV’s for days and sometime weeks on end which would quite literally drive us mad, all the while trying to prevent the emplacement of IED’s and deny the insurgents freedom of movement. We ran Traffic Check Points for months, trying to stop the smuggling of weapons and explosives-and yet, with lines that stretched far into the distance and temperatures exceeding 115 degrees, we never had the time nor inclination to thoroughly search or examine their vehicles. Most of my commanders would say that we controlled and held a given amount of space, and caught/killed many insurgents, denying them freedom of movement and as such completing the mission and discounting my claims.

While there were some important humanitarian and infrastructure projects that we completed, and while we did capture/kill some insurgents, none of this was  enough to justify our time there in my eyes-especially considering what they did to us (WIA/KIA-wise). The second tour was spent mostly training and supervising the deployment of the ‘awakening councils,’ former Sunni-insurgents who now acted as town police forces/militia, and though we took some casualties and some significant things happened, it was nothing compared to the 1st tour.

Most of the men I served with I consider brothers for life (though not all, for there were certainly a ‘shitbag’ or two among us). They are men who sacrificed more in a year then most do in a lifetime. Some of these men were the toughest, smartest, most shining examples of all that is good about humanity and our country if we were to use it justly. Indeed, I watched some of them become wounded. It is in fact the politicians, and the career-savvy highest level commanders, who I despise for putting us in that situation to begin with.  The highest trained and motivated of soldiers had no power to alter their circumstances, such as SSG Bieve of 3rd Platoon, a former Ranger Battalion member who was blown up by an IED and became a KIA, or my team leader SGT. Triplett, also a former Ranger Battalion member, who was lacerated by shrapnel in both legs and sent back home to the United States.  The larger reasons for these sacrifices are ones I neither accept nor fully understand.

I remember reading the book Fiasco by Tom Ricks during my second tour and, in addition to enraging my psychotic squad leader, it  also enraged me (albeit for different reasons humorously enough) because it exposed the lies, deception, and incompetence of those planning and running the war. It was, without doubt, a war that was not fought on any pre-text of American security, though it was claimed to have been just that. Whether in the name of ‘human rights’ (made soon after the WMD/terrorist connections were exposed as lies) or whatever else, the attempt to justify it became more and more ridiculous.ify it. The ‘human rights/liberation’ argument in particular was made all the more laughable by the simple fact that many, many other countries are much more ruthless to their populations-and harbor many more terrorists then Iraq ever did-and yet we do not invade them! Indeed, some are our allies!

These conclusions were not easy to reach. After all, we had all literally shed blood, sweat, and tears in Iraq, and for many guys the idea that it literally was for nothing more than keeping each other alive and the small differences that we made was something most of us simply could not accept. The fact that I know in my heart that in all likelihood I created more terrorists then I killed, that I did not defend America, that I did not fight the good fight, that I am not a hero, that I am not a defender of democracy in any way shape or form, and that I was the end result of the naive’ and criminally dangerous policies and planes of borderline fascist-Neocon-chicken hawks is not something that sits well with me. The fact that I was a target for insurgents who were like ghosts, and who I would have given anything for one clean shot at, is something that is so frustrating at times I can’t even think about it for very long without getting extremely upset.

And yet I have people tell me all the time that I did and am all of the things that I am not, and didn’t do. This is something that fills me with emotions I don’t even know how to describe. I often think of a quote I heard once, but for the life of me cannot remember the origins of: “The only thing worse than being a fraud, is being a fraud but having people not realize it.” I think Iraq, like Vietnam, will go down in history as one of the most tragic American strategic mistakes ever to be made (though it was so utterly deliberate, I suppose it is up for debate whether it can realistically be called a ‘mistake’). I think that no matter how pacified that country becomes, it will never be what we envision; that is, anything resembling an America-style democracy. The culture and values of that population are so different from ours that they might as well be aliens (I don’t mean that negatively). We had-though it is getting better-very little understanding of all of the complexities of that society, some of them maddeningly ridiculous and draconian. Imagine everything from neighbors having gunfights over stolen livestock, to sheiks embezzling their Awakening Council members’ (all of the men doing good work and making our lives easier the second tour) money, and you will get an idea of what I’m talking about. The fact that more civilians have died since the invasion than Saddam ever killed, and that more terrorists have been created since the invasion-both truly undisputable facts-does not help matters. All of this is particularly tragic in light of the fact that so many serving in that country, civilian and military, worked and are working so hard to ensure that the aforementioned is NOT a foregone conclusion. Again, when so many resources, and so much good will, training, and money are squandered in that hellhole under those circumstances, it is truly a tragedy of the highest proportions. I may be wrong about Iraq- it may turn out to be relatively stable, peaceful, and prosperous. But unless it does, in my mind anything short of that will come to be an unacceptable trade-off for the lives that we lost and the bodies that were shattered while we were over there.

I hoped I would be deployed to Afghanistan and briefly considered re-enlisting for the reason I originally supported the conflict was that I perceived it as a direct response to an attack on US territory-an attack against Al-Qaeda strongholds and by extension the Taliban that ‘harbored’ them. I considered the initial response soon after 9/11 to be a just one given the circumstances. In the subsequent months and years that followed I considered it to be a just war as well, unlike most of the wars of the past that this country has engaged in. Recently that view has been altered slightly, after hearing legitimate criticisms of the conflict from such individuals as Andrew Bacevich (who advocates a strict ‘counter-terrorism’ approach fought mostly by special operations forces) and various Army buddies who have served over there.  I think that the purpose of what we are trying to do there is noble, in preventing a ruthless and draconian regime like the Taliban from re-gaining power, and in trying to provide Afghanis with opportunities and education they would not otherwise have. However, this can be said of many despotic regimes in the world; and in Afghanistan, where our original mission was accomplished (destroy Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and deny them a base of operation) only to see it slip away, frankly it all appears to be up-in-the-air; specifically whether our goals, actions, and the reality on the ground are lining up in any meaningful way. I think it remains to be seen. Considering that my old unit-including one of my own former soldiers-is over there right now in the heart of it (Kandahar province and that accompanying offensive) serves to further complicate matters, in that I have feelings of guilt and shame for not going with them, and not staying in.

I am considering the fact that because we abandoned the country after the Russians left, and again in 2001 after we toppled the Taliban (because of force requirements in Iraq, we did not deploy enough troops to provide security and humanitarian assistance, and pulled half of some of the highest level special operations task forces out to hunt insurgents in Iraq), there is a growing amount of evidence that we lost our opening, blew our chances, and that the best thing we can do now is cut our losses and get out. However I do not think that this is for certain -it all remains to be seen in the not-so-distant future.  Sooner rather than later, the ultimate question of whether the longest war in our history can ever be won will be realized, and we should act without delay at that point.

My views on war, and on war in American culture, have been altered significantly-though not completely-from before I entered the service to the time after I exited. My views before Iraq were that all war was fascinating, relevant, and important. That it was an endeavor of the most honorable and significant tradition that a man could engage in, immortalizing him in lore, mythology, and history that nothing else could come close to. My views after my service were that it is more likely than not an infinitely complex, gray and messy endeavor-not the one that our culture displays. Right and wrong, honor and shame are more often than not interwoven in an unrecognizable tapestry during war. Of course I can only speak of my own experience-but I feel there are common strains that apply to most war. While all of those positive qualities I mentioned were possible, and do occur in small and sometimes big ways in the military and in war, it is unfortunately a complete crap shoot in that not all of those things are guaranteed to be experienced by each combatant. Indeed I did not experience most of what I expected, and “my war”-or more accurately my counter insurgency, because that’s really what it was and not a traditional war-was not how I envisioned it. For some, that is not necessarily the case, but it is common knowledge among combat veterans that it is the case the vast majority of the time. Whether the dichotomy between my expectations and reality were simply the result of my own unique experience, or due to a complete fantasy of war and the military which I previously held onto, I do not know. One thing is for certain however: even seemingly just wars or military actions are often just the opposite, at a frequency of which is truly startling. This can be seen in the Vietnam war-based on a staggering amount of evidence it was one of the biggest mistakes and avoidable tragedies in our nation’s history. I tend to compare and contrast that to “just” wars like WWII. Though it is apparent to me  from further readings of history that our reasons for entering that war were not as noble as many believe, nevertheless I still believe that the alternative to not-entering that war could have been, likely would have been, much worse than not entering at all. The same cannot be said for nearly all of the wars in our nation’s history.

Regarding ‘opponents’ of the current war, I feel obligated to mention that my own mother was part of Military Families Speak Out for virtually my entire enlistment, marching and protesting at various times. However, she remained fiercely respectful of me, my unit, and all of my buddies and comrades -all the while being deeply critical of the administration’s handling of the war. I always respected her for that, and though she was constantly asking if what she was doing was at all undermining our morale or confidence overseas, I told her to do what she felt was right, and that it was OK. Such reflects my feelings regarding most of the opponents of the current war; I have no problem with their opinions or politics, only occasionally their tactics/the contexts in which they display those beliefs. However, by and large those who claim to be ‘counter-protestors’ to the anti-war movement-those who often question the patriotism or realism of the anti-war movement-are often themselves the unpatriotic ones. One of their most enraging tactics is their tendency to ‘speak for the soldiers’: that is, the claim that criticizing the war is undermining the soldiers and that the soldiers do not appreciate it. What I can say to that is that among an Infantry Company, roughly 120-140 men-a good deal of whom I knew personally-just as many were ambivalent regarding the war or thought it ‘fucking retarded’ (as we would say) as supported it or who thought it was just. But when you are trying to get through it and watch each other’s back, and complete the mission, you don’t spend much time ruminating on such things. Suffice to say that there is no way that all or even most of the soldiers hold those opinions or get offended in the ways that the ‘pro war’ movement (as the media has at times dubbed them) would claim.

It may be a cliché, but one of the most patriotic and American things a person can do is question his/her government-because it indicates that citizens are paying attention, that they are involved, and that  they are willing to sacrifice their time for something they believe in-whereas many others are not. Putting a yellow ribbon on your trunk, the ‘gesture of choice’ for so many Americans, does not qualify someone as a patriotic American-ironically it is the protestors in the streets who are greater patriots then those who merely partake in the aforementioned gesture, and deem it adequate. That being said, there are small segments of the anti-war movement who have little-to-no understanding of geopolitical realities and dynamics, nor war in general, preferring to take the extreme pacifist rout and criticize the military and the soldiers themselves. This I find deplorable because it is based on an ignorance and laziness, on par with the so called ‘flag waving’ patriotic Americans. They, like the very people they claim to have issue with, have chosen the shameful rout of dressing up a debate about policy, war, and right and wrong with their real reasons-that is, the underlying motivations of different cultures and lifestyles and the confusing hatred and fear that it seems to engender among these fringe groups.  In the interest of fairness, I feel obligated to mention that there are people who demonstrate in favor of the war who do so in a respectful manner, and many military experts and veterans who have earned the right to have such an opinion.

Along these lines, I think that dissent about the American way of life in general is something we could use more, not less of, in the United States. We enjoy a standard of living that most in the world cannot fathom-and most of us here have no appreciation for. Witnessing the poverty of subsistence farmers in Iraq-where electricity and running water are luxuries-it struck me that we live in one of the luckiest countries in the world, standard-of-living wise. Now I am profoundly grateful for our standard of living. But I categorically reject the notion that our way of life is only attainable through our current practices-be they foreign incursion or domestic in nature-and I believe there is ample evidence to back this up as well.  When dissent is for a good reason/cause, and respectful most importantly of the facts-but also of the opposition-then it is an inherently good thing, one of the last true good things that we have with regard to our public discourse. However, when it is reactionary, lazy, and not based in science or reality, and when it merely masks cultural/personal/religious differences, then it is one of the most despicable and embarrassing things in our culture these days. There are numerous examples of both of these types of dissent within our daily culture, but unfortunately, there seems to be more-of the latter recently.

In conclusion: when I was young, I thought that the military, and war, was black and white. Now, I know that it is not. I only experienced one war, albeit a very different one than others in history (due in large part to technological advantages and geographical circumstances). And while I can only speak of my own experiences, I now suspect that war is never a good thing-it is never glorious, though some psychotics would disagree. There are opportunities for honor and courage within war, and some do attain these in the heat of battle. But they are few and far between.  This echoes what the vast majority of combat veterans told me prior to my enlistment, something which I ignored at the time. Perhaps that is a fundamental aspect of war in American culture-a culture that mythologizes war in movies, books, and video games, and glorifies it when it is anything but glorious.  Our culture  refuses to address the complexities or the horrors of war that are inextricable from the excitement of it. Perhaps this is the only way to keep the system going-just as everyone prefers a good drama over a bland documentary, it wouldn’t be entertaining for kids to watch footage of a HUMMV getting blown up and seeing the gore that results from that, with no enemy dead to show for it, only maimed US soldiers. Regarding war, the only thing realistically up for debate is whether some wars are absolutely necessary or not. And of course, some are necessary; though so few in our history-with the ‘wars of choice’ heavily outweighing the ‘wars of necessity’-that it almost makes one ashamed to be an American at times.  For the rest of my life, I have to live with the fact that much of what I strove for and wanted to be a part of, much of what I wanted to accomplish personally in the military, was not achieved. Some of this was well within my control-deciding to get out instead of remaining in and going to Afghanistan, and other special schools, etc. However, some of it was not, such as the nature of our collective experiences during the 2005-2006 deployment, which really was the turning point when I was made deeply cynical and embittered-and I realized I would never stay in the Army. I don’t know what it feels like to be proud of your service and what you did-the only pride I feel is that we ‘sucked,’ got through the deployment, always tried to complete the mission, and are part of a brotherhood for life that no one who did not go through it can ever understand.

All of that being said, I continue to believe that some of what the military and war offer us is positive and necessary-the discipline, training and knowledge; the extreme skill and courage of some of our soldiers (special operations soldiers in particular) and more are all something that many could benefit from-minus the unjust wars, of course. And I do not-even after all this-regret my enlistment. I was lucky enough to leave with a body and mind intact, friends for life, and a valuable skill set and experiences to draw on, perhaps the most valuable of which was a real-world education, a shattering of childhood illusions. As I mentioned, I met some of the most influential people of my life while in the Army, whom I won’t soon forget. The greatest tragedy is that what I, and the army as a whole, was and is capable of – truly helping the helpless, and killing the bad guys- did not come to pass. It was not to be for me or (for most of our country’s history for that matter, as I am discovering).  While I contend that the unfortunate reality of the world and of human beings necessitates the formation and maintenance of some kind of military, and some kinds of military actions, the ones we have been engaging in as of late do not resemble anything close to what is right, what is just, and what America should be standing for and/or pursuing in any way shape or form. The resources-be they financial or personal-that have been spent on wars in recent American history are beyond comprehension, especially when compared to more pressing domestic and environmental concerns calling for resources of their own. It truly boggles the mind that they should have been allowed to occur. Will we as a society ever learn? Is it circumstantial, the result of truly deceitful conniving by politicians and leaders, or something in our own biological nature? Hopefully we will find out before it is too late for all of us.

February 26, 2011
by Nexus
6 Comments

HOWARD ZINN, TONIGHT, IN MY LIVING ROOM.

-by Barry Brodsky

In 1974, I found myself living in Brockton in a federally subsidized housing project called Battles Farm Village, going to UMass-Boston on the GI Bill, and working as a tenant organizer for a statewide housing organization.

While at a meeting one night, I met someone who worked at something called The Boston Community School. He told me about the school’s mission – bring classes to adults who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend them. I told him about the tenant union I was part of in Brockton, and he said to check with the tenants and see if they were interested in having a class taught at the project. Back home, several people said they’d love to learn more about the history of community organizing in America, and did this school have a class like that? I relayed that message to the school.

A few days later, I got a phone call from Howard Zinn. He told me he taught at Boston University, was volunteering with the Boston Community School, and that he would love to meet on a weekly basis with tenants active in the tenant union to discuss the history of community organizing.

For the next 12 weeks or so, Howard drove down to Brockton one night each week to deliver a lecture and then talk with the men and women cramped into a living room about ways people band together to fight for their rights. I attended three or four of the sessions. I still remember him talking about eviction blockings during the Great Depression, and about a citywide rent strike in New York City. He brought readings for people to study for the next session. He did it all for a cup of coffee (or maybe tea, I forget) and a piece of pastry each week.

People rotated apartments in the project, and would usually put out a flyer inviting their neighbors: the flyer would read something like “Come hear BU Professor Howard Zinn tonight in my living room” and describe the subject of the evening’s discussion. There was a core of about a dozen people who attended every session, and then there were others, like me, who would show up occasionally.

And then one week sessions were over. One of the tenant reps told me that Howard had wrapped up the night before. I felt badly that I missed most of the sessions, but during the next couple years, when we’d have a meeting and some issue or other would come up, it wasn’t unusual for one of the tenants, in the midst of a heated debate, to say something like “remember when Howard talked about…” and a lively discussion would ensue comparing the current situation to some historical event they had discussed with Howard in someone’s living room.

I started writing plays in the 1980s and was delighted to find Howard was also writing plays. I went to see his play “Emma” and hoped he would be there, but he wasn’t. I saw him speak a few times at rallies and events, but never approached him to remind him of those classes he taught in the living rooms of Battles Farm. I wanted to tell him how much it meant to all of us, and how empowering it is to know that what you’re doing is part of the flow of American History. I have a feeling, however, that he already knew.

February 26, 2011
by Nexus
2 Comments

REMEMBERING HOWARD ZINN

-by Noam Chomsky,Resist Newsletter

It is not easy for me to write a few words about Howard Zinn, the great American activist and historian who passed away a few days ago.  He was a very close friend for 45 years.  The families were very close too.  His wife Roz, who died of cancer not long before, was also a marvelous person and close friend.   Also somber is the realization that a whole generation seems to be disappearing, including several other old friends: Edward Said, Eqbal Ahmed, and others, who were not only astute and productive scholars but also dedicated and courageous militants, always on call when needed – which was constant.  A combination that is essential if there is to be hope of decent survival.

Howard’s remarkable life and work are summarized best in his own words.  His primary concern, he explained, was “the countless small actions of unknown people” that lie at the roots of “those great moments” that enter the historical record – a record that will be profoundly misleading, and seriously disempowering, if it is torn from these roots as it passes through the filters of doctrine and dogma.  His life was always closely intertwined with his writings and innumerable talks and interviews.  It was devoted, selflessly, to empowerment of the unknown people who brought about great moments.  That was true when he was an industrial worker and labor activist, and from the days, 50 years ago, when he was teaching at Spellman college in Atlanta Georgia, a black college that was open mostly to the small black elite.

While teaching at Spellman, Howard supported the students who were at the cutting edge of the civil rights movement in its early and most dangerous days, many of whom became quite well-known in later years — Alice Walker, Julian Bond, and others – and who loved and revered him, as did everyone who knew him well.   And as always, he did not just support them, which was rare enough, but also participated directly with them in their most hazardous efforts — no easy undertaking at that time, before there was any organized popular movement and in the face of government hostility that lasted for some years.  Finally, popular support was ignited, in large part by the courageous actions of the young people who were sitting in at lunch counters, riding freedom buses, organizing demonstrations, facing bitter racism and brutality, sometimes death.  By the early 1960s a mass popular movement was taking shape, by then with Martin Luther King in a leadership role, and the government had to respond.  As a reward for his courage and honesty, Howard was soon expelled from the college where he taught.  A few years later he wrote the standard work on SNCC (the Student non-violent Coordinating Committee), the major organization of those “unknown people” whose “countless small actions” played such an important part in creating the groundswell that enabled King to gain significant influence, as I am sure he would have been the first to say, and to bring the country to honor the constitutional amendments of a century earlier that had theoretically granted elementary civil rights to former slaves – at least to do so partially; no need to stress that there remains a long way to go.

On a personal note, I came to know Howard well when we went together to a civil rights demonstration in Jackson Mississippi in (I think) 1964, even at that late date a scene of violent public antagonism, police brutality, and indifference or even cooperation with state security forces on the part of federal authorities, sometimes in ways that were quite shocking.

After being expelled from the Atlanta college where he taught, Howard came to Boston, and spent the rest of his academic career at Boston University, where he was, I am sure, the most admired and loved faculty member on campus, and the target of bitter antagonism and petty cruelty on the part of the administration – though in later years, after his retirement, he gained the public honor and respect that was always overwhelming among students, staff, much of the faculty, and the general community.  While there, Howard wrote the books that brought him well-deserved fame.  His book Logic of Withdrawal, in 1967, was the first to express clearly and powerfully what many were then beginning barely to contemplate: that the US had no right even to call for a negotiated settlement in Vietnam, leaving Washington with power and substantial control in the country it had invaded and by then already largely destroyed.  Rather, the US should do what any aggressor should: withdraw, allow the population to somehow reconstruct as they could from the wreckage, and if minimal honesty could be attained, pay massive reparations for the crimes that the invading armies had committed, vast crimes in this case.  The book had wide influence among the public, although to this day its message can barely even be comprehended in elite educated circles, an indication of how much necessary work lies ahead.

Significantly, among the general public by the war’s end, 70% regarded the war as “fundamentally wrong and immoral,” not “a mistake,” a remarkable figure considering the fact that scarcely a hint of such a thought was expressible in mainstream opinion.   Howard’s writings — and, as always, his prominent presence in protest and direct resistance — were a major factor in civilizing much of the country.

In those same years, Howard also became one of the most prominent supporters of the resistance movement that was then developing.  He was one of the early signers of the Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority and was so close to the activities of Resist that he was practically one of the organizers.  He also took part at once in the sanctuary actions that had a remarkable impact in galvanizing antiwar protest.  Whatever was needed – talks, participation in civil disobedience, support for resisters, testimony at trials – Howard was always there.

Even more influential in the long run than Howard’s anti-war writings and actions was his enduring masterpiece, A People’s History of the United States, a book that literally changed the consciousness of a generation.  Here he developed with care, lucidity, and comprehensive sweep his fundamental message about the crucial role of the people who remain unknown in carrying forward the endless struggle for peace and justice, and about the victims of the systems of power that create their own versions of history and seek to impose it.  Later, his “Voices” from the People’s History, now an acclaimed theatrical and television production, has brought to many the actual words of those forgotten or ignored people who have played such a valuable role in creating a better world.

Howard’s unique success in drawing the actions and voices of unknown people from the depths to which they had largely been consigned has spawned extensive historical research following a similar path, focusing on critical periods of American history, and turning to the record in other countries as well, a very welcome development.  It is not entirely novel – there had been scholarly inquiries of particular topics before – but nothing to compare with Howard’s broad and incisive evocation of “history from below,” compensating for critical omissions in how American history had been interpreted and conveyed.

Howard’s dedicated activism continued, literally without a break, until the very end, even in his last years, when he was suffering from severe infirmity and personal loss, though one would hardly know it when meeting him or watching him speaking tirelessly to captivated audiences all over the country.  Whenever there was a struggle for peace and justice, Howard was there, on the front lines, unflagging in his enthusiasm, and inspiring in his integrity, engagement, eloquence and insight, light touch of humor in the face of adversity, dedication to non-violence, and sheer decency.  It is hard even to imagine how many young people’s lives were touched, and how deeply, by his achievements, both in his work and his life.

There are places where Howard’s life and work should have particular resonance.  One, which should be much better known, is Turkey.  I know of no other country where leading writers, artists, journalists, academics and other intellectuals have compiled such an impressive record of bravery and integrity in condemning crimes of state, and going beyond to engage in civil disobedience to try to bring oppression and violence to an end, facing and sometimes enduring severe repression, and then returning to the task.  It is an honorable record, unique to my knowledge, a record of which the country should be proud.  And one that should be a model for others, just as Howard Zinn’s life and work are an unforgettable model, sure to leave a permanent stamp on how history is understood and how a decent and honorable life should be lived.

February 26, 2011
by Nexus
1 Comment

ON TEACHING HOWARD ZINN

Larry Aaronson

Former Chair of Social Studies Department

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School

“You wanna read a really good American History book? Read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I will knock your socks off!” -Will Hunting (Matt Damon), “Good Will Hunting”

The world famous historian, retired BU professor, playwright, poet, novelist, and “radical” peace and civil rights activist, died Jan. 26th, the same day President Obama delivered his State of the Union message. Howie was 87, active until the day he died, struck down by a massive heart attack. His famous history book, The People’s History of the United States, has sold well over 2 million copies, and counting. Last Dec. 11th, “The People Speak,” produced in part by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (’88 and ’90) appeared on the History Channel. Before moving to Cambridge in the mid-70’s, Matt Damon grew up next door to the Zinns. Both households equally sharing progressive politics, they became life long “family.” September ’81, Kyle Damon, Matty’s older brother, enrolled in my US History class. It was Kyle’s freshmen year, my “rookie” year at The Pilot, the very first year “A People’s History” appeared.  This was pure serendipity, all to the delight of their mom. Soon after I was invited over for dinner with the Zinn’s. The rest is history.

Howard Zinn’s history book A People’s History of The United States, has a compelling connection with CRLS. Rindge was one of the very first US urban high schools to allow teachers to use the controversial revisionists history book. I was one of the very first history teachers allowed to teach Zinn’s revisionist history in an American public high school. The year was 1981, less than a year after the book appeared. I taught 20-some years at The Pilot School, the progressive alternative school program housed in CRLS. I taught extensively from “The Peoples’ History” for the next two decades.

I submit there is a direct correlation between the introduction of Zinn’s book and the extraordinary awakening of student leadership in Cambridge Rindge and Latin during the 80’s and lasted until early 90’s. The change in the political activism in the school was palpable. Student leaders angered by US indifference to the Apartheid in South Africa, drove out all Coca-Cola dispenser machines from CRLS when they learned the corporation lied about their divestment policy. Students’ response to the California jury’s acquittal of the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King was to organize with teachers and alumni to produce their own revisionist multicultural curriculum writing project (Onesimus), dedicated to combat racial, gender and class prejudice and stereotypes in our schools. When a former CRLS student was senselessly murdered outside a housing project, students established Students Against Violence and For Equality (SAVE). When local educators, parents and civic leaders feared the worst– a rampaging AIDS epidemic, youth peer leaders organized a condom distributions program in our school’s Teen Health Clinic, one of the very first such projects in any public school in America. Student activists also helped establish Project 10 East, the second in-school support youth program for GTLB community in the country, another first! I actively joined my students in their endeavors.

Howie died promoting his latest project, “The People Speak.” He wanted it to inspire students to find their voice and take courage to fight for social justice and human rights. How will we be able to get this curriculum into our public schools?

February 22, 2011
by sadhana.palugulla001
9 Comments

Howard zinn In His Own Words

Howard zinn

Howard zinn

-Nguyen Ba Chung

One of Howard Zinn’s signatures is the power of his words. He has the knack of delineating the most complicated issues in the simplest way possible, with humor and wit. For example – “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” Or, “Remember this: Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”

I think it would be worthwhile to gather some of his most memorable and impactful statements to get a sense of why he has become such a powerful voice in the progressive movement of this country.

** Not to be on the side of the executioners.

Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such as world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.

Tom Paine, in America, saw war as the creature of governments, serving their own interests, not the interests of justice for their citizens. “Man is not the enemy of man but through the medium of a false system of government.”

** No Flag Large Enough

There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.

It is possible, reading standard histories, to forget half the population of the country. The explorers were men, the landholders and merchants men, the political leaders men, the military figures men. The very invisibility of women, the overlooking of women, is a sign of their submerged status.

“There has always been, and there is now, a profound conflict of interest between the people and the government of the United States.”

** We Will Control Ourselves

If those in charge of our society – politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television – can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves.

(Nationalism is) a set of beliefs taught to each generation in which the Motherland or the Fatherland is an object of veneration and becomes a burning cause for which one becomes willing to kill the children of other Motherlands or Fatherlands.

One certain effect of war is to diminish freedom of expression.

** Scholars’ Self Censorship

Scholars, who pride themselves on speaking their minds, often engage in a form of self-censorship which is called “realism.” To be “realistic” in dealing with a problem is to work only among the alternatives which the most powerful in society put forth. It is as if we are all confined to a, b, c, or d in the multiple choice test, when we know there is another possible answer. American society, although it has more freedom of expression than most societies in the world, thus sets limits beyond which respectable people are not supposed to think or speak. So far, too much of the debate on Vietnam has observed these limits.

** Small Acts Can Change The World

Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.

The good things that have been done, the reforms that have been made, the wars that have been stopped, the women’s rights that have been won, the racism that has been partly extirpated in society, all of that was not done by government edict, was not done by the three branches of government. It was not done by that structure which we learn about in junior high school, which they say is democracy. It was all done by citizens’ movements. And keep in mind that all great movements in the past have risen from small movements, from tiny clusters of people who came together here and there. When a movement is strong enough it doesn’t matter who is in the White House; what really matters is what people do, and what people say, and what people *demand*.

People like Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Jack London and Upton Sinclair were wonderful writers who joined the movement against war and injustice, against capitalism and corporate power. That was a very exciting period in American history.

He said, ‘Remember this: Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.’

** Well Trained To Be Obedient

I’m worried that students will take their obedient place in society and look to become successful cogs in the wheel – let the wheel spin them around as it wants without taking a look at what they’re doing. I’m concerned that students not become passive acceptors of the official doctrine that’s handed down to them from the White House, the media, textbooks, teachers and preachers”

“Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.”

The challenge remains. On the other side are formidable forces: money, political power, the major media. On our side are the people of the world and a power greater than money or weapons: the truth.

Truth has a power of its own. Art has a power of its own. That age-old lesson – that everything we do matters – is the meaning of the people’s struggle here in the United States and everywhere. A poem can inspire a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution. Civil disobedience can arouse people and provoke us to think, when we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress. We live in a beautiful country. But people who have no respect for human life, freedom, or justice have taken it over. It is now up to all of us to take it back.

** The Grand Thieves

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”

Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.

I will try not to overlook the cruelties that victims inflict on one another as they are jammed together in the boxcars of the system. I don’t want to romanticize them. But I do remember (in rough paraphrase) a statement I once read: “The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

** Two Parties: Two Wings of One Corporate Party

The pretense in disputed elections is that the great conflict is between the two major parties. The reality is that there is a much bigger conflict that the two parties jointly wage against large numbers of Americans who are represented by neither party and against powerless millions around the world.”

“If the gods had intended for people to vote, they would have given us candidates.”

Americans have been taught that their nation is civilized and humane. But, too often, U.S. actions have been uncivilized and inhumane.

The challenge remains. On the other side are formidable forces: money, political power, the major media. On our side are the people of the world and a power greater than money or weapons: the truth.

Truth has a power of its own. Art has a power of its own. That age-old lesson – that everything we do matters – is the meaning of the people’s struggle here in the United States and everywhere. A poem can inspire a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution. Civil disobedience can arouse people and provoke us to think, when we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress. We live in a beautiful country. But people who have no respect for human life, freedom, or justice have taken it over. It is now up to all of us to take it back.

Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.

** Voting isn’t enough

Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.

No form of government, once in power, can be trusted to limit its own ambition, to extend freedom and to wither away. This means that it is up to the citizenry, those outside of power, to engage in permanent combat with the state, short of violent, escalatory revolution, but beyond the gentility of the ballot-box, to insure justice, freedom and well being.

If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come, if history were any guide, from the top. It would come through citizen’s movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed.

Terrorism has replaced Communism as the rationale for the militarization of the country [America], for military adventures abroad, and for the suppression of civil liberties at home. It serves the same purpose, serving to create hysteria

** To Be Patriotic We Must Disobey The Government

If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, nor as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one’s country, one’s fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government, when it violated those principles
We have thrown away the most valuable asset we had — the individual’s right to oppose both flag and country when he believed them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away; and with it, all that was really respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism.

We grow up in a controlled society, where we are told that when one person kills another person, that is murder, but when the government kills a hundred thousand, that is patriotism.

** All The Lies in History

If more people knew something about the history of government deception, of the lies that were told getting us into the Mexican War, the lies that were told getting us into the Spanish-American War, the lies that were told getting us into the war in the Philippines, the lies that were told getting us into World War I, the lies that were told again and again in Vietnam, the lies on the eve of the Gulf War, they would have questions about what they are hearing from the government and the media to justify this war.

Behind the deceptive words designed to entice people into supporting violence — words like democracy, freedom, self-defense, national security — there is the reality of enormous wealth in the hands of a few, while billions of people in the world are hungry, sick, homeless.

While some multimillionaires started in poverty, most did not. A study of the origins of 303 textile, railroad and steel executives of the 1870s showed that 90 percent came from middle- or upper-class families. The Horatio Alger stories of “rags to riches” were true for a few men, but mostly a myth, and a useful myth for control.

I’ve always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives who talked about how, in America, if you worked hard, you would become rich. The meaning of that was: if you were poor, it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie.

One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and the unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country.

Capitalism has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail for the middle classes.

** If You Don’t Know History

History is important. If you don’t know history it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.

The Fugitive Slave Act was a flagrant example of Northern and federal collaboration with slaveholders, a lightning rod that led to the growth of the anti-slavery movement.”

If you look through high school textbooks and elementary school textbooks in American history, you will find Andrew Jackson the frontiersman, soldier, democrat, man of the people — not Jackson the slaveholder, land speculator, executioner of dissident soldiers, exterminator of Indians.

I don’t believe it’s possible to be neutral. The world is already moving in certain directions. And to be neutral, to be passive, in a situation like that, is to collaborate with what is going on. And I, as a teacher, don’t want to be a collaborator.

My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all) – that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.

** To Live Now As We Think Human Beings Should Live Is Itself a Marvelous Victory

TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Howard Zinn

February 22, 2011
by sadhana.palugulla001
2 Comments

Remembering Etheridge

I met Etheridge Knight in the early eighties and met him slowly. Our mutual friend, the poet Robert Slater, had long since been urging me from Kansas City to give Etheridge a call, since I lived only forty miles from him. I hesitated, probably out of a combination of shyness and fear. I knew his work and stood in awe of the man. But also Etheridge had only recently been released from the Indiana State Prison, where, besides becoming a poet, he had been a block boss by virtue of his toughness. Finally, Etheridge was a junky. He’d been seriously wounded in Korea, and in treatment became addicted to heroine. His addiction had led him to robbery and a seven-year sentence. He never really broke his bad habit, though some of the time he replaced it with a methadone habit.

Eventually, because of Slater’s persistence, I did meet Etheridge. He was a big man and sometimes had a dangerous look. But his great charm, his melodious voice that sounded like a bass saxophone, along with his lovely manners and forthrightness, nearly always made his presence a pleasure.

In the early days of our friendship my wife and I saw Etheridge mostly at the Bluebird Café in the heart of Indianapolis’s ghetto. Etheridge held court there on most Friday evenings. Some twenty of us became regulars. We’d go to hear Etheridge say his poems, and also to work under his tutelage. To hear him was to experience the old bardic tradition – his words had that kind of power, part of it the pure sound of his voice.

But most of the time Etheridge listened. He was a great listener. You always felt that, good or bad, your poem went right to some special depth in him, and resonated there. It was his power of listening that made him a great teacher. He taught us by the look on his face, the movements of his body. But, most, he taught us by his grunts, by call and response “yeahs” and other sounds that came from deep in his belly and chest. Etheridge’s grunts, which weren’t frequent, told us where our own power lay– in a word, a flow of sound, a line, an image, sometimes in a poem.

Etheridge didn’t have much patience with shy or reticent readers. He taught us,
“Take your space.” This meant that when we read we were leader of the band. We weren’t there to be deferential to, let alone frightened of, an audience. We were there to share with them work we’d made with pride. We were in control of both silence and sound. It was our job to transmit the way we heard our poems – vowel sequences, rhythm and beat. He taught us to hit each word the way a musician hits each note, so that beauty and power beauty gather one clear drop at a time.

Several times over the years I invited Etheridge to read at Wabash College where I taught. At one time my wife and I lived in a shack – she still calls it a “cabin” – twelve miles out from the farm town where the college was. The shack wasn’t much – no plumbing, no gas lines, though we did have electricity. My wife could no longer bake because mice had stripped the insulation from the oven, and we could no longer listen to music because mice had stripped the wires and blown out the receiver. Wasps were also present, but not a problem. I found that I could pas through a doorway at the same time a was crossing in the opposite direction, and neither of us batted an eye. At bottom, they were good neighbors, whom I had no intention to provoke.

The cabin’s redeeming quality was that it sat on top of a hill that, from late autumn to early spring when the leaves were down, overlooked a river called Sugar Creek. Etheridge loved it there. At heart, he still thought of himself as a rural Mississippi homeboy — witness the great “Idea of Ancestry,” and also “A Poem for Myself,” which ends:

Going back to Mississippi
This time to stay for good
Going back to Mississippi
This time to stay for good –
Gonna be free in Mississippi
Or dead in the Mississippi mud.

It made Etheridge happy to be with us on that hill and it made us happy to have him with us.

Etheridge had elegant manners, especially with women, and my wife, like most women he met, loved him. But, then, so did I. He married three times to strong women, all of them poets. In fact, he was catnip to the ladies. I’ll never forget the night at the Bluebird when a pretty young woman read a poem about licking an ice cream cone, all the time looking at Etheridge. She knew a lot about licking and, once or twice, Etheridge deigned to look back.

Besides teaching me to read my poems aloud, Etheridge taught me another still more important thing. I was talking with him once about “The Idea of Ancestry,” one of his masterpieces. In the poem, Etheridge, in prison, remembered or imagined a family reunion he was, blissful until his “habit came down.” He writes beautifully about the network that holds a strong family together. Back home, walking “barefooted in my grandmother’s backyard, “ sipping corn whiskey, flirting with the women, he “almost kicked it with the kinfolks.” But abruptly he leaves the reunion, his “guts screaming for junk, and “cracked a croaker’s crib for a fix.” Now pacing in his cell, he stares at a photo of

. . . 47 black faces across the space. I am all of them,
they are all of me, I am me, they are thee, and I have no children
to float in the space in between.”

The poem always moved me powerfully, and I told him that, despite the separation from family and native soil that his life brought about, I envied him such a family feeling. I told him that I didn’t have much, and that, because my grandparents didn’t speak English, and my parents were children when they came to America, I had no knowledge of the extended family that I hatched out of. That’s when Etheridge gave me one of his hard looks, and said, “You can know that stuff if you want to.” I understood what he meant.

Etheridge had high requirements for fellow poets. Once I heard him scold Ray di Palma for complaining that his work was temporarily stuck. Etheridge just said, “C’mon, man you’re a grown poet.” Another time, when Slater complained to him about Kansas City, Etheridge let him know that KC was Slater’s province, and if something was wrong it was his job to fix it. He saw the true government as a network of poets across the country and across the world.

What Etheridge meant when he told me that I could know about my family history was that I was a grown poet whose imagination had the power to find what it needed. And so, with the help of a little research about shtetl life and Jewish immigration, along with a few snippets of what I did know, I wrote a series of poems called “The Ragpicker’s Grandson,” and, in the process, realized that I was born long before 1930. I finished writing that series more whole than when I began.

The last time I saw Etheridge was at his “funeral.” I think it was Galway Kinnell, and maybe Donald Hall and Robert Bly as well, who had the idea of a memorial poetry reading for him while he was till strong enough to be there. Etheridge was dying of lung cancer. The event drew a large crowd, maybe 700 people gathered at the American Cabaret Theater in Indianapolis. The reading lasted for six hours, and I remember distinctly that during that time only two people left. It was that kind of reading. The poets who read to pay tribute were Robert Bly, Samuel Allen, Christopher Gilbert, Galway Kinnell, Haki Madhubuti, Dudley Randall, Elizabeth McKim, Mari Evans, and Jared Carter. Etheridge died seven weeks later, on March 10th, 1991.

But on that day Etheridge was in the auditorium for most of the six hours, mostly walking the outside aisles. I’m not sure if he wore a suit or a dashiki, but I know that he wore a kofia made of leopard skin. He looked like a tribal chieftain, and, as far as I was concerned, he was one.

I can only guess what his thoughts were. A strong foretaste of his death, I imagine. For all his regal presence, he was already a ghost looking back – a ghost with a sense of pride and fulfillment, but still, a ghost.

Skip to toolbar