Dahlia Wasfi is an Iraqi-American justice activist who has written and spoken extensively on U.S. policy in the region of Iraq. She is currently writing a book on Iraq and recently published the article "Battling ISIS: Iran-Iraq War Redux." She discusses the past quarter century of U.S. bombing of Iraq.
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By Debra Sweet, Stephanie Rugoff and Jay Becker
Early on in the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, a lot of veterans were speaking out. Iraq Veterans Against the War was founded in 2004 and lots of anti-war veterans were accessible. World Can’t Wait started to make visits to high schools and colleges with recent veterans in 2006 – the time when the military was desperate to recruit more youth, taking even those who hadn’t completed high school, had misdemeanors, etc. We also sent Vietnam veterans to schools to talk about their experiences and make the connections between what happened in the 60’s and early 70’s with what’s happening now.
In the fall of 2008, immediately after the presidential election, several young veterans attended a World Can’t Wait national meeting. One of them insistently pointed out that he got really upset when people say they are honoring veterans for their service when in actuality many of them had committed war crimes. That was when we came up with the idea of starting the organized project which became We Are Not Your Soldiers.
We raised money and did a tour that went on for weeks in 2008 and then did another in 2009. One of our youth organizers and a veteran went off on a tour of schools in Southern California and Seattle. Another team of a World Can’t Wait activist and an Iraq vet went around the Midwest. We made up bandanas, palm cards and posters – one of our best shows a terrified Iraqi woman at the door of her home which is about to be forcibly entered by the US Army with words that say “Wrong. Army Wrong.” For several years we tabled at the Warped Tour and Coachella.
Over the years, war fighting has changed. We Are Not Your Soldiers is still needed but the emphasis has changed too. Now, at the beginning of 2016, the government has announced it’s going to double the amount of recruiting. The military is intensely looking for gamers. Brandon Bryant is a case in point – a young man with gaming skills who became a drone operator until his conscience made it impossible for him to continue with his assignment.
It has been challenging to maintain work over a long period. Obama has changed the approach to waging the war of terror, partially withdrawing soldiers but expanding the scope of those wars with drones, bombing and the use of proxy forces. Anti-war veterans deal with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and employment/unemployment issues – everything that affects veterans in general affects them as well. There has been a turnover in the veterans who participate in the We Are Not Your Soldiers project.
The need to stop the United States’ aggressive militarism and wars against peoples around the world remains urgent. We feel the necessity of keeping this generation of youth from getting caught up in fighting these seemingly endless wars of domination – and to build a conscious movement to stop this trajectory. We understand from our years of experience that many young people sign up out of a misguided sense that they will be “helping people in other countries,” that the military will give them a “higher purpose.” The US military creates these dangerous illusions through sophisticated print and film ads that turn reality on its head. As one Iraq-era vet put it to a high school class in Chicago, “The military is NOT the Peace Corps!"
World Can’t Wait’s We Are Not Your Soldiers project brings Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans to classes to tell the truth about the wars and what the military is really recruiting for. Usually, we begin the presentation by showing a short video. Sometimes we use a version of “Collateral Murder” narrated by veteran Ethan McCord which contains footage, released by Chelsea Manning, of the Bagdad killing of Reuters journalists and others. Or we may show a clip from a feature film on a drone pilot stationed at a base here in the United States or some other video. The veterans then talk about their on-the-ground experiences in occupying countries, where civilians pay the price. In-service and post-service issues such PTSD, medical/psychological care or lack thereof and homelessness are also addressed. Students are provided with information and a perspective to which they may not otherwise be exposed. There is an additional possibility, in some areas of the country, to do a historical presentation with a Vietnam military resister and/or veteran. This can be done in conjunction with the recent veteran’s class visit or separately.
We also do screenings of relevant films – on drones, torture and/or participation in the US military – and then engage students in a guided follow-up discussion. This can be either a one-time event or a series of visits to a classroom.
In any of these options we work with educators to develop a customized presentation. Presenters engage in discussion with the students and answer their questions. The students feel free to raise issues, ideas and questions in an environment where each person speaking is treated with respect. We provide resources to both prepare for and follow up on our visit/s.
This year, many students have returned to school with an increased consciousness of the systemic injustices towards people of color in this country. That awareness, while important in its own right, should be built on to include recognizing the injustices of empire and the US military in particular – and why it is neither in their interests nor those of the people of the world for them to enlist. The wars for empire continue and are at the heart of the flood of refugees risking their lives to escape the war zones of the Middle East and Africa.
As stated in the Common Core State Standards on critical thinking, students have an opportunity to integrate information from diverse sources. Students can delineate and evaluate the arguments and claims to which they are exposed. They can “analyze how two or more (sources) address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the (sources) take.”
The We Are Not Your Soldiers program has the potential to convince a lot of youth not to join up as well as exposing them to the anti-war movement. Not only do we do the presentations described above, we also provide access to tools to discuss these issues with other students, such as flyers and links to information on-line to empower them to help friends avoid the trap of fighting, killing and possibly dying for a cause that is not in their interests or those of the people whose countries the US is attacking. While we certainly recognize the difficult economic situations the students face, we present the moral issue of what these students are going to be doing with their lives – providing the context in which they can deliberate and make their own decisions.
Want to get involved with We Are Not Your Soldiers?
Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Call us: 646-807-3259
Debra Sweet is the Director of World Can’t Wait.
Stephanie Rugoff coordinates the We Are Not Your Soldiers project.
Jay Becker works actively in the Chicago chapter of World Can’t Wait.
Gun tales of a pacifist
My brother and I learned to shoot
At summer camp.
That is where gunpowder
By Pat Elder, WarIsACrime.org
Enlistment exam provides alternate pathway to graduation
Thousands of New Jersey high school seniors may be taking the military’s enlistment exam to fulfill a graduation requirement because they opted out of the controversial PARCC tests when they were juniors.
Nearly 50,000 New Jersey high school seniors are required to take an alternative end-of-year assessment because they opted out of taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, (PARCC) test last year. School officials say “a significant number” of these students will now likely have to take either the College Board’s ACCUPLACER test or the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, (ASVAB) as approved pathways to graduation. The costly ACCUPLACER is a product of the College Board, while the free-of-charge ASVAB is the military’s enlistment test that is given to 650,000 students in 14,000 schools across the country. Its primary purpose, according to military documents, is to procure leads for recruiters.
The staggering numbers of New Jersey 11th graders who opted out of taking the PARCC test last year may have done so as a result of a coordinated campaign. South Brunswick New Jersey’s Board of Education Vice President Dan Boyle explained during a board meeting last month, “Throughout the state, there are an inordinate amount of students that are not qualified to graduate,” Boyle said at the time. “That is almost directly a result of the (PARCC) opt-out movement.”
The robust testing opt-out movement in New Jersey and throughout the country has targeted the corporatization and standardization of American education. United Opt Out National serves as a focal point of resistance to corporatized education reform. The group demands “an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all Americans that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue.”
The group plans an Opt Out Conference in Philadelphia, February 26-28, 2016 with noted speakers Chris Hedges, Jill Stein, and Bill Ayers.
Even as students opt out of these outrageously expensive testing regimes, Pearson’s PARCC test will cost New Jersey about $108 million over 4 years. Pearson, the goliath textbook/testing company, has $8 billion in global sales. The company got in trouble in New York three years ago when it made a practice of treating school officials to European trips.
The Army, with a keen eye on educational currents, saw the opening and was eager to exploit the PARCC opt-out movement by offering it’s free ASVAB Career Exploration Program in place of the PARCC. After all, the Army reasoned, the kids must have a pathway toward graduation and the Army was honored to provide the “public service”.
In 2014 New Jersey began allowing students to take the ASVAB as a substitute for the PARCC test. To graduate, students are expected to score a 31 on the Armed Forces Qualifications Test, (AFQT). A 31 is the minimum score for enlistment in the Army. The AFQT uses sections of the ASVAB to calculate the score.
Recruiting commanders have widely distributed a Concordance Table that compares AFQT test results to those on the College Board’s SAT tests. According to the table a 31 on the AFQT equates to a 690 SAT composite score. The SAT composite score is the total of SAT critical reading and math subsections.
In 2006, 313 students of 1.37 million test takers scored 690 or below on the SAT composite score for a .02% score nationally. A 690 won’t gain admittance to a New Jersey state college. A score of a 31 on the ASVAB is roughly equivalent to a 7th to 8th grade level, good enough to use for a ticket to a high school diploma in New Jersey.
The April, 2015 Army Recruiter Journal described the Army’s lobbying campaign in New Jersey and gloated that the ASVAB “would be accepted as a substitute competency test for students who fail to pass the PARCC.”
While the military routinely claims the ASVAB is being shut out of schools, the brass has managed to convince school officials in a half dozen states to make the ASVAB an alternative option for end-of-year senior year assessments to provide a path for students who cannot pass the front line tests. A thousand schools across the country require students to take the test.
Minnesota allows high school seniors who fail mandated exit exams to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) as an alternative assessment.
New Mexico allows a score of a 31 on the ASVAB to provide a path to graduation.
Mississippi wants a senior to score a 36 on the AFQT before he can graduate.
Kentucky calls for a 55 on the AFQT for a student to earn a diploma. A 55 on the AFQT is the same as a composite SAT score of 840, according to the ASVAB Concordance Table. An 840 won't open many college doors. It represents the bottom 5th of national SAT scores.
Colorado is considering using the ASVAB as a potential graduation requirement.
Missouri has taken a different track to normalize military testing. The Missouri School Improvement Program calls on high schools to administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Career Exploration Program (ASVAB-CEP) to determine whether students are "Career Ready."
Military regulations allow the ASVAB-CEP to be administered without results being used for recruitment purposes, although school officials are convinced by representatives from the recruiting command to allow the release of student data to recruiters.
Historically, about 85% of students nationally who take the ASVAB at school have had their results sent to recruiters. Test results also include social security numbers and detailed demographic information. Published reports from New Jersey and the states mentioned herein fail to address the raison d'etre of the ASVAB testing regime, which is to provide leads for recruiters. Furthermore, state departments of education and local school boards continuously suggest that school officials will be giving the ASVAB, when in fact, military officials give the test.
It is an important distinction. The military is adamant about proctoring their enlistment exam, rather than relying on school administrators and teachers. If schools administered the 3-hour ASVAB, results would be regarded as educational records and therefore subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA. This law precludes the release of sensitive student information to third parties without parental consent. ASVAB records are considered to be military documents when the DOD gives the test in the high schools. ASVAB results are the only information leaving American classrooms about children without providing for parental consent.
Pat Elder is the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that works to prohibit the release of student information to military recruiting services from the nation's high schools. www.studentprivacy.org
I’m afraid that one of the best books I’ve read on war abolition may be overlooked by non-Catholics, because its title is Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War (by David Carroll Cochran). The book does draw on Catholic arguments against war and work to rebut Catholic arguments in favor of war, but in my view this enriches the debate and detracts not at all from Cochran’s universal argument for the elimination of all war — much of which has little or nothing to do with Catholicism. I’ve added this book to my war abolition shelf along with these books of my own and others:
- Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas Fry (2009)
- Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers (2009)
- War Is A Lie by David Swanson (2010)
- The End of War by John Horgan (2012)
- Transition to Peace by Russell Faure-Brac (2012)
- War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson (2013)
- Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith Hand (2013)
- War: A Crime Against Humanity by Roberto Vivo (2014)
- Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War by David Carroll Cochran (2014)
- A Global Security System: An Alternative to War by World Beyond War (2015)
- War Is A Lie: Second Edition by David Swanson (April 5, 2016)
“War’s two great lies are its righteousness and its inevitability.” Thus begins Cochran’s book, and he demonstrates the truth of his statement beyond any reasonable doubt. He examines the lies that are told to start wars and the lies that are told about how wars are conducted. We might call these two kinds of lies mendacia ad bellum and mendacia in bello. Cochran puts a major emphasis on the latter, pointing out that war kills a large number of innocents — and always has, even in earlier epochs armed by very different weaponry. There never was any just ad bellum or jus in bello.
Cochran includes among the innocent both civilians and soldiers. Including only civilians is enough to make his point, as wars have always killed large numbers of civilians (though the percentage of dead who are civilian has increased in recent decades to the point where it is the vast majority of those killed). Cochran does not consider soldiers innocent because their side of a war is defensive. He considers them innocent on the side of the aggressor as well — and not only those soldiers who quietly regret what they are doing or those who honestly believe the propaganda that would justify their actions. No, even combatants who fully support the war are innocent, in a certain sense, in Cochran’s view.
This seems at odds with some Catholic tradition. I remember Erasmus urging that clergy refuse to bury in consecrated ground anyone slain in battle: “The unfeeling mercenary soldier, hired by a few pieces of paltry coin, to do the work of man-butcher, carries before him the standard of the cross; and that very figure becomes the symbol of war, which alone ought to teach every one that looks at it, that war ought to be utterly abolished. What hast thou to do with the cross of Christ on thy banners, thou blood-stained soldier? With such a disposition as thine; with deeds like thine, of robbery and murder, thy proper standard would be a dragon, a tiger, or wolf!”
I find Cochran’s case for soldiers’ innocence convincing, although I have really very little interest in whether his position is more properly Catholic than someone else’s. He points out that it is generally viewed as wrong to kill soldiers who are wounded or surrendering. This, Cochran writes, is because they have done nothing to deserve being slaughtered, although slaughtered they are in the general course of a war. One idea put forward by war supporters is that in the normal course of war, soldiers are mutually engaged in self-defense against each other, but Cochran points out that the justification of self-defense for individuals outside of war only works when an aggressor has attacked a victim. War is conducted on a very different scale and with very different norms. Soldiers during a war are not expected to try all nonviolent approaches first before resorting to violence, and in fact routinely kill other soldiers who do not pose any imminent threat. Most killing in historical battles has happened after one side has begun retreating. Remember how the United States killed 30,000 retreating Iraqi soldiers during the 1991 Gulf War.
The ultimate fallback justification for the mass-murder of war is that innocents can be slaughtered if the harm done is outweighed by the goals of the war. But such goals are often secret or lied about, and it is the war makers who get to decide whose deaths are outweighed by what goals. U.S. terrorist Timothy McVeigh blew up a government building in 1995 and claimed that the deaths that resulted were merely “collateral damage” because killing those people had not been his purpose. The U.S. military plays the same game, the only difference being that it is allowed to get away with it.
Partly the military gets away with it by constantly claiming to have found technological solutions to collateral damage. But, in fact, the latest such ploy — weaponized drones — kills more civilians than it kills people for whom anyone asserts any (always unsubstantiated) right to murder.
To call combatants innocent in analyzing the morality of war is not, in my view, to diminish the moral superiority of refusing to fight. Nor is it to suggest some sort of moral perfection in the individual lives of soldiers. Nor is it to set aside the Nuremberg standard that requires disobeying illegal orders. Rather, it is to understand that no justification exists for killing soldiers. There might be a justification for otherwise sanctioning their behavior, and — more so — the behavior of those who sent them into war, but not for killing them.
Not only is war dramatically different from normal individual relations in which one might speak of self-defense, but, Cochran shows, it is also radically different from police work. Legitimate, praiseworthy police work seeks to reduce and avoid violence. It targets people based on suspicion of wrongdoing unique to the individual targeted. It seeks to facilitate the work of courts of law. War, on the contrary, seeks to maximize violence, targets entire armies and populations, and pauses not for any court rulings but sees two sides each declare the other guilty en masse. Calling a war a “police action” or giving soldiers actual policing duties does not change the fact that war is not policing. While good policing creates “order,” war creates violence, chaos, and instability.
Opposing war because it is immoral, and opposing war because nonviolent tools work better, are not separate approaches at odds with each other. War is immoral in large part because it does not work, because it generates enemies and violence rather than reducing them.
The moral arguments of the first part of Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War are excellent, but the real high point of the book may be its review of past institutions of mass violence that were considered moral, natural, inevitable, and permanent, but which are now gone. You’ll find this case sketched out in most of the books listed at the top of this article, but Cochran does the best job of it I’ve seen. He includes discussions of dueling and slavery, but also the less commonly used examples of trial by ordeal and combat, and lynching.
In some ways, trial by ordeal and combat is the best example because the most dependent, as is much of war, on the actions of a government, albeit local level governments in many trial-by-ordeal-and-combat cases. While rulers understood that trial by ordeal and combat did not actually produce the truth it claimed, they went on using it for many years as they found doing so convenient. Catholics produced complex justifications for it, similar to those produced by “just war” theory. Trial by ordeal and combat was deemed moral and necessary for self-defense, protecting the innocent, and creating peace and stability. Gradually cultural and political changes ended the supposedly un-endable.
Dueling’s supporters also believed it necessary, and eliminating it naive and dreamy. They claimed that dueling maintained peace and order. Cultural and political change brought majorities to consider dueling laughable, barbaric, ignorant, shameful, and a threat to peace and order.
Slavery, in the form that has virtually vanished, rested on fundamental lies and contradictions, including recognizing and not recognizing the humanity of those enslaved. It also rested on “just war” theory which maintained that slavery was a generous alternative to the mass-murder of conquered peoples. As humanitarian warriors claim that wars are for the benefit of their victims, defenders of slavery claimed that it benefitted the people held captive. As war supporters today claim that it maintains a way of life that is by definition greedy and unfair, supporters of slavery contended that it was essential to the existing way of life of the slave owners.
Interestingly, Cochran stresses that the evidence shows the demise of chattel slavery not to have been driven by any economic forces but rather by a moral revolution. Just before slavery was ended, it was extremely profitable. But, writes Cochran, “globally minded political and economic elites came to see slavery as an embarrassing deviation from international norms.”
Lynching may not have been exactly legal, but it was an established institution, and the arguments used to maintain it closely resemble the fallacious claims made about other institutions of violence. Lynching, its supporters said, was defensive, defending the white race through an inevitable “racial instinct.” They believed, however, that it should be used as a “last resort.” That is, they believed that, until they gradually didn’t any longer believe it, until lynching gradually became seen, not as a defense of but as a threat to law and order.
If one section of the book is slightly weaker than the others, I think it is the concluding section on what to do to end war. I believe Cochran indulges in a bit too much Pinkerism in his claim that war has been reduced. I don’t place the value he does on spreading democracy in order to spread peace, in part because the leading war maker is a “democracy,” and in part because it has attacked numerous other “democracies.” I think there’s too much focus on blaming poor countries for war. As great a correlate with war as poverty is the presence of oil. And wars in poor countries that do not involve troops from wealthy ones, do involve weapons from wealthy ones.
“End the arms trade,” the Pope told the U.S. Congress, which cheered and escalated the arms trade.
To contact Bartolo email peaceloverblog[at]yahoo[dot]com (replacing [at] with @, [dot] with .)
Supreme Court Junket King Scalia Dies While Vacationing with Wealthy Patrons at Private West Texas Getaway
By Dave Lindorff
It’s appropriate that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died at a luxury resort while freeloading as the guest of thus far unidentified wealthy sponsors as one of 40 guests at a private quail-hunting vacation party.
Your new movie, Where to Invade Next, is very powerful, your best so far for certain.
We need you.
You've packed a great many issues into this film, with visuals, with personalities, with entertainment. If people will watch this, they'll learn what many of us have struggled to tell them and more, as there was plenty that I learned as well.
I must assume that when U.S. audiences watch scenes that dramatically clash with their world yet seem humane and reasonable they'll be brought to the point of thinking.
You show us political candidates, not screeching for more prisons, but holding a televised election debate in a prison in an effort to win the votes of the prisoners, who are permitted to vote. What are we to make of that? You also show us scenes from U.S. prisons of grotesque brutality. Then you show us the effective rehabilitation achieved by Norwegian prisons (25% of U.S. recidivism rate). That doesn't just clash with what's familiar in the United States, but it also clashes with what the United States teaches about "human nature," namely that criminals cannot be rehabilitated. And you expose the driving force of vengeance that lies behind that pseudo-belief by showing the collective response of forgiveness and sanity with which Norway responded to a major terrorist incident. We all know how the U.S. has responded to those.
If we've read Steven Hills' book Europe's Promise or others like it, or lived in Europe and visited Europe or other parts of the world, we have some notion of much of what you show us: Italians and others with many weeks of paid vacation and parental leave plus 2-hour lunch breaks, Germans with paid weeks at a spa if they feel stress, Finland with soaring educational achievement reached by shunning standardized tests and homework while shrinking the school day, France with nutritious gourmet school lunches, Slovenia and dozens of other countries with free college, workers making up 50% of corporate boards in Germany, Portugal legalizing drugs (best line of the movie: "So does Facebook."). By bringing all of this together in a concise and intelligent and entertaining way, you've done us all a favor.
I was worried, I will confess. I apologize. I've been watching Bernie Sanders propose these sorts of changes without a real vision behind them and without daring to mention that the money is all being dumped into the U.S. military. And I've watched you, Michael, make some oddly supportive comments about Hillary Clinton who has spent decades working against everything this movie is about. So, I was worried, but I was wrong. Not only were you willing to point out that the United States pays nearly as much as these other countries in taxes, and much more when adding in the additional things paid for outside of taxes (college, healthcare, etc.), but you also included the elephant in the room, the 59% (in the figure you used) of U.S. income tax that goes to militarism. This movie, because you included that fundamental difference between the United States and other nations, is a terrific boost for the cause of ending war. That you point out the contrast between what Germans know and feel about the holocaust and what U.S. Americans know and feel about past U.S. wars, genocides, and slavery only adds to the value.
You included in a single 2-hour movie, in a clear and unrushed manner, not only all of the above, but also explanation of the popular resistance needed to create it, plus a critique of the racist U.S. drug war, mass incarceration, prison labor, and the death penalty. You showed us Muslim leaders in a largely Muslim nation more advanced on women's rights than is the United States. You showed us the openness of numerous nations to women sharing in power. I do, by the way, recognize the good intentions that may lie behind your interest in electing a female president, but I ask you if Margaret Thatcher advanced or impeded the cause. Does electing women create humane societies, or is it at least as much the case that humane societies elect women?
The other story you bring us from Iceland, in addition to women in power, is bankers prosecuted for their crimes. Odd, isn't it? Americans thirst for such revenge that they imprison small-time criminals for decades and brutalize them, but big-time criminals are rewarded. A shift to a more civilized system of justice would reduce the nastiness in one case but impose penalties that have been lacking in the other.
You allowed some powerful voices to speak in this movie. One of them suggested that Americans try taking an interest in the rest of the world. I've noticed, living abroad, that not only do other people want to know about the United States (and everywhere else), but they also want to know what Americans think of them. And I always have to reply with shame that Americans don't, in fact, think anything of them at all. Not only should we start to be curious about others, but we should start to be curious about what others think of us.
P.S. -- I'm old enough to remember your film about Bush's Iraq lies, Michael. The leading Republican presidential candidate now says Bush lied. The trailing Democratic candidate doesn't, and told the same lies at the time herself. You helped make U.S. culture, not yet good enough to end homelessness, but good enough to get that question right. Thank you.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Mohamed Yeslem Beisat, an ambassador for the Western Sahara, knew he faced a serious uphill struggle when began his position in Washington, D.C. years ago as the representative for his country that is located on the northwest coast of Africa.
February 13, 1991, 4:00 a.m.
Over 1,000 Iraqis, mostly women and children still sleeping, take refuge from the terror of U.S. bombs at a shelter in Amariyah, just outside Baghdad.
For several days a surveillance plane had flown over the shelter. U.S. officials say they think Saddam Hussein is there. The U.S. military knows different. A decision is made in secret by President George Bush, Defense (War) Secretary Dick Cheney and General Colin Powell — bomb the shelter, massacre the innocents!
First one “smart” bomb is dropped to make an opening in the roof, killing scores of people.
A replay of Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Vietnam, El Salvador, Panama.
The crime, premeditated and barbarous.
The sin, mortal.
The perpetrators unrepentant!
Seven years later, eight peacemakers from the U.S. and the U.K. come to pay homage to the victims at this shelter,
Photos and drawings of the dead adorn the walls of the shelter.
We repent, we mourn, we witness
the ongoing nightmare of the survivors.
We eight do what we can –
to console the mourners,
offering love and solidarity to the Iraqi people, already crucified to a cross of economic sanctions.
We stand with the victims, the children, seeking to stay the death-dealing hand of the U.S. empire.
To contact Bartolo email peaceloverblog[at]yahoo[dot]com (replacing [at] with @, [dot] with .)
Conversation with activist Alfredo Lopez: The Left Needs to ‘Own’ Bernie Sanders to Ensure He Delivers on Campaign Promises
By Dave Lindorff
The new book This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century by Mark Engler and Paul Engler is a terrific survey of direct action strategies, bringing out many of the strengths and weaknesses of activist efforts to effect major change in the United States and around the world since well before the twenty-first century. It should be taught in every level of our schools.
This book makes the case that disruptive mass movements are responsible for more positive social change than is the ordinary legislative "endgame" that follows. The authors examine the problem of well-meaning activist institutions becoming too well established and shying away from the most effective tools available. Picking apart an ideological dispute between institution-building campaigns of slow progress and unpredictable, immeasurable mass protest, the Englers find value in both and advocate for a hybrid approach exemplified by Otpor, the movement that overthrew Milosevic.
When I worked for ACORN, I saw our members achieve numerous substantive victories, but I also saw the tide moving against them. City legislation was overturned at the state level. Federal legislation was blocked by war madness, financial corruption, and a broken communications system. Leaving ACORN, as I did, to work for the doomed presidential campaign of Dennis Kucinich might look like a reckless, non-strategic choice -- and maybe it was. But bringing prominence to one of the very few voices in Congress saying what was needed on numerous issues has a value that may be impossible to measure with precision, yet some have been able to quantify.
This Is An Uprising looks at a number of activist efforts that may at first have appeared defeats and were not. I've listed previously some examples of efforts that people thought were failures for many years. The Englers' examples involve more rapid revelation of success, for those willing and able to see it. Gandhi's salt march produced little in the way of solid commitments from the British. Martin Luther King's campaign in Birmingham failed to win its demands from the city. But the salt march had an international impact, and the Birmingham campaign a national impact far greater than the immediate results. Both inspired widespread activism, changed many minds, and won concrete policy changes well beyond the immediate demands. The Occupy movement didn't last in the spaces occupied, but it altered public discourse, inspired huge amounts of activism, and won many concrete changes. Dramatic mass action has a power that legislation or one-on-one communication does not. I made a similar case recently in arguing against the idea that peace rallies fail where counter-recruitment succeeds.
The authors point to disruption, sacrifice, and escalation as key components of a successful momentum-building action, while readily admitting that not everything can be predicted. A plan of escalated disruption that involves sympathetic sacrifice by nonviolent actors, if adjusted as circumstances call for, has a chance. Occupy could have been Athens, instead of Birmingham or Selma, if the New York police had known how to control themselves. Or perhaps it was the skill of the Occupy organizers that provoked the police. In any case, it was the brutality of the police, and the willingness of the media to cover it, that produced Occupy. The authors note Occupy's many ongoing victories but also that it shrank when its public places were taken away. In fact, even as Occupiers continued to hold public space in numerous towns, its announced death in the media was accepted by those still engaged in it, and they gave up their occupations quite obediently. The momentum was gone.
An action that gains momentum, as Occupy did, taps into the energy of many people who, as the Englers write, are newly outraged by what they learn about injustice. It also, I think, taps into the energy of many people long outraged and waiting for a chance to act. When I helped organize "Camp Democracy" in Washington, D.C., in 2006, we were a bunch of radicals ready to occupy D.C. for peace and justice, but we were thinking like organizations with major resources. We were thinking about rallies with crowds bussed in by labor unions. So, we planned a wonderful lineup of speakers, arranged permits and tents, and brought together a tiny crowd of those already in agreement. We did a few disruptive actions, but that wasn't the focus. It should have been. We should have disrupted business as usual in a way carefully designed to make the cause sympathetic rather than resented or feared.
When many of us planned an occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., in 2011 we had somewhat bigger plans for disruption, sacrifice, and escalation, but in the days just before we set up camp, those New York police put Occupy in the news at a 1,000-year flood level. An occupy camp appeared nearby us in D.C., and when we marched through the streets, people joined us, because of what they'd seen from New York on their televisions. I'd never witnessed that before. A lot of the actions we engaged in were disruptive, but we may have had too much of a focus on the occupation. We celebrated the police backing down on efforts to remove us. But we needed a way to escalate.
We also, I think, refused to accept that where the public sympathy had been created was for victims of Wall Street. Our original plan had involved what we saw as an appropriately large focus on war, in fact on the interlocking evils that King identified as militarism, racism, and extreme materialism. The dumbest action I was part of was probably our attempt to protest a pro-war exhibit at the Air and Space Museum. It was dumb because I sent people straight into pepper spray and should have scouted ahead to avoid that. But it was also dumb because even relatively progressive people were, in that moment, unable to hear the idea of opposing war, much less opposing the glorification of militarism by museums. They couldn't even hear the idea of opposing the "puppets" in Congress. One had to take on the puppet masters to be understood at all, and the puppet masters were the banks. "You switched from banks to the Smithsonian!?" In fact, we'd never focused on banks, but explanations weren't going to work. What was needed was to accept the moment.
What made that moment still looks, in large part, like luck. But unless smart strategic efforts are made to create such moments, they don't happen on their own. I'm not sure we can announce on day 1 of anything "This is an uprising!" but we can at least continually ask ourselves "Is this an uprising?" and keep ourselves aimed toward that goal.
This book's subtitle is "How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century." But nonviolent revolt as opposed to what? Virtually nobody is proposing violent revolt in the United States. Mostly this book is proposing nonviolent revolt rather than nonviolent compliance with the existing system, nonviolent tweaking of it within its own rules. But cases are also examined of nonviolent overthrows of dictators in various countries. The principles of success seem to be identical regardless of the type of government a group is up against.
But there is, of course, advocacy for violence in the United States -- advocacy so enormous that no one can see it. I've been teaching a course on war abolition, and the most intractable argument for the massive U.S. investment in violence is "What if we have to defend ourselves from a genocidal invasion?"
So it would have been nice had the authors of This Is An Uprising addressed the question of violent invasions. If we were to remove from our culture the fear of the "genocidal invasion," we could remove from our society trillion-dollar-a-year militarism, and with it the primary promotion of the idea that violence can succeed. The Englers note the damage that straying into violence does to nonviolent movements. Such straying would end in a culture that ceased believing violence can succeed.
I have a hard time getting students to go into much detail about their feared "genocidal invasion," or to name examples of such invasions. In part this may be because I preemptively go into great length about how World War II might have been avoided, what a radically different world from today's it occurred in, and how successful nonviolent actions were against the Nazis when attempted. Because, of course, "genocidal invasion" is mostly just a fancy phrase for "Hitler." I asked one student to name some genocidal invasions not engaged in or contributed to by either the U.S. military or Hitler. I reasoned that genocidal invasions produced by the U.S. military couldn't fairly be used to justify the U.S. military's existence.
I tried to produce my own list. Erica Chenoweth cites the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, where armed resistance failed for years but nonviolent resistance succeeded. A Syrian invasion of Lebanon was ended by nonviolence in 2005. Israel's genocidal invasions of Palestinian lands, while fueled by U.S. weapons, have been resisted more successfully thus far by nonviolence than violence. Going back in time, we could look at the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia 1968 or the German invasion of the Ruhr in 1923. But most of these, I was told, are not proper genocidal invasions. Well, what are?
My student gave me this list: "The Great Sioux War of 1868, The Holocaust, Israel's genocidal invasions of Palestinian lands." I objected that one was U.S.-armed in recent years, one was Hitler, and one was many many years ago. He then produced the alleged example of Bosnia. Why not the even more common case of Rwanda, I don't know. But neither was an invasion exactly. Both were completely avoidable horrors, one used as an excuse for war, one allowed to continue for the purpose of a desired regime change.
This is the book that I think we still need, the book that asks what works best when your nation is invaded. How can the people of Okinawa remove the U.S. bases? Why couldn't the people of the Philippines keep them out after they did remove them? What would it take for the people of the United States to remove from their minds the fear of "genocidal invasion" that dumps their resources into war preparations that produce war after war, risking nuclear apocalypse?
Do we dare tell the Iraqis they must not fight back while our bombs are falling? Well, no, because we ought to be engaged 24-7 in trying to stop the bombing. But the supposed impossibility of advising Iraqis of a more strategic response than fighting back, oddly enough, constitutes a central defense of the policy of building more and more bombs with which to bomb the Iraqis. That has to be ended.
For that we'll need a This Is An Uprising that objects to U.S. empire.
To contact Bartolo email peaceloverblog[at]yahoo[dot]com (replacing [at] with @, [dot] with .)
Pass the popcorn! Wait till I tweet this! Did you see the look on his face?
Ain't elections exciting? We just can't get enough of them, which could be why we've stretched them out to a couple of years each, even though a small crowd of Super Delegates and a couple of state officials with computer skills could quite conceivably decide the whole thing anyway.
Through the course of this marvelous election thus far I've been trying to get any human being to ask any candidate to provide just the most very basic outline of the sort of budget they would propose if president, or at least some hint at the single item in the budget that takes up more than half of it. Do they think military spending should go up, go down, or stay right where it is?
Who knows! Aren't elections wonderful?
I'd even settle for the stupid "gotcha" question in which we find out if any of the candidates knows, even roughly, what percentage of the budget military spending is now.
Why is this topic, although seemingly central, scrupulously avoided?
- The candidates all, more or less, agree.
- None of the candidates brings it up.
- Nobody in Congress, not even the "progressive" caucus, brings it up.
- Nobody in the corporate media brings it up.
- The corporate media outlets see war profiteers as customers who buy ads.
- The corporate media outlets see war profiteers in the mirror as parts of their corporate families.
- The fact that the military costs money conflicts with the basic premise of U.S. politics which is that one party wants to spend money on socialistic nonsense while the other party wants to stop spending money and build a bigger military.
Those seem like the obvious answers, but here's another. While you're being entertained by the election, President Obama is proposing a bigger military than ever. Not only is U.S. military spending extremely high by historical standards, but looking at the biggest piece of military spending, which is the budget of the Department of so-called Defense, that department's annual "Green Book" makes clear that it has seen higher spending under President Barack Obama than ever before in history.
Check out the new budget proposal from the President who distracted millions of people from horrendous Bush-Cheney actions with his "peace" talk as a candidate eight years ago. He wants to increase the base Do"D" budget, both the discretionary and the mandatory parts. He wants to increase the extra slush fund of unaccountable money for the Do"D" on top of that. This pot used to be named for wars, but wars have gotten so numerous and embarrassing that it's now called "Overseas Contingency Operations."
When it comes to nuclear weapons, Obama wants to increase spending, but when it comes to other miscellaneous extras for the military, he also wants to increase that. Military retirement spending, on the other hand, he'd like to see go up, while the Veterans Administration spending he proposes to raise. Money for fueling ISIS by fighting it, Obama wants raised by 50%. On increasing hostility with Russia through a military buildup on its border, Obama wants a 400% spending boost. In one analysis, military spending would jump from $997.2 billion this year to $1.04 trillion next year under this proposal.
That's a bit awkward, considering the shade it throws on any piddly little project that does make it into election debates and reporting. The smallest fraction of military spending could pay for the major projects that Senator Bernie Sanders will be endlessly attacked for proposing to raise taxes for.
It's also awkward for the whole Republican/Hillary discussion of how to become more militarized, unlike that pacifist in the White House.
And, of course, it's always awkward to point out that events just go on happening in the world rather than pausing out of respect for some inanity just uttered by Marco Rubio.
To contact Bartolo email peaceloverblog[at]yahoo[dot]com (replacing [at] with @, [dot] with .)
By Joy First
On February 9, 2016 Judge Paul Curran found me guilty of trespass for walking onto the Air National Guard Base at Volk Field in Wisconsin on August 26, 2015. I joined eight others who wanted to deliver a message to Base Commander Colonel David Romuald, demanding that he immediately end the program of training pilots to operate the Shadow Drone at Volk Field. Shadow drones are used overseas for reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition, and so contribute to the deaths of thousands of innocents through U.S drone warfare. This action came at the end of the 8-day 90-mile walk organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence from Madison to Volk Field.
The trial began as predicted with DA Solovey calling Juneau County Deputy Sheriff Thomas Mueller who established that I was at Volk Field on August 26 and that I did cross onto the base after being told not to.
The following are the questions that I asked the deputy under cross examination.
What is the purpose of the area between the gates and the guardhouse?
Response: It is so cars have a place to line up while waiting to talk to someone in the guardhouse without blocking the county road.
When is it legal to be there?
Response: When you are a member of the public waiting to talk to someone in the guardhouse.
Did you ask any of us why we were there so you would know if we were there for a valid reason, and were therefore authorized to be there?
Response: No I didn’t.
Why weren’t we allowed to walk to the guardhouse and state our business?
Response: The sheriff said we should arrest you when you stepped onto the base.
Why does a military base that is supposed to be protecting us need to have the Sheriff protect them from nonviolent dissenters?
Response: I don’t know.
If we are arrested at Camp McCoy the base security makes the arrest. Why does the county take this on at Volk Field?
Response: I don’t know.
I said I had no further questions. I then asked the DA if the Sheriff was expected today as he had testified at the other trials. The DA said he was not. I was disappointed to hear that because the sheriff likely would have been able to answer my questions. It seems clear we are being discriminated against by not being allowed to go to the guardhouse when that is what anyone else is able to do, but I was not a good enough examiner to bring this out with the witness that was there.
The defense rested and I told the judge I would like to give a brief statement as testimony, a closing statement, and then if I was found guilty I wanted to give a sentencing statement. The judge said that was fine, and I was sworn in and took the stand.
Here is my testimony from the stand.
As each of those who came before me said, silence is complicity and so I must speak out.
I am testifying that I have a First amendment right to petition my government for a redress of grievances and that was what I was doing at Volk Field on August 26, 2015.
I am also testifying that I have an obligation following Nuremberg to speak out when I see that my government is doing something illegal.
I was not there on August 25 in order to enter the base without permission, but to get to the guard house to request a meeting with the base commander to talk about US drone warfare. I was not there because I wanted to get arrested.
Defendants have not been permitted to present evidence as to their intent. For example, Ms. Ellwanger’s statement was completely stricken from the record and Mr. Timmerman was not allowed to talk about intent.
I then cited information that we had used to appeal a previous case and said:
However, according to previous court cases, the “mere omission of any mention of intent will not be construed as eliminating that element from the crimes denounced.” The Supreme Court held that a statue’s “silence” on the mens rea element “does not necessarily suggest that Congress intended to dispense with a conventional mens rea element.” The Staples Court importantly added that “some indication of Congressional intent, express or implied, is required to dispense with mens rea as an element of a crime.”
I handed the judge the complete text, which included the court cases cited and continued:
And our intention for being there is an important element in this case. We were not violent. We meant no harm, rather we were there to try to prevent harm to others and to uphold the law.
When the police asked us to leave I believed it was my right and my duty to remain.
As I walked back to the defense table the DA asked if my complete statement could be stricken from the record. The judge overruled this request, stating that I included some legal arguments in my statement.
The judge then said that I was found guilty and started saying I would have to pay the $232 fine when he remembered that I wanted to make a closing statement. He asked if I still wanted to make a closing statement and I said that I wasn’t sure if it was relevant since he already pronounced me guilty.
The judge replied that he had sat through so many of these cases and heard us talk about our personal beliefs and convictions about drones and he had heard it all. He said if that was what I was going to talk about he didn’t want to hear it, but that if I had something else to say he would listen and if necessary vacate the sentence.
So I read the following as my closing statement:
I am here before you today because I cannot and will not remain silent as our government continues to engage in drone warfare which is illegal and immoral. I did not go to Volk Field on August 25, 2015 to break the law; rather I was there to uphold the law. This is not a simple trespassing case.
Testimony was given that I, as a committed and concerned U.S. citizen, was there exercising my First Amendment rights, and following my obligations under Nuremberg. I went to Volk Field not with the intention of getting arrested, but rather to try to meet with the base commander, who has never answered a letter from us.
I was not there to engage in unlawful activities. I am a person of nonviolence, involved in Constitutionally-protected speech. My intent was to seek to influence the commander, wake him up and affect his conscience, hardly an offense that I should have been arrested for.
You have heard testimony that when the police told me I had to leave, it was my right and my duty to refuse that order. I acted in a nonviolent manner, and I had the right and responsibility to remain and continue my request for a meeting.
You have heard that I was acting under the First Amendment which gives us the right to peaceably assemble, speak out, and petition our government for a redress of long-standing grievances.
You have heard that I was following my citizen obligations under Nuremberg and other international law.
According to the Nuremberg Principles, if we remain silent while our government is engaged in illegal and immoral activities, then we are complicit, we are equally guilty of being in violation of international law and of going against our most dearly held values. It is our responsibility as citizens, as taxpayers, as voters, as prosecutors, as judges to speak out. Robert Jackson, the United States judge at the Nuremberg trials said, “The very essence of the Nuremberg Charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state.”
I will not, indeed, I cannot, be complicit when our government has gone so astray. It is my responsibility as a citizen of this great country to call attention to the unjust actions of our government and demand that they stop now. I believe that I can make a difference, that I have made a difference, and you can too. Please, look into your heart and see that I was doing what I was called to do, and that I did so peacefully, and now you have the opportunity to find me not guilty of trespass.
You have said that you have no authority over our foreign policy, but if a judge in Juneau County finds me innocent, it would make a difference and people would pay attention.
At the Hancock AFB in New York resisters were acquitted because the judge said they intended to uphold the law, not break it. We were at Volk Field on August 25 to uphold the law.
I ask that you please find me not guilty as charged and join me in saying that we need to stop arresting, detaining, and prosecuting nonviolent people of good will and conscience who take action for peace and justice.
Thank you for your time and attention to this case.
I finished and Judge Curran again pronounced me guilty. He said that what I was asking him to do was very dangerous. He cannot let me off because he likes me or agrees with me. That would set a very dangerous precedent. He can’t let his personal beliefs affect his rulings as he picks and chooses which laws to obey and which not to obey. He is bound and sworn to follow the law.
The trial lasted 18 minutes. Curran left the courtroom without giving me a chance to give a sentencing statement as I had requested. Again, he is sick of us and does what he can to shut us down. His argument at the end makes no sense. He IS picking and choosing which laws to obey when finds us guilty. He is ignoring the constitutional law of our First Amendment rights. He is ignoring international law, including Nuremberg, the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions – all of which make U.S. drone warfare illegal.
Afterwards, I realized that I should have added something to my closing. I should have pointed out that Deputy Mueller said that members of the public are allowed to pass through the gate and proceed to the guardhouse to request permission to enter the base. If that is the case, why were we arrested at the gate without being asked what our business was at the base? Why are we not being given the same rights as other members of the public?
As so many of my activist friends say, “You do not find justice in the courtroom.” There was no justice for me today, but more importantly, there is certainly no justice for the thousands of people whose lives have been destroyed because of U.S. drone warfare. We continue with two more trials for our Volk Field action – Phil on February 19 and Mary Beth on February 25.
by Bryan Doerries
A Book Review by Hugh O’Neill
“The Play’s the thing in which to catch the conscience of the king”- Hamlet, Act II, scene ii.
Theatre has long engaged our innermost concerns and is a way of exploring the darkest realms of our Humanity. Bryan Doerries, interviewed recently on Radio NZ (www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/20151209) was described thus:
“Brooklyn-based theatre director, Bryan Doerries, is the founder of the 'Theatre of War' project, and the 'Outside the Wire' company which presents ancient Greek plays to returned soldiers, addicts, prison communities, and victims of natural disasters. He argues that the great tragedies of the Greeks can help a contemporary audience grapple with everything from the trauma of being in a conflict zone to end-of-life care. To date, over 60,000 service members, veterans, and their families have attended and participated in Theatre of War performances worldwide. Bryan Doerries’ book, is 'The Theatre of War”.
In his book, Doerries’ relates how his own suffering and loss found resonance in 5th century BC Greek tragedies. He contends that Human reaction to trauma is indeed timeless: the horrors of war, violence, pestilence and disaster still affect us now as they did 2,500 years ago. His special insight – from a deep reading of Aristotle’s Poetics - is that tragic plays were written for a specific purpose which was to create catharsis or healing by revisiting these most painful private experiences and understand that one’s reaction is not unique, but is a normal (indeed healthy) Human response to inhuman suffering. The audiences of the time would have consisted mainly of veterans since the Peloponnesian Wars lasted some 80 years.
Doerries was not the first to note the parallels between certain characters in the Classical oeuvre and soldiers suffering what - post-Vietnam War - is labeled “PTSD” (hitherto known since WWI as “shell shock”): Dr. Jonathan Shay wrote “Achilles in Vietnam” on the parallels between veterans of both Vietnam and the Homeric epics. Shay has also noted Shakespeare’s accurate observations of PTSD by Lady Percy (Henry IV, Act II, scene ii). Thus Shakespeare has an intrinsic understanding of the effects of war on the mind, and how nightmares continued the disturbance long after the events occurred.
Labeling the condition a disorder – as Doerries and Shay seem to suggest – is wrong, since it adds further blame upon its victims and somehow makes them the problem, rather than the experience which caused it. Shay prefers the term ‘moral injury’ a condition most apparent when the individual’s moral compass is suppressed by authority (as in the infamous Milgram Experiment). Few of us can measure up to the presumptive verdict of Nuremburg i.e. it is no defence to say one was only following orders. Such few are pilloried as traitors and cowards and suffer the most extreme forms of persecution (Archibald Baxter’s Field Punishment No.1)
There is patently a serious problem for American society with some reports attesting that suicides post-Vietnam are almost double the 58,000 ‘killed in action’ (a.k.a. KIA). One figure cited for the current conflicts in the Middle East suggest a rate of 22 suicides each day. The problem is perhaps compounded by the success of battlefield medical care i.e. more survive horrific injuries which hitherto would have proved fatal. Furthermore, the true savagery of war is a political inconvenience, to be concealed from the general public: the real tragedy happens offstage. Men and women suffer physical and mental torment whilst society looks the other way. There are no winners in war - except the bankers and arms manufacturers.
Doerries has a scholarly, non-military background – despite the numerous bases which surrounded his home in Virginia. He was moved to ‘do something’ after reading of the plight of veterans in the rat-infested Walter Reed hospital. His efforts were galvanized by an article in the NY Times (Jan 13th 2008) by Sontag & Alvarez quoting Captain P. Nash describing PTSD in the Sophocles’ play about the Homeric Ajax. Depressed after the Trojan War, Ajax unwittingly slaughtered a herd of animals and then had fallen on his own sword. Doerries contacted Nash and eventually the scene was set for the first theatrical event: 4 actors reading aloud extracts from Sophocles’ works on Ajax and Philoctetes both of which plays addressed powerful feelings of injustice and abandonment (N.B. Sophocles was also a military general). The sparse acting focused more emphasis on words and emotions. One hour of theatre was followed by several hours of very democratic audience discussion led by Doerries: the play had provoked deep feelings and gave license to air private concerns in a public forum - not all of which made for comfortable listening - especially to those in command.
However, word spread and the “Theatre of War” performed for diverse audiences using a play specific to that audience. For the prison staff at Guantanamo, a performance based on Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound” evoked the unexpected response that some identified with the tortured character of Prometheus whilst others saw themselves in his reluctant jailer Hephaestus, or his enthusiastic jailers Kratos (Power) and Bia (Force). The audience discussion was uninhibited despite the presence of a 4 star general; Doerries’ final question on the justice of Prometheus’ fate provoked one very senior lawyer to catharsis by his bitter denouncement of the US having lost all moral authority by refusing their prisoners a fair trial. It was this moral conflict given utterance which explained why so many identified with the fate of Prometheus, ‘chained to a rock at the end of the Earth’.
It is laudable that Doerries strives to re-Humanise those de-Humanised by war, military service, penal institutions etc. The masters of war and genocide must first dehumanize the perceived enemy, and then de-humanize their own people to fear, hate and kill the ‘enemy’. We saw this in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and in the increasing belligerence of the US Military Industrial Complex - as warned by President Eisenhower in his valedictory of 17th January 1961. The Peloponnesian wars were fought for existential reasons whereas US wars are fought for profit - irrespective of the consequences. The un-asked question in this story: who will provide catharsis for the countless millions of victims of war - the dead, maimed, orphaned and homeless? It may be unfair to expect this question from Doerries, but it must be asked nonetheless. Doerries has begun to speak truth to power which ability was the essence of Democracy –in the Greek sense of the word (Demos Kratos = people–power). Democracy flowered in Athens when a small hierarchical society, under existential threat, had masters and slaves literally pulling on the same oars. Today, the whole of Creation faces existential threat from Climate Change. “In the final analysis, we all live on the same small planet. We breathe the same air. We cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” (JFK 10/6/63)
U.S. military recruiters are teaching in public school classrooms, making presentations at school career days, coordinating with JROTC units in high schools and middle schools, volunteering as sports coaches and tutors and lunch buddies in high, middle, and elementary schools, showing up in humvees with $9,000 stereos, bringing fifth-graders to military bases for hands-on science instruction, and generally pursuing what they call "total market penetration" and "school ownership."
But counter-recruiters all over the United States are making their own presentations in schools, distributing their own information, picketing recruiting stations, and working through courts and legislatures to reduce military access to students and to prevent military testing or the sharing of test results with the military without students' permission. This struggle for hearts and minds has had major successes and could spread if more follow the counter-recruiters' example.
A new book by Scott Harding and Seth Kershner called Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools surveys the current counter-recruitment movement, its history, and its possible future. Included is a fairly wide range of tactics. Many involve one-on-one communication with potential recruits.
"Do you like fireworks?" a veteran of the latest war on Iraq may ask a student in a high school cafeteria. "Yes!" Well, replies Hart Viges, "you won't when you get back from war."
"I talked to this one kid," recalls veteran of the war on Vietnam John Henry, "and I said, 'Has anybody in your family been in the military?' And he said, 'My grandfather.'
"And we talked about him, about how he was short and he was a tunnel rat in Vietnam, and I said, 'Oh, what does he tell you about war?'
"'That he still has nightmares.'
"And I said, 'And you are going in what branch of the service?'
"'And you're going to pick what skill?'
"'Oh, I'm just going to go infantry.'
"You know ... your grandfather is telling you he's still got nightmares and that was 40 years ago. He's had nightmares for 40 years. Do you want to have nightmares for 40 years?"
Minds are changed. Young lives are saved -- those of the kids who do not sign up, or who back out before it's too late, and perhaps also the lives they would have contributed to ending had they entered the "service."
This sort of counter-recruitment work can have a quick payoff. Says Barbara Harris, who also organized the protests at NBC that supported this petition and got a pro-war program off the air, "The feedback I receive from [parents] is just incredibly heartwarming because [when] I speak to a parent and I see how I've helped them in some way, I feel so rewarded."
Other counter-recruitment work can take a bit longer and be a bit less personal but impact a larger number of lives. Some 10% to 15% of recruits get to the military via the ASVAB tests, which are administered in certain school districts, sometimes required, sometimes without informing students or parents that they are for the military, sometimes with the full results going to the military without any permission from students or parents. The number of states and school districts using and abusing the ASVAB is on the decline because of the work of counter-recruiters in passing legislation and changing policy.
U.S. culture is so heavily militarized, though, that in the absence of recruiters or counter-recruiters well-meaning teachers and guidance counselors will thoughtlessly promote the military to students. Some schools automatically enroll all students in JROTC. Some guidance counselors encourage students to substitute JROTC for gym class. Even Kindergarten teachers will invite in uniformed members of the military or promote the military unprompted in their school assignments. History teachers will show footage of Pearl Harbor on Pearl Harbor Day and talk in glorifying terms of the military without any need for direct contact from recruitment offices. I'm reminded of what Starbucks said when asked why it had a coffee shop at the torture / death camp in Guantanamo. Starbucks said that choosing not to would amount to making a political statement. Choosing to do so was just standard behavior.
Part of what keeps the military presence in the schools is the billion dollar budget of the military recruiters and other unfair powers of incumbency. For example, if a JROTC program is threatened, the instructors can order the students (or the children formerly known as students) to show up and testify at a school board meeting in favor of maintaining the program.
Much of what keeps recruitment working in our schools, however, is a different sort of power -- the power to lie and get away with it unchallenged. As Harding and Kershner document, recruiters routinely deceive students about the amount of time they're committing to be in the military, the possibility of changing their minds, the potential for free college as a reward, the availability of vocational training in the military, and the risks involved in joining the military.
Our society has become very serious about warning young people about safety in sex, driving, drinking, drugs, sports, and other activities. When it comes to joining the military, however, a survey of students found that none of them were told anything about the risks to themselves -- first and foremost suicide. They are also, as Harding and Kershner point out, told much about heroism, nothing about drudgery. I would add that they are not told about alternative forms of heroism outside of the military. I would further add that they are told nothing about the primarily non-U.S. victims of wars that are largely one-sided slaughters of civilians, nor about the moral injury and PTSD that can follow. And of course, they are told nothing about alternative career paths.
That is, they are told none of these things by recruiters. They are told some of them by counter-recruiters. Harding and Kershner mention AmeriCorps and City Year as alternatives to the military that counter-recruiters sometimes let students know about. An early start on an alternative career path is found by some students who sign on as counter-recruiters working to help guide their peers away from the military. Studies find that youth who engage in school activism suffer less alienation, set more ambitious goals, and improve academically.
Military recruitment climbs when the economy declines, and drops off when news of current wars increases. Those recruited tend to have lower family income, less-educated parents, and larger family size. It seems entirely possible to me that a legislative victory for counter-recruitment greater than any reform of ASVAB testing or access to school cafeterias would be for the United States to join those nations that make college free. Ironically, the most prominent politician promoting that idea, Senator Bernie Sanders, refuses to say he would pay for any of his plans by cutting the military, meaning that he must struggle uphill against passionate shouts of "Don't raise my taxes!" (even when 99% of people would not see their wallets shrink at all under his plans).
Free college would absolutely crush military recruitment. To what extent does this fact explain political opposition to free college? I don't know. But I can picture among the possible responses of the military a greater push to make citizenship a reward for immigrants who join the military, higher and higher signing bonuses, greater use of mercenaries both foreign and domestic, greater reliance on drones and other robots, and ever more arming of foreign proxy forces, but also quite likely a greater reluctance to launch and escalate and continue wars.
And that's the prize we're after, right? A family blown up in the Middle East is just as dead, injured, traumatized, and homeless whether the perpetrators are near or far, in the air or at a computer terminal, born in the United States or on a Pacific island, right? Most counter-recruiters I know would agree with that 100%. But they believe, and with good reason, that the work of counter-recruitment scales back the war-making.
However, other concerns enter in as well, including the desire to protect particular students, and the desire to halt the racial or class disparity of recruitment that sometimes focuses disproportionately on poor or predominately racial minority schools. Legislatures that have been reluctant to restrict recruitment have done so when it was addressed as an issue of racial or class fairness.
Many counter-recruiters, Harding and Kershner report, "were careful to suggest the military serves a legitimate purpose in society and is an honorable vocation." In part, I think such talk is a strategy -- whether or not it's a wise one -- that believes direct opposition to war will close doors and empower adversaries, whereas talking about "student privacy" will allow people who oppose war to reach students with their information. But, of course, claiming that the military is a good thing while discouraging local kids from joining it rather stinks of NIMBYism: Get your cannon fodder, just Not In My Back Yard.
Some, though by no means all, and I suspect it's a small minority of counter-recruiters actually make a case against other types of peace activism. They describe what they do as "actually doing something," in contrast to marching at rallies or sitting in at Congressional offices, etc. I will grant them that my experience is atypical. I do media interviews. I mostly go to rallies that have invited me to speak. I get paid to do online antiwar organizing. I plan conferences. I write articles and op-eds and books. I have a sense of "doing something" that perhaps most people who attend an event or ask questions from an audience or sign an online petition just don't. I suspect a great many people find talking students away from the edge much more satisfying than getting arrested in front of a drone base, although plenty of wonderful people do both.
But there is, in my opinion, a pretty misguided analysis in the view of certain counter-recruiters who hold that getting tests out of schools is real, concrete, and meaningful, while filling the National Mall with antiwar banners is useless. In 2013 a proposal to bomb Syria looked very likely, but Congress members started worrying about being the guy who voted for another Iraq. (How's that working out for Hillary Clinton?) It was not primarily counter-recruiters who made the Iraq vote a badge of shame and political doom. Nor was it outreach to students that upheld the Iran nuclear agreement last year.
The division between types of peace activism is somewhat silly. People have been brought into counter-recruitment work at massive rallies, and students reached by counter-recruiters have later organized big protests. Recruitment includes hard to measure things like Super Bowl fly-overs and video games. So can counter-recruitment. Both counter-recruitment and other types of peace activism ebb and flow with wars, news reports, and partisanship. I'd like to see the two merged into massive rallies at recruiting stations. Harding and Kershner cite one example of a counter-recruiter suggesting that one such rally created new opposition to his work, but I would be surprised if it didn't also hurt recruitment. The authors cite other examples of well-publicized protests at recruitment offices having had a lasting effect of reducing recruitment there.
The fact is that no form of opposition to militarism is what it used to be. Harding and Kershner cite stunning examples of the mainstream nature of counter-recruitment in the 1970s, when it had the support of the National Organization for Women and the Congressional Black Caucus, and when prominent academics publicly urged guidance counselors to counter-recruit.
The strongest antiwar movement, I believe, would combine the strengths of counter-recruitment with those of lobbying, protesting, resisting, educating, divesting, publicizing, etc. It would be careful to build resistance to recruitment while educating the public about the one-sided nature of U.S. wars, countering the notion that a large percentage of the damage is done to the aggressor. When Harding and Kershner use the phrase in their book "In the absence of a hot war" to describe the current day, what should the people being killed by U.S. weaponry in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Palestine, etc., make of it?
We need a strategy that employs the skills of every kind of activist and targets the military machine at every possible weak point, but the strategy has to be to stop the killing, no matter who does it, and no matter if every person doing it survives.
Are you looking for a way to help? I recommend the examples in Counter-Recruitment and the Campaign to Demilitarize Public Schools. Go forth and do likewise.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Elliott Adams is a former Army paratrooper in Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and Alaska; and former National President of Veterans For Peace. He has conducted nonviolence and social movement trainings for organizations such as Fellowship Of Reconciliation, School Of Americas Watch, Peacemakers of Schoharie, Student Environmental Action Coalition, War Resisters League. He currently works with the Meta Peace Team and is co-chair of Creating a Culture of Peace. In 2014 and again in 2015 he spent several months as a member of Meta Peace Team using third party non-violent intervention in the West Bank, Palestine.
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By Gar Smith
Some people (OK, some older, white Republican men) have been complaining that Beyonce "injected politics into a sports event." (Actually the message seemed to be less about politics and more about social repression, government indifference and in-your-face racial pride. Consider the lyrics: "I like my baby hair, with baby hair and Afros. I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.")
On Monday's Fox & Friends, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani criticized Beyonce's black activism as inappropriate for a halftime show because, as the former mayor explained, half-time shows are a time when performers are supposed to be "talking to Middle America." (Read: "White.") The former mayor confessed that he would have preferred "decent wholesome entertainment."
"I thought it was really outrageous that she used [the half-time show] as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive," said Giuliani.
Of course, neither the song's lyrics nor the singer's energetic twerking addressed the specific and abiding problem of police brutality and killings.
And yet, amidst all the hoopla about Beyonce's performance, I haven't heard anyone complaining about Lady Gaga's powerhouse rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The lyrics of this tune clearly constitute a major example of injecting "politics into a sporting event" – in this case a full-out celebration of war. (The US is the only country on Earth with a national anthem that contains the words "rockets" and "bombs.")
To underscore the political message of this Half-Time kick-off event, Gaga's stint began with a close-up of a line of soldiers holding wall of military flags as the announcer intoned: "And now, to honor America – and perform our national anthem – please welcome … Lady Gaga." (Note: Placing "honor" before "performance" was a way of signaling that the musical event was intended as a stand-in for a collective "pledge of allegiance.")
Lady Gaga went on to perform the song in front of a massive American flag that covered more than 30 yards of the midfield and required at least 56 people to hold it in place.
From the start of the video clip to Gaga's last note consumes about 2:48 minutes. Nearly one-quarter of the clip was saturated with pro-military imagery, including: military standard bearers, a close-up of a saluting marine, a live scene of US troops standing at attention and saluting inside a building in some unnamed foreign country currently occupied by US troops, a close-up of a military drum pounding as Gaga reached her crescendo and, finally, a smoke-trailing fly-over by a half-dozen F/A-18 fighter jets in Blue Angel formation.
At this point, the announcer could have offered a the following public service message: "The US Department of Health and Human Services has asked us to advise you that the Blue Angels jets are powered by JP-5 propellant, a refined kerosene product that contains known carcinogens that can damage the kidney, liver and immune system."
The announcer might also have informed the crowd that: "Each Blue Angels jet burns 1,200 gallons of jet fuel per hour. At a cost of $10.32 per gallon, flying a team of six jets for an hour of preparation and a few brief seconds of intense fly-over entertainment costs taxpayers more than $74,300."
Instead, the announcer offered the following (arguably politicized) salutation:
"Thanks to those sailors and marines and our troops serving around the globe."
So if spectators watching from inside the Bowl—or at home over a bowl of nachos—thought Beyonce's brigades of beret-wearing, clenched-fist-and-booty shaking backup dancers were too "political," let's just agree to call it "equal time."
There were two teams vying for the crowd's loyalty on the midfield on Sunday. On one side, the entire military-industrial-sports-
Postscript:At the time of this writing, the Formation video was not publically available. Here is a link to the video. Discuss.
Postscrpt #2: I've tracked down what appears to be the lyrics to Beyonce's Superbowl anthem—and there is little here that can be described as "political." There also is very little about racial pride. The lyrics are mostly boastful, arrogant and vulgar. When, for example, Beyonce sings "I go hard, Get what's mine, take what's mine, I'm a star, I'm a star, Cause I slay," it sounds like she's channeling Trump, Kissinger ,or the Koch Brothers.
Postscrpt #2: I've tracked down what appears to be the lyrics to Beyonce's Superbowl anthem—and there is little here that can be described as "political." There also is very little about racial pride. The lyrics are mostly boastful, arrogant and vulgar.
When, for example, Beyonce sings "I go hard, Get what's mine, take what's mine, I'm a star, I'm a star, Cause I slay," it sounds like she's channeling Trump, Kissinger ,or the Koch Brothers.
To contact Bartolo email peaceloverblog[at]yahoo[dot]com (replacing [at] with @, [dot] with .)
By David Swanson, teleSUR
Super Bowl 50 will be the first National Football League championship to happen since it was reported that much of the pro-military hoopla at football games, the honoring of troops and glorifying of wars that most people had assumed was voluntary or part of a marketing scheme for the NFL, has actually been a money-making scheme for the NFL. The U.S. military has been dumping millions of our dollars, part of a recruitment and advertising budget that's in the billions, into paying the NFL to publicly display love for soldiers and weaponry.
Of course, the NFL may in fact really truly love the military, just as it may love the singers it permits to sing at the Super Bowl halftime show, but it makes them pay for the privilege too. And why shouldn't the military pay the football league to hype its heroism? It pays damn near everybody else. At $2.8 billion a year on recruiting some 240,000 "volunteers," that's roughly $11,600 per recruit. That's not, of course, the trillion with a T kind of spending it takes to run the military for a year; that's just the spending to gently persuade each "volunteer" to join up. The biggest military "service" ad buyer in the sports world is the National Guard. The ads often depict humanitarian rescue missions. Recruiters often tell tall tales of "non-deployment" positions followed by free college. But it seems to me that the $11,600 would have gone a long way toward paying for a year in college! And, in fact, people who have that money for college are far less likely to be recruited.
Despite showing zero interest in signing up for wars, and despite the permanent presence of wars to sign up for, 44 percent of U.S. Americans tell the Gallup polling company that they "would" fight in a war, yet don't. That's at least 100 million new recruits. Luckily for them and the world, telling a pollster something doesn't require follow through, but it might suggest why football fans tolerate and even celebrate military national anthems and troop-hyping hoopla at every turn. They think of themselves as willing warriors who just happen to be too busy at the moment. As they identify with their NFL team, making remarks such as "We just scored," while firmly seated on their most precious assets, football fans also identify with their team on the imagined battlefield of war.
The NFL website says: "For decades the NFL and the military have had a close relationship at the Super Bowl, the most watched program year-to-year throughout the United States. In front of more than 160 million viewers, the NFL salutes the military with a unique array of in-game celebrations including the presentation of colors, on-field guests, pre-game ceremonies and stadium flyovers. During Super Bowl XLIX week [last year], the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Wounded Warriors Project invited veterans to attend the Salute to Service: Officiating 101 Clinic at NFL Experience Engineered by GMC [double payment? ka-ching!] in Arizona. ..."
Pat Tillman, still promoted on the NFL website, and eponym of the Pat Tillman Foundation, is of course the one NFL player who gave up a giant football contract to join the military. What the Foundation won't tell you is that Tillman, as is quite common, ceased believing what the ads and recruiters had told him. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman's mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn't confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead at short range, bullets shot by an American. The White House and the military knew Tillman had died from so-called friendly fire, but they falsely told the media he'd died in a hostile exchange. Senior Army commanders knew the facts and yet approved awarding Tillman a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion, all based on his having died fighting the "enemy." Clearly the military wants a connection to football and is willing to lie as well as to pay for it. The Pat Tillman Foundation mis-uses a dead man's name to play on and prey on the mutual interest of football and the military in being connected to each other.
Those on whom the military's advertising succeeds will not typically die from friendly fire. Nor will they die from enemy fire. The number one killer of members of the U.S. military, reported yet again for another year this week, is suicide. And that's not even counting later suicides by veterans. Every TV pundit and presidential debate moderator, and perhaps even a Super Bowl 50 announcer or two, tends to talk about the military's answer for ISIS. What is its answer for people being stupidly ordered into such horrific hell that they won't want to live anymore?
It's in the ads
At least as big a focus of the Super Bowl as the game itself is the advertising. One particularly disturbing ad planned for Super Bowl 50 is an ad for a war video game. The U.S. military has long funded war video games and viewed them as recruiting tools. In this ad Arnold Schwarzenegger shows what fun it is to shoot people and blow up buildings on the game, while outside of the game people are tackling him more or less as in a football game. Nothing here is remotely warlike in a realistic sense. For that I recommend playing with PTSD Action Man instead. But it does advance the equation of sport with war -- something both the NFL and the military clearly desire.
An ad last year from Northrop Grumman, which has its own "Military Bowl," was no less disturbing. Two years ago an ad that appeared to be for the military until the final seconds turned out to be for Jeeps. There was another ad that year for Budweiser beer with which one commentator found legal concerns:
"First, there's a violation of the military's ethics regulations, which explicitly state that Department of Defense personnel cannot 'suggest official endorsement or preferential treatment' of any 'non-Federal entity, event, product, service, or enterprise. ... Under this regulation, the Army cannot legally endorse Budweiser, nor allow its active-duty personnel to participate in their ads (let alone wear their uniforms), any more than the Army can endorse Gatorade or Nike."
Two serious issues with this. One: the military routinely endorses and promotes the NFL. Two: despite my deep-seated opposition to the very existence of an institution of mass murder, and my clear understanding of what it wants out of advertisements (whether by itself or by a car or beer company), I can't help getting sucked into the emotion. The technique of this sort of propaganda (here's another ad) is very high level. The rising music. The facial expressions. The gestures. The build up of tension. The outpouring of simulated love. You'd have to be a monster not to fall for this poison. And it permeates the world of millions of wonderful young people who deserve better.
It's in the stadium
If you get past the commercials, there's the problem of the stadium for Super Bowl 50, unlike most stadiums for most sports events, being conspicuously "protected" by the military and militarized police, including with military helicopters and jets that will shoot down any drones and "intercept" any planes. Ruining the pretense that this is actually for the purpose of protecting anyone, military jets will show off by flying over the stadium, as in past years, when they have even done it over stadiums covered by domes.
The idea that there is anything questionable about coating a sporting event in military promotion is the furthest thing from the minds of most viewers of the Super Bowl. That the military's purpose is to kill and destroy, that it's recent major wars have eventually been opposed as bad decisions from the start by a majority of Americans, just doesn't enter into it. On the contrary, the military publicly questions whether it should be associating with a sports league whose players hit their wives and girlfriends too much.
My point is not that assault is acceptable, but that murder isn't. The progressive view of the Super Bowl in the United States will question the racism directed at a black quarterback, the concussions of a violent sport that damages the brains of too many of its players (and perhaps even the recruitment of new players from the far reaches of the empire to take their place), sexist treatment of cheerleaders or women in commercials, and perhaps even the disgusting materialism of some of the commercials. But not the militarism. The announcers will thank "the troops" for watching from "over 175 countries" and nobody will pause, set down their beer and dead animal flesh and ask whether 174 countries might not be enough to have U.S. troops in right now.
The idea that the Super Bowl promotes is that war is more or less like football, only better. I was happy to help get a TV show canceled that turned war into a reality game. There is still some resistance to that idea that can be tapped in the U.S. public. But I suspect it is eroding.
The NFL doesn't just want the military's (our) money. It wants the patriotism, the nationalism, the fervent blind loyalty, the unthinking passion, the personal identification, a love for the players to match love of troops -- and with similar willingness to throw them under a bus.
The military doesn't just want the sheer numbers of viewers attracted to the Super Bowl. It wants wars imagined as sporting events between teams, rather than horrific crimes perpetrated on people in their homes and villages. It wants us thinking of Afghanistan not as a 15-year disaster, murder-spree, and counter-productive SNAFU, but as a competition gone into double quadruple overtime despite the visiting team being down 84 points and attempting an impossible comeback. The military wants chants of "USA!" that fill a stadium. It wants role models and heroes and local connections to potential recruits. It wants kids who can't make it to the pros in football or another sport to think they've got the inside track to something even better and more meaningful.
I really wish they did.
Note: We are witnessing the making of a strategic military blunder by the Pentagon. Treating Russia as a top threat to U.S. national security is wrong and dangerous.
To contact Bartolo email peaceloverblog[at]yahoo[dot]com (replacing [at] with @, [dot] with .)
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new war in Libya, more war in Syria, permanent war in Afghanistan, climate change crashing over the cliff -- these and other immediate disasters are pursued with one hand, while the magician's other hand distracts us with caucuses, primaries, and super bowls. Remember when insiders said the TPP would die the moment it was made public? Well, what if it was made public during an election season? Bread and circuses, even in Rome, weren't designed to make the people happy but to keep them pacified while all the real energy and treasure went into destroying Carthage and filling the vomitoria of the oligarchs. And it's easier for a good team to make it into the super bowl than for a truly good candidate to make it into corporate election reporting. I deny none of that. And yet ...
The 2015-2016 presidential election has, by some measures, already accomplished more than all the previous elections in my lifetime put together. And it's scaring some of the right people.
If you had claimed in 1969 that it would be possible for presidential candidates in the United States to reject religion before they could reject permanent worldwide military empire, you'd have been laughed right out of the Age of Aquarius.
If you'd prognosticated in 1999 that an independent socialist focused like a laser beam on taxing billionaires and busting up some of their most profitable scams (not to mention taxing many of the rest of us) could grab the lead in a Democratic primary campaign against a Clinton with no intern scandals, you'd have been triangulated right out of your career as you knew it.
And if you'd predicted in 2014 that a candidate virtually ignored by the consolidated corporate media, as consolidated under the Clinton Telecom Act, would surge in the polls, you'd have garnered as much respect as those guys in The Big Short did when they claimed to know more than the high priests of Wall Street.
Bernie Sanders, for all of his dramatic shortcomings, is a phenomenon created by a perfect storm of institutional failure -- by Hillary Clinton's coronation constructed of cards just waiting for someone to suggest that millions of outraged winds breathe on it. Sanders is 6 years older and generations more advanced than his Democratic Party rival.
God Is Dead
"What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?" --Friedrich Nietzsche
Sanders' website calls him "secular" and "not particularly religious." His answers to a religion question during a CNN "town hall" this week were typical. A member of the audience asked about religion and race, and Sanders answered only about race. Then the moderator asked again about religion. And this was Sanders' answer, I swear to ... -- well, I just swear:
"It's a guiding principle in my life. Absolutely it is. You know, everybody practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings. I believe that, as a human being, the pain that one person feels, if we have children that are hungry in America, if we have elderly people who can't afford their prescription drugs, you know what? That impacts you, that impacts me, and I worry very much about a society where some people spiritually say, 'It doesn't matter to me. I got it. I don't care about other people.' So, my spirituality is that we are all in this together, and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me. That is my very strong spiritual feeling."
It's also my very strong non-spiritual feeling. But that was a typical Bernie answer, one he's given many times, typical even in its focus on only 4% of humanity and on only a particular type of homeless people. Some states, by the way, are making huge strides toward ending the shame of homelessness for veterans, so that soon all homeless people in the United States may be people who have never been part of a mass-murder operation. I point this out not to oppose it. Better more people with homes, no matter how it's done! And I point it out not to quibble with Sanders' statement of generosity and humanism, but to suggest that part of how Sanders slipped a completely irreligious answer past an audience that asked a religious question is that Sanders identified himself with the true U.S. religion, the religion that will be front and center and in the jet noise overhead at the super bowl -- the religion of war, the religion of national exceptionalism. Who can forget Ron Paul being booed in a primary debate for applying the golden rule to non-Americans?
When Sanders is asked explicitly if he "believes in God," he also answers, "What my spirituality is about is that we're all in this together." Exactly what my non-spirituality is about. I think it's safe to assume he'll never be asked if he believes in death (which television sponsors would be pleased by that topic?), so "God" is the question he'll get, and he won't be required to answer it. New Hampshire is the least religious state in the country, but the country as a whole has also moved against religion and even more so against "organized religion." Some of us always preferred the organized part (the community, the music, etc.) to the religion, but the larger trend here is a rejection of elite institutions telling us how to run our lives while demonstrably running the world into the ground. And who has more to answer for in that regard than God?
Rejecting organized religion while proclaiming an individual "spirituality" may be all that is needed, and that is tremendous news. That Sanders has done this while professing an ideology of generosity and solidarity, and winning applause for that, is even better news. Studies find that lack of religion can correlate with greater generosity, as certainly seems to be the case with the Scandinavian societies Sanders points to as models. (Seventeen percent of Swedes, as compared to 65% of U.S. Americans, say religion is "important".)
A majority in the United States say they wouldn't vote for an atheist, but for many atheism, like gender, race, sexual preference, and other identifiers is now a matter of self-identification. Someone must choose to call themselves an atheist. Just having no use for theism doesn't qualify them. The media also seems to have no direct interest in attacking candidates on religion. Nobody pays them to do that. And it doesn't show a lot of potential as a weapon. Donald Trump is seen as the least religious candidate in the field, and some of the most religious voters say they support him and just don't care. In addition, Sanders is a supporter of religious freedom, tolerance, and even tax exemptions. He doesn't fit the mold of the bigoted atheist who finds Islam dangerously more religious than Christianity. The media is also no big fan of Ted Cruz, who's on a Dubya-like mission from God. All of these factors seem to have made it possible to run for president of the United States on a platform of pure enlightenment humanism. I didn't think I'd live to see that.
Most Dangerous Man on Wall Street
Hillary Clinton friend and funder and CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein seems to view Bernie Sanders as President Richard Nixon characterized Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and as President Barack Obama seems to view WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning, as the most dangerous person in the United States. Sanders' sin, in Blankfein's view, is failure to worship the almighty dollar.
Blankfein is fully aware that his endorsing a candidate would hurt that candidate, but seems not to have thought through the possibility that opposing a candidate might help them. Reportedly, Blankfein suggested this week that "Sanders' attacks on the 'billionaire class' and bankers could be dangerous. 'It has the potential to personalize it, it has the potential to be a dangerous moment. Not just for Wall Street not just for the people who are particularly targeted but for anybody who is a little bit out of line,' Blankfein said."
It sounds like the 1% has a case of 99% envy. Misery loves company, but fear demands it. Think about what Blankfein is claiming. One of the two Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton, who has long said explicitly that the Democratic Party should represent banks, has taken $675,000 (or about $5,000 per minute) to give three speeches to Blankfein's company, in which she reportedly reassured them they had nothing to worry about (despite widely known crimes that wrecked the economy of the United States and other nations). Public demands to even see what Clinton told Goldman Sachs have thus far gone unanswered and unechoed in the media, except by Ralph Nader. On Clinton Blankfein has no comment and sees nothing unusual. This is normal, standard, and unquestionable behavior.
But Bernie Sanders proposes to enforce laws, laws against financial trickery, laws against cheating on taxes, laws against monopolization, laws against market manipulation, and new taxes on unearned wealth. Well, this is unacceptable and in fact "dangerous"! It's extreme madness is what it is, according to Blankfein, who depicts Sanders' position as fanatical: "It's a liability to say I'm going to compromise, I'm going to get one millimeter off the extreme position I have and if you do you have to back track and swear to people that you'll never compromise. It's just incredible. It's a moment in history." That it is.
Here's how Bill Clinton reportedly viewed popular resentment of bankers in 2014: "You could take Lloyd Blankfein into a dark alley and slit his throat, and it would satisfy them for about two days. Then the blood lust would rise again." Of course, nobody had proposed killing bankers. Many had proposed enforcing laws. But that's how bankers view such a proposal, through the lens of fear. They are probably not alone. Sanders is proposing to end fracking and various other disastrous industries, while investing in new ones. He promises to block the TPP, which Clinton -- long a big supporter of it -- merely claims to "oppose" without committing to actually prevent. Sanders wants to tax the very wealthiest, including the 20 individuals who own as much as half the country. He wants to break up monopolies, including on Wall Street, and perhaps in the media -- which is already clearly shaken by the fact that he's advanced in the polls without them.
Health insurance executives can't be feeling too much better than banksters, unless they're wise enough to see the bigger picture. I waited on hold for 30 minutes this week to try to fix the latest SNAFU with my Obamacare, and then a really helpful woman answered who promised she'd fix it. I asked her if she could also back Bernie Sanders to put an end to the industry she worked for. She said yes, indeed.
The wiser minds in the plutocracy should follow that example. Nobody's out to hurt you, only to help you share your hoarded loot with those who worked for it. Your life will be different, but not necessarily worse. It might even be happier.
The more hopelessly greedy minds in much of the U.S. plutocracy, right about now, will start wishing they'd been prescient enough to go into weapons making and war profiteering, that sacred realm that Sanders' spirituality dares not threaten.
To contact Bartolo email peaceloverblog[at]yahoo[dot]com (replacing [at] with @, [dot] with .)